Bad Atheist Arguments: “Christianity is Child Abuse”

Bad Atheist Arguments: “Christianity is Child Abuse” January 2, 2017

Andy Bannister The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist book

This is part 4 of a critique of The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist: The Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments (2015) by Andy Bannister (part 1 here). The book promises to critique a number of atheist arguments.

Chapter 4. The Santa Delusion

In today’s opening episode, we find Richard Dawkins (Bannister’s favorite atheist to dislike) in the office of his literary agent. The agent reports that things aren’t selling well. What to do? Dawkins suggests The Santa Delusion.

This is a reference to Dawkins saying, “Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy are part of the charm of childhood. So is God. Some of us grow out of all three.”

Who wants to guess what Bannister thought about that? He said, “I guess a good place to begin is by illustrating what a disastrous argument this is on many levels.” So where’s the problem? “The first problem is that it’s a classic example of an ad hominem fallacy. That is when, rather than critique an argument or belief, you attack the person making it.”

Yep, that’s the definition of ad hominem fallacy that I know, but Dawkins doesn’t make that fallacy. I wasted half an hour poring over the pages that precede his charge trying to see if there’s anything more offensive than Dawkins’ quote above. Nothing.

Parents

The second problem that keeps Bannister up at night is Dawkins’ concern with Christian parents. In The God Delusion (chapter 9), he says, “Horrible as sexual abuse [of children by Catholic priests in Ireland] no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place.”

Bannister overflows with ridicule—remember this is from someone who hates ad hominem arguments—but he has no studies. He has no arguments. He doesn’t even search for anecdotes of people who’d experienced harm (or good) from a Catholic upbringing. All he has is another invented story where he imagines Dawkins faced with two educational options for his daughter. One school is run by Catholic nuns and the other “by a group of sexually voracious convicted pedophiles.”

Bannister is too busy mocking to notice the irony. For this to be an analogy with Dawkins’ quote, both of Bannister’s options—sweet nuns and sexually voracious pedophiles—are within the Catholic Church. Sure, that accurately describes some of these priests; I’m just surprised that Bannister wants to put that sharp a focus on it.

Let’s recall Dawkins’ quote to be clear what he’s saying. He’s not saying every child raised as a Catholic is psychologically damaged more than every child sexually abused by priests. He’s simply arguing that there is overlap.

Bannister only has time for ridicule, but Dawkins actually supports his claim with evidence. Right after we read the quote above in God Delusion, Dawkins introduces a woman who experienced trauma from both sexual abuse and her Catholic upbringing. At the age of seven, she was sexually abused by her priest, and a friend from school died. What made it worse was that the friend went to hell (so she was told) because she was a Protestant. The woman later recalled,

Being fondled by the priest simply left the impression . . . as “yucky” while the memory of my friend going to hell was one of cold, immeasurable fear. I never lost sleep because of the priest—but I spent many a night being terrified that the people I loved would go to Hell. It gave me nightmares.

Bannister’s book would’ve been better if he’d spent less time on witty dismissals and more time on actually making an argument.

He next quotes a psychologist lecturing for Amnesty International.

We as a society have a duty to protect [children from nonsense]. 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.

Bannister then worries about the practical problems of a Big Brother state critiquing parents’ every action.

My response

Dawkins is right that religious indoctrination is a problem. (Aside: I propose a thought experiment where religion is in the adults-only category, along with voting, driving, and smoking here. Religion must have access to immature minds to propagate and would vanish like the Shakers without them.)

However, I’ve never heard Dawkins demand that society ban religion or forbid parents from teaching their worldview to their children. Again, that’s my belief as well.

For Bannister to note that he agrees with Dawkins wouldn’t make for much of a chapter, I suppose, so he has to resort to strawman arguments, pushing back against what Dawkins isn’t saying. The result is that he loses any chance to offer a sensible critique of parents’ rights.

Let me take a brief tangent. Bannister insists that parents be given free rein to raise their children as they think best. Society is there as a backstop to intervene as necessary, but the benefit of the doubt for how to raise children goes to their parents.

I agree, and that’s the philosophy that must govern pregnant women considering an abortion. In the same way, they are on the front line, they best understand the issues within their lives, and they must be given free rein to decide for themselves whether an abortion is the right course. (I talk more about abortion here and here.) Bannister must be consistent—if we trust parents to do the right thing, we must similarly trust pregnant women. (Let me make clear that Bannister never mentioned abortion. I’m simply drawing a parallel that religious conservatives often miss.)

