Atheists say that indoctrinating children with beliefs that divide them according to religious identity are abusive. How do we respond?
If the inculcated beliefs are creating any kind of self-identity based on something that is detrimental to the well-being of the individual concerned or others, then it is abusive, whether the beliefs are religious or otherwise. However, the statement, “Atheists say that indoctrinating children with beliefs that divide them according to religious identity are abusive,” literally taken, does not imply that the beliefs being indoctrinated are religious themselves. They could be politically, or otherwise, motivated. Also, if religious identity divides, what kind of division is being discussed here? If it is one that leads to war, hatred, and persecution, then to even imply that religious belief always leads to this is a gross generalization. If this division is one of differing cultures, then on the same reasoning it could be said that: indoctrinating children with beliefs that divide them according to cultural identity are abusive. Is culture something bad? Are atheists against culture?
Thank you very much for answering this question. The question itself came as a bit of a shock that people can think like this. I wanted to share my thoughts on this topic.
After the initial shock of the question was over, I was a bit amused by the fact that atheists talk about abuse at all. How can they do so while being true to their creed of atheism? According to them, all human beings and for that matter all life forms are combinations of chemicals. Our “personality” arises from a large number of chemical reactions that forms a neurological circuitry in the brain. This complex chemical reaction somehow got assembled by random undirected combination of chemicals extending over billions of years. So in this world view, what exactly does abuse mean? For the atheists, the mountains, rivers, crystals, creatures etc. are different combinations of matter. What does it mean to say that one combination of matter “abuses” another combination of matter? When there is a thunderstorm, do clouds abuse the earth or is it just a natural phenomenon? When industries subject huge amounts of raw material to heat, shock etc as part of industrial processing, are they abusing these materials? According to them, exactly how are humans, animals and other combinations of chemicals different? Am I missing something about their world view?
By raising the questions of ethics and morality, the atheists are implicitly admitting that there is more to life than a random combination of chemicals. They have not yet taken it to the level of a science, but the intuitive understanding is there.
It is only from the platform of proper understanding of consciousness and purpose of life that we can talk about morality and other topics. Now coming to the rational platform where we understand that we are conscious and that we have a purpose and with respect to that purpose, some actions are right and some are wrong, we can take this discussion further.
All education including religious education can be imparted in healthy and unhealthy ways. Telling stories to children from Ramayana, the Bhagavata Purana and Mahabharata that they can understand and appreciate according to their level of development is wonderful. It is the best form of engagement, entertainment, inspiration, helps them understand what is good and bad and leads to the formation of character, among many other good things.
The problem comes when we give them more than what they can handle or are willing to handle. Teaching children that they or their friends stand to burn in hell if they don’t accept a particular person as a savior or a particular practice, whether valid or not, can be quite detrimental to the happiness and well being of a child and in my opinion should be avoided. However, it is important to note that one does not need religion for bringing about these distresses. One can do that in the name of nationality, race, species, or any of the unlimited ways that people can think of. The problem of abuse, then, is a problem orthogonal to religion and it should be tackled irrespective of any kind of bias.
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