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Could religion be considered prosecutable child abuse?

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In The God Delusion, Dawkins cites a man with a rather interesting opinion. He states that he doesn't actually endorse this opinion, but he rather presents it as something to think about.

I can't remember the guy's name (and I don't have the book with me at the moment), but he believes that it should be illegal to teach religion to children who are too young to look at the arguments and make the decision for themselves. He considers it to be child abuse. He believe it should be illegal in church, school, and even at home, by the parents.

I certainly understand his argument and I detest the way that children are brainwashed into religion. But there's still something about his argument that doesn't sit right with me. Discuss.

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I'm not disagreeing with you, because I don't think the government should have that kind of control either, but I'm going to play devil's advocate for a minute.

Can't it be argued that brainwashing children with religion is tantamount to using force to advance your religious ideas? Children will, after all, believe anything that adults tell them.

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By that argument, telling a kid the Earth is round would be using force to advance your rational ideas. I think the real objection is to the religious view, it's not about any force being used. In general, the state may not use force to censor such a view, no matter how irrational.

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Can't it be argued that brainwashing children with religion is tantamount to using force to advance your religious ideas?

No more so than any other act of being a parent involves the use of force. Young children cannot decide for themselves where they will live, what they will eat, which school they will attend, etc. These decisions must be left up to their legally responsible guardians.

The government has the right to intervene only in cases of actual (i.e., physical) brutality or neglect. It cannot decree which ideas parents may or may not impart to their children. To argue otherwise is to advocate intellectual dictatorship.

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Can't it be argued that brainwashing children with religion is tantamount to using force to advance your religious ideas? Children will, after all, believe anything that adults tell them.
Then, as I said, you have no right to say anything to a child. And the same would go for an adult, who can't be presumed to be any better able to use reason to integrate facts and arrive at conclusions (since that's a skill that has to be learned -- legally speaking, you couldn't be taught anything about thinking, and must discover it all on your own).

If you mean literally using North Korean Cold War brainwashing torture techniques, then of course you should not be legally allowed to brainwash any person, adult or human. Teaching is not brainwashing, so don't slip in loaded terms like brainwashing that refer to something entirely different.

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Hmmm, interesting viewpoint regarding teaching religion to children put forth by Dawkins. I think that in many respects he is correct, although obviously I would take a more specific approach regarding how to scutinize the way in which religion is taught and what the actual effects of it tend to be.

During ARI's campaign in defense of free speech by showing and debating the Mohammed pictures drawn by those Danish Artists that are probably still in hiding, Yaron Brook said something about the difference between free speech and insightment of violence. We do have laws against, for example, a mob boss pushing the button on one of his enemies. It falls under the umbrella of insighting violence through vocal commands, and it does not qualify as protected speech.

I would maybe advance the possibility that if there is a direct and credible threat to the safety of other individuals from the child being indoctrinated, that I could maybe support criminalizing the Mosques that spew out all of this "Death to America" garbage. Granted, not every religion neccesarily sends people out to kill, so this law would not cover every theist in question. But I can definitely say without any uncertainty that what some people do to their kids in the way that they dull their minds and rob them of intellectual curiousity is definitely child abuse.

There is something to be said for the arguement that you can't criminalize speech, so I guess my question would be does teaching children to hate others due to religion, or to teach racism based on it, qualify as insightment or does there have to be a specific order given out to kill a particular person before it qualifies as such?

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The problem I had with that passage was that it implied children(future adults) will automatically believe what they are told for all time. Children do not remain children forever, they grow up and are able to discern between true and false lessons. Almost all peoples ideas differ in many aspects from what their parents taught them. It is because they learn to THINK. It is irreasonable to say they cannot think about religion and decide whether they want to believe it or not.

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The problem I had with that passage was that it implied children(future adults) will automatically believe what they are told for all time. Children do not remain children forever, they grow up and are able to discern between true and false lessons. Almost all peoples ideas differ in many aspects from what their parents taught them. It is because they learn to THINK. It is irreasonable to say they cannot think about religion and decide whether they want to believe it or not.

I don't think the issue would specifically be that children would not learn to think for themselves, but the fact that the contradiction between what the child believes and what may be rammed down his throat. Parents often resort to irrational punishment systems and suppression of a child's indepedent social development with some of their religious teachings. Furthermore, a radical Evangelist/Catholic woman forcing her daughter to wash her privates with laundry detergent because she touches herself at age 13 IS child abuse, and I speak from experience as I have known girls who have had this done to them. It is not merely the teaching of religion, but what it can potentially result in physically.

