Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Raising a Religion Neutral Child

In my previous post I have raised the alarm concerning our children being forced to endure Christian religious brainwashing sessions at their supposedly secular state schools, all under the government’s approving eye. This time around I want to focus on my reasons for being so vehemently against the evangelization of religion in secular schools.

When it comes to religion, my basic approach is to raise a religion neutral child. That is, raise the child without introducing him (in my case, it is a “him”) to religion at all, to the point of him not being aware of the concept of god in the first place, and maintain that approach as long as suitable. Suitability is measured by the child’s ability to make his own mind up as opposed to surrendering to what others tell him is right through the power of their authority; and in order to ensure my child is thus able, my focus in bringing him up shall be on teaching him the tools of critical analysis.
This approach of mine is not limited to religion alone. I refuse, for example, to choose my son’s football team for him; he should have the pleasure of choosing his own team for his own reasons. Religion is different to sports, though, in that religion attempts to provide a framework for everything in life, and therefore the handling there is much harder. Yet similarly to football, I do not intend to teach my son that atheism is the right way (which, indeed, is my firm opinion); he should make his own mind up.
Personally, I can’t see a way for any sensible person to willingly choose religion. I mean, just look at the crap coming from the religions in my immediate vicinity: the old testament teaches us its quite cool to murder others if they don’t hold your own beliefs (check out Joshua), while Christianity’s myth of Jesus dying to save us all can only make sense when you realize it’s nothing more than a barbaric lust for blood.
In effect, what I am trying to do is to cure my son from religion by not introducing it to him at all. The simple analogy would be the lack of a need to vaccinate a child against a virus that does not exist: I am seeking to keep my son in a religion free bubble until he’s old enough for his mind’s immune system to deal with it without the need for particular directions on my behalf. And as most viruses in our environment can be dealt with using a healthy immune system, so can an able mind easily deal with religion’s numbing effect.
The way I used to see it, the only flow in my plan is my own parenting skills: I do not have much confidence in my ability to instill critical analysis skills to my son. Frankly, at this early stage I don't even know where to start. But I intend to work in it.
The way I see it, other than this not so minor flaw my plan should have been perfectly achievable in Australia. Not in Israel, mind you, given the way that country is very nonsecular and Judaism is forced on you left and right; but Australia, on paper, is a multicultural secular country. Things could not be easier.
But then I learn that Australia is not secular at all. And then I learn that Australia may be multicultural but there is one culture that’s above the rest of them. In Australia, Christianity is the one culture to rule them all.

As Sarah pointed out with her comment to my previous post, things are not as bleak as I portray them to be. As was pointed out to me, the religious lessons are carried out by old grannies with no genuine teaching skills and the whole affair is no more dangerous to a young person’s mind than other means of time wasting. Any danger those classes might have are easily averted by discussing them at home.
There are a couple of rubs here. The first is that I would prefer to avoid discussions on religious matters at home in the first place. Not because I don’t enjoy a good laugh (this blog is evidence I do), but rather because I prefer religious neutrality given the three contradicting religious views held by family members (Judaism, Christianity and atheism/agnosticism). Needless to say, if pushed to a corner then my son is going to have one major advocate for atheism by his side, able to utilize the full load of intellect “my” side has: between Dawkins and Sagan, religion does not stand a chance in a rational debate. The God Delusion alone obliterates it into tiny pieces (and if you haven’t read it, do it: it’s a great read), and PZ Myers breaks it apart several times a day in his blog. But again, I don’t want things to come down to that.

The second rub, and the reason why I am not about to allow complacency towards religious education in school, is to do with history and what I can learn from it.
The history books are pretty clear here. Throughout its existence, religion has always made a bid for the young mind, looking to make future loyal subjects by brainwashing them when they're young. Christianity in particular, being a missionary religion, has dedicated institutions for dealing with such tasks.
And if you think this is just ancient history and I'm being overly paranoid, think again. Since this last weekend the newspapers have provided enough information to demonstrate that today's church leaders are just as bad as those of days we thought have gone by. Perhaps the only difference is in the church's relative lack of resources (compared to days of yonder) forcing them to use the services of rather useless grannies instead of a professional brainwasher.
Check this article, written by the head of the Australian Christian Lobby and published in The Age in protest of NSW considering the limited replacement of religion classes with secular studies of ethics. The general gist of the article is the author claiming Christian ethics to be the number one source of ethical standards for humanity. That's not only factually wrong, it's a comment most people would find racist; if I was to make such a claim myself on behalf of, say, Judaism I would be rightly prosecuted. The church dudes, however, can get away with it in modern Australia; their way rules, and they must have their way forced on our children.
Then we learn here that the same church dudes have had a private chat with the NSW Premier, as a result of which they are now allowed to vet the contents of the replacement ethics classes. In effect, through the corrupt politicians running our supposedly democratic country, the church has found a way for its brainwashing classes to continue uninterrupted.
And don't you think for even one moment that it is only the church we're dealing with here. There are bigger forces at hand, as this article demonstrates: the power group of xenophobic Christian Anglo Saxons is mighty strong in Australia. For a start, they include the former Prime Minister, John Howard, and plenty of other powerful Liberal Party power brokers; later this year we might blink and find them in power again. Remember, these are the people that think apologizing to the aboriginals for the things done to them was a mistake. If you ask me, judging by the way these weirdos want to preserve their cultural seat of power, these people wouldn't mind going back to policies that actively discriminate against aboriginals (or rather, given the still pathetic situation many aboriginals are in, these are the people who would be happy to make things worse).
In short, I'm arguing that in my struggle to keep my son religion neutral I am not fighting an old incompetent granny; I am fighting mighty institutions with a lot of power behind them, institutions with a record of not avoiding stooping to corruption when it comes to ensuring the supply of numbed up brains to their ranks. Such opposition cannot be trifled with. Such opposition requires a call to arms on behalf of all rational people.


Uri said...

You can't really be religion-neutral.
If you subscribed to a different religion, you could tell your son that there is a god (or gods) and be vague on specifics until he's old enough to make up his own mind.

But since you believe in atheism, you can't help but expose him to that. Even if you never say something specific against religion, you will tell him about science, evolution, and other things that you consider to be anti-religious (or rather, you consider religion to be anti-them).

Being neutral means assuming all sides have some claim to validity (kind of like teaching evolution along side intelligent design), and you don't do that.

BTW, there are plenty of people who decide to be Muslims (Cat Stevens, Cassius Clay, Lew Alcindore). I think it's much harder for Muslims to decide to become anything else.

Moshe Reuveni said...

First, regarding your fooling around in suggesting atheism & science are just another type of belief (I know you were trying to make a point, but I can't hold myself).
Atheism is just a label for saying "I want proof before I believe", while effectively implying the current religious beliefs are bullshit. Saying atheism is another form of belief is like saying not wearing shoes is a type of a boot.
As for science: unlike religion, science is (1) evidence based and (2) it delivers. Sometimes, the evidence provided by science is so strong that its theories are, for all intents and purposes, facts. Examples include germ theory and, for that matter, evolution. I'll stray a bit with evolution and add that evolution has been endorsed by the Anglican church and by the Catholic church, so saying evolution = atheism is factually wrong. Needless to say, evolution leaves very little room for a god, but that's a problem for the theists.
If you say you don't believe in evolution being a fact (regardless of whatever religions have to say about it) then you're either an idiot or an ignorant. There's no shame in being ignorant, but one should stop straying towards the other side (idiocy). I'll explain why through an example: When you fly on a plane, 10 kilometers up high or so, you fly on it because you know it was designed according to scientific principles. I dare you to fly on a plane designed by a priest or according to Allah's instructions or powered by a wishful prayer; none exist, for obvious reasons, but even if some moron was to build one you would not dare come close to it, let alone actually take off it in.
So unless you give up flying, saying that science (and atheism) are just another religion makes you, effectively, into a two faced hypocrite. Science is not just another religion.

You do have a point when you argue my definition of religious neutrality is rather weak. The reason for this weakness is that I don't have a master plan for life, I go by feel, and when I blog I try to formulate my feelings in order to further understand them and then in order to provide feedback to control my feelings with.
So I'll elaborate. My definition of religious neutrality is no mentioning of god, for better and worse.
You are right in saying we can't prevent Dylan from being exposed to religion. He sees Santa everywhere around Xmess and he hears about Geaster eggs around Easter. Unless we're to lock him at home, he will be exposed to religion.
However, the religious stuff he's exposed to is just matters of rites. If you were to leave god out of it (and Dylan has never heard the word), then Santa becomes just a weird man walking in Arsenal colors around the summer break time and Geaster eggs are just something you do just before winter breaks.
Teaching him science (and evolution) are not interferences to said neutrality because they're not matters of theology but rather facts. There is no difference to teaching Dylan evolution and teaching him the earth is round and that there's a planet called Jupiter. I could go on and teach him facts about religion (e.g., "there are people who believe in X & Y", which is definitely a fact), but I see no point in doing it now just as I see no point in teaching him quantum mechanics before he know more about how to analyze the things he's taught.
So, the bottom line: my definition of being religiously neutral is not "assuming all sides have some claim to validity" but rather avoiding the mentioning of a god. Thanks to you I now realize I should have headlined this post as "Raising a godless child", in the hope of him bumping with the concept of god when he has the tools to analyze it.

Finally: In a world of close to 7 billion people, the few that turn into Islam are equivalent to dust in the wind.

Uri said...

Science is not religion, but your atheism is very close to religious faith, and not the nice kind of love-thy-neighbour one either.

Do you remember in Contact (the book? the movie? both?) where Ellie is saying that her belief in science assures are that a big pendulum will not reach her, but if the guy she's talking to believes in god so much, he can step one step forward and see if that will save him.

I wouldn't have stood there, not matter how many equations you showed me. I might have bet money, but I wouldn't have stood there.

And since I don't really understand how a jet engine works, and how such a heavy plane can stay up, I don't really think you can credit (or discredit) my scientific beliefs. I'm flying because people around me do it, and it looks safe enough.

Moshe Reuveni said...

I could have answered with one word – “bullshit” – but you would have probably interpret that as further support for your claims, so I’ll elaborate.
Can I safely assume your problem with my approach to faith is my lack of respect and my constant demeaning of religious faiths? Assuming I can, I will follow by saying – hell, yes. Why should I respect faiths that condemn me to an eternity of damnation, and not because I’m doing anything particularly bad but rather for the sole reason I choose not to adhere to their unfounded faith (that just happens to contradict all other faiths)? Why should I respect them when they try to impose their framework on how a life should be lived on me? Generally, you and I live a comfortable life; but imagine being gay, or even being a woman; think about the history of these faiths and the crimes that have been committed in religion’s name, from Joshua through to the Inquisition. Love thy neighbour? More like torture your neighbour to death. No, I don’t and I won’t respect that.
To quote Catherine Deveny, “Fuck respect. Respect is just code for 'support our selective narrative used to prop up our power that we use to oppress.'”
I can see that it’s easy to try and approach these faiths in a peaceful manner. In my opinion that is exactly what I’m doing; no one was harmed by my actions as I attack ideas and not people. But I will not respect stupid ideas and I think the political correctness attitude that drives people like you to respect anything and everything is silly. There is a reason why I can’t kill someone and claim in court that a green monster spontaneously appeared to do the killing instead of me (or, as Carl Sagan had put it in another book of his, Demon Haunted World, “the invisible dragon in my garage”); because if we stoop down to accept and respect the unfounded claims of religion then by definition we will have to accept my monster / invisible dragon claim as an equal.

On to Contact. No, I don’t remember that scene, but I see your point: why go into a potential risk when it can be avoided?
Yet we do it all the time. When you stand close to the edge of a cliff you’re feeling the risk in you even if there’s not much of a chance you’ll actually take that extra step or two to dive down. When, however, you’re driving on a highway at 100km/h you’re just as close to dying but you don’t feel it. The reason is probably to do with evolution: we have been dying of falling for millions of years but only dying of speeding for a hundred or so.
That’s fine, you’re pulling your ignorance card to explain why you’re not afraid of flying. But you’re still using the internet and you’re still benefitting from medicine that keeps you alive and well; praying won’t get your previous comment back to me, nor will it keep you alive, and you know that. So, again, we reach the same conclusion: equating science to religion is hypocrisy given the very tangible benefits we all gain from science.

Most importantly, what framework of ethics am I proposing to replace religion? In my opinion humanism is currently offering the best one (although I can see how it would change with time to include other apes). That, however, should probably be the subject of another post.

Uri said...

I'm not sure who you are answering, but it's probably not me.

I don't think that science is a religion, and I don't think science is bad or that the simple life in the good old days is somehow better. As far as I can tell, I never said that.

I was talking about atheism, not science, and they are not really related. And I was talking about your atheism and not atheism in general.

My point about flying was not that ignorance is good (huh? I didn't really understand that part of your reply). It's that I trust many scientific things without really understanding how they work. In many cases, without even any proof I can witness or understand. For example, I believe in time dilation without seeing it with my own eyes. I read about it in books I trust, but it's really not the same. I'm not sure that any one person can understand the sum of human knowledge. I'm sure I can't.

Moshe Reuveni said...

I don't see the point in continuing this discussion. By now it seems our only disagreement is to do with not liking my approach to atheism.
The way I see it, my atheism is very close to science (a view held by the majority of those taking part in the recent Global Atheist Convention taking place in Melbourne). I've discussed why I don't mind openly expressing my thoughts on religion already, so I'll leave things at that.