Thursday, 18 March 2010

Atheist Dogma

OK, I know that the title is immediately going to get some hackles up, but that’s kind of the idea. Atheism may not have a book of parables, or an organised unifying body, but there are memes and arguments that get trotted out again and again when debating the religion vs. atheism bit. Even generally unimpeachable people like Professor Dawkins are guilty of it…

A child should be a child… not a Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, [insert religion of choice], child.

This argument actually demeans the person making it. The standpoint of a broad comparative religious education with no single theistic tradition being pushed is the stance of the more open-minded atheists and secular humanists. Just as education in a parent’s chosen theistic tradition is an identical choice by a religiously devoted parent. Please note I said ‘education’ whereas many of the more militantly minded would call it ‘indoctrination’.

If a parent believes their chosen religion to be right (and that is rather the idea) why would they then compromise their views and teach their child anything else. I would suggest that such a dichotomy could be psychologically damaging to a child – just as 'don’t do as I do, do as I say' has always been.

Is it indoctrination to teach a child manners in the tradition of your country, family, household? What about language? If you teach your child the language spoken in your home country and leave the speaking of a foreign language until they are at school, is that indoctrination?

Without the weighted meaning that ‘indoctrination’ has taken on in the theistic debating chamber the answer is yes, but by the same token it is therefore education.

A religious upbringing is absolutely analogous to the teaching of language and manners because religion encompasses these very things. Religion has its own language, it has a set of values and expected behaviours; manners.

Who is anybody to say to anyone that the choice to raise a child in a particular faith tradition is wrong?

What IS wrong, and both sides of the debate can agree with this to a greater or lesser extent, is where the religion of choice is impinging upon other people’s human rights.

Of course that is still a judgement, and a judgement that secular humanists will generally make in a way that seeks to find a compromise, where people of one faith or another will lean more towards their faith than that of their fellow people.

Bringing your child up in the tradition of your chosen faith is not wrong - doing so without the genuine tempering of non-judgemental acceptance that many religions do claim to teach ('judge not that ye be not judged', and all) is.


Maria said...

You have a very good point about having the right to teach the faith of your family, however it's still important to expose your child to a variety of views besides your own. You can say "In this family we believe ____________," as long as you don't exclude "But others have the right to disagree with us." This is possible in a house that practices religion, it just takes a good deal more tolerance than most people are willing to give.

For example, to use your language analogy, I was raised speaking English but I was never told other languages were wrong and that those people should change to be like me. Nobody told me that because my friend spoke Chinese he would burn in hell forever. He just spoke Chinese, it wasn't a big deal.

Maybe that's what you were saying, but I wasn't sure so I commented.

Alan Duval said...

Thanks, Maria, I had hoped I'd covered your point about other having the right to disagree with the last paragraph.

Alan Duval said...

Oh, and check out the history of Spanish, Basque, Catalan for issues of language leading to violence.

Erin London said...

I agree - in my view, knowing a faith (whichever it may be) from the inside is something much fuller and more meaningful than just looking at all the options from the outside dispassionately (which is not the same as not critiquing it): you have to suck it to see, if you see what I mean. And, contrary to the anxious bleats about indoctrination, bringing up a child within a faith tradition doesn't have to trap them - very often puts people off, in fact (good old teenage rebellion sees to that, very often) And presumably, atheist parents who bring up their children as principled atheists (I mean consciously humanist ones, not just a 'doesn't bother to think about anything' lazy ones) must sometimes get a nasty shock when said children grow up and rebel by going all religious (what on earth will Tim think if Violet or Caspar do that one day!)

Post a Comment