Hey, preacher, leave those kids alone

Children tend to believe things that adults tell them: there’s an evolutionary need for it.

“Don’t go outside the cave” was great advice a few thousand years ago if there was a pack of wolves or wild dogs nearby. The kids needed to believe the adult, rather than test whether what the adult saying was true or false. Not believing what the adult told you could easily mean you ended your day, after the wild dogs had finished with you, as a pile of bones being picked clean by vultures. Not good. Should have listened to Mummy!

These days, listening to Mummy can still be the difference between life and death. If you don’t believe Mummy about the busy road, or the electric socket, or the kettle that’s just boiled, well, things may get serious. The number 45 bus can kill you, and we have statistics to prove it.

And it’s this evolutionary fact, that children need to be disposed to believing what the adult tells them, that is the reason why religion continues to be so successful. Ironically, religious people who themselves deny “evolution” as scientific fact benefit from that very same fact as they indoctrinate the young with their assorted mumbo-jumbo, fairy stories and baseless tripe. Children will believe adults and place their trust in them, which is one of the reasons that the crimes of paedophiles elicit such horror and disgust. Betraying the trust of a young child is something which, even in our often grotesque society, we still regard as a hideous act beneath contempt. And we are right to do so.

But then along comes religion.

And, all of a sudden, everything we ever believed, ever thought, and ever said about betraying the trust of young children gets flung from of the nearest window. All bets are off. We set up schools that we call “faith schools” as if “faith” was somehow a commendable virtue to possess. It isn’t. It’s believing in something for which, by definition, you have no evidence. Nothing to be admired, only pitied. Such a school would not be allowed to teach that 2+2 = 5, or that Hitler was the Charlton Athletic goalkeeper in the 1935-6 season. But “deeply held personal beliefs” (as the religious will often describe their nonsense) are awarded a free pass.

Well, keep your “deeply held personal beliefs” to yourself. Keep them “personal” if that’s what they are. I respect your right to believe whatever you want, but that doesn’t mean I have to respect the belief itself. Which is fortunate, because I don’t. If you have a “deeply held personal belief”, that’s fine. Like I said, keep it to yourself: it’s “personal”, after all. I don’t want or need to know. Your belief doesn’t deserve “respect”, as it’s preposterous and barmy, but believe it if you want. Just don’t go around telling others, especially young children, that they have to believe your nonsense on pain of death, or eternal damnation, or whatever such garbage it is you say you believe (I use the phrase “say you believe” because I’m actually quite sure that many of these people don’t really believe these things, but that admitting it would represent such a climb-down that they keep banging on about them, as if repeating a falsehood over and over again will somehow make it true).

Education and religion should be kept entirely separate. Filling the heads of young children with stuff that you have “faith” in but cannot possibly know to be true is wrong when eternal damnation is promised for those who don’t share your view. A science teacher who had “faith” that water boils at 20 Centigrade would be dismissed. A geography teacher who had “faith” that Paris is the capital city of Spain would be similarly dealt with. Yet people are allowed, in fact positively encouraged, to set up schools whose whole ethos is based on something which cannot be known to be true in any meaningful sense. This is not “education”. The correct word is “indoctrination”. Why are they getting away with it?

It stinks.

And as the father of a six-year-old child who has been indoctrinated with this stuff, I now have to choose the right moment to sit him down and introduce an idea to him: the idea that what he has been told is “true” is in fact not “true” really, just the unsubstantiated belief of some people and not others, and that I am one of the “others”. How he’ll react to this, I have no idea. Will his trust in adults be dealt a severe blow? Will he wonder what other things he’s been told are “true” that actually are not? Will he wonder why I’ve sat by and allowed him to be lied to? I wouldn’t blame him if he did.

Of course, none of the above prove troublesome to the “faithful”: their breath-taking arrogance makes sure of that. Such considerations never enter their closed minds. The idea of allowing a child to grow and, when no longer a child, make his own decisions about what he believes and what he does not, horrifies them. No, they need to get them early, whilst still credulous.

And if that isn’t a form of child abuse, it’s uncomfortably close.