Not Good News: Religious Indoctrination of Children

A Queensland mother has complained to the Education Department about Bibles being handed out to the children at her daughter’s school. Apparently it was the Gideons paying a visit and leaving the books with the kids.

Now, I don’t care – not really, not usually – about what religion you follow or whether you have one in the first place. But I have two rules for people who do follow any religion:

1) You must not allow your beliefs to harm anyone, including yourself;

2) You must not try to convert anyone to what you believe.

These are really bad things to do. I think the first goes without saying, but the second may raise a few eyebrows. It’s called proselytising, and it’s just about the most arrogant thing anyone can possibly do.

I don’t care what religion someone is. They should not go around telling people to believe what they believe. It’s just seeking safety in numbers. If others believe what they believe, they feel more justified. It’s got nothing to do with bringing unbelievers to the fold. It’s all about shoring up their own uncertainties.

As Richard Carrier says in his book Why I Am Not a Christian , “If God wants something from me, he would tell me. He wouldn’t leave someone else to do this. And he certainly would not leave fallible, confused and contradictory humans to deliver an endless plethora of confused and contradictory messages.” If God wants us to be whatever faith you care to name – Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Animist, whatever – he would tell us directly.

Carrier makes the point that the fact that God does not do this is a demonstration of the fact that he does not exist. Fair enough, I am happy for people not to believe in God as much as I am happy (with reservations) for them to believe in him.

 But lay off the children. The concerned Queensland mother, Bridgette Linding, deliberately put her daughter in a government school because such schools do not have religious education. It was a further demonstration of her fortitude that she offered to distribute the Koran and Buddhist texts to the same kids. Good for her – give them freedom of choice about what they want to believe, including the right not to believe at all.

The indoctrination of children into religion is an appalling denial of their rights. When they are old enough to make up their minds, let them do so free of any attempt to sway them one way or another. The presentation of religious education must be balanced if it is done at all. All right, let the Gideons give them a Bible if it makes them (the Gideons) feel better but, as Mrs Linding suggests, give the children other holy texts as well. And give them the choice as to whether they want to know about it at all.

I’ve always felt that if you constantly have to persuade people that your religion is the right one, if you have to reassure each other that you are praying the right words or following the right ceremonies, if you have to threaten people with either worldly or after-worldly punishment if they fail to follow what you believe, there is probably something wrong with your religion.

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