Now back to Bannister’s argument: I don’t want religion criminalized. Rather, I want religious privilege eliminated in the U.S. and education improved so that religion can be allowed to fall away. You don’t snatch away someone’s crutches; you cure them and let them discard the crutches once they’re unnecessary.

Some evidence points to religion being a symptom of a sick society. Religion is Marx’s opiate of the masses—a salve to cushion against problems within society. Fix those problems, and religion becomes unnecessary.

Bannister ends the chapter with this: “When one believes something deeply, passionately, energetically, one has a tendency simply to grab hold of any arguments that appear to support you, however desperate.” That’s both true and relevant, though he’s thinking of atheists here. Can he really not see that it’s his side that is likelier to believe things without sufficient evidence?

Continue to part 5.

God is Santa Claus for adults
— observation from the internet

Image credit: Bailiwick Studios, flickr, CC

"Near where I live, there is a store parking lot light pole with a sticker ..."

25 Stupid Arguments Christians Should Avoid ..."
"In discussion with Christians, I quickly label it a superstition, and they, of course, think ..."

25 Stupid Arguments Christians Should Avoid ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Lizard

    A parent chaining a child in the basement, turning off the AC so it’s a hundred degrees, and torturing them when the child does something the parent doesn’t like would rightly be called child abuse. However, God doing the same–for eternity, mind you–is somehow completely fine and even virtuous. It doesn’t make any sense.

  • Allen Botnick

    It’s one thing for parents to share their worldview but that doesn’t mean they should have the right to forcibly indoctrinate vulnerable children in it. This article sucks. Religion is mind control and a form of child abuse.

    • Tell me more. What laws do you want to see to restrict parents?

      • Allen Botnick

        1. All indoctrination methods used by anyone are considered assault.
        2. Parents prohibited from making permanent physical alterations to children (circumcision, clitorectomy). Temporary ones exempt (ear piercing).
        3. Parents intentionally teaching misinformation to kids which contradicts established facts is considered abuse.
        4. Adults will pass a course on good parenting techniques and a medical exam for genetic defects before being permitted to have children.

        • I like your goal to eliminate childhood indoctrination, but this is draconian. These would all be laws? How would they be enforced? Penalties for breaking them?

        • Allen Botnick

          Thank you. Ideally there should be an amendment to the constitution expanding citizen rights. Enforcement would be through standard police and social services. Not sure about penalties but repeat offenses should lead to forfeit of the children and permanent sterilization.

        • Myna

          Wayyyyyyyyyy too draconian.

        • Allen Botnick

          Rats don’t leave their nests because they want to. You have to catch and kill them.

        • Myna

          Outside of globally abolishing FGM, which, from a medical and psychological standpoint, is a serious women’s health issue, the rest is as extreme as any religious or political oppression. Education is the key.

        • Allen Botnick

          Fine, don’t protect the kids.

        • MNb

          And who’s going to decide protecting from what? You?
          Sorry pal, I don’t trust you enough, especially as I wouldn’t even trust myself enough for such a responsible task.

        • Did interning Japanese-Americans during WW2 prevent domestic sabotage? Maybe, but that’s not how we’re supposed to do things.

          Same problem here IMO. I’d like to see religion not propped up by cultural tradition, but we have to do things the right way. We don’t want to look back after religion is gone and regret that we did it in a way that sacrificed our principles.

        • Allen Botnick

          This is just baseless forefather worship. The principles of the Bill of Rights are useless if they don’t protect children. It’s a circular argument to say that principles are more important than lives.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          “The principles of the Bill of Rights are useless if they don’t protect children.”

          Holy shit! This is extremely black and white thinking not to mention ignoring that they do protect kids on up to the elderly years and death. They just don’t “protect” kids (in the power-grab way you are selfishly using it).

        • Allen Botnick

          Wrong. According to the BOR It’s perfectly acceptable to indoctrinate your children that they will become superman (Scientology) or to kill them by witholding medication or blood transfustions (Jehovas Witness’). Corpses have no rights. And this makes the children corpses. So the BOR is of no use in protecting them.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          I think with appeal to the bill of rights we can make headway on the “god will heal without doct… Oh wait Jesus said NO!” people in the same way we argue against anti-choicers. If the child doesn’t want to hurt they have the right to see a doctor like anyone else, with legal penalties to parents/guardians when the child suffers injury or death without any evidence that the child was at the level of informed consent when the child declined consent if they had the opportunity at all.

          We could also get a law similar to this:

          https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fraudulent_Mediums_Act_1951

          It would take care of the psychic hotlines, local psychics, and the faith healers and exorcists that perpetuate such child deaths. They would only survive by admitting they are providing entertainment not practical services.

