The girl on my doorstep was about seven years old and was accompanied by her mother. They were promoting a “free public event” regarding A World Government and who should rule it. I knew it was a religious pitch, and I was ready to deliver my normal abrupt response, but I was taken aback when the spiel came not from the adult but from the child. I listened patiently until she finished her short speech and thanked her for the pamphlet she handed me, but I was quietly dismayed. The mother undoubtedly knew that people are inclined to be kind to sweet little girls, and she was using her child to bypass my resistance to her message.
I frequently have children at my door and they may be selling cookies for girl scouts, taking orders for apples for a school fundraiser, asking for empty bottles to recycle for a sports team, or offering to cut my grass. Most of these are one-time events or at least only annual events, and I buy the cookies, donate the bottles, and weigh my personal need for the other goods and services. These don’t bother me in the same way that I was bothered this morning by the child who made her mother’s sales pitch for her.
Parents have the right to provide religious instruction to their children, and families have always utilized the labour of children either in the home, the family farm, or the family business. So, when I encouraged my children to cut the neighbour’s grass or to babysit for pocket-money, I felt morally justified.
We all want our children to help out, to contribute, and to understand the value of hard work. That’s fine. Somehow, though, I feel that teaching children to proselytize is crossing a line, but I can’t say why. The girl who was at my door seemed quite happy and proud to have remembered her lines, so she did not appear to be doing this against her will.
Perhaps it is because I consider religion (or the absence of it) to be very personal. If it is to be debated at all, it should be with adults. I can relatively easily reject an adult’s invitation to a religious event and to discuss it with them. But how can I tell a child that I disagree with her beliefs and some of the things she has been taught by her parents? I can’t. So, I let her let her leave my doorstep not knowing. That is probably what bugs me. I was dis-empowered.