A superb article against the religious indoctrination of children

October 14, 2020 • 1:00 pm

Many of you must have had this experience: walking through the airport, say, and seeing a family of ultra-Orthodox Jews, with the little girls dressed like their mothers, and the little boys sporting sidelocks and yarmukes—all destined to grow up into lives exactly like those of their parents. Or you see a Muslim family, with the little girls wearing hijabs and “modest” clothing.  Or Amish and Mennonites, with the children exact miniatures of the adults. And as with the clothing and hair, so the beliefs.  Those children are doomed—doomed to adopt via indoctrination the religious beliefs of their parents. They will never be exposed to alternative points of view, will never have the chance for lives different from those of their religiously regulated and constricted community.

I find this ineffably sad, for this kind of religious (and cultural) indoctrination is nothing less than brainwashing. Famously, Richard Dawkins called it “child abuse”. And although that term angered many, including parents who assert the right to control their children’s religious beliefs, Dawkins was not wrong. It is abuse to limit the lives of children by filling their minds with religious nonsense as soon as they can understand language.

Reader Andy called my attention to this 23-year-old transcript of a lecture by Cambridge neuropsychologist Nicholas Humphrey: his plenary lecture to Amnesty International. That was nine years before Dawkins’s The God Delusion publicized the “child abuse” argument to the world. Surely Richard derived some of his views from Humphrey, for Humphrey’s are plain, courageous, and eloquent. Further, all of us who have John Brockman as an agent, including Dawkins, read stuff on Brockman’s website Edge, where this essay was published.

Humphrey’s lecture is the best thing I’ve seen written about why parents should not indoctrinate their children with religion, and I recommend it very highly. Click on the screenshot to read the transcript.

Humphrey is far from “strident” here. Though he’s passionate in his arguments, he also considers possible objections—before disposing of them.  And the gist of his argument is in this excerpt:

I shall probably shock you when I say it is the purpose of my lecture today  [is] . . . to argue, in short, in favour of censorship, against freedom of expression, and to do so moreover in an area of life that has traditionally been regarded as sacrosanct.

I am talking about moral and religious education. And especially the education a child receives at home, where parents are allowed—even expected—to determine for their children what counts as truth and falsehood, right and wrong.

Children, I’ll argue, 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. Parents, 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.

In short, children have a right not to have their minds addled by nonsense. And we as a society have a duty to protect them from it. So we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible, or that the planets rule their lives, than we should allow parents to knock their children’s teeth out or lock them in a dungeon.

That’s the negative side of what I want to say. But there will be a positive side as well. If children have a right to be protected from false ideas, they have too a right to be succoured [sic] by the truth. And we as a society have a duty to provide it. Therefore we should feel as much obliged to pass on to our children the best scientific and philosophical understanding of the natural world—to teach, for example, the truths of evolution and cosmology, or the methods of rational analysis—as we already feel obliged to feed and shelter them.

Now when Humphrey rules out “moral and religious” education, he doesn’t mean “moral” in the sense of “you can’t tell your children that hitting others or bullying them is wrong”. He means “morality as derived from the tenets of religion.” The lecture is in fact solely about religious beliefs, and doesn’t rule out teaching your children the kind of “moral” behavior that’s universally agreed upon by all, including secularists.

I won’t spoil the read for you with more excerpts, except to give one more below. Suffice it to say that Humphrey’s lecture is especially good because (like Dawkins’s books) it anticipates and answers counterarguments. Don’t parents have a right to teach their children their own faith? Even if religion is based on false tenets, isn’t it good to teach children those tenets if it makes them happier? And so on.  Humphrey then explains that religious indoctrination deprives the child of the right to hear about alternative beliefs and lifestyles, a form of learning that, if imparted, could give them richer and fuller lives.  In other words, religious indoctrination is like a mental jail in which children don’t ever get out, never breathing the fresh air of Freedom to Explore.

Lest you think I’m violating my determinism here by talking about “choice”, I’m not: I’m saying that you can make an good argument that not propagandizing children is better for them than forcing them to adopt your own beliefs. And perhaps those arguments will influence the brains of religious parents to lay off their kids, or at least prompt third parties to criticize this invidious indoctrination. Children released from religious “jail” then experience environmental inputs into their brains that can lead them to leave their religious lives behind. As an example, Humphrey mentions the Amish who, when drafted as conscientious objectors, were allowed to work in public hospitals—just as I did. Exposed to other ways of living and thinking, many of these did not return to the Amish way of life. (This stopped when Amish elders, seeing they were losing hold of their kids, got the government to agree to send Amish C.O.’s only to Amish-run farms.)

