Religion is child abuse
Religions always plan to indoctrinate children. Teaching religion to an adult is hard work because religions are absurd and often transparently so. In contrast teaching religion to children is easy. Children are susceptible and suggestible. It doesn't sound like far-fetched nonsense to a child, children are credulous.
The religious don’t regard telling children about hellfire and damnation is indoctrinating them before they have attained the age of reason, which it clearly is, they see it as a good thing. Making children fear hellfire is meant to save their souls and set them on the only path to righteousness. Nobody would deliberately teach their children a tissue of lies knowing them to be lies. The reason to instill fear into a child when they are too young to see that the story is farcical is never that the person doing the teaching believes that the story is farcical, the motives are always pure but no matter, the effect is the same.
Try telling an adult that God, who loves them, got angry with people doing bad things so he flooded the entire Earth and drowned almost all animals and people. Straight away they are going to spot that this is rather a petulant thing to have done. It would be mass murder on the biggest possible scale and it would result in the deaths of millions of innocent animals and children. This could not be seen as a nice story, not evidence that God was the kind of person you would want to be a member of your golf club let alone the being you wished to spend all eternity adoring. And yet children sit still and lap it all up. They don’t make the rather obvious connections between mass killing and being a bad-tempered and indiscriminate shit that any adult would when told the story for the first time. But then we tell children all sorts of preposterous things and they lap them up. There are two very good reasons for this: firstly children don’t have enough experience of life to see how crazy some of the things we tell them are and secondly a capacity to accept what figures in authority tell us is part of our make-up.
than threatening them with the eternal and unquenchable fires of hell?" ~ Richard Dawkins
Credulity is essential in children. If we all began as blank slates from I think therefore I am we would almost certainly be dead before we had learned a tiny fraction of what we need to know. Questioning everything we are told is not a good strategy for little children. Children have to be wide-eyed and credulous so they can absorb all the lessons we need to pack into them.
Many of the things we have to teach children are very far from obvious and self evident. They learn about hunger, greed, ageing, death, learning, pain, healing and love. They have to cope with truth, lies, stories, myths, let’s pretend, cartoons, films, teasing, pets and wild animals. When we really think about the task a child has to master it is amazing that they cope so well. The reason that they do cope so well is that they have learning protocols built-in. There is no way that a formless intellect could cope with the demands of infancy as well as we manage it. Exactly how complex these built-in protocols are I believe is beyond our current levels of knowledge to fathom and it is an inherently difficult task to identify universal assumptions and spot the difference between things which are simply logical from those which betray the designing hand of evolution.
We can’t afford to tell children all about the electrical conductive properties of dilute acids, the price of domestic electronic goods, the necessity for work in advanced capitalist societies and the incidence of domestic violence in superficially loving families we just have to tell them that spilling juice is naughty, especially down the back of the 42 inch high definition television. Our children must have a capacity to accept what we tell them largely without question because otherwise they have a good chance of ending up dead, provoking their own murder or bringing catastrophe upon people around them. You can’t be having a five minute sit-down talk about why it would be a good idea to sit under the basket and keep quiet when the fire-arrows are hitting the log cabin. The capacity to obey your parents when they look you in the eye and tell you something with a sincere tone can sometimes save your life, your parents’ lives, your siblings’ lives, many lives of other relatives and the lives of dozens of yet to be born great-grandchildren. It is a logical inevitability that the capacity of small children to accept instructions and warnings without subjecting them to their own as yet feeble logical powers must develop. Any tribe that developed teenage patterns of rebellion or questioning at the age of five would almost certainly be wiped out within a century or two.
Children are primed to believe what they are told by figures in authority who seem to be looking after them. This wide-open credulity makes them prey to nonces, paedophiles who make up nonsensical stories to get children to come with them. It also makes them prey to something even more sinister with an even greater capacity to screw with them: religion.
Children will listen to stories about religious themes and will not question them, partly of course because they have been told that they should not question them and their parents use the same look-in-the-eye and solemn tone of voice to warn about the wrath of gods as they do to warn them about strangers, the dangers of being run over by cars and not eating toadstools. This allows a child to be filled up with many ideas, several of which individually are silly and easy to refute but when woven into a system whose integrity is not challenged become impregnable. If people come across a religion in their teenage or adult years they can easily see how it has been made and how it operates to lie to its adherents. Other people’s religions are clearly false, show clear evidence of deliberate lies and the effects of myth and wishful thinking. People can also see how different aspects of a religion combine to reinforce the belief in the believer. But a religious trap can be built very easily and without snapping jaws if you have the patience to let the child grow inside the trap. This is by far the most common way for people to get religion. Have you seen those nauseating child evangelists? One thing I can absolutely guarantee to you is that those child evangelists were not born to unbelievers, or evangelized by children.
