Is It “Child Abuse” For Parents To Teach Their Faith To Their Children?

I was reading this post by gorckat over at Chess Adventures and one of the comments he made got me to thinking. He said

“although I do agree with the sentiment that Richard Dawkins expressed that indoctrination is a form of child abuse”.

Let me provide a little context for those who do not go and read his post. Gorckat had just pointed out that he is an atheist and he was saying that he was not militant about it [my description, not his]. He listed a few examples of atheistic beliefs that he did not personally ascribe to.

I t was the Dawkins teaching (quoted above) that got me thinking. I have heard this before. Dawkins has said

“Innocent children are being saddled with demonstrable falsehoods,” he says. “It’s time to question the abuse of childhood innocence with superstitious ideas of hellfire and damnation. Isn’t it weird the way we automatically label a tiny child with its parents’ religion?” [World Net Daily]

and

“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.” [pp. 325-326 of The God Delusion] [source: Telic Thoughts]

Dawkins is free to have his opinion, just like we all are.  But I am curious as to how far he is willing to take this principle.  Does this just apply to religious beliefs or can we extend it to its logical conclusion?   Who gets to decide what is acceptable to teach to our children and what is not?  Obviously parents can’t be trusted with this choice.

Following Dawkins’ logic you could easily make a case that no belief of the parents can be taught by the parents to their children.  Children should be free from any parental influence to explore and develop their own values and beliefs.  If the parental influence is removed then who will get to influence the kids?  The answer is truly scary.  Our children would be influenced by their friends, teachers, TV, movies, music, and magazines.  Now, think for a moment at what values these things would be teaching our kids.  Do you want that?  I sure don’t.

What does the Bible say about this?  Proverbs 22:6 is probably the best known verse on the subject.  It says “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”  Ephesians 6:4 says “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  From these examples we can see clearly that it is the responsibility of parents to pass on their faith to their children.

It seems to me that any parent who loves their children will be concerned with what their children will be like when they get out on their own.  We want our children to be well adjusted and have the proper perspective on things.  This can only be done if we are willing to teach these things to our children.  It is not always easy.  We have to know what we believe and why so that we can answer the many questions they are sure to have.  It forces us as parents to actually think through tough issues, to spend time informing ourselves, and sometimes to take stands that are not popular.  Teaching our values to our children is not child abuse.  It is one way in which we show we love them.

What do you think?

Advertisements

32 Responses to Is It “Child Abuse” For Parents To Teach Their Faith To Their Children?

  1. shush says:

    This is an interesting question. I’ve heard the same sentiment expressed about politics- in that a parent should not be allowed to teach their children Democratic doctrine without exposing them to Republican literature, and vice versa. Personally, I grew up Republican but am now registered as a Democrat and was also raised in the Mennonite faith and have left it for a more relaxed doctrine. One cannot overvalue personal choice. Just because one is raised in a set of strictures doesn’t mean one assumes they are true. As children we grow to see many of our parents assumptions about the world may not be true. Children raised by racists aren’t always racist, children raised gay men aren’t always gay, children raised by careful eaters aren’t always as careful and children raised by incautious parents sometimes grow up to be cautious.

    What is the other choice? To make a list of things that disqualify people from parenthood and start sterilizing those people? Child protective services is overburdened as is.

    Like

  2. avid_mass says:

    It is indeed child abuse. It’s indoctrination of a young child. It was done to me and my siblings, and it is wrong. If one is so sure they’ve got all of life’s answer bundled together in ancient scripture (later edited by a bunch of white aristocrats) then why not give the young child their own choice – when they are old enough to understand the full implications of what that doctrine prescribes to them. Indoctrination of youth by their parents may have been the status quo in previous generations, but it doesn’t make it right today. Personally I think any parent who abuses their child through indoctrination into a faith is an intellectual lame duck and personally disgusts me.

    Like

  3. Tom says:

    avid_mass,

    Do you have children of your own? How far are you willing to take this principal? At what age are they old enough to understand the implications?

    Like

  4. avid_mass says:

    Most child psychologists will tell you it depends on the individual child’s emotional development. Most likely post adolescence. I forgot that this wouldn’t simply be seen as just common sense to people for the indoctrination of young children…

    Like

  5. Tom says:

    What is common sense is that I should be the one to indoctrinate my children….not society, or their friends, or child psychologists, or anyone else. To be very clear….I intend to be the person to indoctrinate my children.