        • Allen Botnick

          It doesn’t address religious killings at all. This is the central conflict. You can’t have total religious freedom unless you are willing to tolerate the dark side: Sharia law terrorism courses and parental killings of children. It makes no sense.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          FACEPALM

        • RoverSerton

          As a Lions fan indoctrinated from a young age, I sometimes think my dad deserves some sort of punishment. God knows I’ve suffered since childhood.

        • MNb

          Then I suppose I deserve some kind of punishment for making Black Sabbath’ Iron Man the first song my son could sing as a toddler. He never had any chance either.

        • Michael Neville

          Everyone knows that the first Black Sabbath song your son should know is “Children of the Grave”.

        • Melissa Rippetoe

          I thought it was Sweet Leaf

        • Giauz Ragnarock
        • Aram

          Pierced ears aren’t temporary. I’ve not worn earrings for ten years and the holes have yet to close! Better add that one to the ‘take their children away’ pile.

        • RoverSerton

          “Permitted to have children”. So many unplanned children. Forced abortion if the couple didn’t have a licence to reproduce?
          Teaching Miss-information? All indoctrination? I am as liberal as people come and no religion but I don’t want to live in your country with laws like this.

        • Otto

          What you are espousing is completely Orwellian.

          The phrase …”the cure is worse than the disease” comes to mind.

      • Jim Jones

        Claims about religion should all start with “Some people believe that . . . ” and by all means state that this is their belief also. But they won’t do that.

        “We all know that any emotional bias — irrespective of truth or falsity — can be implanted by suggestion in the emotions of the young, hence the inherited traditions of an orthodox community are absolutely without evidential value…. If religion were true, its followers would not try to bludgeon their young into an artificial conformity; but would merely insist on their unbending quest for truth, irrespective of artificial backgrounds or practical consequences. With such an honest and inflexible openness to evidence, they could not fail to receive any real truth which might be manifesting itself around them. The fact that religionists do not follow this honourable course, but cheat at their game by invoking juvenile quasi-hypnosis, is enough to destroy their pretensions in my eyes even if their absurdity were not manifest in every other direction.”

        ― H.P. Lovecraft, Against Religion: The Atheist Writings of H.P. Lovecraft

        • The_Wretched

          It’s interesting that atheists largely do insist as the bolded section notes.

        • Pofarmer

          That’s been my emphasis with my kids, but I’m not sure it’s universal. There are too many stories of atheists turned theists who were more just atheists because of apathy.

        • Jim Jones

          Cite?

  • alverant

    Does Bannister offer any solid arguments or does he keep resorting to privilege and double standards?

    • Dangitbobby

      If Christianity had solid arguments with facts, logic, and lots of objective evidence, the only blog available to read on patheos would be christian ones. And we would all be christian.

      The only arguments a christian can supply are faulty and full of logical errors. They can offer no objective evidence, everything is subjective.

      These books aren’t written for us. They are written to make christians feel smart about their stupid beliefs, like they are logical or something.

      • Herald Newman

        Apologetics was never meant to convince non-believers that their faith is correct. It was always meant to keep the believers believing.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          Or more accurately, apologetics books and movies were made to make the fooled more easily part with their resources by looking valuable.

    • I’ve yet to see a new, compelling, or provocative argument from Bannister. It’s just the same old shit. His new twist is his “fun” approach” (or at least that’s how it appeared in the podcast in which I first heard about the book).

      One blurb begins: “In a brilliant work that is as humorous as it is damaging to atheist arguments….”

      I found none of it humorous, though I found quite a bit nauseating.

      • Herald Newman

        Well, thanks for [EDIT]treading through the sewer for us!

      • Jim Jones

        It’s hard to believe it’s “damaging to atheist arguments”.

        Of course from their blather about the bible you’d think it could make any skeptical book burst into flames. And yet the ‘believers’ run with fear from books by atheists and skeptics. Odd, that.

  • Dangitbobby

    Any religion that teaches you to hate yourself, to consider yourself only worthy of eternal torture, is abusive.

    Any religion that preys on the weakest of society (children, people who are mentally handicapped in some way, those who are emotionally compromised) for converts is a predatory religion.

    False beliefs are false beliefs. All religions who have beliefs that contradict reality is false. However, with that said, there are some false beliefs that are better than others.

    I’ve never met an asshole wiccan who promises hell for anyone who doesn’t worship the goddess.

