The ninth chapter of Dawkins’ book is entitled “Childhood, Abuse, and the Escape from Religion.” The chapter is almost impudent in its intellectual dishonesty, and more than impudent in its proposal.
Dawkins begins by telling a heart-wrenching story from 19th century Italy, in which a young Jewish boy (Edgardo Mortata) had been secretly baptized by his babysitter. When this was discovered, the Inquisition required that he be removed from his parents, and brought up in a Catholic home, which then happened.
“It passes all sensible understanding, but they sincerely believed they were doing him a good turn by taking him away from his parents and giving him a Christian upbringing. They felt a duty of protection” (p. 313).
As Dawkins writes about this, every sensible reader is right with him. This was an appalling thing to do, and is surpassed only by Dawkins telling this story as an introduction to his proposal to do precisely the same kind of thing. He professes astonishment that these 19th century Catholics felt a duty to protect this young boy from being raised a Jew. He then serenely passes on to his subsequent argument that we moderns have a duty to protect young children everywhere from being raised by religious people who consider it their duty to raise their child in their faith. Dawkins’ real problem is apparently that not enough children were removed from their homes. If Dawkins or his editor had not been in the grip of their smugitudinous secularism, they would have seen the glaring contradiction in this chapter. When it comes to lack of self-awareness, in this particular argument Dawkins was “in the zone.” Dawkins begins his chapter by grossing us all out with a story about how some people several centuries ago ate some cockroaches. He then makes this the foundation of his argument for eating centipedes instead. And he does not see that this is what he is doing.
The title to the chapter contains the word “abuse.” And this is the hinge of Dawkins’ proposal. Parents who teach their children so that they share their parents’ faith are, according to Dawkins, abusive parents. Dawkins thinks he can make this charge and remain tolerant because it is okay with him if the parents want to be Christians (gee, thanks!). But if they baptize their children, or provide them with a Christian education, or both, then they are not to be considered Christian parents, but rather abusive parents.
“Even without physical abduction, isn’t it always a form of child abuse to label children as possessors of beliefs that they are too young to have thought about? Yet the practice continues to this day, almost entirely unquestioned” (p. 315).
And what do you do with abusive parents? Well, you make them stop, and if they won’t stop, then you remove the child from that home in order to protect them — just like what happened to little Edgardo. Coming at this from another angle, as horrible as the sexual abuse of children by priests might be, Dawkins says, “the damage was arguably less than the long term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place” (p. 317). So not only is providing children with a religious upbringing abuse, but it is arguably worse kind of abuse than sexual abuse.
It is not a crime, according to Dawkins, to be a Christian in the presence of your children, at least for the present, but it is a crime to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
“I am persuaded that the phrase ‘child abuse’ is no exaggeration where used to describe what teachers and priests are doing to children whom they encourage to believe in something like the punishment of unshriven mortal sins in an eternal hell” (p. 318).
And Dawkins favorably quotes a colleague, Nicholas Humphrey, who delivered this for our consideration:
“So we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible or that the planets rule their lives than we should allow parents to knock their children’s teeth out or lock them in a dungeon” (p. 326).
So far, such abuse would include infant baptism, teaching children about God’s judgment of the human race, the fact that the Bible is the Word of God, and memorizing verses to recite in the annual Christmas pageant. All these things are, by definition, child abuse. And decent society has a duty to protect children from child abuse, does it not? Get those kids out of there — just like the Catholics did with Edgardo.
Humphrey (and Dawkins) were both appalled at the multicultural reaction to the discovery of the body of a young Inca girl, the “ice maiden,” who had apparently been killed in a ritual sacrifice. All the usual progressive suspects were gushing over the fact that in her culture “being selected for the signal honour of being sacrificed” (p. 327) was an honor indeed. But Humphrey says that she only thought this way because she didn’t know the scientific facts about the material universe. If he had brought her up, and gotten her a proper education, she wouldn’t have thought the way she did, and she wouldn’t have wanted to be sacrificed. This is quite true — she wouldn’t have wanted that if she had been brought up in a conservative Christian home either. But it is also beside the point.
The myth of neutrality has both Humphrey and Dawkins by the throat. They want to protect all the children of the world from the abuse of their parents’ religious opinions, and the standard they propose for evaluating all the opinions of all these parents are the indisputable facts that make up their worldview. As Popeye would say, what a coinkydinx. This is because they are right, darn it, just like the 19th century Catholics. And, incredibly, they cannot see that this is what they are doing.