At any rate, here is the criterion that Humphrey uses to judge religious indoctrination as immoral:

So I’ll come to the main point—and lesson—of this lecture. I want to propose a general test for deciding when and whether the teaching of a belief system to children is morally defensible. As follows. If it is ever the case that teaching this system to children will mean that later in life they come to hold beliefs that, were they in fact to have had access to alternatives, they would most likely not have chosen for themselves, then it is morally wrong of whoever presumes to impose this system and to chose for them to do so. No one has the right to choose badly for anyone else.

This test, I admit, will not be simple to apply. It is rare enough for there to be the kind of social experiment that occurred with the Amish and the military draft. And even such an experiment does not actually provide so strong a test as I’m suggesting we require. After all the Amish young men were not offered the alternative until they were already almost grown up, whereas what we need to know is what the children of the Amish or any other sect would choose for themselves if they were to have had access to the full range of alternatives all along. But in practice of course such a totally free-choice is never going to be available.

And the second paragraph is the rub: there is no way that Orthodox Jews, observant Muslims, or the Amish, much less adherents to many other faiths, could ever refrain from imposing their beliefs on their children, for their religious beliefs and their lifestyle are almost one and the same. How could a hyper-Orthodox Jew bring up a child in a religion-free atmosphere?

But that’s a different question from “Is it wrong to indoctrinate children?”  It is wrong to brainwash your kids. What one should do to remedy the situation is much harder.

At the end of his piece, Humphreys offers one solution: make sure that all children are given a thorough grounding in science in school. Learning to think scientifically, he avers, and learning how to give reasons for what one believes, and think critically, will inevitably make children question all beliefs and, if they decide to be religious, will at least expose them to a variety of religions rather than the one they would have been forced to adopt. (I suspect the most likely outcome of this process, though, is atheism.)

The problem with this, of course, is that children aren’t given much of a scientific education when they’re young and vulnerable, and many—such as young Orthodox Jews or those who go to madrassas—are given no scientific education at all. Critical thinking courses, which naturally align with science, would help, but those aren’t on the menu for many believers, either. Can you imagine the Amish bringing up their children completely free from all religious doctrine, and making them go to secular schools where they learn science?

Humphrey’s arguments for why religious indoctrination is indeed a form of child abuse are eloquent and sound. His answers to those who criticize his views are also sound: parents do not have a “right” to fill their children’s heads with religious nonsense. What is lacking is a way to remedy this universal indoctrination. Humphrey’s own solution won’t work because it cannot be applied to those who need it most. Still, it’s useful for us to remember that this brainwashing goes on for millions and millions of children every day, and many of those children are forced into a narrow, blinkered life they wouldn’t have if they’d been given a better education.

Here’s a 2011 re-do of Humphreys Amnesty lecture:

h/t: Andy

63 thoughts on “A superb article against the religious indoctrination of children

  1. This highlights an enormous problem, and difficulty, in raising children.

    My canned answer for hijabs is “they are wearing them because a male gave them a choice.”

    1. Like it!

      The scandal of TANGIBLE religious child abuse rears its head from time to time in the UK: honour killings and child brides.

      And the perpetrators, obviously, are always men. But depressingly they are often supported by mind-manacled women.

      This arena is especially one which exposes the depravity of religious authority and its anchor in social mores utterly bereft of enlightened values we rightly hold dear today.

  2. This is also one of most powerful argument for public schools, which are now under attack from advocates of religious schools. Children in public schools can generally expect to get a secular view of life instead of propaganda for this, that, or the other God. The freedom of religion clause in the constitution should apply to adults, but not to children. A secular education should be guaranteed to the young.

    1. Wokeism being taught in public institutions suggests public institutions themselves are insufficient. What’s required is a commitment to plurality by all people. This eventually seems to fall to the, I think Popper, point: “when you have power over me, I demand tolerance because that is accordance with your principles. When I have power over you, I will crush you, because that is in accordance with my principles.”

      The abandonment of this foundation by just about everyone has made me increasingly sceptical of multiculturalism. Indeed, even this post is arguably demanding cultural compliance from those who do not wish to submit. While I certainly agree that my culture is best, and largely shared by most who post here, I’m not sure an objective outside determination of which culture is best can be done. Indeed, there seems something sad and small about a future where everyone shares the same cultural outlook across the entire planet. Tom Holland, the historian, has also started to convince me just how Christian my cultural norms actually are, even if I don’t believe in any gods.

      1. Democracy requires that we argue for our preferences and encode them in law and custom. Otherwise you just have another totalitarian state. Persuasion can be a slow, frustrating process, but it’s the best way to a rational approach to wellbeing.

