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’.
I prefer people teach their children to love their neighbors. I actually don’t find this incompatible with the rest of the Bible, but even so.. I’ll take good actions over well informed every time
My experience was that the awful bits were turned into stories of a fearless and protective god. The atrocities that were committed were justified and righteous. It was confusing to be told to love and worship this god while being fearful of his burning wrath.
Check this VERY VERY wierd video, one of the strangest religion videos ive seen, could be a good video…
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That’s a really cool video. Thanks for sharing.
In my experience, the problem is that Christian parents don’t see the negative bits as negative at all; they always have an excuse. The more generations that this ideology goes through, the harder it is to break. The reasons that parents teach their children not to question religion is because they’ve never been taught to either.
I agree. They put a positive sounding spin on the horrifying stories (like infanticide, genocide, human sacrifice) causing a kid to have to chose between blind trust or rejection. Rejection is not usually an option until teen or adult years are reached, and then rejection of the religion sometines tranformes into fractured families.
Many people come to religion later in life. Just as many people get into conspiracy theories as adults. Religion isn’t a simple as a bad set of principles being passed down… There’s an attraction to a “club” of “truth knowers”.. or purpose, etc
That’s exactly the experience I’ve had. Any difference in opinion would drive my religious and dogmatic family apart. We are expected not to question it, and since I have, if anyone knew, it would damage my relationships.
I’m still hiding my rejection of Christianity because my family would be so upset. My sister started to cry when I told her that I was having doubts and questions. I think that people that come to religion later in life are often looking for relief of some kind of suffering. This is a great recruitment opportunity for them. I’d love to see more secular gathering opportunities that I could attend where I could grow my understanding and make new friends. Like atheist church. Is there such a thing?
You could join the universal church of life
I think you might mean Universal Life Church? I’m somewhat familiar with this organization. My brother is ordained through them. I don’t think they hold meetings though.
This reply is nearly two years after your original post,Tina, so I really do hope it has been made redundant for you by subsequent events, and that you have both been able to be honest with your family about your beliefs without this causing stress and division, and that you have found a congenial set of likeminded friends, on and/or offline, to support you and enable you to grow in understanding.
But for the benefit of anyone else reading this who’s looking for the same thing, I’d recommend that you google your national Humanist organisation- in Britain it’s Humanists UK – and find out from their website or contact number if there is a local group that meets near you. I was lucky enough to come across a particularly large, active and congenial local group, DorsetHumanists, right on my doorstep. You might be similarly fortunate.
If you want something that resembles a lively positive church experience, but without the God thing, you should also try out Sunday Assembly.
Another organisation you might find congenial is Skeptics in the Pub.
Whether you will find a local group of any of these very much depends on where you live. You’ve a better chance if you’re in a sizeable conurbation. Good luck, anyway.
I remember distinctly being taught in Sunday school to fear God. I asked by teacher at the time why I should fear God. Wouldn’t it be better to love him, obey him, or follow him? My teacher responded that it was a fatherly fear that led to respect, like how I feared by biological father. I don’t fear my biological father. I do respect him though.
“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. ”
I’m not a religious believer, but I don’t share your notion that religion is anything other than what people teach their children about religion. The way you imply that there’s a real, essential religion lying out there that differs from believers’ “personal interpretation” of it seems like putting the cart before the horse. The Bible (or religious scripture in general) is what it is, but there are many interpretation of what those ancient books say and mean. Atheists are often accused of being presumptuous and overbearing, and when we define the core beliefs of religious people for them and tell them what their approach to scripture should be, we earn the criticism.
I’d compare it in the same way to our approach to science. We can’t deny that science has made it possible to vaporize tens of thousands of people in a second as well as to eradicate smallpox. But that doesn’t justify someone saying that we should abandon scientific inquiry, because the “truth” about science is that its products can be used to slaughter and oppress. Does that make any sense?
