Tuesday, June 8, 2010
The Rage Against God: Chapter 14
Excerpts from Peter Hitchens:
Is religion child abuse?
The use of this claim that religious instruction is a form of child abuse in an argument for atheism is propaganda, not reason. It is, as John Henry Newman once said of Charles Kingsley, "poisoning the wells." We read to the young, show them beautiful things, introduce them to good manners, warn them against dangers, teach them their letters and multiplication tables, and make them learn poetry by heart, precisely because they are most impressionable in childhood—and therefore best able to learn these things then, in many cases long before they can possibly understand why they matter. In the same way, we warn them against various dangers that they cannot possibly understand. It is also true, as I think most observant parents know, that children are much more interested in the universe and the fundamental questions of existence than are adults.
So this is the moment at which we try to pass on to them our deepest beliefs, and the moment when they are most likely to receive them. As Philip Pullman has rightly said, " 'Once upon a time ..' is always a more effective instructor than 'Thou Shalt Not ... ,'" so we do this most effectively with stories. But if we ourselves believe—and are asked by our own children what we believe—we will tell them, and they will instantly know if we mean it and also know how much it matters to us. They will learn from this that belief is a good thing. We will also try to find schools that will at the very least not undermine the morals and faith of the home. And for this, we are to be called abusers of children? This has the stench of totalitarian slander, paving the road to suppression and persecution.
By contrast, I say unequivocally that if a man wishes to bring his child up as an atheist, he should be absolutely free to do so. I am confident enough of the rightness of Christianity to believe that such a child may well learn later (though with more difficulty than he deserves) that he has been misled. But it is ridiculous to pretend that it is a neutral act to inform an infant that the heavens are empty, that the universe is founded on chaos rather than love, and that his grandparents, On dying, have ceased altogether to exist. I personally think it wrong to tell children such things, because I believe them to be false and wrong and roads to misery of various kinds. But in a free country, parents should be able to do so. In return, I ask for the same consideration for religious parents.
However, the new anti-theism is emphatically not just an opinion seeking its place in a plural society. It is a dogmatic tyranny in the making. I can see no purpose in the suggestion that religion is itself child abuse, apart from an attempt by atheists to create the atmosphere in which religious instruction of children can be regulated and perhaps prevented by law.