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Column 5
Protect the children

Making religion child-free

By © Martin Foreman
Word Count: 778
Publication date: March 6, 2005

Children are vulnerable. As adults, whether or not we are parents, it is our duty to both protect children and help them to understand and deal with the world around them. We have to keep them free from exploitation, while allowing them the freedom they need to develop their own personalities and to become happy, responsible members of our communities.

Boundaries are an essential part of this process. No sex before a certain age, not because we want to deny them pleasure, but because we want to shield them from exploitation, disease and pregnancy. No cigarettes, alcohol, gambling, driving, guns etc etc before they are old enough to understand the consequences.

The boundaries are often broken and we can disagree on the appropriate age for each activity, but we all agree - or most of us do - that the boundaries are necessary.

Unfortunately, we have not yet learned to protect children from religion. We know that belief in God frequently leads to violence and hate - in Middle America as well as the Middle East. We know that the competing versions of the deity are no more than variations of long-lived myths. We know that religious morality is often perverse and harmful. Yet knowing all this, we not only fail to protect children from religion, but we indoctrinate them in it from the day they are born.

Some babies are lucky – baptism involves only a splash of cold water. Others are less lucky – circumcision mutilates a boy for life. As soon as they learn to speak they are encouraged to pray to an imaginary God. As they grow older, the adults around them tell them lies and insist they are truth, teach them false commandments that pervert their morality and limit their potential for happiness.

The lucky ones grow up with a warm feeling about God and being nice to other people. Many others, however, grow up to become men and women whose faith leaves them ignorant, arrogant, prejudiced and convinced they have a right to impose their beliefs on others.

In a free country, no religion should be banned. But while every adult has the right to believe in or worship the god or gods of their choosing, every child should also have the right to be protected from religion. We prevent the young from sexual activity before they are mature. We should do the same with religion.  

In fact, substitute “religion” for “pornography” and we have ready-made boundaries. All churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and every other place of worship should be banned to under 18 year olds. Only adults should be allowed to participate in or observe acts of worship wherever they occur. Religious books should only be available in shops that children cannot enter.

Young people should also be protected in the home. Religious ceremonies should be permissible in private as long as no children are present.

Forcing, allowing or encouraging any child to participate in any religious practice, such as baptism, prayer, the hymn-singing, wearing of religious symbols or declaration of faith, should be considered a crime as serious as physical or sexual abuse. Parents who repeatedly expose their offspring to religious practices should lose custody of those children.

Protection does not mean ignorance. A responsible society gives young people all - repeat, all - the facts about sex without promoting early sexual activity. Similarly, it should give them all - repeat, all - the facts about religion.

That means that religious education should be both compulsory and comprehensive. The history and beliefs of all major religions should be taught on an equal, non-discriminatory basis, and all the evidence and arguments for and against faith should be explored. Then, at the age of 18, young women and men can decide which, if any, religion to subscribe to.

These measures are simple, rational and inoffensive. They only seem extreme because they are new. Nineteenth-century proposals to ban child labor were considered ridiculous when they were first mooted, but most people today agree that children should no longer work twelve hours a day in a factory or down a mine. A hundred years from now, we will look back at the religious indoctrination of children with horror and relief that such a dark age is behind us.

Responsible parents who are also believers will welcome these proposals. If their faith is true, their sons and daughters will come to it with open eyes. As consenting adults rather than crying babies or confused children, they can choose to be baptized or circumcized or undergo any other religious ceremony they please. Surely that is a more honorable way than indoctrination of the innocent for a faith to be passed from generation to generation?

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If God existed, he would...

admire the beauty of a universe that he did not create

recognize that eternity is meaningless

deny both heaven and hell

disown all men and women who speak in his name

denounce the harm caused by religious "morality"

help the human race to thrive without him

If God existed, he would be an atheist.

What is the difference between science and faith?

science is certain of nothing and requires proof of everything

faith is certain of everything and requires proof of nothing

Which do you trust?

"I know there is no God"
"I believe there is no God"

Check the answer

wear the Scarlet letter

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