Monday, March 05, 2012

Protecting Children from Religious Abuse

Item 9 on Sean Faircloth's list of ten political policy objectives for a new atheist political strategy is:

Children will be protected from religious bias.

He does not give any examples to illustrate this point. However, I suspect that a long list of examples can come from the list of cases where children were killed, maimed, or otherwise severely harmed because of the bizarre beliefs of their parents (exercising proper care to protect the identify of children still living).

These list would include cases where children died or were otherwise harmed because their parents shun some specific form of medical treatment - or medical treatment in general. These list are children killed or otherwise harmed in religious rituals to drive out demons or the like.

The list would also include young teenage girls stoned to death because they were raped, or gay children executed or, where the link can be well documented - driven to suicide by religious bigotry.

I would like to suggest creating an actual list - collecting names and writing histories of young lives lost through religious stupidity.

In order to better clarify this project, I would like to identify some things some people might want to include but would not qualify.

First, there is a distinction between dying or suffering harm as a result of religious belief or religious ritual and being harmed by a religious person. Children abused by priests, for example, would not qualify for this list. The reason they would not qualify is because there is no accepted religious justification for that abuse. Blaming religion for evils done by a religious person is as much bigotry and hate-mongering as blaming atheism for the crimes of an atheist. We see it in the attempt to blame atheism for the crimes of Hitler and Stalin. However, the fact that hate-mongering bigotry is such a common feature in many religious communities does not justify making it a feature of ours.

Second, I would not include the names of children who were killed because of the insanity of others, even where those others wrapped their insanity in a religious package. A fully atheist community will also have to deal with tragedies caused by insane members if the community. Those people will wrap their insanity in the concepts that surround them. It is, in some cases, an unavoidable accident that some use religious concepts. In a different culture, or even in the same culture in slightly different contexts, it may involve space aliens or conspiring government agents.

Third, we must be careful not to dismiss the secular justifications for practices that are also religious. I have heard from qualified urologists who have given me a long list of medical maladies that can be reduced by the practice of male circumcision. Let us not get into the practice of ignoring science just because science does not actually provide us with justification for condemning a certain religious practice. Note: female circumcision, on the other hand, has all of the markings of "religious abuse" as the term is being used here. It is a ghastly and barbaric practice.

The legitimate cases, for the purposes of this project, are those where a child dies from a treatable disease because parents and priests insist that prayer will cure her, or because a parent or other male relative performs an honor killing, or even when a minor chooses to forego treatment at the urging of parents, that they get added to the list.

The purpose of this list is to save young lives. Part of its purpose will be to shame parents who take their children down that road - and to raise awareness in general of what the consequences could be. Its purpose will be to employ the social tools of praise and condemnation to alter behavior for the better - in this case, making less frequent those types of actions that maim and kill children.

When those who work on this project are confronted with the claim that we must be tolerant of other cultures and lifestyles, ask them if they favor eliminating the age-of-consent laws. There are hundreds of thousands of names on sex offender registries in this country alone - people whose beliefs and interests made them a threat to the welfare of children. If we really do hold that the beliefs and interests of adults trump the welfare if children, then those registries should be closed and the laws behind them repealed.

The list that I am writing about here lies on the same moral foundation and aims to serve the same moral purpose.

It would, of course, include a drive for corresponding legislation - one that removes protections for people whose attitudes make them a threat to the well-being of children. That would be the political policy branch of this project.


MurOllavan said...

Concerning the priest/sex abuse - the first time it happens perhaps is a secular issue. What about the next 20-30 by the same priest that only happened because the parties were sworn to secrecy under canonical law?

The very reason its such an issue with the Catholic church is under their own religious dogma/laws, they essentially did nothing about cases they knew about. In fact, usually they purposely moved priests so they would wind up in unsuspecting communities. In all cases their reasons can be traced to their religious ideas.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

There is nothing in the sexual abuse scandle affecting the Catholic Church that could not happen in a secular organization - the abuse or the interest in covering it up as a way to save one's reputation.

I think it is actually dangerous to treat this as a religious problem because it threatens to invite us to ignore the prospect of the same problem arising in a secular organization. We would put children at risk

MurOllavan said...

Yes, nothing stops a secular organization from doing that. My thinking was that the probability of covering it up was higher.

You are correct that it could lead to what you describe and perhaps it shouldn't be labelled religious problem for that reason.

On an unrelated note, I do not see an email link on this site or contact form. Is there one?

Rich said...

I would like to suggest creating an actual list - collecting names and writing histories of young lives lost through religious stupidity.-- Alonzo

Several such lists are available. This is one of the oldest:

Religion and Child Abuse News
An archive of news items related to child abuse or neglect, or infringement of children's rights, in a religious context. Copyrighted materials appearing on this blog are provided under Fair Use provisions to facilitate education and further research into the issues documented in these news reports.