In my post on Sunday I talked about my difficulties with the idea of getting Elli baptized. One crucial part of the equation didn't make it into the post, which is strange because it is such a big part of why I dislike the idea. That crucial part is the issue I have with religions recruiting children and indoctrinating them when they are too young to question what they are being told. In The God Delusion Richard Dawkins talks a lot about how children are often referred to as "Jewish children" or "Christian children" or "Muslim children" but that we have an obligation to not profess children to be part of a religion since they cannot reasonably choose for themselves. He wants us all to call them "children of Christian parents" instead, and although Dawkins is confrontational and nitpicky as usual he has a very strong point. We don't let children do many things because they simply don't have the capacity to make those choices reasonably yet and barring historical trends religion would certainly fit in that group. In the past children have traditionally been raised to be a part of their religion from a very early age to ensure that they do not break from it; it is much easier for an authority figure to imprint an idea indelibly into a child's mind than an adult's so religions naturally aim their recruitment at young ones.
The truth of the matter is that if children are raised without indoctrination and are taught about many different religions and that teaching is expressed as "these people believe this" rather than "this is truth, do not listen to anyone who says otherwise" they end up mostly as agnostics or atheists. Any religion claiming some great access to truth must contend with the issue that hardly anybody believes that truth unless they have it drilled into them when they are very young. Since clearly a lot of religions actively want recruits they take the easiest path to getting them even if it only works because of the fragility of their chosen targets. Admittedly many believers are encouraged to believe that anyone who they don't convert is going to suffer eternally so they have the excuse that they are only trying to help. If you have the choice of indoctrination of a child or eternal damnation of the person it is reasonable to think that indoctrination is a morally acceptable choice but the very idea of eternal damnation is so ludicrous I can't imagine a lot of people actually sit down and think that way.
I am not going to convince most religious people with these ideas I expect. Religions do have their hardcore members but most people involved in them think along the lines of "Well, baptism is just a little ceremony, everyone goes through it. What possible harm could their be in sprinkling water and saying a few words?" I would tend to argue back that if the ceremony isn't powerful and significant then removing it entirely should be no problem but I doubt that is going to win anyone over. Just like we don't let children vote and we don't let them drink and we don't let them have sex we shouldn't let them choose a religion. If an adult wishes to believe things that aren't true then they are in good company - pretty much everybody has ideas, religious or otherwise, they hold dear that are ludicrous. Giving people the best possible opportunity to learn and develop wisdom before they set themselves on a treacherous path is of critical importance and I think we need to apply that to religion just the same as we do to other important choices that children are not ready to make.