Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Is Religion Child Abuse?

Is religion child abuse? Before I begin, I must note that the question is not: Can religious teachings be used to harm children? Nor is the question: Have religious people, even clergy men, been guilty of cruelty against children? A quick glance at religion's tainted history will reveal that both these latter questions can lamentably be answered in the affirmative. The question I have posed here is: Is teaching the doctrines of religion to children inherently child abuse?

Many out-spoken atheists would posit that the teaching of religion to minors is indeed child abuse. Though this is certainly attention-grabbing, can they really mean what they are saying? Do these fine thinkers truly believe that teaching religious doctrine to children is tantamount to beating them? Since most religious teachings today, however erroneous, seem to focus on the "good parts" of their holy scriptures, do they really equate such teachings to the wide-spread physical, sexual, and psychological abuse against helpless children that contaminates much of our society?  

After reading the horrifying accounts of Dave Pelzer, in his book: "The Child Called 'It'," I have learned to reserve the usage of the term, "child-abuse," to circumstances requiring it. In fact, after reading about the suffering Pelzer endured, I scarcely find "child abuse" an appropriate term. However, certainly to throw this word at people whom you happen to disagree with, is both a misuse of the term and an idiotic comparison. 

What could they mean when they call religious teachings child abuse? Could they mean that if parents rebuke the skepticism of their children, if they refuse them the right to inquire into the nature of their faith on fear of punishment, severe or otherwise, then, that is to be regarded as child abuse? If this is what they mean, then I absolutely agree, and I imagine, many parents both religious and secular would also wholeheartedly agree with such a sentiment. I know this is true of my parents (as I have written here), and most of the religious parents I have met in my life. Therefore, to say that religion is child abuse, is again an unfair exaggeration, if not down right slander. 

Misusing terms like child abuse, Nazi, genocide, or evil, is wrong for it robs the word of its power. When the State of Israel is called out for "committing genocide" against Palestinians, or when they are ironically referred to as Nazis, one who studies the reality objectively will instantly notice the wild misuse of these terms. If language is to mean anything to us, we must use it responsibly, and not hijack words to promote our cause, however important we may feel to be. 

So, is religion child abuse? No. Certainly not the way most religious children in the West are being raised. To refer to the multitude of alleged accounts of child rape by priests, rabbis, and mullahs is, as well, unfair. Insofar as these tales are true -- no doubt some of them are -- they are evil according to all, religious and secular alike. There are yet children in the darker parts of the world whom are abused by their parents, perhaps because of a specific religion, this is, as well abhorrent, and condemned by many. These awful unspeakable acts, however, cannot make us say that all teaching of religion is child abuse.

There are factions in every faith where children are abused by the strict nature of their parents' doctrine. There are places in the world, and even in Western countries, where children are forced to accept the faith of their parents' at the risk of punishment; this is child abuse. Anytime a child is forced to accept a doctrine or belief, be it Christianity or Communism, to name just two examples, we can confidently say, that the child is being stripped of his basic human rights and therefore, is suffering from abuse.

Unless I am mistaken, this is not the commonplace reality however. Most religious children are brought up in homes where they are free to inquire into the truth of their parents' faith, as well as, choose to abandon it. Such people would laugh if someone were to tell them they had been abused as children.

We must now address another accusation against the religious. The concept of hell is predominant in most faiths. Is it child abuse to dissuade a child's bad behavior with fear of eternal suffering? I do no think it to be. As wrong as it may be, to categorize this with beating, raping, and psychologically torturing children, is unfair. This may be bad parenting. It may be a cheap ploy. In the worst case, it may scare the child into serious worry and guilt, but no real harm is happening, if the child is raised in a home that promotes the freedom to question. In most cases, parents who resort to scaring the child with hell-fire, are doing so out of love for the child and a desire for him to remain safe. Again, this is a cheap ploy, and should be admonished, yet it is not child abuse. Should a parent who takes their child to the cancer ward in the hospital to try and scare the child away from smoking be considered an abuser of children?

[It doesn't matter that cancer is an actual result of smoking, and hell a made up result of sins, for the point being made here is that such scare tactics against children's bad behavior, however cheap a ploy it may be, cannot be made out as child abuse.]

However, religious parents should be sure that they "know" their faith to be correct before indoctrinating their children into it. Since in most faiths there are numerous sins to which their children must now refrain from committing, it behooves the parents to research both the tenets of their faith as well as the truth of it. As an example, in some religions, like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the repression of sexual desires can be very damaging to a child. Many religiously-raised adolescents struggle with the natural sexual desires of people their age, and the guilt (brought on by the religious doctrines) that follows any indulging in it. Imagine how hard it is for a 14 year old boy to wrap his head around the fact that every time he thinks of a sin, it's as if he committed it; and if he masturbated, it is as if he has murdered someone. There are other tenets of faith that are equally, if not more horrifying than my example, and religious parents must be very careful before they raise children in them. Or, at the very least, religious parents must be able to explain their faith in such a way as to protect the emotional stability of their child.

In conclusion, religious upbringing generally, should not be regarded as child abuse. However, there are aspects of every faith that can harm children, and therefore, religious parents must do all they can to teach their scriptures in a way that will enlighten and help the child, not subjugate them. All healthy parents, religious and secular, will teach their children what they feel to be the best and most healthy way for them. They will make rules on how much television their children should watch and with whom they should spend their time. At times, parents may make mistakes in the raising of their children. Yet, if all is done out of love for the child, if the child is given an environment in which he or she can discover, question, and ultimately accept or reject the teachings he or she was raised with, chances are such parents will not be guilty of abusing their children. A result, no parent should want, and no human should allow.

[The reader may notice that I left out the topic of circumcision. The reason for this omission is that this topic is very complex and, quite frankly, I have not researched it enough to come to a final opinion. The commandment gives me much discomfort, for it is very bothersome to my moral sensibilities to cause harm, however slight, to any body part without the consent of the person involved. I will return with an essay on circumcision as soon as I have come to a conclusion regarding it.]

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