        The problem with Christian cultural norms is they are not arrived at by a rational approach. They are essentially anti-democratic. This can lead to hell on Earth, (like no dancing or card playing). 😲

  3. The same could be said of indoctrinating children into sexually stereotypical roles. The Barrett children were a good example as they paraded into the hearing: the boys in suits, all the girls in dresses. While their mother may not fit the stereotype as far as education is concerned, she certainly seems to from the standpoint of clothing.

    1. The distinction that makes a difference is that the “clothing” of hijabs, burquas, etc. is they are symptoms of the disease of religion.

    2. “The Barrett children . . . as they paraded into the hearing: the boys in suits, all the girls in dresses.”

      Following your lead in shifting from religious indoctrination to fashion, pray, tell, what should they have worn that would not reasonably warrant such scrutiny? Tight low-cut jeans with bare midriffs and baggy pants, putting themselves in a compromised position should they bend over or lose their grip of the waistband? Would they still have been “parading” regardless of what they wore, or does that depend on ones political perspective?

      I suppose it possible that a fly landed on at least one of them during the event. I can hardly wait for NYT fashion editor Vanessa Friedman to hold forth from Mount Olympus on their (their mother’s) sartorial choices as she did Pence’s, noting his Diptera “fashion accessory,” and decreeing him a “relic” with his “snowy hair that appears practically painted on.” Such weighty matters. (www.nytimes.com/2020/10/08/style/vice-presidential-debate-kamala-harris-style-fly.html)

      The children were privileged to witness Kamala Harris’s vaunted “prosecutorial” (“Yes or No”) questioning of their mother – after Harris indulged in requisite prefatory political rhetoric and posturing and parading for the benefit of “the American people.” I found that irksome, but it did not keep me from voting for her today on the first day of early voting. I look forward to her winning and succeeding (at resisting her Woke constituency). (Though a small part of me looks forward to her getting reciprocal, repeated large doses of prosecutorial questioning.)

  4. He is wrong about Jonestown though. First, it was 1978, not ’72. Second, they did not “willingly [drink] cyanide” because 1/3 of the deaths were children ranging from infants to 18 years old. Toddlers do not “willingly drink cyanide”. They were given the cocktail which included cyanide along with other drugs. Lastly, scholars refer to them not as a cult, but as a “new religious movement” which I like because it classifies all such thinking together. I remember hearing a definition of a cult as “what the large congregation calls the small congregation.”

      1. Some of my favorite “cult” quotes:

        The difference between religions and cults is determined by how much real estate is owned. (Frank Zappa)

        Religion: a large popular cult.
        Cult: a small unpopular religion.

        Just remember: all religions were cults at one time.

        If you have a few hundred followers, and you let some of them molest children, they call you a cult leader. If you have a billion, they call you Pope.

        One person believing in a magical man in the sky is madness.
        One hundred people believing in a magical man in the sky is a cult.
        One million people believing in a magical man in the sky is a religion.

      2. I thought the difference was:

        Cult: the person who invented the cult knows that it’s all nonsense, made up for his own benefit.

        Religion: that person is now dead.

  5. A related question is whether (religious) parents have the right to cut healthy, living tissue off their male baby’s penis.

    To which the only defendable answer is “no”.

    1. A simple way to solve that question.., as if it was ever a genuine question… is : can the adult make decide for themselves what to do with their own penis?

      Factor in the national pediatric association guidance, and the question becomes what, precisely, the penis cutters are trying to accomplish.

      1. It is an interesting feature of traditional societies that initiation into adulthood features some ordeal involving physical pain if not torture. If people want to complain about circumcision, try participating in the Sun Dance.

        Has everyone, everywhere, been abusing children and young adults for centuries, and we just figured it out, or is trauma being utilized perhaps to forge an identity, to demonstrate courage, and to signifying belonging in some inexorable fashion? [Nobody is complaining about all the awful piercings and tattoos I notice, which are painful and can lead to medical complications.] Can there be good trauma? Our ancestors all seemed to think so.

        Is circumcision worse than exam stress? I don’t hear about boys killing themselves over circumcision, but there is a whole Japanese suicide genre around exam failure.

        I find it strange that many seem to have God’s Eye View on the customs of others, but don’t notice the toxicity of many of their own practices.

        I’ve known some practicing Jews, they are nice people, they aren’t out to torture their children. Its hyperbole. Does circumcision reduce sensation? Probably. Since when has the degree of sensitivity in the penis been the Prime Directive of all existence? Does it outweigh belonging to a distinct people and maintaining your folkways and identity? Is it science that tells us so?

        1. Since when has the degree of sensitivity in the penis been the Prime Directive of all existence?

          I mean excluding Andrew Sullivan, of course.

