On Facebook, I received an invitation to "a day of protest against child religious grooming" - January 15th.
(See Facebook Day of protest against child religious grooming)
I am not yet certain what is it is about. However, it seems to relate to religious indoctrination. I wonder if the term "grooming" was selected to draw an association to what child molesters do - groom a child for a sexual relationship. That would be a sinister description. Is it accurate?
Desirism - the moral theory that sits at the foundation of this blog - is not inherently opposed to indoctrination. There are those who speak as if indoctrination itself is an inherent evil to be always prohibited. However, that attitude against indoctrination is not just impractical, it demands that which is not even possible.
Let's start with an obvious case - learning a language. We can image a parent saying, "I am not going to indoctrinate my child into a particular language. I am going to raise my child language-free, and allow my child to choose a language for herself when she reaches an age where she can do so. I also demand that others respect these wishes, which means that I condemn anybody who ever attempts to indoctrinate my child into their native language. Everybody in the community is obligated to provide my child with a language-neutral environment in which to grow up."
This is obviously absurd. While it is possible to raise a child in a language-free environment, this will not do the child any favors. Nor will the child ever be equipped to simply choose a language at some future time and be a competent native speaker of that language. This suggestion simply is not engaged with the real world.
In that real world, children are indoctrinated into language, into a wide range of beliefs, and into a number of social attitudes. From the moment we learn words such as 'mommy' and 'daddy' we are being indoctrinated into a set of cultural norms - norms that will color our thinking through our entire lives. This is the way the world works. As we discuss social policies, let us at least discuss policies that have some relationship to reality.
Furthermore, we need these norms.
Here is another clear example. We can imagine a parent saying, "I am not going to indoctrinate my child into driving on the right side of the street or the left side. I will let my child grow up to make up her own mind. The same goes for the convention whereby a green street light means permission to go, and red means stop. I demand that my child be at liberty to adopt the standard that green means to stop and red means to go."
Again, clearly, is an absurd proposal. The well functioning society requires that children be indoctrinated into certain modes of behavior. It is also inevitable that people are going to disagree over exactly which modes of behavior it is essential to indoctrinate children into. These are facts of the world in which we live. Let us not pretend that the world is different.
The modes of behavior we have reason to indoctrinate children into include moral norms. Let us imagine a third example - a parent saying, "I am not going to indoctrinate my child into any particular attitude regarding race or gender. I want to raise my child with a neutral attitude towards the KKK and to allow him to choose for himself at the appropriate age whether KKK memberships and beliefs are right for him. I also want him to be free to adopt his own attitudes towards rape, or to killing people who he thinks get in his way. Furthermore, I insist that nobody else in this world try to indoctrinate my child into adopting their attitudes towards this type of behavior."
The very purpose of parenting is to indoctrinate a child into certain attitudes regarding how to treat others. The parent who fails to indoctrinate their child into certain values is worthy of our condemnation.
So, indoctrination itself is not evil. Whether indoctrination is good or evil depends entirely on its content.
I would hold that the practice of childhood indoctrination should aim for true beliefs and good desires. Furthermore, this indoctrination should include a healthy respect for the true proposition, "Maybe we are wrong. Feel free to double-check our work."
Now, we get to the subject of religious indoctrination.
The principles I expressed above would make me an opponent of the religious indoctrination of children. Religious indoctrination violates the true belief criterion for what the indoctrination of children should aim for. A properly raised and educated child will be brought to adulthood with the recognition that the God and Jesus are just as imaginary as Zeus and Hercules - even of the latter element of each pair was based on a real person. These are primitive myths fit for primitive cultures.
Children raised in ignorance of these facts are done a disservice. Notice that I do not call this abuse - as some do. This is because abuse requires either intentionally or knowingly doing harm or, at best, not caring. While many of these acts do not qualify as the abuse of a child, they still qualify as doing a disservice to the child.
Once again, these types of statements also require a health respect for the proposition, "Maybe I am wrong". The possibility of error rules out the use of violence to bring about these ends in all but the most extreme cases where the harms are significant and the chance of error particularly small. In most cases, people are limited to using the tools of reason, praise, condemnation, and private rewards and punishments. "Private rewards and punishments" refers to those rewards and punishments that can be built into legitimate private actions such as deciding where to shop, who to vote for, who to friend or who to unfriend, what to watch or read, what charities to contribute to, and the like.
So, religious indoctrination is a social ill which should be stopped, but the legitimate tools for doing so are limited to reason, praise, condemnation, and private rewards and punishments.