I have been writing about children and religions, saying that children should have the freedom of choice. When thinking about this, I could not help but wonder what happens to children whose parents are involved in a sect?
The plain answer is: these children have no free choice at all. They cannot shape their lives as they wish but are raised within the sect, with the habits and behavior of members of that sect and with all the rules of the sect. There is no need to brainwash children as their minds are from the beginning trained in everything the sect wants and needs. For sect leaders, they are usually the perfect followers.
Many sects are perfectly secluded from the rest of society. They have their community and the members all live together in one certain area where no non-member really goes. They often even have their own kindergartens, schools, hospitals and workplaces, so that their whole community can live with as little contact to the outside world as possible. They don’t want members to stay in touch with the normal world.
Children who grow up in such an environment have no experience on how to deal with the normal society and with people who live outside of their sect. They only get to know what is normal in their sect. For adults and parents this seclusion from the world often seems like a safe solution, a place where they can hide from the world. They believe it is good for their children, too, and a perfect environment to grow up in. What they don’t realize is that they don’t give their child a chance for normal development.
This is how we often see children in Vrindavan who were born to parents of ISKCON, a sect that has its headquarters in Vrindavan. Boys walk around, at the age of five or six years, in the getup of priests, with shaved heads, wearing dhotis, the head painted with tilak, a sign considered as holy, and with a mala or cymbals in the hands. Their parents instruct them to chant religious songs and mantras. They educate them to be priests and devotees, already at that age. Would you dress your five year old girl like a nun?
On one website I read a quotation of one of their masters that children should be raised without material attachment from the beginning. Tell me, does that mean that you won’t give your child toys to play? You will make them sit in the temple the whole day, performing rituals and chanting, without really ever playing, running around and enjoying like a normal child, in normal clothing and with normal toys? Don’t you feel sorry for these children? I do.
Children who grow up in such sects have no possibility to develop their mind to its full potential because of the narrow-minded view on life that everybody around them has. They have no chance to do anything else than becoming a devotee themselves. They cannot see anything critically because they are taught to believe in the doctrines of the sect. From the very beginning they are taught not to think anything else, not to ask about other things and not to be different. These children end up being adults who are afraid of the outside world.
Even in sects that are not fully separating themselves from normal society, children have difficulties interacting with others normally. The children of the sect ‘Jehovah's Witnesses’ are not allowed to celebrate anybody’s birthday for example because the sect does not believe in it. I have seen children heartbroken about the fact that they were not allowed to go to anybody’s birthday party. All their friends had fun and celebrated but they could not. They were seen as outsiders, avoided by others, often bullied because they were different. Sometimes this increases the feeling of belonging only to the sect, not to the normal world. In other times it gives them the longing of wanting to be like everybody else.
I have met adults who have parents in sects and they, too, are fully active in the sect’s activities. I have however also met people who have a very bad relation or no relation with their parents at all anymore because at some point in their lives they decided that they didn’t want to be part of the sect anymore. It is a hard way for them to go. Many sects don’t make it easy for people to just leave. There are threats about the perishing of soul and body outside of the sect, with the group being the only safe place. If anybody decides to leave anyway, they often have to do it secretly and are then seen as outcasts.
Former sect members who have no previous experience in the normal culture have to be really courageous to take this step. But only in this way they can get out of the control of the sect and have their free will. There have been so many stories about child abuse in sects and there are uncountable negative effects on children who have grown up in this way. There have been parents who let gurus abuse their children with the excuse that he is God. There have been sects that illegally married minor girls to old men and there have been sects that told parents to beat children to educate them in a better way. Many children carry away lasting damage, physically as well as psychologically. Many of them don’t know how to deal with others and are simply afraid of a normal life.
Why would you want to do anything like that to your child? You have decided for yourself that you want to live in a sect and get yourself brainwashed and manipulated. You don’t have the right to do this to another person, to your children though. If you want to follow a guru, a master, a sect leader or any kind of belief, don’t have your children affected by them, too! Maybe your child wants something completely different! Why would you force your belief onto a child? Give your children the possibility to decide themselves. Show them the normal world, let them develop properly with the full capacity of their mind to be critical, to think about everything themselves and with full emotional abilities, too! Give your child the freedom and the possibility of a healthy, normal lifestyle.