Sage Advice: Religion Preys on Children

religion preys children
Eighteenth century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (Arturo Espinosa, Flikr, CC BY 2.0)

Blogger’s note: This is the first installment of “Sage Advice,” which will periodically spotlight meaningful quotations from influential figures in the history of natural philosophy, reason and science. I hope you’re as enlightened and inspired by them as I am.

Among the most clear-eyed and powerful historical quotations arguing against religious indoctrination of children comes from German intellectual Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), often referred to as the “philosopher of pessimism.”

The quote, shown below can also be found here online. It is derived from the first chapter — “On Religion: A Dialogue” — in Schopenhauer’s book Religion. He wrote:

“And as the capacity for believing is strongest in childhood, special care is taken to make sure of this tender age. This has much more to do with the doctrines of belief taking root than threats and reports of miracles. If, in early childhood, certain fundamental views and doctrines are paraded with unusual solemnity, and an air of the greatest earnestness never before visible in anything else; if, at the same time, the possibility of a doubt about them be completely passed over, or touched upon only to indicate that doubt is the first step to eternal perdition, the resulting impression will be so deep that, as a rule, that is, in almost every case, doubt about them will be almost as impossible as doubt about one’s own existence.”

Like his philosophical muse and fellow German Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), wild-haired Schopenhauer’s theories were often dense and generally unfathomable to philosophical amateurs (including myself, I must admit), but he had moments of searing clarity. The quote above represents one of those.

Schopenhauer warned against the most insidious effect of childhood religious indoctrination — not just young children being exposed to the nonsensical dogma itself, but their almost complete vulnerability to fully accepting the inherent “truth” of any idea that comes from authority figures. And the embedded assumptions often last a lifetime, almost impervious against even rational criticism.

That’s how the assumptions of religion, no matter how absurd in reality, perpetuate from generation to generation.

Flikr image/License

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