Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Religion and Child Abuse

So, way back in 2006 a guy named Richard Dawkins equated religion to child abuse. The point of his article is that teaching a child about the finer points of a religion (the punishment points) equates mental abuse.
Two things here, I never even heard of Richard Dawkins until recently, and I didn't know he was some big atheist guy until even more recently. So when I first read it a while ago my thought was that he was kind of an ass and probably didn't have kids (my apologies about the ass part, honestly). The kids thing probably doesn't make much sense, but if you have kids you know that sometimes you say things and cringe because part of you wonders if you have just scared the kid for life.
See, from what I gather, he is arguing that the teaching of punishment of hell, if sincerely believed by a child, is equal to any other mental abuse of the child, and that even more subtle religious teachings are abusive. Now, that is a mighty fine line he is walking. I see what he is saying, but again, fine line. Because what he is saying is the religious version of what is creating all those spoiled animals you see running around.
Can religion be used as a form of mental abuse? Yes, of course. Anything can, especially to a child. You could probably use chipmunks as a form of abuse. Is all religion abusive? No. And I mean that all across the board, the same way he did. He says all religions are abusive, I say that they aren't. In the wrong hands yes, they can be. So can athiesm. Sorry Mr. Dawkins.
Dawkins reminds me of the people in the pagan movement I hate the most. The people who scream about how narrowminded and awful other religions are while being the exact same way. It's a bad habit to get into. And it leads to blanket statements like the one above.
I know that children believe all manner of things. My kiddo currently believes that the moon had an entire family of moons and that a giant space tornado came and scared them all away (don't ask me, I don't know). Obviously with some children religion will be dealt with differently than with others. The kiddo won't learn about religion of any kind for another few years, until she can process things. Some kids can handle it earlier, or almost crave it, and in that case, why not teach them? As long as it doesn't disturb them, it also probably won't hurt them. Dawkins is insinuating that religion of any kind is slavery, and again, that's an interesting thing to say. Some people need religion, some people want religion, and some people use it to reach enlightenment. Would you take that from us? I'm not saying there is a right religion, and I'm not saying everyone should be religious, but I am saying that the same way I get disturbed by people who tell me I need to worship Sky-Daddy, I am also disturbed by people who tell me I'm a slave to my belief. Sorry to disappoint, but Sky-Daddy isn't my speed, and I'm not a slave to my religion. My religion helps me process things, but it certainly doesn't hold my back from things. And if one day I grow out of it? So be it. But right now? I'm cool with it.
Frankly, I wish that everyone would stay out of my religion. It's personal. I get why everyone is fighting, I really do, because I fight that too, equality for all, etc. But Dawkins went somewhere personal on this one. I want to see what else he has written, so I can see if that ass thing is right or not, but I'm not looking forward to it if he's always this antagonistic.


  1. I'm pretty sure that my life between about 23 and 26 would have been a hell of a lot easier if I hadn't had eternal damnation drilled in to my head from a very young age. Fear of retribution from heaven and having to go to hell made my separation from Christianity extremely difficult at first. So in that I absolutely agree with Dawkins.

    And, in fact, there's an experience I had with a particular ex-girlfriend who felt that her own parents' acceptance of her rested on her continued belief in a very narrow interpretation of the Bible. She wasn't going as far as I was, but even moving to the already somewhat liberal (I drank, I cussed, I didn't have anything against gays, I thought that whole damnation for not having an extra-special relationship with Jesus was a little insane, oh noes!) stances I held when we met terrified her. And she even pretty much agreed with me on all kinds of levels. But it was still scary, since if she did so openly in the presence of her parents, she thought they would stop loving her. The sad thing is, she was wrong in her interpretation. But her parents inadvertently taught her that she had to walk the narrow path to be accepted.

    However, as much as I like Dawkins and Hitchens and as much as I agree that there are points where religion is a form of abuse, I don't think either one really gets it. Hitchens cherry-picked his way to his "religion poisons everything," conclusion in god is not Great and almost entirely avoided discussing non-Biblical religious traditions. I haven't read much Dawkins, but I'd be willing to bet he did something similar.

    It's interesting. As someone who really has every reason to be angry and bitter about religion, I find that I'm far less so than some people who really have very little to do with it. I suppose maybe I have a more nuanced view, but I know there are plenty of good, well-meaning people who are very devout and who have somehow managed to not let the more perverse outcomes of religion or who subscribe to a non-insane religion/version of religion to begin with...

  2. I would love to hear from Dawkins what his relationship with religion was, because there seems to be a lot of bitterness there, and a lot of pain. When I read your stuff it's clear that you took away somthing else from your experience that it doesn't seem like he did. It's like any breakup, some people just never get over it.
    I agree, he does seem to miss the point that some people do manage to not let that crazy fundie thing seep into their religion. Not everyone is crazy.


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