    In fact, every wiccan I know tends to be loving, caring, an environmentalist who recognizes global climate change and the destruction of the planet, and also recognizes that we are the only ones who can do anything about it.

    Yeah, they believe in woo – but they are at least humanists who see value in people and the positive difference they can make.

  • Michael Neville

    One school is run by Catholic nuns and the other “by a group of sexually voracious convicted pedophiles.”

    So either a school run by nuns or one run by priests. Decisions, decisions.

    • Herald Newman

      From the stories that my parents told me about going through Catholic run schools, the nuns were just as vicious as any sociopath. They loved to have any excuse to hit the kids with rulers, straps, whatever.

      • Jim Jones

        “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

        — Abraham Lincoln

        And if you really want to test it, give him power over women, or children, and give him religion to cover his sins.

      • Michael Neville

        Having gone through Catholic grade school and high school, I can testify that I was thrashed by nuns, monks and priests. There was one monk, Br. Louis, whose day wasn’t complete unless he’d caned some body. He believed in caning boys pour encourager les autres.

        • Otto

          You ever seen this movie?

          http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089264/

          One of my favorites.

        • Michael Neville

          I’ve heard of it but I’ve never seen it and, having read the synopsis, I doubt I’ll ever see it.

      • Otto

        I went to one. It was probably more mentally abusive than physically abusive. But I did have violence happen to me that would get people arrested these days.

      • The Bofa on the Sofa

        The most important thing I learned from Catholic Grade School is that hitting, shame and humiliation is not an effective approach for teaching penmanship.

  • guerillasurgeon

    The unfortunate fact is, that most people consider their children to be property. To do with as they will.

  • MNb

    If any logical fallacy has been used as a logical fallacy itself it’s the ad hominem.

    “Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy are part of the charm of childhood. So is God. Some of us grow out of all three.”

    https://www.logicallyfallacious.com/tools/lp/Bo/LogicalFallacies/1/Ad_Hominem_Abusive

    Person 1 is claiming Y.
    Person 1 is a moron.
    Therefore, Y is not true.

    In the quote Dawkins doesn’t even conclude that there isn’t a god. It’s an assumption, as far as it’s an argument. At best – and even that is a stretch – his argument goes like

    Children believe in Father Christmas, the Tooth Fairy and God.
    When they grow up they stop believing in them.
    Therefore, those who stick to those beliefs maintain childlike thinking.

    That’s sound logic and doesn’t attack the person at all.
    Whether it’s correct of course depends on the god question.

    • adam

      “Therefore, those who stick to those beliefs maintain childlike thinking.”

      Childlike thinking is what the goal is:

      ” ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and
      become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
      Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the
      greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child
      in my name welcomes me’” (Matthew 18:2 verses 2–5).”

  • Jim Jones

    > All he has is another invented story where he imagines Dawkins faced
    with two educational options for his daughter. One school is run by
    Catholic nuns and the other “by a group of sexually voracious convicted
    pedophiles.”

    Hmmm.

    Australia’s worst paedophile priest ‘molested every boy‘ at school in Victoria, Australia

    Australia’s royal commission into child sex abuse was told that senior Church leaders were aware of the crimes of Father Gerald Ridsdale and an “evil” paedophile ring that he operated for decades.

    A royal commission into child sex abuse heard that Father Gerald Ridsdale abused more than 50 children over three decades, including all of the boys at the school in Mortlake.

    In 1971, each of the male teachers and the chaplain at the St Alipius primary school was molesting children.

    Philip Nagle, who was abused at the school, held up a photograph of his fourth grade class and said that twelve of the 33 boys had since committed suicide.

    Yes, the nuns may be horrible, but . . .

    • Pofarmer

      I just keep hoping that the Aussies will kick the Church clear out of the damned country.

  • Mopsy Pontner

    From the arguments presented here Bannister just doesn’t seem that bright, and could have difficulties with the ‘which one of these items is not like the rest’ type tests.
    I just looked this book up on Amazon -and its another bad sign that he is obviously reading the reviews and was prepared to argue the toss with someone who disputed the claim of another reviewer that atheism is religion.

