Thursday, February 1, 2007

Is Religious Education Child Abuse?

Human babies born today are more or less the same neurologically and biologically as human babies born ten of thousand years ago. We tend to think of humans from the past as more primitive than us, less capable of advanced thinking, less smart. But humans haven't evolved significantly in that regard in millennia. The scale required to really see noticeable changes in structures like brains in that regard is millions of years, not thousands. So it's not that a human born ten thousand years ago was less neurologically advanced than us--they weren't dumber. They just had access to less of the knowledge of the world that we had.

So really the only difference between a baby born today and one born ten thousand years ago is what you put into them. If you give them a first rate education that capitalizes on all the most recent advances of science and history, if you feed them well, if you nurture them in all the ways that we now know through science are the best for them, then you maximize their potential in the era of human history that they happened into.

But in our culture, a very strong presumption in favor of the parents' rights to control their child's upbringing has developed. It is so strong, that we let them teach the children anything they want, take them anywhere they want, and in effect indoctrinate them in any way they see fit. The parents' treatment of the child has to reach extremes before we will intervene. If there is outright physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, we legally intervene.

But consider educational child abuse. If we take a medieval or ancient worldview that makes simplistic and demonstratively false claims about the world, and if we teach that child that that is the truth, we rob them of thousands of years of important advances in science, physics, biology, history, and medicine. Consider the large percentage of the population who still believes that the earth was created 6,000 years ago. Consider how many people don't understand the rudiments of the scientific method. Consider the $40 billion or so that Americans spend on alternative, unproven medical treatments. The majority of Americans believe in ghosts, psychic powers, communication with the dead, and other paranormal phenomena. Every time a parent passes some of that to a child, the child has lost the opportunity to find out the truth, she's less equipped to deal with the real world as we know it, and her life will be filled with more ignorance, fear, and superstition. And she goes on to propagate those ideas, miring all of us in the past.

If we inculcate child with a simplistic set of moral principles from an ancient culture, we leave them ill equipped to deal with the radically different social, technological, medical, and psychological issues that face us now when we have to make responsible moral decisions. Consider the Ten Commandments that are so often touted as the pinnacle of moral guidance. It's naïve to think that we can resolve complicated new moral dilemmas like the morally acceptable use of stem cells to cure disease, or end of life euthanasia, or other medical decisions that are made complicated by 21st century advances in technology with a handful of aphorisms from the 2nd century. You will not find any clear answers to moral questions about in vitro fertilization, or fetal genetic testing in the Bible. But you will find some thoughtful guidance and relevant information in the works of moral philosophers, researchers, and analysts in the 21st century.

When parents impart a religious worldview that is 1,000 years old, or 2,000 years old to their children that ignores what humanity has learned about the universe, about history, about human psychology, about medicine, and everything else, they do a grievous harm to that child. The point would be obvious if a parent decided to only teach their child addition, but refused to let them learn multiplication, algebra, and calculus. And if a parent told their child that the food in the grocery store nourishes because it is inhabited by friendly benevolent spirits that help the body from the inside, we'd also be scandalized. If a parent told their child that everything that people think about history is a myth--there was no American revolution, there was no discovery of electricity, there was no World War I and II--but instead, all of the humans on the planet were put here last week by magical fairies, it would be obvious that the parent is not fit and the child's interests are not being served. So how is giving a child a religious education any different?

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

you're an idiot

Matt McCormick said...

That's a very thoughtful and carefully reasoned rebuttal, anonymous.

I guess that demonstrates how poorly the religiously educated can reason, which, if you didn't notice, was my point.

MM

Anonymous said...

Again, your argument only holds sway to someone who espouses liberal political ideals. Don Marquis is an atheist. He is also pro-life. So is James Wallace. Wallace holds many other conservative views as well.
You seem to think that atheists would all be pro-universal health care. Ayn Rand certainly was not.

Kaavberr said...

Matt has actually hit the proverbial nail on the head. It is not a matter of "liberal agenda" as most consevative or theist might wish, it is a fact of educational performance.

One example could be the account of Genesis 30, where Jacob uses colored sticks to supposedly make sheep and goats have colored or speckled coats. Not only is this bad science the story is also about moral corruption and deceit by Jacob to defraud Laban of multitudes of sheep and goat flocks. Thes animals in that period, and now, were high commodity.

So that story alone teaches not only poor science but wrong ethics.

I beleive this supports Matts arguement quite well.

Layne said...

I am so glad I found this article (and this blog period). I'm guessing most of my Christian friends would be solidly opposed to and disgusted by the idea of a parent relentlessly instilling their young child with a specific political ideology - but doing the same with a comprehensive worldview? Oh well, because it's Jesus it's fine.

