Here’s a chapter that should concern each of us. In chp 9 of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion Dawkins contends that forming our children into our faith is child abuse. And he challenges each of us to consider the role of educating our kids in the plurality of religions — and letting kids make up their own minds.
The chp is a gentle wandering from story to story, but the stories are interesting and confirm his viewpoint.
Here’s my question: How do you think we should expose our children to other faiths? Do we present each faith, the strengths and weaknesses of each, and then encourage our children to make up their own mind? Or, do we present each faith with an apologetical defense of our own faith? Or, do we hide our children from other faiths until they have already come to faith? How did you do this? Or, how will you do this?
It will be easy today to go after the “religious certainty” (his religion being empirical science) of Dawkins, but let’s avoid that. Instead, let’s use his chp to converse about how to educate our children in our own faith and in the faith of others. But, first let’s look at the deep furrows Dawkins digs.
Dawkins, after telling the story of a little Jewish boy who had been baptized by another child (RC) in the middle of the 19th Century and who was then visibly taken from his parents to be nurtured in a Catholic environment, asks this: “isn’t it always a form of child abuse to label children as possessors of beliefs that they have too young to have though about?” (315). Now his point is quite clear here, and I suspect many will miss it: he is talking about “labeling” a child as “Christian” before that child is an adult and before that child has learned the options and before that child has made up its own mind.
But, this spills over into the inappropriateness of indoctrinating children into a faith. He enters into sexual abuse and then considers whether or not spiritual abuse is not even more deadly than physical, sexual abuse. Here’s his point: “horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was [he’s talking about publicized abuse by priests in Ireland], the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place” (317). He writes about Keenan Roberts, in Colorado, and his houses of hell that are designed to scare young kids into conversion.
Dawkins broaches the necessity of the government stepping in: “Children, I’ll [he’s quoting Nicholas Humphrey], have a human right not to have their minds crippled by exposure to other people’s bad ideas” and these parents have “no right to limit the horizons of their children’s knowledge” (326). The child has the right and privilege to make up their own mind.
He decries postmodernists and liberals who are so nice they learn to appreciate the blinkered and sheltered traditions of folks like the Amish in the name of cultural diversity. He also blasts away at schools that educate students in science based on the Bible.
Religions should be taught — to give the context for a literate culture.
Again Scot’s summary leaves little to add. Science forms a part of Dawkins’ argument here, but really only a small part. One of the greatest evils in his opinion is limiting the potential of a child and exposing them to the emotional turmoil inherent in “irrational” belief. He feels that children are their own people – it is even questionable if one should refer to a child as “my son” or “my daughter”. It is the responsibility of parents and society to ensure that children learn to think, to treat children as they would choose to be treated from the hindsight of fully informed adulthood – and it is abuse to indoctrinate a child into belief. I have a feeling that Dawkins here shows his ignorance of child development, but perhaps someone else can comment on this better than I.
Dawkins touches on many issues in this chapter – but let’s consider just two of these issues – he is astounded by the idea that any parent, with the support of society no less, could limit a child’s exposure to the beauty of science and the enlightenment of the modern world or teach that faith trumps science. He is also appalled by the emotional abuse inflicted on children who are brainwashed into belief, leading to psychological turmoil and ostracization in adulthood.
So – how should we educate our children in our beliefs and how should we treat adult children who choose to reject those beliefs?