Children are taught the same things over and over: Jesus died for us, Jesus was sent from heaven for us, Jesus loves us, God loves us, we should fear God, good people go to heaven, bad people go to hell, not believing is a sin, God made the world, faith is good, God moves in mysterious ways, every good person believes this, Jesus was born in a stable. Around and around go the stories. You can start listening on any level at any time. It does not matter at which point you start to hear or at which point you start to take more notice and think a bit harder. If you have gone around the cycle a few times you find the ideas knitting together. If you were given the whole story as an adult in full possession of all your faculties and no particular reason to pay attention and believe the story there is very little chance you would accept it. Adults are brought into the church with miracles or seeking a way out of a terrible problem such as addiction, poverty, immigration or having their world turned upside down by contact with the wider world. The number of perfectly well-adjusted adults who take up new religions is exceedingly small. If you are perfectly well adjusted what need do you have for a religion? They either screw you up when you’re a child or catch you when you are screwed up and vulnerable.
Using childish openness to imprinting to impart superstitions is wrong, to use this innocence and vulnerability to instil fear and guilt goes beyond wrong and becomes, in my mind, evil.
You can teach your children manners and morals without needing to scare them with hell or the concept of the all-seeing spy camera beyond all legal scrutiny up in the sky. What kind of moral teaching is it to say “don’t do that, somebody is looking”? If you teach your children this you are telling them that their behaviour is perfectly alright by you but somebody else (the shopkeeper, the policeman, the judge, the Caliph or God) has got a problem with it. Surely it is much better to explain why the behaviour is wrong, why it is harmful or what rights they are infringing. Don’t do that is acceptable. Don’t do that because it is wrong because of XY and Z is ideal but don’t do it because somebody is watching is telling your children to do what they want and then kill the witnesses.
The worst thing in the world is the child of a fundamentalist believer who has been taught that God defines what is evil and defines morality who then loses faith in God.
It’s only wrong if somebody sees it. Only God could see it. God is dead. Therefore it’s not wrong. Christians are creating monsters!
If you teach your children that only absolute morals have any meaning and only God can decide what is moral if your child ever stops believing in God you have effectively instructed them to be amoral sociopaths. It is a terrible strategy for future society, making children believe that the only thing between peace, prosperity and civilization on the one hand and utter chaos and complete moral decline on the other is the belief and faith in a story that many moderately intelligent children and the vast majority of the world’s best scientists and finest minds can see straight through. Credulity (labelled as faith) is the only thing between civilization and the bottomless pit of insidious turpitude. That is not only wrong it is a wicked lie and a slander against our species.
It is about time that mankind stood up and declared that libelling and slandering our species is not acceptable. Blasphemy is a victimless crime but libelling and slandering humanity is not. If you say all Negroes are incapable of telling right from wrong and are inherently evil you will stand a good chance of being hauled in front of a court if you say it in front of the right witnesses. Why should it be any different if you expand the race you libel to the entire human race? Is not the central message of many religions effectively incitement to racial hatred with the human race as the victim?
Teaching children about hell is quite clearly emotional abuse. Many people have revealed great emotional scars caused by religious indoctrination and the fear of hell. It seems especially likely to cause trauma when it is not the child's own fate that is being considered but the fate of other people who die. If you fall in line with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and raise the child of a mixed marriage as a Catholic you are guaranteed to cause distress. Yes my child, Grandpa Joe will go to heaven, he’s a good Catholic, but Grandpa Billy will not, he will go to the lake of fire and burn for all eternity, that is God’s plan. That is hardly likely to make for a good and happy childhood, especially if the child thinks Grandpa Billy is much better behaved and loves Jesus more than Grandpa Joe.
Fear of hell looms large in many a childhood. It is an extremely insidious notion that a god who is invisible and silent will yet punish for all eternity those who don’t believe in him. The Hebrews for all their bloody sacrificing and general barbarity did at least allow people to die and be dead. It is Christianity which first imported the notion of the underworld as a place of eternal torment from the Greek and Roman world and then subsequently turned up the heat to the max. The red hue and goatish appearance of the classical Christian Devil owes far more to the Roman god Pan than to the Satan that the Hebrews had borrowed rather late in the day from the Persians. Islam accepts the notion of hell and the devil, gives him back a variation of the Hebrew name of Satan and cutely rewrites the Garden of Eden story with this new devil in the role previously played by a talking snake. Islam decided to rewrite inconvenient bits of the Old Testament whereas Christianity used the Old Testament to endorse the New, by writing the New Testament consciously as a sequel trying to make as many connections as possible even at the strong risk of having thousands of contradictions, not least of which is the idea of the immortal soul and an afterlife which does not feature in the Old Testament at all.
