Thursday, December 01, 2011

International Day of Protest Against Child Religious Grooming

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.


Kristopher said...

i think you could add that the things that one is most likely to be wrong about are those things that are hotly debated within society. And thus in such areas one should be more careful to apply the "i might be wrong" rule when deciding how strongly to use indoctrination and how frequently to use informed choice when raising children.

certainly one can find horrible things indoctrinated into children which were ignored by a society, as counter examples. i am syaing it is a useful tool not a perfect one. Finding true beliefs is difficult and a lively social debate is a good indication that alot of people are mistaken and that I or you could be one of them.

that way at least if a proposition managed to become strong enough to reach the altitude of nationwide discourse we could suspend indoctrination long enough to allow at least one generation the oppurtunity to make an informed decision.

Justin Rose said...

It's not enough just to raise your kid to understand that zeus and yahweh are mythological figures, but to explain why they are.

In that sense, you don't even need to say 'god is a myth', you can simply explain god in such a way that his mythological status is implicit and obvious.

advenioadveritas said...

Although I haven’t gone to facebook and checked for the group I’d wager that they got some of their ideas from Dawkins’ BBC special, of which I was recently shown a copy. How to raise a child is always such a hotly debated topic that special care needs to be taken when engaging in the debate, as well as a rudimentary understanding of child development. In this I agree with your assertion about the need for parents’ to teach their kids societal norms, but I do have to question where you think these norms will come from. Where do they draw their views on rape, the KKK, or other moral issues? Where will morality be drawn from, science? Which perpetually claims to only tell the facts why those seeking morality from it seem to use for a subjective morality that happens to favor their presupposed beliefs.

In a free society where the child will eventually be exposed to the real world and their ideas will be tested, trying to tell parents what they can and can’t teach their kids seems too much like a big brother issue and still raises the question of who says what’s right.
If there is no harm coming to the child through religious instruction then why not?

I happen to agree with you that it is essential for parents to encourage their children to test and see what’s true. As someone with a conservative Christian background I encourage it, because the difference in a useful Christian and a bad one is whether they own their faith, but coming to it through real inquiry, not just believing what was handed to them. This is true for any worldview.

Rich said...

Children are entitled to an open future, but the goal of indoctrination is to limit them to just one future, that of an adherent who will financially and morally support an institution until they are taken from the place feet first. Freedom, which everyone says they are fervently in favor of means the right to make your own choices to suit your life goals and dreams. Forcing faith on a child is a direct usurpation of their personal freedom. The only reason it happens is the adults who run the culture approve of the practice.

As the initiator of the event I welcome participation and ideas. I now see it more as a week of protest instead of a single day.

Rich said...

The event page on facebook is:

I have posted several articles on this topic on the Wordpress blog:

Hifi said...

I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the role of grooming in most religious indoctrination. Where grooming diverges from indoctrination or simple socialization is that it requires forced "participation" in the activity. And a prime indicator of crossing the line to grooming is that the practice is irrational and/or that the party with most of the power is the one who overwhelmingly benefits from the relationship.

Examples of social practices that require persistent grooming for compliance, but which are no longer tolerated to the point of being made illegal, are: child labor, domestic rape, arranged marriages, and class-mandated career options. In the latter two cases, it is now seen to be an individual choice, healthy for an adult, but disabling for a child outside her own volition.

Progress always comes with social and legal rights being recognized and extended to the disenfranchised. The day of opposition to religious grooming seeks to foster this recognition. The right of religious choice is the next logical right to grant in the progression of recent gains for children.

When they are older, people can make this decision for themselves, as they do of a mate or career. Certainly, parents are free to share their beliefs, but participation that is forced, physically or mentally, as with any other abuse of power in a relationship, can no longer be tolerated.

Certainly, with the recent evidence that religious societies are the most dysfunctional on a score of social health indicators, this is not a matter of opinion or personal preference, it is time for the damage that religious grooming does to the formative minds of children to be prohibited.

Indoctrination, itself, is distinguished from education by the fact that reasoning is convoluted and contradictory and that the indoctrinated person is expected not to question or critically examine the doctrine they have learned.

Contrast with the fundamental principles of science, which call for critical self-evaluation and skeptical scrutiny of one's own ideas, a stance outside any doctrine.

Rich said...

advenioadveritas .... raises the issue of harm and here is where the perpetrators have their blinders on. I challenge anyone who thinks that exposing vulnerable children to the horrid barbaric "facts" declared in the bible and Koran to read the personal narratives apostates write and post on web sites such as, ex Mormon, ex Catholic and so on. The link between religion and mental problems is well established and goes back to the 18th century before Freud.

The proponents always claim that a child can leave the assembly when they reach maturity, but by that time their minds are truly damaged, they are faced with dishonor if they leave, and they might be bereft of friends and sometimes even family. Not in all cases, not in all families, but the true accounts you can read are more than a little disturbing.

There is no way to know in advance how a child will be effected.