“…[I]sn’t it always a form of child abuse to label children as possessors of beliefs that they are too young to have thought about?”
There is an entire chapter in Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion dealing with the notion of religious instruction as child abuse, of which the quote above concludes the introduction. Like so many complaints, it has made its way virtually unquestioned into the atheist dogma, and I regularly encounter it in its various guises. Dawkins at this point is referring to labeling children “Christian,” “Muslim,” etc. when they have made no personal decision to be included in that group. However, the gist of the chapter – and the arguments so readily offered by others – is that children should be taught how to think, rather than what to think. While this sounds noble and progressive at first blush, I will counter it at two points: appeals to authority and the nature of evangelism.
An “appeal to authority” can be a logical fallacy, where the authority appealed to is not particularly credible, whether due to a lack of education/ignorance of the subject, unreliability, or some other reason. However, authority cannot be dismissed from the outset, as if the only things we can surely know are those that we have discovered for ourselves. In fact, faith can be adequately described as placing trust in an authority based on that authority proving itself over time to be worthy of that trust. We place our faith in doctors because of the credentials on the wall, and we place our faith in our parents when we feel confident that they have our best interests in mind.
I could even concede Dawkins’s point that my young daughters are more “children of Christian parents” than they are “Christian children.” (Of course, because I believe that children – and others who can neither accept nor reject Christ – go to Heaven if they die, then I could make the claim that all children are Christian children.) However, while teaching them how to think, it is also important that I teach them what I believe, lest they be swayed by whomever claims the authority that I have vacated out of a nonsensical fear of indoctrination. We must – and do – teach our children all sorts of truths, so that by seeing the truth they can more easily recognize the lie. And this, really, reaches the heart of the matter: evangelism.
One of the reasons I will ensure that my children are raised with the Word of God in their ears is that I know it to be true. It would be disingenuous to pretend that I believe something else, in a misguided sense of open-mindedness. Parents are often (and rightly, in my opinion) blasted for withholding medical care from their children because of religious beliefs; we have a keen understanding that children need to be protected and that we have a responsibility to ensure their long life and good health. It is only because I want my children to enjoy the highest good, the most fulfilling peace, and deepest joy that I have a responsibility to expose them to the Gospel of Christ. That I feel this same call to adults is a sign of how closely I hold this truth and desire that all people are saved.
I have often wondered at the rampant “atheistic evangelism” that seeks to destroy faith and call people out of something that brings them joy, hope and peace, all in the name of “truth,” as if theirs is an exclusive right to it. While it is easy to see the benefits of religious faith to those who possess it (and infinitely more so if it is actually based on truth), I do not see how naturalism and materialism increase the value and enjoyment of life for one who feels blessed, hopeful and loved within Christianity. I understand that there are those who feel oppressed, restricted and shamed as a result of their experiences with a particular church or religious group, but I have never seen my faith represented or reflected in those offending bodies.
I suggest that it is a simpler, yet more intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, and existentially pragmatic and fulfilling message that Christ brought and that I have accepted: first on authority, then seen in the void left by its absence when I rejected it, and finally freely giving my life up to it, and thus gaining both that life and the happiness and peace that it was designed to enjoy.
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” – Ephesians 4:11-14