I am not sure I fully agree with Dawkins, but he does make some good points.

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I feel obligated to point out that it was not Dawkins' idea. He was describing someone else's viewpoint.

And, Kufa, I disagree. Children will believe whatever they are told, and the vast majority of them will never grow out of it. Something like 90% of the people in this world die with the same religion they were born into.

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I feel obligated to point out that it was not Dawkins' idea. He was describing someone else's viewpoint.

And, Kufa, I disagree. Children will believe whatever they are told, and the vast majority of them will never grow out of it. Something like 90% of the people in this world die with the same religion they were born into.

I see, I scanned over the info on the link rather quickly and missed the fact that he was paraphrasing someone else. In that case, I can feel a measure of sympathy of the person whose viewpoint is being articulated by Dawkins.

@Kufa - Moose is pretty much correct, although I myself would obviously fall into the other 10% category, as my parents are not of the same denomination as me. It is very rare that a person is strong willed enough to think differently from what they are taught. I'd recommend picking up a copy of Ayn Rand's "The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution" and read the section regarding progressive pre-schools, it pretty much explains how early influences can fully destroy a child's independent identity.

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Children will believe whatever they are told, and the vast majority of them will never grow out of it.
The majority of children that are raised to be atheist will never grow out of it. Should we thus "brainwash" children into being atheists?

I think the problem isn't in religion, but in not teaching children to check their premises. A child who doesn't check his premises can be brainwashed by bad ideas and good ideas. A child who does check his premises can gain by being exposed to religion.

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Children will believe whatever they are told, and the vast majority of them will never grow out of it. Something like 90% of the people in this world die with the same religion they were born into.
I have to disagree on hte 90% theory. Almost everyone I know has a different religious system than their parents taught them. As a child I did believe a majority of what I was told. But now I don't still believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or a in multitude of things. If I could filter the information about these things, it is irreasonable to say that other children cannot filter other things.

Mooses idea kind of resembles the midevil outlook on classes; they thought that people would never be able to change their social position, people were simply born into their lives. It was all about where a person was born, that which they could not control. It was a very anti-free-will time. Moose's idea sounds that way to me. It is the same idea a lot of government officials use in their approach to the masses, that the masses are a mindless herd of sheep waiting for a good shepard. I think every child, age, say, six and up, as well as every adult(adults were[/] children at one point) has the basic choice of whether to think or not to think. If they choose not to think, they will end up being one of the "90%." It doesn't mean they have to believe what their parents, or any other "brainwasher" told them, but that they choose to believe it, or not to believe it. Even if 90% have the same religious beliefs as were taught them, it is through evasion, not through brainwashing.

In response to dark_unicorn, there is a difference between teaching children to believe what a parent believes and child abuse. Regardless of the situation, child abuse is wrong, religious issues included. Force is wrong too(ie. whipping your child if they ditch church).

I think the problem isn't in religion, but in not teaching children to check their premises. A child who doesn't check his premises can be brainwashed by bad ideas and good ideas. A child who does check his premises can gain by being exposed to religion.

I agree with hunterrose. Regardless of what people believe, it is meaningless if they inherit it without examining it and knowing why they believe it. If the "90%" theory is correct, they why should children be taught anything? If they are incapable of evaluating it, why would any other person be? I will remind the reader yet again that adults are prior children.

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In response to dark_unicorn, there is a difference between teaching children to believe what a parent believes and child abuse. Regardless of the situation, child abuse is wrong, religious issues included. Force is wrong too(ie. whipping your child if they ditch church).

This is correct, the abuse is a consequence of a belief being inacted, while the religion being taught is the belief itself. The difference lay between the cause and the consequence. However, the use of force is tied to a person's epistemology, hense the abuse stems from the religious belief, as it is used as an implementation.

