Friday, 19 September 2008

The cost of religious indoctrination

Today, the Independent published an article about the increasing number of Britons who believe in creationism. Whilst this is worrying in itself, creationism isn't the focal point of this article. What I want to draw attention to here is another issue, highlighted by the following passage from the story:
On first appearances 12-year-old Caitlin McNabb is very much like any other schoolgirl. Sitting on the sofa with her parents, Wes and Jane, at their home in Greenwich, south-east London, Caitlin talks excitedly about her friends, her favourite subjects and the new school year.

But there is one difference between Caitlin and the other pupils at Plumstead Manor: she is reluctant to believe everything she is told.

"I was in a geography lesson and there was a lot of talk about 'this is how old the Earth is'," she says. "So I just said, 'there are different sides to it if you look at it in a religious way'. And the teacher said, 'Oh yes, yes that's true'."

"My friends have completely opposite opinions to my beliefs – but we get on fine." Her brother Caleb, six, is quieter, but asked if he believes in God and what is being discussed, he says: "Yes."

Caitlin and Caleb are two of a growing number of British children who are being brought up as creationists.
Yes, that's right. Being brought up as creationists. Imagine the uproar if a story emerged of children being brought up as atheists, anarchists, liberals, conservatives, ultra-nationalists, or any other non-religious line of thought you care to think of. The parents would (rightly) be accused of indoctrination. It should be the child's choice, and theirs alone, what they believe.

A six year old child cannot possibly have any coherent thought on political science or economics, much less the scientific, philosophical, and theological reasons given for the origins of life and of the cosmos. So, when they are labelled as a "Christian" or "Muslim" or "creationist," it is plainly obvious that these are not their own views but those of their parents.

You cannot even say that this label is only applied until they make up their own minds, as they have no choice. Their parents, especially more devout ones, will instruct them in "their" faith, take them to religious services, send them to schools made entirely of children whose parents are of the same confession, and the "virtue" of faith and "sins" of apostasy, blasphemy, and heresy will be fed to them in religious education. Their knowledge of competing world views will be little to nothing.

The potential effects of such an upbringing were confirmed by another story in today's Independent, reporting that "Britain's youngest terrorist was today locked up for two years after plans to cause death and destruction were found hidden in his bedroom."
Schoolboy Hammaad Munshi was just 15 when he was recruited into a worldwide plot to wipe out non-Muslims and longed to become a "martyr".


Sentencing him at the Old Bailey today to two years in a young offenders' institution, Judge Timothy Pontius said that he "fell under the spell of fanatical extremists".
One might well add that, since these fanatical extremists profess to having the strongest faith in God, and since Munshi likely went to a school where religious education taught him the supreme virtue of faith, his falling "under the spell" and recruitment once coming into contact with the Jihadis was all but inevitable.

What is still surprising is that people still refuse to discuss this when the issue of "freedom of worship" comes up. If adults should be free to believe as they wish, so surely should children be free to make their own minds up based on all the evidence and rival doctrines without being shaped through "education" into one denomination because their parents happen to follow it?

As with my hypothetical case of "atheist children," "fascist children," or "communist children," labelling children with religions that are not their own, and teaching them from the cradle that this is what "they" believe, is nothing short of indoctrination and needs to be stopped.