December 13, 2010

Indoctrinating Children In a Religious Faith is Abusive

The God DelusionOne of the most controversial claims made by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion was that indoctrinating one's children into any particular religious faith is a form of child abuse. I'm sure that such a claim would lead Jon Stewart to object that when he thinks of child abuse, he thinks of some really nasty sort of sexual or physical assault. But I happen to agree with Dawkins. Research shows that emotional abuse has the potential to do as much harm as any other type of abuse, and religious indoctrination certainly can be a form of emotional abuse.

For those of us who accept this argument, the question quickly turns to one of what we ought to do about it. After all, religious parents almost always subject their children to indoctrination. It is difficult to overstate the frequency with which this occurs, and that means that even knowing where to start can seem overwhelming. We're talking about a major cultural shift here.

Richard Collins of suggests that we consider an international day of protest (update: link no longer active) as one of the things we can do to call attention to the problem.
After engaging in thousands of exchanges with parents and some clergy, it is clear to me that perpetrators are in denial that what they are doing is harmful and shrug off all the evidence that indoctrinating kids victimizes anyone. The glaring unethical abuse of children’s religious freedom is incomprehensible to them.
Strangely, Collins seems to want to blame this on liberals. I am not sure what that is about, as he makes no attempt to support this accusation. It is almost as if he thinks we should simply take his word for it that liberals are at fault for religious indoctrination. As a liberal who is vehemently opposed to religious indoctrination, I'm puzzled as to why Collins would seek to alienate liberals from this cause without good reason.

I support efforts to help people understand that choosing the religion of their children is abusive and that such choices should be left up to the children when they are old enough to understand their options. This is a meme about which I would think atheists would have much to contribute.