Forcing young children to learn about and adhere to a philosophically complicated (and in the case of religion, inconsistent) worldview to me seems terribly dangerous and misguided. I can't imagine 8-year-old kids in Sunday school have yet developed the ability to think too deeply about what they're being taught, to analyze and examine doctrines for themselves. Instead, they're put in a position where they have assent to complicated ideas they shouldn't have to shoulder responsibility for at their age, else risk disapproval from some authority figure. This seems like intellectual bullying to me; the kids are put in a totally unfair position.

As a former Christian, now I can't imagine being a parent and instilling in my hypothetical future child a view that says from the moment they were born, they deserved to experience the worst possible suffering forever.

Layne said...

I am so glad I found this article (and this blog period). I'm guessing most of my Christian friends would be solidly opposed to and disgusted by the idea of a parent relentlessly instilling their young child with a specific political ideology - but doing the same with a comprehensive worldview? Oh well, because it's Jesus it's fine.

Forcing young children to learn about and adhere to a philosophically complicated (and in the case of religion, inconsistent) worldview to me seems terribly dangerous and misguided. I can't imagine 8-year-old kids in Sunday school have yet developed the ability to think too deeply about what they're being taught, to analyze and examine doctrines for themselves. Instead, they're put in a position where they have assent to complicated ideas they shouldn't have to shoulder responsibility for at their age, else risk disapproval from some authority figure. This seems like intellectual bullying to me; the kids are put in a totally unfair position.

As a former Christian, now I can't imagine being a parent and instilling in my hypothetical future child a view that says from the moment they were born, they deserved to experience the worst possible suffering forever.

Steve James said...

Ok, science is Lord. But the theory of monkeys is just another ancient philosophy which was poured into the brains of many people thousands of years ago. Darwin brought a mechanism to the ancient philosophy? Lol, he even had no idea about the cell’s structure. Even today, evolutionists are puzzled about how the first ling cell emerged, mutation is not a proven mechanism for species evolution, missing evolutionary fossil records, yet they accept nothing but Darwin’s imagination. Isn’t this brainwashing?

Valerie Anny from Kanje said...

Steve James, you are so undereducated it hurts my eyes to read that nonsense you have spouted. Everything you said are terrible misunderstandings. I don't even understand how you came up with them in the first place. I'm very puzzled and worried.

RR said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RR said...

Hello,

Considering your reference and dismissal of the 'religious worldview that is...2000 years old' (this obviously includes Christianity)...

Have you read the Bible in completion? Have you researched the words of the text in the authentic Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic to find out the depth and meaning of all things spoken of within the Bible?

Most pursuers of the truth (including myself) have not read everything in-depth in the Bible. Yet, what I have started to learn over the last 19 years is not at all worthy of dismissal.

The Bible is not merely a spoon-feeder. It is more than a wealth of knowledge.

No, I am not in a pursuit to attack your comments. I simply do not understand why you deny there is so much to discover about the world, in light of biblical content.

Countless scholars (Christians and non-Christians, as well as individuals of casual study) continue to research the words of the Bible and the meaning of the text within context. It is not surface reading at all.

It is wise not to dismiss a faith that you simply do not believe exists, do not understand and/or do not like. It is better to search the Scriptures for yourself and find out whether what is said, in context, is of concrete substance or not.

As you do so, over the years you can then begin to discover some of the rich wisdom, knowledge and understanding found within the biblical text.

You would then be able to consider whether educating children regarding Christianity truly 'ignores what humanity has learned about the universe, about history, about human psychology, about medicine' and so forth.

In fact, you would begin to discover that the biblical text contains the truth about the physical, mental, spiritual, medical, emotional world and more. There is still so much to discover about the universe and beyond, from the Bible.

Christianity existed long before 2000 years ago. As far as is known, the term 'Christian' was first recorded in the Bible after the claimed death and resurrection of Christ. Christians serve the Eternal God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (who is also known as 'Elohim'). So yes, the man Christ-Jesus walked the earth around 2000 years ago (He claimed to be God in the flesh). Nevertheless, the faith which today individuals in the West typically refer to as 'Christianity' has always existed.

There is so much to learn about this world, things which we do not know or understand in entirety. And, who can possibly claim to know all there is about Christianity, to the point of judging and dismissing the benefits of teaching children about it?

Rather than labelling the benefits as 'harm', why not search to find out whether what has been revealed 'in history, psychology' and so forth, concerning the Christian God is real?

Wisdom is more than words and equations. It encompasses demonstrating the humility to learn things you do not know and the willingness to sincerely accept any credible evidence offered - evidence that can be tried and tested.

In my own life, I have come to find that the more I pursue the Christian God, particularly by searching the biblical text, the more I discover credible evidence that proves He is real. I have also discovered that He is more than capable of proving Himself to be real.

It is therefore most unwise to claim that parents who teach Christianity harm their children.