Monday, October 22, 2007

The God Delusion, Part 9 – Childhood, abuse, and escape from religion

Chapter nine in The God Delusion, as the name suggests, deals with the way in which children are indoctrinated into faiths. In my opinion chapter nine is the most controversial one in the entire book. Personally I agree with most of what Dawkins writes, though occasionally I can have some understanding for a certain degree of child indoctrination. It is after all difficult to act in a completely neutral way towards children without letting your ideology shine through at all. I expect that it is even more difficult if you believe passionately in something as many religious people do. Personally when a child asks me about my beliefs I always say that I do not believe in any God, but I am also quick to point out that there are people who thinks otherwise. I will gladly explain why I do not believe in a God, but I try to not force the child into adapting my views. I also try to ask children what they think, thus encouraging them to think for themselves. These are my ideals, but I admit that sometimes I don't live up to them entirely, and I cannot expect religious people to do so if I do not… Dawkins writes (and I think he may be going a bit too far here).

"In short, children have a right not to have their minds addled by nonsense, and we as a society have a duty to protect them from it. So we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible or that the planets rule their lives, than we should allow parents to knock their children's teeth out or lock them in a dungeon."

Nevertheless, the damage that results form child labeling and child indoctrination is undeniable. Suicide bombers often commit their deeds because it will bring financial support to their family, however, I do not think they would have done what they do was it not for their strong religious faith. As Dawkins often points out, it is also very weird that we label children as Muslim or Christian considering how complicated belief systems really are. Have they read the bible and reflected on its validity? I seriously doubt it… It is entirely equivalent to labeling children according to some political affiliation, e.g. "a communist child", or a "social democrat child". Children should be taught how to think, not what to think. Dawkins writes:

"I thank my own parents for taking the view that children should be taught not so much what to think as how to think. If, having been fairly and properly exposed to all the scientific evidence, they grow up and decide that the Bible is literally true or that the movements of the planets rule their lives, that is their privilege. The important point is that it is their privilege to decide what they shall think, and not their parents' privilege to impose it by force majeure."

In Sweden there is an ongoing debate (S) about whether confessional private schools should be allowed or not. Today we have a compromise in which religious movements are allowed to run schools as long as they do not have any religious perspectives in the normal subjects. They are however allowed to have some isolated religious events such as morning-prayer. As a liberal I find it hard to have a strong opinion in this debate. The essential question for me is how much the religious events in these schools contribute to indoctrination of children as well as whether going to such a school will prevent the children from meeting people with different ideologies. For instance, the Plymouth Brothers (S), a sect that has been allowed to start a private school in Sweden, have an ideology that explicitly says that it is not allowed to eat in the company of a "devil worshipper" like myself. Dawkins writes (and this I agree with completely):

"Let children learn about different faiths, let them notice their incompatibility, and let them draw their own conclusions about the consequences of that incompatibility. As for whether any are 'valid', let them make up their own minds when they are old enough to do so."

Another theme in chapter nine is the obsession that some people have with preservation of religious diversity which they see as positive seemingly independent of the consequences. The argument goes something like this. Who are we to judge that say female circumcision is wrong - that is their culture and we should respect that. In one American TV-program the ritual sacrifice of a young Inca girl was hailed as being exotic and a wonderful example of cultural diversity (the event took place about 500 years ago). Dawkins writes:

"Humphrey's point - and mine - is that, regardless of whether she was a willing victim or not, there is strong reason to suppose that she would not have been willing if she had been in full possession of the facts. For example, suppose she had known that the sun is really a ball of hydrogen, hotter than a million degrees Kelvin, converting itself into helium by nuclear fusion, and that it originally formed from a disc of gas out of which the rest of the solar system, including Earth, also condensed . . . Presumably, then, she would not have worshipped it as a god, and this would have altered her perspective on being sacrificed to propitiate it."…

"Humphrey makes the point that no adult woman who has somehow missed out on circumcision as a child volunteers for the operation later in life."

To sum everything up, though I think it is categorically wrong to impose your view on children I can understand that in practice this may be difficult to attain to a perfect degree. Beliefs will inevitably shine through. However, I cheer everyone who encourages autonomous thought in children. Ask them what do you think?, do you believe in God?, how do you think the world came to be?, and other questions like that? Let them have their say and let them know that they can believe what they want. At the very least, don't be like pastor Roberts who is running a Hell House in which children are taught what will happen to them if they would be so evil as to have an abortion (they have very generous age limits compared to for instance Hollywood, see picture). Pastor Roberts says:

"I would rather for them to understand that Hell is a place that they absolutely do not want to go. I would rather reach them with that message at twelve than to not reach them with that message and have them live a life of sin and to never find the Lord Jesus Christ. And if they end up having nightmares, as a result of experiencing this, I think there's a higher good that would ultimately be achieved and accomplished in their life than simply having nightmares."


Anonymous said...

I think this post is quite interesting, thank you. Even coming from a Christian perspective I think most of these points are quite valid. Children should be taught to think for themselves. I would even suggest that parents take the initiative to educate their children about the various "world-views" that are out there.

Another comment I would like to make is the fact that saying that you believe in no God at all is still a world-view, and therefore still has the power to indoctrinate a child or individual. In my opinion, a main difference between the Christian world-view and the Naturalist world-view is that the former (by it's very nature and doctrine) carries the obligation of being 100% correct and to take a pro-active role in "converting" (for lack of a better term) individuals who are of a different belief system. The latter, in the same vein, allows for apathy towards the rest of humanity.

Also, I have actually been to a "Hell House" (although it was called a Judgement House), and they are rather horrid constructs. Their purpose is simply to scare people into converting to a particular faith which I in no way agree with. People should realize that under the umbrella of Christianity (and other religions for that matter) there is a small portion that holds true to the original, historical, tested, approved, and untainted doctrine. MOST of the examples of fanatical dogmatism used as examples in the God Delusion comes from the portion of the religion that has gone awry from the original doctrine. Churches have invented their own beliefs and methods for scaring people into conversion. Organizations are formed that serve their own needs before the needs of others. Tel-evangelists use popularity and their religion to make themselves rich and buy personal jets... Christians who focus only on the core belief system and the original, historical doctrine find all of these things just as abominable as everyone else.

Sandra Says said...

Nice post

littldiana said...

I also agree with you and Dawkins that young children are incapable of fully comprehending the religion their parents have ascribed to them. I believe it is important for children to be aware and tolerant of all religions, and most importantly, children should not be labeled as bad or as going to hell for not believing in a god. If children fear atheism or outcast classmates that do not share the same religious beliefs as them, more hate will be spread through young people. Children will be held back if they are not allowed to fully explore their own personal views and convictions. Ideally, children should be allowed to control their own faith by choosing the religion of their own choice to practice, or to not practice any religion at all without suffering negative consequences from their parents and peers.

rasmussenanders said...

Thank you for the comments anonymous and littldiana!

I agree with both of you that children should be free to adopt the world view that makes sense to them, after they have heard all the alternative.

I do not agree with anonymous, that atheism, in particular would result in an apathy towards religious people though. I see religion as much worse in this particular matter. After all, the atheistic world view does not downgrade other religions the way religions often do. You should only believe in this God and if you don't... is a common ingredient in religions but not in atheism.

Furhermore, religion is problematic in the sense that indoctrinating children is often seen as a virtue. After all you are saving the childs soul if you convert the child.

Z said...

The important thing here, i think, is that the child/teenager shouldn't feel uncomfortable about either telling the believer parents that he is an atheist OR
reveiling to the atheist parents that he feels he believes in God.

Lim Leng Hiong said...

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