  6. If and when people embrace God it should only evolve from a position of profound scepticism.

    My three children are atheists, reflecting in no small measure my and their mother’s influence.

    Have I not indoctrinated them in MY world view, religious friends ask? To which I say I have, in part, but it is one that admits refutation. It is one that captures the very foundation of belief: doubt.

    I have less indoctrinated my kids than given them a platform to test the very leap of faith that must instantiate belief.

    And that is precisely what a religious upbringing denies. Which is why it IS a sham. And devoid of the integrity a secular education provides.

    Ironically, I feel I’m more serving of their cause than religious dogmatists will ever be.

  7. We cannot separate what happens to the children of the very religious from what happens to the children of the very disturbed. The Trump children.

  8. Great lecture. Thank you for referring it. It reminded me of this past interview with Dawkins. I was disappointed that he backed down when Mehdi Hasan asked him if he considered him guilty of child abuse for teaching his daughter about Islam and the flying horse. (Hasan had proudly admitted that he actually believed Muhammad rode a winged horse to heaven). The full interview is great but the bit mentioned above is around 22:40.

  9. Ignatius of Loyola is famously credited with the saying “Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man.”
    He also wrote: “We should always be prepared so as never to err to believe that what I see as white is black, if the hierarchical Church defines it thus.” Thus, St. Ignatius ought to be credited as the founder not only of the Jesuit order, but also in his way of both fascism and communism.

    But St. Ignatius must have been wrong about those first seven years, for at least a very
    significant number of people. If not, we would never have experienced the Reformation, the scientific revolution, or the continuing growth of secularism. Therefore, I wonder whether religious brainwashing during those first seven years mightn’t be considered a
    kind of selective screen: those individuals capable of critical thought will escape it, while those not capable, will not. But the latter group would otherwise have ended up believing some other superstitions, such as Coast to Coast radio, or that Reb Schneerson was the Messiah, or that Donald Trump is.

    1. It is worth pondering why some (like me) were raised in and around the church for at least the first seven years still managed to wriggle free of the mindless indoctrination while others lapped it up like greedy dogs. Why do I have ministers in the family yet never did I feel even remotely moved to adhere to such a life. What got lost or gained between my grandparents and myself? And why are my siblings as religious (Or perhaps spiritual) as my parents? Guess I got the two recessive alleles for atheism while my sisters got at least one gawd gene allele, while my brothers and many cousins are homozygous for gawd. 🤔

  10. Humphrey professes to believe that children “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.” He’d do well to include himself. Humphries bad idea is that parents forfeit their parental rights if they raise their children with their own religious beliefs and values. If that isn’t religious discrimination, I can’t imagine what is. By extension this “child abuse,” if that’s what it is, should be cause for the State taking the children away from their parents. Good luck with that. Sorry if I come across as rude on this one, but Humphrey isn’t even wrong.

    1. You didn’t come across as rude, but as clueless. It IS child abuse to make young girls wear hijabs, get genitally mutilated, not have a life outside of the yeshiva, get terrified with thoughts of hell, and so on. I’m sorry, but it’s wrong. Did you even read the long paper? Did you see his discussion of “rights”? He proposes a solution that is not taking the kids away from their parents.

      Millions of children have had their lives stunted and warped by religious indoctrination, and you think that indoctrination is just fine and dandy. I’ve met some of those children who have grown up and considered themselves abused. I think Humphreys is right.

      1. I’ve met some of those children who have grown up and considered themselves abused. I think Humphreys is right.

        As one of those (former) children, I concur. The hell as a literal place is indeed abuse. I spent years as a child terrified and worried about my eternal damnation. As someone who clawed their way out, I feel very vehement about it. When my son went to stay with my parents for the first time I gave them an ultimatum. Teach him their version of religion (including their hell) and he’d never visit again. He’s a freethinker, with access to any information he decides to ask for. He had a fascination with shamanism, I got him books. He was into runes, I got him more books. He asked about biology, I got him textbooks. He won’t be stymied by fears of sinning by having too much information in this house.

    2. Just because you have children, that does not give you a right to treat them as possessions. Personally I’d like to see more state intervention. The trick is what to do with them. Making all education open & removing parental “choice” over thst seems a good place to start.

      PS “Not even wrong” = right!

  11. You can bet that in a country like ours, where you can beat your children, feed them absolute garbage fast food, smoke cigarettes around them in houses and cars, mutilate the genitalia of baby boys, and withhold vaccines and other medical treatment the idea that anyone should be able to prevent religious indoctrination ain’t gonna fly. I can’t imagine any argument that will change the minds of ‘murca.