What I am suggesting is that certain religious traditions will inevitably lead to abuse, because they're tied not merely to an evasion of rational thought, but to a blatant hostility to it. Speaking as a person who practices a religion, one that has been tied to abuse in some of it's variant forms, I do not think that the teaching of "faith" in itself will neccesitate abuse. But I can assert with full confidence that the Islamic form of teaching religion that I mentioned before (which may not apply to every Muslim, but would definately apply to every one making war with the United States and Israel) is, in itself, child abuse. There is nothing more abusive than teaching a kid that their own death, resulting in the death's of others, is their only purpose in life. There is little difference between this and pulling a gun out and offing your own kid for renouncing the religion (which I would suspect does happen in some middle eastern countries).

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  • 1 year later...

What do you think of the notion that indoctrinating children with a certain religion (or any ideology for that matter) could be considered child abuse? This is a topic that Richard Dawkins broaches quite a bit and, having been raised in a fundamentalist household, I am tempted to agree on certain issues.

Dawkins states two particular instances that he considers to be "child abuse:" scaring children with the concept of Hell and labeling small children as "Christians" or "Muslims," etc. I absolutely agree that scaring children with the concept of Hell is a form of psychological abuse, no less damaging than an alcoholic father constantly telling his children how worthless they are. I grew up with the concept of Hell ingrained in my mind so efficiently, that I still wince at the thought that I might be wrong and wind up in eternal torment. And I am now 26 years old and have been an atheist for nearly 4 years. I used to have nightmares and spend a good deal of my waking time pondering the ways I could be sure that I would avoid going to Hell. I know most people here will disagree with me on this, but I believe that this should legally be considered a form of child abuse, and I think it should be stopped by force of law.

The second example--labeling a child with a particular religion--I am not so sure of. While it's patently absurd to think a 6 year-old can know what he believes about the origin of the universe, I'm not sure I would call this child abuse.

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The real question here is: if parents impart irrational ideas (like religion) to their children, how does it violate the child’s rights?

If a child’s rights are being violated by its parents' actions, the government should take the child away from its parents (and take legal action against them) since the purpose of a government is to protect individual rights as such.

So the conclusion that the government should ban parents from imparting religious doctrines to their children is valid only if one can properly prove such an action violates the child's rights in some way.

I don't see how raising a child to believe in false ideas is, per se, a violation of its rights regardless of whether the child later, becomes a passive adult who blindly practices those beliefs.

Besides, parents have the right to raise their children according to their own standards and values. So as long as they are not directly violating their child’s rights (say, by compelling it to go on a long religious fast and depriving it of food, as a consequence), it's the parents' rights that get violated when the government starts dictating what they can or cannot impart to their children.

Of course, if the parents are inciting the child to commit violence against others in the name of their religion, and the child somehow assaults someone as a result, the government should hold the parents legally responsible for their child's actions.

In that case, even before the child actually commits assault, the government can separate the child from its parents and put it in a foster home or private orphanage (willing to take the child in) so that its parents can no longer influence it to violate the rights of others.

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I know most people here will disagree with me on this, but I believe that this should legally be considered a form of child abuse, and I think it should be stopped by force of law.

How, exactly, would such a law be enforced? How scary must a parents description of hell be before the state steps in? Is the mere mention of eternal damnation enough, or do the police arrive when the parent fills the place with fire, and pitch-fork wielding demons?

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Hmm, I don't recall starting a thread on this before. It just came to my mind b/c I was watching some A&E documentary on the Christian concept of Hell.

Anyway, I never said that parents should be prevented from imparting religious doctrines to their children. But deliberately scaring them with the concept of Hell is nothing short of despicable and can do severe psychological damage. If a child is being psychologically/emotionally abused, I absolutely think that the government should step in and remove him from his parents. This is not comparable to emotionally abusing an adult, as an adult will be psychologically mature enough to leave if he wants to. A child cannot leave for obvious reasons, and most likely would not even if he could, because he may not understand that he is being abused in the first place. There are all sorts of different legal standards, when it comes to children. I think this should be another one.

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Anyway, I never said that parents should be prevented from imparting religious doctrines to their children.
That probably derives from your having said "this should legally be considered a form of child abuse" which would lead to people thinking that you believe "I think it should be stopped by force of law". I cannot, myself, figure out what forms of religious teaching you think should be prohibited by law, and which should not be.
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That probably derives from your having said "this should legally be considered a form of child abuse" which would lead to people thinking that you believe "I think it should be stopped by force of law". I cannot, myself, figure out what forms of religious teaching you think should be prohibited by law, and which should not be.

It's quite explicitly stated that I am only talking about deliberate attempts to scare small children with the concept of Hell.

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