I recently got into a fairly heated debate with one of my children's aunts regarding religion. She was apparently appalled by the fact that I've been doing my best to shield them (ages 4 and 2) from religion and that I took issue with her teaching them about the Bible while watching them one day. When I learned about it I told her, pretty bluntly, that I did not want her shilling her religious beliefs off on my children and if she wished to babysit them in the future to please respect those wishes. Both myself and their mother are atheist and we're certainly not going to tell them they CAN'T believe in god or follow a religion if they want to but we're not going to expose them to the lunacy before their minds have developed enough to properly analyze such a concept. She went into a tirade about how we're horrible parents for not teaching them about religion - scratch that - not teaching them about CHRSITIANITY. She'd certainly be equally agast if we were going to teach them the ways of Buddhism. The argument got very heated, at one point she even threatened to call CPS on us, insinuating that our refusal to expose them to religious ideology at an early age somehow endangered them. At the highest stage of hypocrisy she tried to claim that shielding them from Christianity and religion in general meant we were "forcing our beliefs on them." It was hard for me to keep from laughing at her. He last gasp was to tell me how I was dooming them to an eternity of suffering. She just couldn't seem to grasp the idea that niether me or their mother BELIEVE in hell so threatening our children with hell was not very likely to convince us we're wrong. Both me and their mother have agreed that this particular aunt is no longer allowed to spend time alone with the children. As we left I made it clear to her that I found her to be utterly insane and incorrigible and I would just as soon leave them lone with a convicted child molester as with her.
The whole situation still has me pretty enraged. I don't know what angers me more - her utter refusal to respect our wishes as their parents, the unbelievable hypocrisy of her telling us *WE* we forcing our beliefs on them by not allowing her to force her own on them at such an early age, or the fact that this utterly delusional woman who I'm ashamed to call a member of my family had the nerve to threaten us with Child Protective Services because we refuse to indoctrinate our children with religious beliefs before their minds are capable of grasping them. With that in mind I bring you my latest blog entry.
Of all the evils that religion has unleashed on the world, to me their is no greater sin than it's relentless indoctrination of the world's children. Far from an unintended result of attempts to spread word of their beliefs it is indeed their goal to target as many children as possible. They aim for children in the same way a kidnapper does - the basis for the strategy is the same as that of electricity, take the path of least resistance. A child is like a sponge, they soak up any knowledge they are presented with and almost never question what they are told by adults. It is this very concept that many of these groups use to justify their wishes to remove sex and violence from television, video games, and music. Yet they see nothing wrong with using the same lack of cognitive development and critical thinking skills as a tool to spread their beliefs around the world. Imagine that, hypocrisy in religion.
It was in the 1920s that Swiss Biologist Jean Piaget divised the theory that remains dominant in education today. That theory goes that from birth until 2 years of age children are in the sensorimotor stage of development - they are learning to speak, walk, run, etc. From 2 to 6 or 7 they are in the Preoperational Stage - developing language and begining to understand the rules and laws of the world. From 6 or 7 to around 11 or 12 they are in the Concrete Operations stage, only at this stage do children begin understand the idea of varying opinions and that their opinion is not the only thing that matters. However, they still haven't begun to develop critical thinking skills and tend to take most things at face value, their brains have not developed enough to be critical of what they are being told, they still tend to believe pretty much anything an adult or authority figure tells them. It is not until the Formal Operations stage (11 or 12 through adulthood) that they even begin to develop critical thinking skills and even at this point these skills are still in their infancy, they are underdeveloped. This is what causes the "rebellious teenager", the abilities to think critically and really be able to question things are just being developed and are in overdrive much like puberty and teenage sex drive.
Religion specifically targets and aims to take advantage of people in the first 3 stages of cognitive development and the earlier the better. The sooner you begin infusing religious beliefs in a child the less likely they are to question them. If you can catch them in the sensorimotor or preoperational stage it's a sure thing they will accept whatever you tell them as law - especially when it is presented to them as the unquestionable word of God. The prospects of eternity in hell are beyond terrifying to child who can hardly wrap their heads around the concept of life and death. It is taking advantage of an undeveloped mind in the same way a family member does when molesting a child. You are using their young age to circumvent the criticism that would naturally come from a fully developed human mind when presented with such wildly incredulous claims as religion brings. It is beaten into their heads before they have the mental capacity to even fully understand what they are being told, much less question it and it is positively dispicable.
