“Give me a child until he is seven years old and he will be a Catholic for the rest of his life.”
This is probably one of the most well known quotes of the Roman Catholic Church's doctrine – and with reason. Because it is one hundred percent correct.
You are now exactly the same person that you were when you were six years old ... older, wiser, greater understanding ... but in actual fact still exactly the same. Our basic neural pathways are permanently set after the age of six – new ones may be created, but the basic neural structure is forever set in stone ... so to speak.
So how does this impact on religion? In answer I am going to use another quote : “Shape the sapling while it is still young.” Once again, we are what we were created to be through the influences we received as very young children. This includes all areas of life ... social norms, ethics, respect, general behavior and yes, religious views as well.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that you necessarily are now following the same religion that you were brought up in, just that its teachings will always in some way influence your view on different aspects of life.
As we grow, like any child of any species, we learn quickest by copying that which we see our elders do. The same is true for our spiritual growth. If we hear every Sunday in Sunday-School that the world was created in six days, we'll believe that until we find other proof to the contrary, and yet still will consider this new proof in lieu to our original idea. To continue on the quick example ... the Bible also teaches that a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years as a day to God ... thus the scientific evidence that the planet is sixty five billion years old can be re-interpreted – if one day and one thousand years are as one, is it then not possible that the same could be true of one billion years? Thus we do not change our basic idea, we just fill on to it with more accurate information.
Thus, as we grow, our spiritual experiences – highly likely found in a church environment – does shape who we are and how we experience the world as we grow up. As the child is exposed more and more to the religious environment of his or her parents, so this information is assimilated into the psyche of that child and will influence their spiritual life for as long as they inhabit their human body.
This is not to say that if the child is raised in a Christian home that they will necessarily decide to remain a follower of that religion for the rest of their life. There is absolutely nothing that prevents him or her from exploring and possibly adopting any of the many other religions out there – this will however be influenced by a multitude of other factors as the child grows and learns about life.
Here I will use myself as an example ... I was raised in a very Christian family, expected to enter the priesthood when I reached adulthood. During the course of my life I became interested in alternative spiritual paths and eventually studied several of them. Today I am a certified priest ... just not in the religion my family expected or would have preferred. But that does not mean that I have discarded the religious training and experiences of my childhood, in fact I refer back to it on many an occasion.
So just as we learn during our formative years – up to the age of six – what is and is not acceptable, so do we learn the basics of what will constitute our religious and spiritual views for the rest of our lives. As we grow all of what we learn is taken and stored in the subconscious mind, to be referred to in time of need or study.
Thus even if you do not see yourself as a spiritual or religious person, be assured that the religious teachings of your formative years indeed still influence your everyday life and your view of the world.