  12. I will take the time to read his article as I have been busy making appointments today. This subject is very interesting because it is what religion is all about. Brainwashing the kids is the whole game in religion. It may be more noticeable in some religions than in others but they all live by it. Indoctrinate the children and that is the future of the religion. I never had a religion and was very lucky to avoid it. I somehow escaped what nearly all kids go through to receive the religious evolution that follows them the rest of their lives.
    I am the lucky one.

  13. (I suspect the most likely outcome of this process, though, is atheism.)

    It is difficult to express how true this statement is, at least for me. I grew up in a non-religious household. It’s not that my parents are/were atheist, it’s simply that religion wasn’t a part of our life. My mother was an anthropology student, she is fascinated with Egyptology and that’s as close to religion as we got.

    Before I was 17, I had been to church twice, once when I was 4 or 5 my grandfather bribed me with a hot chocolate, tiny colored marshmallows included. Once when I was 7, to get a paper viking helmet. My parents didn’t even take us to weddings or funerals. I had no idea what people did in church, it wasn’t even a fleeting thought past waiting for some friends to get home on Sunday so we could play.

    We celebrated Xmas with family, gifts and a tree, Easter with candy baskets and Fannie May bunnies. We watched the Xmas specials and The Ten Commandments but it never dawned on me that these were supposed to be real stories.
    I was in my 20s the first time I met someone who was overtly religious, it was a shock to hear her talk. I’m shaking my head just thinking about it and that was nearly 40 years ago.

    To this day I’m still shocked when I hear people who seem sane talk about religion like it’s true.

    Deja Vu. I’ve probably posted this story before but I can’t help myself. I really do not understand why people believe any religion is true.

  14. This brings to mind two things:

    1/ Amy, the person on TV from Washington, D.C. all day yesterday; and not what she and servants might teach her large tribe of adopted and actual children; but just how she herself was raised; and the extent to which an evidently very intelligent child is still psychologically hobbled; and relevant to the point about a cult not having cultishness because of small size, being ‘accused’ of that by a large-sized cult. Though perhaps the babblers of tongues are few within the Roman catholic cult.

    2/ The shock many of us got and continue to get, not from the fact that there exist some monsters like Mass Murderer donald, but rather at the number of USian voters ready to fall for an obvious con man. I think a lot of that relates to very defective brains via the lack of non-cultish education. One hopes at least that most of the remaining Western world is more than marginally better in that respect. It’s certainly much less religiously oriented than the US. The additional thing here is that some of these people bounce around between two or more different forms of laughable non-truths. For example how many (Christian fundamentalist)-raised are now convinced Q-anon-ers? (without necessarily dropping their religious superstitions)

    I live in the country right in the midst of Old Order Mennonite farms, so this is brought to mind just seeing the children walking down my road to their 1-room ‘school’. It does teach some practical stuff like how to speak English if their older siblings haven’t taught them yet, and how to be a very competent housewife/farmer in many aspects of that. Unfortunately 13 year old boys still much too frequently drive tractors sideways along the middle of a steep hill and have it fall over on top of them. But that’s a different topic. Some of course eschew tractors, as they all do for cars, for the horse-and-buggy. They are fine people, but astoundingly ignorant in many ways through no fault of their own.

    1. My original response seems to have disappeared – sorry if this is a duplicate.

      I am glad you referenced “Old Order Mennonite” as opposed to the often used but inaccurate equivalence of Amish and Mennonites. The Amish split from the Mennonites in 1693, claiming that the latter were too ‘of the world.’ This perspective continues to this day, and the Amish no doubt consider the relative small numbers of Old Order Mennonites and Black Bumper Mennonites to be way too worldly. Most Mennonites these days would be physically indistinguishable from your typical Presbyterian or atheist.

      Most importantly related to this post is that the Amish do not allow their children to attend school past the eighth grade. [Since Indiana requires students to go to school until they are at least 16, the 8th grade Amish always had a great basketball team!] Most Amish attend Amish-only schools. While there are some Mennonite schools, most Mennonite kids attend public school and many go on to college, university, and graduate, medical and law schools. Education is likely a key contributor to the fact that there are a lot more former-Mennonites than there are former Amish, affectionately known as jerked-over. 🙂

  15. TOO, Mr Hitchens within his life and
    repeatedly and to my own one working ear
    when he was in town lecturing that, indeed,
    ” Religious education IS child abuse. ”

    Further, he had also stated repeatedly and
    within many, many venues that AllWeAll ‘ld
    soooo have for ourselves such a different,
    different, so peaceful … … and happy
    WORLD IF there had been .NO. SUCH RELIGIOUS
    INDOCTRINATION IN TO the innards of the
    World’s children’s crania. All over google
    one can find Mr Hitchens’ quotations and
    excerpts to these of his researched f a c t s.


