It was a good feeling to find out I was not alone in this thinking. Chapter nine of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion is titled, Childhood Abuse and the Escape From Religion. Admittedly, Dawkins' brand of atheism can be acerbic at times, and labeling religious and moral indoctrination of the very young as "abuse" on a par with other serious kinds of physical and psychological abuse is a tough stand indeed. But, like Dawkins, I am persuaded this is not an unwarranted characterization.
Shortly after I began this blog several months ago, I wrote the following excerpts from a post titled, Nothing Short of Brainwashing:
"Besides being innately curious, the mind if a child is particularly malleable, thus susceptible to the impulses of those charged with their upbringing. And when those impulses are offered to satisfy the caregivers rather than the child, the results can be horrific. The late and very wise Dr. Benjamin Spock had one thing right for sure: young children should be raised as individuals and not be driven to conformity as subjects of ritual discipline. (Benjamin Spock, Wikipedia) This methodology clearly suggests that a child's uniqueness be allowed to flourish even at the expense of parents' preferences - or prejudices." And:
"The introduction of simple, easy-to-comprehend, life-affirming values should be all that parents are allowed to instill in their children. From these, a firm foundation for more complex and morally pertinent values can easily be constructed. In other words, the nonsense that is religious dogma has no authentic role in cultivating either the mind or morals of a young child. The differences between right and wrong are readily discerned by accessing more universally accepted paradigms and without anointing religious parents or educators as arbiters of truth and morality."
I have to admit I felt the preceding thoughts of mine validated after reading Dawkins' scathing characterization of parental indoctrination.
In the gripping ninth chapter of The God Delusion, Dawkins cites theoretical psychologist Nicholas Humphrey and his lecture, What Shall We Tell the Children?. In the lecture, Humphrey lays out his arguments as to why "[c]hildren . . . have a human right not to have their minds crippled by exposure to other people's bad ideas - no matter who these other people are," and why, "[p]arents, correspondingly, have no god-given licence to enculturate their children in whatever ways they personally choose: no right to limit the horizons of their children's knowledge, to bring them up in an atmosphere of dogma and superstition, or to insist they follow the straight and narrow paths of their own faith."
These are strong positions with the capacity to offend those of a different mind on the matter. But I'll throw my lot in with Dawkins and Humphrey on this score. (Granted my own perceptions may be coloured by not only the fact that my two parents were bent upon imposing their will on their children as regards religious matters, but also by the fact that one struggled with alcoholism and the other with even more serious mental illness. These factors no doubt added a dimension of offensiveness and abusiveness to the whole business of our religious programming.)
Humphrey makes clear the notion that educating young children in the ways of science is by far the best alternative to demanding conformity from them via religious instruction. He proposes that science education is uniquely suited to take the place of religious inculcation precisely because it is not dogmatic and does not dictate. Science is rather a participatory process where access to the tools and evidence necessary to avow verifiable worldly truths is available to anyone, even children. Humphrey's correct assertion is that teaching science is nothing at all like imposing personal ideology. On the contrary, it's about encouraging children to exercise their own powers of judgment and understanding to arrive at their own beliefs.
So valuable is the commodity of a child's attention, it drove one Jesuit master - as Humphrey reminds us - to proclaim, "If I have the teaching of children up to seven years of age or thereabouts, I care not who has them afterwards, they are mine for life."
Such is the methodology of compulsory religious education of the young. To so completely indoctrinate them in the ways of religion that their own capacity to question their audacious authority figures is eviscerated thus extending the reach of god-driven ideology one more generation. That is unless one is fortunate enough to command the wherewithal necessary to emancipate himself from its clutches - not an impossible task, but according to my experience, an ardently long and painful process.