Have you noticed how terribly badly behaved Jewish children are? Me neither. Jewish children are not scared with the prospect of hell because there is no afterlife in Judaism. So how do the Jews manage to stop their children killing and stealing and setting places on fire? As far as I can tell they tell them that doing such things is wrong. Whoa. Radical concept.
Hell is a terrible concept because of uncertainty and distance in time. We as a species have developed minds which can plan short and medium term strategies quite well but whole life plans are not quite so effective. One of the explanations is that our brains are built to do what economists call discounting the future. A reward next year to compensate for a sacrifice this year has to be bigger than the sacrifice, a reward ten years off will have to be significantly bigger than one which is one year off for the same size of sacrifice or it won’t be worth making the sacrifice. Heaven and Hell are way off in the future beyond not only all the time we have in the world but also beyond the uncertainty of death. To make it sensible to sacrifice now for rewards after death or to avoid punishments the distant rewards and punishments have to be enormous. To compensate for the uncertainty of death again the size of the rewards and punishments have to be larger still. The less likely a reward or punishment becomes the bigger it has to be. I don’t think it is a coincidence that as many churches have back-pedalled on hell and have suggested that more people will make it into heaven there has been less talk about what heaven contains, other than, well, consolation and it’s quite nice, heavenly even.
Heaven has just become a marketing tool to sell low fat dairy products, and being good has become just a metaphor for keeping to a calorie controlled diet.
As sure as Hell is just a figure of speech. Of all the things people have real faith in Hell has to be rather far down the list. Hell is deeply embarrassing to many Christians, they see it as a crude threat and they can see how fundamentally at odds it is with the concept of a loving forgiving god that they want to sell to people. How could a loving god see anybody tortured for all eternity? That is the behaviour of a tyrant, a monster, not somebody who loves us.
If people are not kept in line by fear of Hell and a desire to get into heaven because of the uncertainty and the time delays there is the opportunity to replace the post-mortem stick and carrot with something that actually works. People like being good. People like to be seen as good and like to feel that they are good and moral. To a large extent morality can be its own reward. And for those who are not afraid of being seen to be bad? I suggest we treat them in the same way as those who seem not to be afraid of going to hell despite claiming to believe in it. If you wanted to find a born again Christian and it wasn’t a Sunday where would you go? I’d try a prison.
Hell and the whole divine justice thing is of course unconstitutional in America and contrary to international agreements on justice and the rights of man. What could be more cruel and unusual than the punishments devised by the sadists in the Church? Of course you don’t really believe that St John the Divine, Dante and various Popes reported on what actually goes on in Hell do you? Of course not. Hell is entirely in the imaginations of sick Christians, based on preliminary sketches drawn by the Greeks and Romans and later plagiarized by Islam.
Back in the time of David no Hebrews (they weren’t called Jews then) had any concept of a soul that survived death or an eternal adversary for God so Hell was entirely foreign to them. Literally. The concept of the evil one came from the Persians and the concept of an underworld where souls (again a foreign concept) went after mortal death came from the Greeks. Religion back in the day of David was very simple, similar to the ideas of tossing a virgin into the volcano to placate the anger of the gods except the Hebrews were passionately opposed to human sacrifice while fascinated by it, all their sacrifices were of animals. If you read the Bible and believe any of the numbers in the first third of the book you would wonder why sheep are not extinct and why the tribes of Israel didn’t take over the entire world. Killing animals in the correct way while wearing suitable linen shorts and dabbing blood on the right extremities made God happy and made it slightly less likely that he would give your tribe boils and make all your sheep barren while probably adding a few months to your life and delaying your wife’s menopause. At no point will you ever read of a Hebrew king sacrificing animals for the soul of his father to save him from the fires of Hell (or indeed purgatory) because they had no notion of immortal souls or any concept of Hell. All that craziness comes in with sweet baby Jesus.
“Without doubt the greatest injury of all was done by basing morals on myth. For, sooner or later, myth is recognized for what it is, and disappears. Then morality loses the foundation on which it has been built.”
(1st Viscount Samuel) 1870 - 1963
British Liberal politician