This act of indoctrinating undeveloped minds with the bile of religion is not just contemptable for taking advantage of children in the name of spreading and strengthening personal belief but also for inhibiting the future development of that child and potentially presenting a danger not only to adults when this indoctrinated child grows up but to the children who surround them throughout their development.
By presenting something to a child as undisputable law before their ability to criticize and question has developed you cripple those abilities from the very start. Humans are inquisitive and critical by our very nature but when you instill religion in a child's psyche from a young age you instill in them the idea of blind faith and something that is unquestionably true. They are taught to automatically dismiss anything they are told that contradicts their religious beliefs because those beliefs are the word of God and above question. That means that there are things that are above questioning and should automatically be assumed to be true because of the source... that's something that can now be applied to anything else that child does not like. When you teach an undeveloped mind that certain things are above question and should be accepted as fact purely on faith in spite of any evidence to the contrary then you're truly naive to believe that individual will not apply that same process of thought to other things they don't agree with in the future. You are not just taking advantage of their lack of cognitive development to push forth your own agenda, you are handicapping their ability to reason, question, and criticize for the rest of their lives.
Then we come to the final truth of religious indoctrination and the reason I find it to be religion's greatest sin. It is dangerous. Show me a religious fundamentalist and I will show you someone who was indoctrinated with religion from a very young age. When you inject these beliefs at a very young age and tell a child that these are the indisputable laws of God that all must live by and everyone that fails to accept them is wrong and will burn in hell you are sowing an incredibly dangerous seed. It will inevitably lead to conflict both during their childhood and after they've grown up. That is not to say that anyone who is indoctrinated with religion at a young age will become a violent fundamentalist but I'd bet the farm that pretty much all violent fundamentalists were indoctrinated when they were a child. Religion is a dangerous thing to instill in someone that is too young to really understand it. You can't give a small child information, tell them it's the word of God that everyone must live by and all who don't will burn in hell and expect them to respect the beliefs of others. What do you expect will happen when that child runs into a child at school who follows a different religion or no religion at all? You've infused this child with the belief that what you've told him is 100% true and can not be questioned, now he's run into someone who does not believe what you told him. This child is not capable of understanding the deep complexity of the varying religions or that he should respect the beliefs of others. There is very likely going to be a confrontation, either verbal or phsyical, and it's not going to be pretty either way. You've planted the seed of disdain for those who are different. At best this child will merely ignore those who don't follow the belief system you've pushed upon them, if it goes bad they could lash out violently against other children, at worst this dislike for people who are different could spread and blossom into hardline fundamentalism, racism, and/or sexism. Your attempt to use a child's undeveloped mind to suit your own means could warp that child's views for the rest of their lives and could even eventually get people killed. Think about that next time you go to read the Bible to your toddler.
It is my personal opinion that exposing children under the age of 13 to religion is as contemptable an act as exposing them to sex or violence at such a young age. Their minds are not ready for it yet, it is beyond the scope of their understanding, and by exposing them to it you are not only damaging their future development you are quite possibly creating a dangerous situation for those around them who do not share your beliefs. You are victimizing a child and you are foolish if you believe you are doing anything else. You are taking advantage of their lack of critical thinking skills and naive nature and for that you are a disgusting human being. Of course, religion won't change it's ways. If you wait until the age of critical thinking and reason to expose a child to religion you may have to answer questions that religion lacks answers to. It is only through the indoctrination of children that religion can continue to exist. It depends on blind faith and there is no blinder faith than that of a small child. Religion knows full well that it's very existance depends upon the indoctrination of children before they've developed enough to question what they are being told. Especially in this age where science is so capable of explaining who we are and where we came from. Religion has no choice but to try to strike before science has a chance to influence children to question things and seek answers from the normal rather than the paranormal.