    So, you are advocating that before the child can be given the opportunity to accept or reject the beliefs of their parents that they must be evaluated by someone to insure that they are emotionally developed enough to handle it. That makes sense, the best person to evaluate a child is a total stranger not the parent who is with the child every day.

    Like

  6. Rodibidably says:

    Should parents who are “snake handlers” be allowed to have their children exposed to poisonous snakes because that is what their faith tells them?

    If somebody’s faith tells them to sacrifice a virgin, should their children be exposed to that?

    If somebody’s faith tells them that western medicine is evil, should they be allowed to harm their children by keeping them from medical treatment that could save their life? You’d be shocked how many children die due to this sort of thing every year.

    In some belief systems a father and brother must kill a girl if she “allows herself” to be raped. Should parents be allowed to treat their children like this, and allowed to raise children to do this?

    If willfully harming a child due to some religious beliefs is wrong, then who is to say that other beliefs are not also harmful?

    —–
    I would like to invite you to post your reply to an open question to all believers, on my blog:
    http://potomac9499.wordpress.com/2008/01/30/an-open-question-to-all-believers/

    I am asking in all sincerity, because I do actually want to understand differing view points, and since you seem quite certain of your faith, I feel your input would be relevant.

    Like

  7. avid_mass says:

    Here is a concept, how about NO INDOCTRINATION. How about letting children grow up in an environment where they aren’t told what they believe by their parents. You disgust me!

    Like

  8. Tom says:

    avid_mass,

    I am sorry but, at best, you are extremely naive if you think there will be no indoctrination. The only question is who should be doing the indoctrinating. Should it be “society” or the people who have their best interest at heart.

    The fact that “I disgust you” says a lot more about you than it does about me. Thanks for illustrating my points.

    Like

  9. Mike Gene says:

    avid mass asserts that a religious upbringing is child abuse. This is a pseudoscience. Not only is there no scientific support for such rhetoric, the scientific evidence actually contradicts this faith-based belief.

    Like

  10. Rodibidably says:

    Tom,

    While I am sure you would argue that some of the more vocal and ignorant minority among believers do not represent the true beliefs of all christians, I think you can understand that the same applies to the atheist community as well.

    While I agree in principal with Dawkins and Harris, I am not naive enough to think that there is any realistic chance to stop the teaching of all potentially dangerous activities to children.

    I think that almost all parents have the best interests of their children at heart, and do their best to ensure that their children are put on the best possible path.

    You and I may disagree what that path is but I think we can both agree that protecting our children is the most important job of a parent. As I stated in my previous reply (which you have still not responded to 😦 ) there are some religion beliefs which a reasonable person can consider dangerous to teach to our children, you and I just differ on where that line is at (you’d put it closer to the extreme, I’d put it closer to saying that all religion has the potential for harm).

    In the end though I think that the world has a few bigger problems to focus on before this becomes our top debate, but it is something to think about, on where to draw the line.

    Like

  11. Tom says:

    Rodibidably,

    I am sorry that I have not yet responded to your post. I have actually been to the link you posted in your comment and have skimmed it. I have not had time to read it thoroughly and formulate a response. I will do it in a day or so. I want to be able to give your question the time it requires. I would be quicker but I am currently working on a response to a question about the Trinity.

    I was not trying to ignore your comments. Please forgive me if I have given that impression.

    Thanks for checking out my blog and taking time to post a comment.

    Like

  12. Rodibidably says:

    Tom,

    I appreciate your desire to join the discussion, and i look forward to your thoughts on the question on my blog as well as your response to the points I have tried to make here.

    I firmly believe that in order for society to function in an “ideal” way we must come to better understand those we disagree with, and even if we do not come to share their beleifs, we need to at least respect those beliefs which are not detrimental to society as a whole (obviously there are some beliefs that we can agree should be discouraged, the only real debate is where to draw the line).

    Like

  13. samanthamj says:

    I prefer to “teach” my children… not “indoctrinate” them.

    As wikipedia explains:

    “indoctrination is often distinguished from education by the fact that the indoctrinated person is expected not to question or critically examine the doctrine they have learned”.

    There is nothing I can think of that I teach my children that they should not be allowed to question, or critically examine. Religion shouldn’t be an exception to this, but often is.

    Religion can be taught… or it can be indoctrinated. Big difference. And, it’s when “fear” is mixed heavily with indoctrination that makes one start to make assiciations with it to “child abuse”.

