If you know anything about me, then you probably know that I’m not too fond of the idea of dogma, and I’m even less of a fan of bringing up children in any environment which parades it as a virtue. I don’t think I’m particularly alone in my view—in fact I’d wager that most people, upon being compelled to, would gladly denounce dogma and condemn those who are guilty of dispersing it. However, I’m also of the belief that a large number of these people completely misunderstand what it means to be dogmatic, and so are at risk of coming across as entirely hypocritical.
Disclaimer: Yes, I’m talking about organised religion. No, it’s not the only type of dogma, and while I think it’s possibly the most damaging, that’s up for debate. I certainly, however, believe that religion is its most pestilential and life-defining manifestation, and also its most unwarrantedly permitted and socially forgivable form.
I am fundamentally against the idea of state recognition of religion. That means no religion in politics, no religion in public sector educational institutes, and no religion as a societal expectation gets any kind of a blessing from me. If you’re going to call your five-year-old son a Christian and send him to a Catholic school, then to me you may as well be calling him a communist and sending him to a Marxist school. A child who is told what to believe, how to believe it and to never doubt it’s authenticity by his school teachers, parents, peers and politicians alike is a child living under the influence of dogmatism.
But here’s thing: Many of the adults who bring up their children in such environments are the same adults who claim to recognise the the dangers of dogmatism. In fact, the most common criticism I receive when writing about this issue is ‘well look, I’m not like that. Yes, I bring up my child as a God-loving Christian, but I only teach them the good bits. The New Testament. An omnibenevolent God. About Jesus and love and salvation!’. However this doesn’t quite cut it in my humbly critical eye. You may decide to teach your child your own adapted version of Christianity, or Islam, or Sikhism, or Judaism. You may decide to omit the condemnation of homosexuality in the pentateuch, the castigation of non-believers in the Qur’an, or the mindless genocidal tendencies of the God of the Bible. That’s your decision to make. Just be sure to bear the following in mind: It’s still dogma.
Yes, that’s right. The definition of the word dogma does not describe the nature of the principles which are dictated as truths. Granted, dogmatism isn’t always as harmful as some fundamentalist or extremist forms. Nonetheless, the fact remains that if you are presenting some idea or opinion an unchallengeable truth, it’s dogma, whether it’s religious, political, or pseudo-scientific (I say ‘pseudo’ scientific because real science is always open to debate).
Now the quick witted of my critics (of whom there are few) may jump at the opportunity to point out that I just said that not all dogma is inherently damaging. If this is the case, then surely our hypothetical parent’s situation, whilst still dogmatic, is A-okay, right? Well, no. Not in this case. And here’s why:
Take the example of gentle Jesus, meek and mild. Here we have a God in the form of an earthly man who knows you perfectly, is without sin and is the saviour of all humanity. This is what we teach our children. Jesus, the spotless scapegoat with the ability to save mankind. Pretty good of him, hey? Well, if you are of such an opinion then I ask you to consider the following: say tomorrow I come to your house and frantically knock on the door. You answer, quite concerned, and ask me why I’m there. I reply, ‘well listen, I’ve got some fantastic news. I’m here to save you!’ What would be the first thing you say to me? Would you rejoice? Would you thank me? No, you’d ask what on Earth you need saving from.
There are two sides to every coin. And if you place a big shiny coin in front of a curious child, you’d be a fool not to expect them to flip it over and see what’s on the other side. Your children will eventually learn that which you have been concealing—this method of censorship is unsustainable. There are simply too many questions it leaves in a child’s mind and is too significant an issue for them not to do their own investigations. And if they can’t find answers from you, or a teacher, or a priest, you can bet your bottom dollar that they’ll be able to find them on Google and Wikipedia. And when they do, they’ll sharply come to the unwelcome realisation that there’s a reason you’ve decided to misrepresent the truth for so long. They’ll learn that which they need saving from: an eternity of hellfire, torment and unthinkable agony, bestowed upon them by the very maniac who offers their sole and only hope of escape. They’ll discover a god quite unlike the one from the story books that they’re familiar with. A god who puts a shotgun to your head and then has the temerity to expect you to kiss his feet in thanks for him deciding not to pull the trigger. I’m sorry, this is not the kind of moral philosophy I wish to subject my children to.
Although it’s often used in defence of religious indoctrination, it’s almost worse to ‘only teach the good bits’ of any given religion (or any ideology for that matter). By presenting your faith in its entirety, warts and all, and allowing your children to analyse it for themselves rather than from the perspective of your personal interpretations, you are gifting them the invaluable liberty of religious freedom. This is the only way that one can truly decide to which god or gods if any they wish to pledge allegiance.
If you still find yourself in protest, steadfast in the belief that you can eternally preserve your child’s ignorance of scripture, then please, allow me to briefly paraphrase your position. You are self-admittedly concealing specific sections of the constitution of the organisation to which you subscribe, and claim that you do so for it’s the only way to recruit new members because if they knew the full truth they would turn and run. This is the nature of your methodology. Now I ask you, what does this say about your institution?
Before ending, I must stress that I’m not saying we should not teach our children about religion—as it happens I believe quite the opposite to be socially beneficial—but when we do, let’s not do so in such a deceptive and disingenuous manner. If you don’t like the idea of certain parts of your religion being taught in, say, schools, then don’t look to the school, look to your religion! Schools should be challenging children’s beliefs. Schools should be educating them to the furthest extent and level of detail possible. In other words, which belong to theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, ‘the purpose of education is not to validate ignorance but to overcome it’.