  16. Mostly agree with the concept that indoctrination is child abuse.

    I would, however, take exception to his point that children should not be exposed to “other people’s bad ideas”.

    When kids are old enough to start philosophical inquiries on their own, which usually starts in mid-teens, I think they should be exposed to as many ideas, good and bad, as possible. They can, at that point, and maybe with parents or other adults as good listeners, begin to analyze the content, and compare various philosophies. I think that is very useful.

    When I was seventeen, a friend invited me to go to her Presbyterian church’s youth group with her. After two or three weeks, my reaction was basically, meh. But, the church was located in an area of the town where there was a church on every corner. I asked her if she ever wondered what those other people were thinking. She wasn’t as curious as I was, but she was sort of interested, so for the next several weeks, after her mother dropped us off, we would walk to another church and sit in on their youth group. We did that for five or six weeks, and stopped because my friend was afraid that her mother would find out. That didn’t strike me as a red flag until several years later.

    My impression of the various churches was that they were a;; saying the same thing, which was, “We’re RIGHT, and all those other people out there are WRONG”. I found their certainty and rigidity repellant. I wanted to ask them how they were so certain. I also recoiled at their smugness.

    That experience has stayed with me, all these years. I don’t think older kids should be blocked from that kind of inquiry.


    1. If it is not too late to post, that is a wonderful story. And a fine bit of education.
      Too bad there is no mechanism for extending it to many kids. Or maybe there is, come
      to think. Propagandists for Islam are trying to get school children exposed to their cult, so why not demand that school children be required to attend lots of different cult

  17. I think it was Plato’s idea to raise all the children in a creche so they could be brainwashed by the State directly, rather than trusting parents to do so.

    Brainwashing/Socialization, its like terrorists and freedom fighters. They brainwash their children, we socialize them. We give our children a “choice” (even if we don’t believe in choices), they don’t give their children a choice (even if they believe in choices).

    I think its nice that the State isn’t single-handedly indoctrinating people, but the default is that parents have leeway to indoctrinate children in their own manner. America provides parents with a lot of freedom that other peoples do not enjoy. Europe is purportedly liberal, but not on homeschooling, they want the kids in State schools to receive national indoctrination.

    Obviously, the statist culture is even stronger in former Soviet countries and in China. I think it comes down to diversity in the meaningful sense of tolerating counter cultural movements, or whether everyone is socialized and homogenized into cogs in the nation-state. Yes, the modern state is secular, most of the subcultures are not secular, but I think you gain as much as you lose by having Amish communities or Mennonites or Mormons. Certainly, fundamentalism can be pernicious, but there are plenty of pernicious (and fundamentalist) secular ideologies to choose from as well.

    I certainly am not buying the “choice” argument, as we don’t generally believe choices exist, and its like saying parents shouldn’t use English around children so that the children can have the “choice” of what primary language to learn when they grow up. No, you give your children linguistic and cultural reference points, and they are mostly derived from the ones you received as a child. Further, if you take Christmas for example, even secular people who celebrate Christmas, it has a communal, social, meaning that transcends the individual, and that is what helps to make it meaningful. If you were in rural Mongolia celebrating Christmas by yourself, it wouldn’t mean the same thing, because the locals would just see it as eccentricity. The idea of knocking down all cultural reference points because it impinges someone’s “choices”, well, isn’t it funny that most people don’t copy the decor of international airports.

    1. Indoctrination is wrong, and there really is a difference between indoctrination and socialization even though the boundary area is large and fuzzy. The problem is —

      I think its nice that the State isn’t single-handedly indoctrinating people, but the default is that parents have leeway to indoctrinate children in their own manner.

      — that any “cure” powerful enough to do anything, is likely to be worse than the disease.

      1. As Philip Larkin noted (sorry about the language):

        “They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
        They may not mean to, but they do.
        They fill you with the faults they had
        And add some extra, just for you.

        But they were fucked up in their turn
        By fools in old-style hats and coats,
        Who half the time were soppy-stern
        And half at one another’s throats.

        Man hands on misery to man.
        It deepens like a coastal shelf.
        Get out as early as you can,
        And don’t have any kids yourself.”

  18. Although I share Humphrey’s hope that parents teach science over religion, his thesis seems hopelessly naive and, perhaps, willfully so.

    Parents have beliefs and are in charge of a child’s welfare. This says to me that the parents are going to teach them their beliefs and they have the right to do so. Society does place limits. Certain behaviors are proscribed regardless of the parent’s beliefs and there are mandatory educational requirements placed on the child. But generally the parents have the right to teach their children the best they can. I don’t see how things could operate any differently. The government could take the children away and send them to government-run camps, which is what happens in extreme cases, but that would not be a good general policy.