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I don’t think that it’s really a case of Cosmic Skeptic defining other people’s core beliefs for them, Steve. If they identify themselves as belonging to a particular sect/denomination, and/or attend a particular church/mosque/synagogue/temple, there will be a set of doctrines that the members of that congregation/denomination are expected to subscribe to, and in some cases may have to give explicit assent to either in a service or when they formally join up to the faith – baptism, confirmation, Bar Mitzvah, whatever.
People’s religious and philosophical views are probably unique to each individual. Many people consider themselves Catholic, or Jewish, while rejecting a number of doctrines that officially they are supposed to accept. Some may not even believe in a God, but value the cultural traditions of their families. And that’s their right. But in such a case shouldn’t they make their children aware, as soon as ever the children ask questions of them, both that there are millions of people who don’t believe as they do, but belong to different religions or no religion at all, and that they themselves don’t believe in the literal truth of certain doctrines or bible stories, if they don’t? Eg Child : Mummy, teacher read us the story of Noah and his ark today. She said it’s in the bible. Is it really true? Could you really fit all those different animals onto a boat?
Parent: Well, some people think that it really happened just like in the story, because it’s in the bible, but most people don’t. The scientists who study rocks and what you can tell from them about the earth’s history say they are convinced there never was a time when the whole earth was covered with water and nearly all the humans and animals drowned.And I agree with them. I think it’s a made up story showing how people who behave really badly bring disaster to themselves and everything around them, but God looks after good people who obey his laws. And it reminds us how important it is to protect all the different sorts of animals so they don’t die out altogether. They are all valuable to us and the planet, as well as being interesting and often beautiful.
Yes science can be misused. But the thing that matters is that the good and bad are both shown to people. Showing the good alone and hiding the bad is not moral.
Parents duty to children this to guide then and open their mind to ask questions. They shouldn’t dump their view and beliefs down their throats without even giving the child an opportunity to analyse all the options.
If a believer thinks his belief is the truth then I don’t see what’s the point in lying and manipulating their minds, the truth will play out if its true. Or maybe parents don’t have faith that their children will accept Christianity without their pressure…
What do you think ??
I’m not sure if you still believe what you wrote here, but since I am just reading through the blog I thought I would share some thoughts.
First the definition of Dogma you gave had 2 definitions I assume you meant the first.
But I assume if you have kids you will teach them morality. You will teach them they can’t take their sisters cupcake and then lie about it. How you justify your moral views is up to you. But I tend to be honest about it with my children. I base my morality on Christianity. I also believe teaching them to be good people is more important than teaching them science. I like science quite a bit and will definitely encourage my children to pursue it if they wish but if they decide to do something else that’s ok. But if they decide not to be good moral people that’s not so ok.
Of course we read the New Testament differently. I don’t try to prevent them from reading any of it. But Scripture itself tells us some things are more important than others. Atheists like the pharisees of Jesus’s time tend to forget that.
Hmm. You miss the bigger picture…as we remove God from man and morality we remove the man from humanity. If God is good there must be a place of punishment…you neglect to mention that the Christian faith speaks both of the wrath, love grace and mercy of God. I do understand the prospects you present…and also that many parents do not teach their children of God’s wrath but only of His mercy. Both should be taught I agree, but contrary to what you might believe, my parents have first shown me God’s wrath then mercy. Jesus is the plan of reconciliation, so all that terribleness of Hell can be avoided completely by accepting Him. No more must be said of God’s wrath if you accept Jesus, and follow Him. This is why we Christians do not flaunt God’s wrath, but focus on His mercy, for His mercy is free for all that accept and follow Him. Even you, Alex can follow Jesus no matter how far you are from Him right now He loves you. Everyday God grants you is patience He is having on you, another chance to accept Him. You don’t have to experience His wrath, and neither to children, murderers, or anyone else! The beauty of the message is not God’s wrath, but His grace! In conclusion, I agree that parents should teach their children of God’s wrath for it is important but more so should they also know of God’s abounding grace and mercy by sending a savior.
-Braydon Fisher (Call me foolish, meak or weak minded…One day you too will know the truth)
It is the role of parents (and religious schools) to guide a child in the faith. Ultimately faith in God is the most important thing you will ever learn from your parents and teachers.
This should never be criticised.