    ~smj

    Like

  14. Lucy Lowe says:

    There is a huge difference between teaching your children what to think and teaching your children how to think. I think Richard Dawkins would accept the latter in relation to the Bible or indeed anything.

    Like

  15. avid mass says:

    Despite what you people are saying, as a person “raised” Roman Catholic I can say with great clarity that I won’t be “raising” my children to think one way or another. This doesn’t mean I’m letting “society” raise my children. Whatever you people tell yourselves at night to help you sleep is fine with me. You can tell me I’m wrong till you’re blue in the face, but I’ve been through indoctrination as a child, and I’ve thankfully become a freethinker. I am so thankful I live in the U.S. where we have separation of church and state. I’m reading all your replies and to me they read like justifications for why you force your children to think like you. It’s fine for skills like crossing the street, but not fine for something as adult oriented as faith in Gods. Go ahead and continue to justify your actions by calling me naive, and painting “society” as some malevolent evil force out to do harm unless you project your personal spiritual beliefs onto children. I submit to you that “teaching”, “imparting”, “helping”, and “guiding” your children to have a spiritual belief is indoctrination. Bad mouth me all you like.

    Like

  16. samanthamj says:

    avid mass,
    I was “raised” baptist… then pentecostal… and if anything I lean towards agreeing that too many kids ARE religiously indoctirnated and believe it can be abusive. Such was my case, and sounds like our own. I was not justifying indoctrination at all… and either was Lucy Lowe.
    ~smj

    Like

  17. avid mass says:

    Like

  18. Rodibidably says:

    I’d still like to hear a reply to my comments from Tom and others.

    As I stated, I believe that we can agree that SOME practices are too harmful for children to be allowed to participate in. I also believe that you would agree with this position (admittedly some of the examples I used are on the extremes, but they are to make the point more than to be a direct correlation with your own beliefs).

    While avid_mass’s comments are more controversial and thus easier in many ways to debate against, I do believe that if one is to post a topic as controversial as this, then there is some expectation of a reply when differing opinions leave their comments.

    I do look forward to your reply to my comments here, as well as the post on my own blog which you referenced earlier when you stated you would get back to it in a few days.

    Like

  19. Zurite says:

    Children aren’t human property, but another group of people who we simply need to teach and guide.

    I find nothing wrong with broadening the child’s mind by telling them about your faith, but I do believe it wrong for a parent to narrowmind the child by forcing beliefs on him/her.

    Like

  20. Tom says:

    Zurite,

    You are correct that children are not property. But, they are more that simply another group of people. They are our responsibility, they are given to us by God so that we can prepare them for the things God has for them.

    It is our job to teach our children how to think but also what to think. Children are not capable of making decisions on their own, they don’t have the life experience of the perspective necessary to think for themselves until they are much older. Therefore, it is necessary for parents to do more than just guide their children.

    Like

  21. Rodibidably says:

    Tom, you never did reply to my questions/comments earlier (much, much earlier):

    Should parents who are “snake handlers” be allowed to have their children exposed to poisonous snakes because that is what their faith tells them?

    If somebody’s faith tells them to sacrifice a virgin, should their children be exposed to that?

    If somebody’s faith tells them that western medicine is evil, should they be allowed to harm their children by keeping them from medical treatment that could save their life? You’d be shocked how many children die due to this sort of thing every year.

    In some belief systems a father and brother must kill a girl if she “allows herself” to be raped. Should parents be allowed to treat their children like this, and allowed to raise children to do this?

    If willfully harming a child due to some religious beliefs is wrong, then who is to say that other beliefs are not also harmful?

    While I agree in principal with Dawkins and Harris, I am not naive enough to think that there is any realistic chance to stop the teaching of all potentially dangerous activities to children.

    I think that almost all parents have the best interests of their children at heart, and do their best to ensure that their children are put on the best possible path.

    You and I may disagree what that path is but I think we can both agree that protecting our children is the most important job of a parent. As I stated there are some religion beliefs which a reasonable person can consider dangerous to teach to our children, you and I just differ on where that line is at (you’d put it closer to the extreme, I’d put it closer to saying that all religion has the potential for harm).

    As I stated, I believe that we can agree that SOME practices are too harmful for children to be allowed to participate in. I also believe that you would agree with this position (admittedly some of the examples I used are on the extremes, but they are to make the point more than to be a direct correlation with your own beliefs).