“The Inca priests cannot be blamed for their ignorance, and it icould perhaps be thought harsh to judge them stupid and puffed up. But they can be blamed for foisting their own beliefs on as child too young to decide whether to worship the sun or not” (p. 328).
But the Christian belief is that the Incan priests should be blamed for their ignorance, because they were supressing the truth about God in their unrighteousness and were worshipping a lie. The way to deal with this is through preaching the gospel to them, calling upon them to repent and forsake their idols. But the Dawkins approach is breath-taking. His proposal, if we want to dignify it with such a name, is to have all the parents in the world — Christian, Muslim, Jews, Buddhists, and so on — to be required to raise their children the way Dawkins would, and then, when they are eighteen (or whatever), they can become whatever religion they want, provided it is not a religion that has anything like infant baptism in it.
“Charming? Heart-warming? No, it is not, it is neither; it is grotesque. How could any decent person think it right to label four-year-old children with the cosmic and theological opinions of their parents?” (pp. 337-338).
The implication here is that children are all wards of the state, which must be secular. Your children are not yours. This is more than the separation of church and state; it is the separation of church and children. It is not a separation of the state and children.
“Please, please raise your consciousness about this, and raise the roof whenever you hear it happening. A child is not a Christian child, not a Muslim child, but a child of Christian parents or a child of Muslim parents” (p. 339).
No, thanks. Not going to do it. I said a moment ago that Dawkins does not see that he is demanding that all worldviews defer to his. Because he is right, and because everyone else is wrong, children must be removed from homes (or not) on his principles. He will brook no dispute or discussion on the point. The scientist worldview is right, and evolution is right, and children must be removed from homes where Dawkins-think is not properly taught. One of the reasons for doing this is that Dawkins was appalled by an instance in 19th century Italy where a child was removed from a home where Catholic-think was not properly taught. I have honestly never seen anything like this in a book that people were taking seriously. And Dawkins teaches at Oxford.
But I don’t fault Dawkins for insisting that law should be based on the worldview that he considers to be correct. What else should he think? That is not where his problem is. All law is imposed morality, and everyone who has a morality believes that the law should be based on that morality which is correct. This is what everybody does, and it is inescapable. Nobody wants to impose a morality that he believes to be a false morality and actually immoral.
The problem is that Dawkins doesn’t know that he is doing this. He is unaware of the fact that he is looking out at the world through his own eyeballs, and his worldview, frieghted with all kinds of radical assumptions, is simply invisible to him. What he sees is simply what “is,” and what others see is the result of inexplicable superstitions. And we gotta get their children out of there.
This comes up in another way in this chapter. Dawkins has heard about a group of Christians who want public policy to reflect what they believe to be correct. Dawkins acts like he has never heard of such a thing. The ideer! Them?
“If I had wanted to interview real extremists by modern American standards, I’d have gone for Reconstructionists whose ‘Dominion Theology’ openly advocates a Christian theocracy in America” (p. 319).
An American colleague writes him in breathless excitement:
“Europeans need to know there is a traveling theo-freak show . . . If secularists are not vigilant, Dominionists and Reconstructionists will soon be mainstream in a true American theocracy” (p. 319).
In the first place, judging from the terminology being used here, Dawkins’ intelligence-gathering is about twenty years out of date. In the second place, to report this as though the recons will be taking over tomorrow if the secularists are not capital V vigilant is an exercise in capital H hyperbole. But let us not get hung up on that kind of stuff, and just point out that all cultures reflect the central cultus. All cultures are embodied religion. Dawkins wants to have his religion be the basis for all public morality and law. Good for him. So do we. He doesn’t believe in Jesus, and wants that unbelief enshrined in the public square. We believe in Jesus, and want His Lordship to be recognized in the public square. Of course there are some differences, based on the different nature of the worldviews represented. For example, I wouldn’t want to have a Christian state kidnap kids from atheist homes, and he does want a secular state to kidnap Christian kids from Christian homes. But although our moralities differ, we both want those moralities to form the basis of the surrounding culture.
Dawkins steadfastly refuses to recognize the situated nature of his own knowledge. Because he denies the one true God, the only one who has immediate (non-mediated) knowledge of all things, Dawkins has volunteered to fill that vacancy himself. He will know things immediately, and he will know them without corruption. And from that pristine vantage point, he will give the order to have our kids taken away from us, and raised in an anti-septic and scientific way. God deliver us.