My review of Chapter Sixteen of Hitchens’ book will not be long at all. The title of this chapter is “Is Religion Child Abuse?” He acknowledges at the conclusion of the previous chapter that it is “one provocative question” (p. 215). It certainly is.
One of the guiding assumptions of Hitchens’ zeal is that religion gets into everything and poisons it. He says that he is willing to leave the religious alone, and only wishes that they would reciprocate.
“And as it happens, I will continue to do this without insisting on the polite reciprocal condition — which is that they in turn leave me alone. But this, religion is ultimately incapable of doing” (p. 13, emphasis his).
And then, later in the book (this chapter), he does the same thing that Richard Dawkins did in his book, The God Delusion. He defines the provision of a religious upbringing as “child abuse.” Now, whenever you have true child abuse, there is a societal duty to rescue the child, to get that child out of there. To make this particular point is not just provocative — it is inflammatory.
In this context, Hitchens puts infant baptism, the learning of a catechism, the practice of confirmation, Sunday School lessons, and family worship into the same category that we use to describe the making of child pornography, starvation, locking up in closets, blacking eyes and breaking bones. “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” is in the same category, for Hitchens, as “Who told you that you had looks or brains, you little weasel?”
Apart from revealing that Hitchens has no sense of proportion, and no idea of the possibility of a loving Christian home, it puts the lie to his assertion that all he wants is to be left alone. In modern states, the authorities have the power to remove children from their homes if they are being abused. This is right and proper — provided they really are being abused. Hitchens (and Dawkins) are attempting to classify religious education this way, and it is an attempt to set the stage for the day when all children are wards of the state, de facto secularists. And the reason they were taken away is because their parents were not leaving them alone.
Of course, there would be no prohibition against parents teaching children the tenets of Hitchens’ beliefs, for those beliefs are quite enlightened.
To this, my only response would be that for secularists to come for my children or grandchildren because they were being brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord would be right at the top of my list of horrifying examples of not being left alone. At our weekly sabbath dinners, I ask my grandchildren if they are baptized. Yes. I ask them if they love God. Yes. I ask them if Jesus is in their heart. Yes. I ask them if they are going to partake of the Lord’s Supper in worship in the morning. Yes. They are short, but genuine, Christians. When Hitchens proposes that this should be categorized as child abuse (and we have laws against child abuse, do we not?), he is manifesting the totalitarian impulse that he so castigates in the next chapter. All parents are equal when it come to teaching their children about the world. It is just that, according to Hitchens, some parents are more equal than others. Hitchens has written a book on why Orwell matters. He should write another one on how Orwell matters more when he is understood.