The Parent Delusion

I forgot one aspect of the God Delusion that is probably the most controversial. Dawkins spends an entire chapter ranting about the foisting of religion upon children. He fumes about a child being described as a “muslim child” or a “christian child” and thinks they should be left out of religion until they are old enough to choose.

First, one suspects that Dawkins supports this point of view because he knows or thinks that children raised in such a way will not be religious at all. It’s a back-door means to a different sort of indoctrination.

You have to wonder who is supposed to keep religion away from children. It can only be government. Because the only people who will voluntarily keep children away from religion are not the kind of people who will abuse their children with an extreme brand of faith.

Second, the extreme examples he cites do not reflect the majority of Americans or religious people in the 21st century. Yes, it’s horrible that some parents instill their children with a terror of hell and tell them their friends are going there. But they would probably be abusing their children in other ways if religion were banned for kids. There is a certain mindset that goes along with that brand of family religion.

Third, what if they’re right? Dawkins argues that the probability of a biblical God is low, but he does not argue that it is zero. There’s no fundamental reason not to believe, for example, that the scientific world is an illusion and God is cruel and judgmental (see Heinlein’s Job). Maybe the crazies are right. I’m not so sure of my position that I’m willing to outlaw crazy theology.

Fourth, religion isn’t the only identity we attach to children. National identity and ethnicity is given as well. How many children have been killed because they were French or Croatian or Apache compared to those killed because they were Jewish or Protestant. We raise our children learning the language, culture and traditions of our nation and ethnic group. Should we refuse to have children say the Pledge of Allegiance? Should Native Americans not pass on their culture, which is clinging to life by a thread? I suspect Dawkins would say no.

I too feel rage when I hear of parents enculcating their children with absurd or even dangerous fundamentalist religious beliefs. But it is the price we pay for freedom. And the privilege of being a parent. It’s not pretty, but it’s the only way to let the world be run.