    In other words, there are certainly actions and ideas which we would both agree are harmful to teach children, the point where we will diverge is where EXACTLY the line should be drawn.

    “It is our job to teach our children how to think but also what to think.”
    Do you not want your children to learn to think for themselves?

    What decisions does a child have to make where belief in the supernatural will affect their choice?

    If you teach children HOW to think, and HOW to learn, and give them a “moral” upbringing, then by the times their choices are more important than inane things like “batman vs spider man” then your children will have already learned HOW to make the decision on their own.

    Like

  22. avid mass says:

    “We have become so accustomed to the religious lie that surrounds us that we do not notice the atrocity, stupidity and cruelty with which the teaching of the Christian church is permeated”

    Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy

    Like

  23. Tom says:

    Rodibidably,

    I apologize but I thought we had covered all of this. At any rate, I will answer now.

    You said

    As I stated, I believe that we can agree that SOME practices are too harmful for children to be allowed to participate in. I also believe that you would agree with this position (admittedly some of the examples I used are on the extremes, but they are to make the point more than to be a direct correlation with your own beliefs).

    You listed some very extreme examples of practices that are too harmful for children to be allowed to participate in. We can all find and cite these extreme examples and I would agree that there are some things that children should not be allowed to participate in. No Christian that I know would disagree that there are some things children should not be allowed to participate in. But…this is not the issue.

    The issue is whether parents have the right to teach their kids their beliefs. I think they do. If the beliefs include dangerous activities then the children should not be allowed to participate until they are legally adults. At that point, they can decide for themselves if they will participate.

    The problem is that when “society” or government begins to tell parents what they can teach their kids we will be on a very slippery slop. How far will it go? Who gets to decide what is acceptable and what is not? What are the punishments for breaking this “law”? Can you see where this could lead? The result would not be a good thing. It would create a country where we have no liberty. This is not a place where I want to live.

    My children are my (and my wife) responsibility to prepare for the life they will lead. This includes teaching them how to think as well as what to think. Proverbs 22:6 says it this way: Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

    Like

  24. Tom says:

    Avid mass,

    1 Corinthians 1:18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

    Like

  25. Rodibidably says:

    Tom,

    Yes those examples are extreme, but they were to prove the point by giving examples we would both OBVIOUSLY agree on.

    “I would agree that there are some things that children should not be allowed to participate in.”
    Would you ALSO agree that there are things that children should not be taught? Should snake handlers TEACH there children to handle snakes, even if they don’t have them actively participate in the act while children? Should “christian scientists” TEACH their children to ignore medical science because of a random interpretation of a few lines from an ancient book that has been mistranslated many times over the centuries?

    The issue is not WHETHER there are things which are harmful to teach children, but WHERE the line should be drawn. I would draw the line further to the side of protecting children, while it seems you would draw it further to the side of “parental rights”.

    I understand that you are convinced of your faith, and don’t believe that your ideas on religion are incorrect.
    HOWEVER let’s assume for a moment that you’re mistaken. Would you want your children to blindly follow your ideas that were mistaken because they were taught blind faith, and not critical thinking?

    Blind faith is MUCH more of a “slippery slope” than government regulation, since regulations can be intrusive and bothersome; but blind faith can lead to actions like Waco Texas, Oklahoma City, 9/11, abortion clinic bombing, etc…
    I’d rather teach children to think critically about issues and question belief systems, than to raise the next Tim McVeigh or David Koresh, or Osama Bin Laden…

    Like

  26. Tom says:

    Rodibidably,

    You said

    The issue is not WHETHER there are things which are harmful to teach children, but WHERE the line should be drawn. I would draw the line further to the side of protecting children, while it seems you would draw it further to the side of “parental rights”.

    We are in agreement here…..I fall more on the parental rights side than you do.

    You said

    HOWEVER let’s assume for a moment that you’re mistaken. Would you want your children to blindly follow your ideas that were mistaken because they were taught blind faith, and not critical thinking?

    This is where you are mistaken. You seem to believe that I teach my kids to obey by blind faith. You seem to be implying that Christianity taught to kids is teaching them to believe by blind faith. This is not the case, Christianity does not require or teach the necessity of blind faith. In fact, we are specifically instructed to test what we are being taught to see if it is in accordance with God’s Word. As a Christian parent, it will be my job to teach my children this as well.