    So what tools are available to us that will help prevent damage to the child? Public education seems to be the best. That the trend seems to be away from public education and toward home schooling and private themed schools is the wrong direction. It increases division and deprives children of exposure to what society believes.

    The other tool available to society is teaching the parents. Here the news isn’t good either. There is now so much talk about individualism, which is often a code word for “I can think whatever I want. I have my own truth.” People who know very little are increasingly feeling confident that their opinion is what matters most. Though they have the right to do this, it only works if they are educated and pay attention to what’s happening in the world. This doesn’t work well in a complex world. While trust in authority can be abused, it has its purpose.

    It is hard to know who exactly Humphrey is talking to. He seems to be preaching to the converted. His heart is in the right place but it seems like a flight of fantasy to me.

  19. … Humphrey mentions the Amish who, when drafted as conscientious objectors, were allowed to work in public hospitals—just as I did. Exposed to other ways of living and thinking, many of these did not return to the Amish way of life. (This stopped when Amish elders, seeing they were losing hold of their kids, got the government to agree to send Amish C.O.’s only to Amish-run farms.)

    I thought the Amish (or at least some of them) practiced a rite known as Rumspringa, in which teenagers are encouraged to spend a year or two out in the regular world, sowing some wild oats (after a fashion, anyway), to decide if they were willing to commit to spending the rest of their lives in the cloistered Amish community?

    1. I suspect it would be too late for the majority of teens. Especially since they have been very carefully taught from infancy how not to think. My nephew, raised evangelical, was told to spend time considering other philosophical options and other avenues in life. Of course, there was one small catch…his mother would have nearly disowned him if he made the wrong choice.

    2. That custom seems entirely missing around here in southern Ontario, among the Old Order Mennonites. Their ancestors moved up here from Pennsylvania mostly I believe. Amish are similar, though whether their admirable pacifism is also the case with the Amish I don’t know.

    3. Ken – in northern Indiana [long ago], we noted that the Amish kids did not have to completely conform to the Amish community until they joined the church – the point of no return so to speak. It was common that the young folks, particularly the girls, to dress in the traditional Amish garb all day long, and then get gussied up like the English for a night on the town.

  20. Psychiatrist Andy Thompson at American Atheists 2009 : https://youtu.be/1iMmvu9eMrg

    At the end of showing that religion simply usurps extant neurological/psychological phenomena, he says teaching this science is going to spark a modern Scopes trial.

  21. That was excellent – thank you for sharing.

    seeing a family of ultra-Orthodox Jews, with the little girls dressed like their mothers, and the little boys sporting sidelocks and yarmukes—all destined to grow up into lives exactly like those of their parents. Or you see a Muslim family, with the little girls wearing hijabs and “modest” clothing. Or Amish and Mennonites, with the children exact miniatures of the adults. And as with the clothing and hair, so the beliefs

    Far less exciting, I harken back to my youth, where me and my four siblings wore the apparel of the non-denomination evangelical. Sisters in skirts (below the knee, stockings, close toed shoes), brothers in polos, long pants and short hair. We were most certainly indoctrinated. I was taught that humanism was akin to Satanism. Sesame Street was ‘secular propaganda’. Carbon dating was a myth. Scientists leaned on their own understanding (calling back to my least favorite bible verse, this is a bad thing to people of that variety of religion).
    I moved out at sixteen, or was kicked out, depending on who you asked. My parents would say I left because I was ‘rebelling’. I would say they kicked me out because I got a secret tattoo.
    When my parents would lament my alleged failures they would always say ‘we gave you too much freedom’. And in a way, they are right. While most media was restricted, science fiction (of the hard, dry variety) was always given a pass. For that I am eternally grateful.
    I grew up, got a job, started a life. And then I decided that I needed to go to college. And I took a science class. That professor was my first exposure to a scientist. It was community college, but it was profound. We were allowed (asked) to write down three questions about science after class every day, regardless of the content of the course, and he would choose several to answer the next day. I had so many questions! He answered so many. And I had this moment, pardon my language, where I was like “Holy shit, we do know these things! We do have evidence! We can keep knowing!”.

    Apologies to all for the novel, this is something I feel very passionate about. I look at my siblings, two are nominally and culturally Christian still, two are like me, atheist.
    The two who remain faithful were not the ones reading science fiction. They were not the ones asking for more information. They were happily social, sporty, popular.
    I don’t know what made us different.

    There is a reason the US is (I think) the only nation on the planet to not ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. And there are two reasons for that – it contains a clause about a child’s right to have religious freedom, and condemns corporal punishment. We, here in the US, still view children as property of their parents. Theirs to indoctrinate and beat at will.

    1. If you take the basic instruction of children away from parents, and make it the responsibility of the state, it can have disastrous effects as well. I am thinking particularly of the former East Germany, where efforts to deprogram traditional Christian views on family and sexuality messed up a lot of kids.

      For most of us here, religious ideology just does not seem rational. But I don’t think you can just remove religion and not replace it with something else. In that respect, it is sort of like defunding the police. Recognizing that there are problems with police militarization and misconduct, it might seem that abolition would superficially seem like a solution. But if you remove the police, you quickly find out that something terrible would fill the void, like unrestrained criminal activity, and vigilantism as a response. And those things happening are why the police were established in the first place.

      I am surrounded by Mormons and Amish. I don’t agree with many of the things they believe, but they are really great neighbors. They tend to be very hard working and honest people, and very willing to help others in the community. I don’t think their tendency to thrive is completely unrelated to their religion. You could no doubt formulate an atheist belief system that also instills the positive aspects of those religious traditions. But that is a complex undertaking, and is a lot more than just the absence of religion.

      1. I think you have some good points – see my comment below that I made before seeing yours. Amish are properly Christian I would say. What I would guess is best is allowing or insisting upon state education that means religions are looked at within the context of society – studied that is. Also that teaching science & critical thinking is given proper weight. Then a child can decide for itself, which is probably what most of us would want. If a child has learnt tolerance & seen the variety & complexity of the world, I’d hope that would make for less need for state removal of children from abusive families as the parents would be better educated.

        We live in hope, if in vain!

        1. I don’t attend Amish religious meetings or anything, but we interact quite a bit, in normal neighborly ways. We even have an isolated campground on our river that is frequently used by Amish families. They helped build some of our barns.
          But the interesting thing to me is how completely normal they are.

          As for the kids, they do tend to be healthy, happy, and always seem to have a great work ethic. You hear about exceptions to that, particularly among groups like the FLDS. I don’t know whether abuse is more prevalent among mainstream Amish and Mormons compared to the population in general. I know that they tend to be less educated about sexuality than is normal, but that seems to be a spectrum, with the secular DDR system at least as destructive as most of the strict religious systems.
          I suppose the core of the issue is what goal we are trying to achieve when teaching our kids. If we just want them to be happy and productive, that does not preclude them having religious beliefs, although some religions are clearly impediments to those goals.
          It may well be that religion fills a human need. I don’t think many of the woke follow traditional religion, but they certainly exhibit behavior that one normally associates with a cult. In particular, I have been reading some accounts of woke people threatening to prevent their parents from interacting with the grand kids unless they repent the blasphemy of conservatism. Cutting off contact with non believing family members is a classic sign.

          So you have all these people who don’t seem to believe in a god, but engage in shunning, and believe strongly in the doctrines of original sin, blasphemy, confession, even veneration of saints. There does not seem to be much possibility for redemption, though.
          They rejected Judaeo-Christian beliefs, then built a system mirroring those beliefs, and cling to it as strongly as any evangelical, with just about as much tolerance for dissent.

          I would be very interested to see what sort of system woke people from a Hindu or Animist background would come up with.

          I would also be interested in whether kids raised in an Atheist tradition are more susceptible to becoming fanatical converts when faced with moral crises.

    2. Thanks for telling this story. A couple of things came to mind reading it.

      1) Yeah science fiction! It’s like the Rock ‘n Roll of literature. Crazy, subversive.

      2) The contrast of your parents kicking you out of the house for getting a tattoo vs my mom, upon seeing an earring in my ear for the first time, excitedly running into her bedroom to start going through her jewelry box for earrings I might like.

  22. “ Amish C.O.’s” – ?? Child orphans??

    I have to say, aside from the religious guff & not wanting modern medicine, the Amish lifestyle is quite attractive. I imagine it is healthier & that they manage the land well & because I suppose they do not use pesticides I’ll bet wildlife thrives…???

  23. I recall that when I was a kid my dad (Reform Jewish agnostic) had me come with the parents to Sabbath service every Saturday, but my mom (ex-Baptist, ex-Methodist, ex-Catholic freethinker) took me around every Sunday to every church, temple, synagogue, etc. in town to see what other people believed. What I learned was that the Catholic churches had the prettiest windows, the Greek Orthodox had the most statues and paintings, the Black Baptists had the best choirs, and the Quakers had nice quiet churches where I could fall asleep and not be bothered. I eventually grew up to become a Neo-Pagan.

    1. I agree with Dawkins about religious indoctrination, but I don’t like that he is a TERF (which means he is transphobic) and an Islamophobe.

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