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December 2, 2012

Question:  In your worldview,  “is there an “age of innocence,” an age under which a child’s action cannot be considered sins?

 The question is problematic. For one thing, should we not be preoccupied with the development of virtue in children rather than innocence or sin? Also, if we give a specific year under which a child is exempted from sin, what happens on the day following the “age of maturity?” Has the innocent deed done yesterday suddenly become sinful today? And if we define a particular action as being sinful once one has reached the age of maturity, who is going to administer the punishment, and what should it be?

Although most religions define an age of spiritual maturity, we know that psycho-spiritual development in the human does not happen magically because an individual has celebrated a birthday.  Human psycho-spiritual development lies on a continuum that continues until the moment of death and into the life beyond.

And even if there were a well-defined “age of innocence,”  it would not exempt parents, guardians and educators from patiently but persistently educating the child to correct its “faults” or “weakness,” the milder definition of sin. Older religious practices of child-rearing did not seem to have any perception of an age of innocence. An unfounded belief in “original sin” only compounded the problem.   It led to coercive and even harmful methods that included harsh corporal punishment to correct the “sin.”

Undoubtedly, the souls of children are innocent and sinless at birth, but as they grow up, if left without any education, the developing characters of children will show undesirable traits such as aggression and selfishness that require correction and training. Role modelling, mild verbal correction and religious instruction are the best ways to foster character development in children.

In the Bahá’í Faith, two of our “core activities” that promote character development are children’s and junior youth classes. Specialized curricula have been developed for this purpose. The onset of “spiritual maturity” has been defined in the Bahá’í Faith at age 15. At this time, the laws of the religion must be observed if the individual has defined herself as a Bahá’í. But the maturation process begins before age 15 and continues after. It is an ongoing development.  
-  Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen December 2, 2012
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