Is Imposing Religion On Children Abusive?

Posted: March 9, 2010 in Catholicism, Christianity, Islam, Religion and Children, Religious Abuse
Tags: , , , , ,

The above is a question I’ve heard asked and discussed many, many times. In short, the answer is yes.

Religion is a personal choice, it’s one that adults choose for various reasons. These reasons usually boil down to the fact that it makes the follower feel better. Whatever the reasons for following religion, the important point here is that an adult is capable of making such a decision. Putting aside the fact that the overwhelming majority of religious people I’ve met are incapable of discussing their religion using logic and reason, they are still (usually) of sound enough mind to make an informed choice.

They can learn about evolution and choose to reject it. They can learn about the age of the earth and choose to believe it’s as old as the Bible says. They can ignore the hypocrisy and stupidity of the Bible/Qur’an or whatever other book they read and choose to follow it blindly. They can turn away from religion if they want. Most children in religious families do not have this option. They are simply told what to believe. In other words, they are indoctrinated. They are labelled as a ‘Christian child’, a ‘Muslim child’ or a ‘Catholic child’. As Richard Dawkins points out in The God Delusion we’d be appalled if we referred to a child as a ‘Labour child’ or a ‘Tory child’. We’d object to a child being used as an extension of their parents political belief. We’d say a child isn’t old enough to understand which political party they belong to. Why is religion any different?

Let’s remember we set an age of consent for sex, the reason being that children are not mature enough to consider the consequences of their actions. There is a minimum age for voting because children are not capable of understanding politics enough to make an informed vote. If children cannot do these things then they can never be expected to understand religion. I know plenty of adults who are still not able to decide what they believe.

Humans have evolved so that children listen to their parents unquestionably. If we tell them Santa delivers their Christmas presents, they believe us. If we tell them the tooth fairy will collect their broken teeth, they believe us. If we tell them God created the Earth in 7 days, started with Adam and Eve and requires us to live our entire lives according to the Bible, they believe us. If we tell them it’s wrong to be gay, they will believe us, and then experience absolute turmoil when they realise they are gay. To take a young mind and fill it with such rubbish can only ever be abusive.

The religious will obviously disagree. They argue that it’s their right to bring up their child according to their belief. But that is just the point. It is their belief.

This is one of those issues where society as a whole displays double standards. They scorn at the Westboro Baptist Church for making their kids stand with ‘God Hates Fags’ signs and they would no doubt scorn if a parent brought their child up as a witch or devil worshipper. They would be disgusted if a nutter who thought he lived his life in servitude to an alien god from Venus taught his young child to do the same. But some of these are the same people who will fill their child’s mind with their own delusions. What they are doing is taking their own life choices and imprinting them on their children. Children are so open to being imprinted, the Westboro Baptist church are a prime example of this. The children of the Phelps’ family believe exactly what their parents believe because it’s all they’ve ever been told. Could there be a better example of how dangerous this can get?

There will always be a small number of slightly liberal Christians who will not force their children to believe as they do. They are, however, a small number. All too often I read or hear stories of those who were forced to attend church, forced to pray and severely chastised if they even dared speak against the Lord! The fear of punishment is enough to qualify as forcing.

Can it ever be right to teach an innocent child that if they’re attracted to the same sex they’ll burn in hell? Based on nothing more than your own interpretation of an ancient text. Is it just me who sees this as atrocious? Children should be allowed to be innocent, to think about playing and having fun and not worry about going to hell. The sort of psychological damage this can, and does, do to kids is awful. I personally know of so many people who went through absolute turmoil, and some, complete ex-communication from their families, all because they reached an age where they realised that their whole childhood had been built on a lie. Because as they got older they realised their religion was incompatible with the realities of life. This issue is often magnified in Muslim families, where some are prepared to resort to murder if a family member turns from their religion. These families are completely self centred if they put their own opinion before loving their family.

I will be accused of thinking the way I do purely because I’m an atheist. I refute this. To impose any of our beliefs on our children in such a way that they do not question what they are told is indoctrination. This is not reserved for religion alone. We should encourage our children to think for themselves and not just pass on our own beliefs. It is equally abhorrent to bring a child up reading their horoscope, force feed them racist or homophobic views, tell them they belong to a particular political party, imprint our own bad eating habits on them (how many fat kids do you see with fat parents?), pass on our irrational phobias or our modern obsession with our image (how many kids do you see wearing makeup and mini-skirts?).

We need to question the parental ability of people who force their own beliefs on their kids. At the end of the day what is our job as parents? To give our children the start and the skills they need to be ready for life as an adult? Or is it to turn out mini clones of ourselves who think and act exactly as we do? Too many parents are choosing the latter.

  1. Arek says:

    Great post!
    Keep them coming.

  2. Emily says:

    I must agree religion is a personal choice. It is something people choose and parents may choose it for their kids, but their kids do grow up and they are people too, so they do have the ability to choose if that religion is right for them. You said this yourself “We should encourage our children to think for themselves and not just pass on our own beliefs.” I do believe that but if you pass on your beliefs to your children aren’t you the same as those who pass on their religious beliefs? Your beliefs may influence someone too?

  3. I can assure you I certainly have no intention of ‘passing on’ my ‘beliefs’ to my children. I will encourage them to form their own opinions and if they aren’t capable of doing that on a certain issue then they don’t need to worry about it until they’re older.

    The sort of beliefs I was talking about are things like telling your children: “Ignore the facts your science teachers are wrong, the Earth is not billions of years old it’s a few thousand years old and it was made in 7 days”. This kind of ignorance breeds ignorant kids.

  4. […] However, it’s not just Dave who is affected. His children have been brought up in this strange environment and, not surprisingly, believe just as he does. It is wrong to pass on your mental illness to your children and I have made my opinion on brainwashing children with religion clear here. […]

  5. whatif says:

    I agree mostly with your points, but there will always be some degree of influence a parent has over a child. Children are inquisitive and it is impossible for a parent always to give an unbiased answer. What about in a situation where it is illegal to impose your beliefs on religion to children – mum and dad would maybe disappear every Sunday morning and they’re not allowed to talk about it. How can you put this into practice?

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