    Next, faith and critical thinking are not opposites. They go together. If a person chooses to follow their faith leaders blindly (and I know there are many who do) then they can be easily led astray. The results are then some of the examples you gave (9/11, Waco, etc.)

    Speaking for myself, I came to my faith, as an adult, when God did a miracle in my life. I have grown in my faith because I study a great deal. I teach my faith to my kids (and other adults and children) because I am convinced, as a result of my studies, that it is correct and I am compelled to do so.

    I agree that both blind faith and government regulation are very bad things. I think both need to be eliminated. I agree that we need to teach kids to think critically but in teaching them how to think we can also teach them what to think. That is the way it works. Think about your job….when you were trained, they were teaching you how to think and also what to think. Once you were trained, then you were free to evaluate what you had been taught and then to see if there was a better way. Same thing with kids and faith.

    Like

  27. Rodibidably says:

    Tom,

    All religion is based on blind faith, that is belief without evidence.
    And actually, faith is a “christian virtue”, hence the story of doubting thomas, to have jesus specially SHOW that faith is a virtue.

    Like

  28. Tom says:

    Rodibidably,

    All religion is based on blind faith, that is belief without evidence.

    This is not true! It may be true for some religions but certainly not for Christianity. There is a great deal of secular evidence for Jesus and the things He taught. Lee Strobel’s books do an excellent job of dealing with the evidence.

    And actually, faith is a “christian virtue”, hence the story of doubting thomas, to have jesus specially SHOW that faith is a virtue.

    All Christians have faith, they would not be Christians if they did not have faith. Faith is a gift from God. Nobody has it unless it is given to them by God. As far as faith being a virtue, I am not sure if that is actually taught in the Bible. The Bible does teach that all Christians have faith because it is a fruit of the spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 says “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, (23) gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. The KJV actually says faith instead of faithfulness but most modern translations use faithfulness. The phrase “christian virtue” seems to imply that some Christians have it and some don’t. As you can see, this is not the case.

    Next, your analogy of the disciple Thomas and his unbelief until he personally saw the risen Lord is not quite correct. Here is the passage:

    John 20:24-29 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. (25) So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (26) Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” (27) Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” (28) Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” (29) Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

    Thomas believed because he saw the risen LORD. No faith was required on his part because he saw first hand. Jesus says nothing about faith being a virtue. He does take this as a teaching opportunity but the point of it is to show that those who have faith are blessed. As I noted above, faith is a gift of God to all Christians. Ephesians 2:4-9 says “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, (5) even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– (6) and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, (7) so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (8) For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, (9) not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

    Those who have faith are blessed. They are not required to have blind faith. Christians are commanded to investigate what we are taught to see if it is correct. The Bereans are our biblical example. Acts 17:10-11 says “The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. (11) Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

    I hope this has helped clear up the issue.

    Like

  29. Pingback: Does Religion Require Blind faith? « The Everyday Christian

  30. Rodibidably says:

    “As far as faith being a virtue, I am not sure if that is actually taught in the Bible.”
    If this is true, then what is the moral of the Doubting Thomas story, and Abraham being willing to kill his son?
    As I read them, and as the catholic church read them, and as the VAST MAJORITY of christians read them, the moral of both stories is to have blind faith in god.

    Perhaps we have a different interpretation of the line:
    Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed

    But this seems to be acknowledging the virtue of blind faith without the benefit of evidence.

    Like

  31. Tom says:

    Rodibidably,

    I have started a new post on the topic of blind faith. We should continue our discussion there. Click here to go to that post and to read my response to your last post.

    Like

  32. Hi,
    Good job!
    Now we have got a simple, amazing, very powerful and of
    course surefire method to help parents to teach their babies and samll young children
    learn how to read effectively and fluently! Sure your toddler can learn to read, even before he or she is six
    years old!!
    Our and Step-by-Step course is definitely an unique and also sure-fire learning how to read method
    that numerous moms and dads used to basically
    and efficiently assist and teach their children to learn to read in a brief time
    period : investing simply just 10 to quarter-hour on a daily basis.
    The system works to help you teach babies and toddlers to learn to read.

    Whether or not your kid is a couple of years aged, three years of
    age, 5 years of age, or in pre-school, kindergarten, our Learning reading Program will assist your youngster be a fast and also fluent reader.
    We’ve got the incredible results to demonstrate the idea!
    Just go to our internet site.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: