Saturday, May 26, 2007

Religion and Child Abuse

Now, I'm very close to being a libertarian. Albeit of the socialist variety. So, by and large, I don't care what people do in the privacy of their own homes. You want to smoke pot? Not my business. You want to have sex with people of your own gender? Your call. You want to worship a sky pixie? Whatever. So long as it stays out of my life, I'll be happy to stay out of your personal decisions.

However, this only applies to adults. Children, particular young ones, are different. As a society, we are in fact beholden to protect them. They lack the wisdom, experience and sense of self to make all sorts of decisions. I think that anyone who says otherwise -- and there are some people who have -- is definitely daft and probably has no children. (Shulamith Firestone, I'm looking at you.) One of the things that we forbid parents to do is abuse their children. One of the forms of abuse that is forbidden is psychological abuse.

I generally don't quote Wikipedia, but their definition of psychological abuse is so concise I trust you'll forgive me:

Psychological abuse can take the form of physical intimidation, controlling through scare tactics and oppression . . . Any situation in which the repeated and extreme impact of a situation affects a person's emotional and rational thinking, in such a way as to adversely impact their later lives, could be termed as psychological abuse at some level.

Now, to my mind, this is precisely what happens when adults indoctrinate their children in a particular religion. This is true of the three big world religions: Christianity, Islam and Hinduism.

Both Christianity and Islam teach, and they do teach this to their children, that unless they obey the dictates of religion that they will suffer forever. I, myself, cannot remember a time in my life when I didn't know that the bad people went to Hell. In Hinduism, they take a slightly different approach -- that disobedience to religion is punished by being born into a worse position, perhaps as an animal or bug or worm. In both cases, threats of unimaginable suffering are used to compel obedience.

Undeniably, this intimidation affects their emotional and rational thinking, and I think it fairly demonstrably does so in ways that negative effect their lives later on. How many women have submitted to pregnancies they don't want, or gay people have hated themselves, of people tortured emotionally because they have dared to fall in love with someone of another faith? And what about the committed religious person's inability to meaningfully analyze scientific data -- meaning that, today, right now, religiously motivated people are trying to dismantle science even when humans are facing massive climate change, during which we'll need all the scientific prowess that we can muster? And I'm not even talking about those faiths that withhold medicines from their children and the other truly crazy things that religions sometimes do.

If I, as an atheist, said that if they used birth control I'd come over and boil them in oil, no one in their right mind would doubt I was psychologically abusing the child. Child services would snatch that kid away from me in a heartbeat -- and they'd be right to do it. But with religion, you can do precisely that. You can tell a child that unless they obey, they'll be tortured. Forever.

This isn't even close to the line, people! This is child abuse. If we evaluated religion with the same values that we evaluate all other behavior, it would be illegal to teach children most religions. But because of some ancient privilege of religion, we don't do what would otherwise be obvious -- forbid the teaching of religion to children. But because of stupid traditions, we allow religious people to perpetrate child abuse!


divabeq said...

I completely agree with you on this. My brother and sister in law will demonstrate for everyone how their three year old son will fold his hands for prayer and then cross himself when they're done and recite their little Catholic hexes against evil. Because they think it's *so cute* to show off how he doesn't even grasp language to the degree that he can say the words properly, yet already he is deeply taken in by their indoctrination. This is deeply, deeply creepy to me, and I have thought, for some time, that is it abusive. Because he will, probably, always believe this crippling, limiting thing now, because he wasn't given any choice but to learn it.

divabeq said...

Of course, what their defense would be, is that, in their opinion, this stuff is real. So, it's no worse to warn their kids of these dangers than it would be to warn them not to touch the stove, lest they get burned by it.

*I* see the difference, of course. Even outside of whether or not it is, really, real, I see the difference. But, they would not acknowledge the difference.

Chris Bradley said...

In their opinion is the key issue, I think. There is no PROOF that it is real.

I mean, if I was insane in a non-religious way, and was teaching what religions taught, my insanity might be a defense against keeping me out of prison . . . but social services would still take my kid away from me.

Stew said...

Eek! This is a thorny issue. divabeq, can you imagine the impact of telling your brother and his wife that you think they are abusing their child? He'd probably deck you.

divabeq said...

Oh *no way* I could say anything, under the current mindset in the US, and still maintain my familial ties. Which is sort of the point, I think. There is something wrong with the current mindset regarding religion, and I would love to see it changed.

The Rev. Jenner J. Hull said...

And that is why, when I was a Christian, I was like a little Woody Allen.

And it wasn't that I was doing bad things (at least, no worse than any other normal kid in the world), I was worried about THINKING bad things. All that "God knows our minds" stuff freaked me out to no end.

Especially to a kid going through puberty. I couldn't help that I thought the girl who sat beside me in English class was hot. And because of that, God was displeased? Because of something I had no control over?

And how about children who question the impossiblities of the Bible? It's sad that anything less than abject obedience is seen as nothing short of evil.

Russell said...

This will, I hope, be a topic that will enter the public consiousness more and more.
Recently a christian sect called "The Exclusive Brethren" have set up headquarters close to where I live [Australia]. Among other things, their children are not allowed to read anything that disagrees with scripture, they are not allowed to go to college, are told what jobs they will do and told who they will marry.
I can't understand how they can get away with this except of course through the special priviledge currently awarded to religion.
I think it's time to rock the boat people.

Chris Bradley said...


I'm always fascinated to hear stories about this sort of thing -- because, well, frankly it's a sort of gathering of evidence. I know it's anecdotal evidence, which is sketchy, but the first thing that any Xtian does when I say that Xtianiaty promotes child abuse is deny it. And when I tell them stuff like about this Exclusive Brethren they then, universally, say, "Well, my church isn't like that." And in some ways this is true, but in others . . .

But with enough even anecdotal evidence I can say to Xtians, "You tolerate this widespread behavior in your religion." ;)