The other Sunday we had a baby dedication at Cambridge Drive. The reality is that we don't dedicate babies... we dedicate the adults in their lives to providing a community of caring, nurture, and education so that they may come to their own profession of faith. That leads me to think about a statement that I hear fairly often, "We don't want to force our children into any faith tradition. They can make their own decision when they get older."
To an uncritical thinker, the two paths may sound very similar. They are not. let me give a metaphor.
It is of course, ridiculous. Anyone who has tried to learn an instrument as an adult knows how much more difficult it is than learning as a child. We also know how that brain exercise impacts the brains of young children in positive ways. Finally, learning an instrument is like learning a language and significant bits of that learning are transferable to other languages learned later on. It is fairly obvious that to wait until the child is old enough to "make their own choice" will simply remove the possibilities from them. If they learn no instruments as a child, they likely will never learn an instrument. On the other hand, if they learn an instrument and decide later on to learn a different one, they will already have many of the skills needed to make that transition.
I believe the same thing is true with regards to faith. Without a foundation in a religious tradition it will be very difficult for a young person to make good choices regarding a path for themselves. They won't have a language with which to describe religious inclinations and they won't have a vocabulary to enable them to make judgements regarding the value of one tradition or even one faith community over another. If religious faith has any value, children must be exposed from their youngest days.
And there is that question too... does religious faith have any value? There are scores of evangelical atheists out there these days telling us that religion is at its foundation a negative force. They point to he word "faith" and smirk that it requires commitment to something for which there can be no proof. Then they go on to list the history of religious violence.
There is no argument. Violence has been and still is perpetrated in the name of religion. Still, I think it would be difficult or impossible to parse out the parts of that violence that are religious in nature and which are political, economic, or cultural. Then there have been a few cultures that called themselves atheist. All of which I'm aware were significantly unenlightened.
As for being unverifiable... well, I do not agree that all things of value must be verifiable. I love my wife, my children, and my grandchildren. Is that verifiable? Is it quantifiable? I think not... but it is simply one of the most important commitments in my life.
Are there reasons to believe that a religious commitment, and even more important, a religious community is important? I think so. I would argue that while there are clearly instances of religious
violence, that most of the positive movements forward in history have
had significant if not exclusively religious components.
All of the blue zone studies have indicated that there is a very positive correlation between longevity and being part of a religious community which gives shape and purpose to life. That is quantifiable.
The unquantifiable part is that of my personal experience. It has been in that larger community of faith that I have found support and challenge that has helped me to be the person I am. Now, I know that one need not have a religious community to have community, but I see very, very few examples of the kinds of connections and support I see in a good church among my atheist friends. They may have small connective groups but they tend to be homogenous in every way and they tend to be much more laissez-faire in their connectedness. The churches in which I've been a part certainly have a degree of homogeneity but they have also had bits that were clearly not. They have all included folk with different political and cultural backgrounds, ages, economic strata, educational attainments... Were I choosing them as friends, many of them would have lain outside those lines. Because the church in effect forced me to be a part of their lives, I found myself enriched in ways that under other circumstances never would have happened.
Finally, religious folk are more generous (again quantifiable) and I would argue that is a very important trait to encourage. Religious faith requires one to look outside of themselves and to think of the welfare of others. Again, it is not difficult to find toxic examples, but even then, there is often a hint of a positive side to it.
So... I would argue that providing a positive foundation for a faith commitment is an important task for a parent and for the larger religious community. Raise a child within a tradition. Then, when they are ready they will choose, but they will have a foundation upon which to make a good decision.