  • Kodie

    Here’s a question to ask Bannister:

    Would he rather have to send his child to school to be indoctrinated Muslim, or to the pedophile teachers school? I mean, if religion is no big deal, right? What about going to a school where they teach that god isn’t real and their parents religious upbringing is incorrect vs. one where they have to put up with random beatings for arbitrary reasons? These fuckers think anyone ever planting a seed in their child that they don’t want planted is worse than beatings and sexual abuse. I mean, really, put it to the test. Their deeply, personally revealed beliefs are so-called wholesome and harmless, and how dare anyone suggest they are poison. In reality the delusion is, I mean, the fear of hell is imaginary, so it doesn’t seem worse than actual physical trauma, but I was reminded again about the recent idea I had in a thread circling objective morality, where, if you are pulling the fingernails of a child, no doubt everyone would call that torture, but if you make a kid clean their room and they cry “torture”, you know it’s not, but how do they process the event? Fuck, I hate cleaning… (I sort of get into it when I get into it, but that’s neither here nor there). What I mean to say, if you capture me and want to torture me, make me clean shit, put me in an overwhelmingly disorganized and disgusting place, and I don’t know where to start, and I might give up the secrets and confessions.

    Everyone has their triggers. Mindfucking is a kind of torture, sure, and it’s nasty because it’s an abuse of authority. Tell children that their favorite toy, an inanimate object with no feelings, was just eaten by the bogeyman, an imaginary monster, and they will freak the fuck out. Take them over your knee and smack them as hard as you can 25 times, and they will freak the fuck out. Abusing a child’s developmental immaturity and their gullibility is just bad, especially considering how parents often prefer to shield their children from things going on in the world that are very bad, things that will give them nightmares, things that no parent has complete and satisfying answers to a child, that the child will simply have to learn to deal with somehow. Well, damn, this is how they learn, too. How much is too much, how soon is too soon? If you have to explain something difficult to a child, you don’t necessarily want them to feel cozy, I don’t think. I mean, you want them to care about things and realize the world is larger than themselves and their school, and straddle the line where they care, but they’re not paralyzed with worry.

    What I’m saying is, parents put a lot of effort to shield their children from gay people, and having to explain to their children, but telling them about hell (a totally imaginary place) is important, vital, and harmless. If you are a rational person, an actual trauma is more severe than an imaginary phobia, but is this Bannister admitting god is imaginary, or that he underestimates childrens’ ability to process the information?

    • Would [Bannister] rather have to send his child to school to be indoctrinated Muslim, or to the pedophile teachers school? I mean, if religion is no big deal, right?

      Great point. I should’ve brought that up myself.

      It seems to me that he’d be obliged to go with the Muslim school, since he says about Dawkins’ declaration that sexual abuse may not always be worse: “That’s one of those paragraphs that I had to read three times to make sure it was actually saying what I thought it was saying.”

    • MNb

      “Mindfucking is a kind of torture, sure, and it’s nasty because it’s an abuse of authority.”
      Agreed. The problem though, and I don’t have an answer, is determining which indoctrination is mindfuck and which one is raising the child responsibly. Regarding stuff like climate change and evolution theory it’s easy (accept the scientific consensus), but regarding god? Exactly that’s my problem with Dawkins’

      “the long term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place.”
      Almost all catholics I know or have known personally (either Dutch or Surinamese) don’t suffer from such psychological damage at all. At the other hand I’m familiar with testimonies like MichaelN’s underneath.
      Of course Bannister makes sure he totally misses this point.

    • The problem is, in their view hell is completely real, and numerous things send people there. So it would be irresponsible not to warn against this. A little potential psychological trauma now versus eternal torture? Well, no contest. In addition is this were true, teaching anything else would be child abuse. So the problem is, who do we declare right? Atheists won’t win that fight, by simple numbers.

      • Herald Newman

        The answer to this seems very simple to me.

        I’m an advocate for teaching kids about a pragmatic epistemology. Essentially if a proposition doesn’t make empirically testable predictions, or fails at the empirical predictions it makes, then the proposition should be treated as false, and discarded. I can’t think of any significant religious claim that survives this.

        I’d love to see more emphasis put on epistemology classes in our public schools.

        • Pofarmer

          I can’t think of any significant religious claim that survives this.

          Which is why it’s almost impossible to get it to happen in the U.S.

        • Well they believe there is empirical evidence for lots of it, and in any case many would dispute that formulation. Who will decide this is the right view? I just don’t see it happening.

        • Herald Newman

          Do you have a better suggestion? Do we just stick with the status quo and hope that people get better at figuring out which propositions are true, and which aren’t? Let’s remember that 40% of Americans believe that the world is less than 10,000 years old!

          We, quite clearly, have a problem where people believe all kinds of nonsense claims, and I think it’s largely because they use unreliable methods of epistemology! At least getting people to understand what methods are more reliable, and which methods are less reliable, would be a huge step, all things considered.

          Teaching kids what epistemic methodologies work seems like a no-brainer to me.

        • Greg G.

          The problem is that the people who need to understand epistomology are repelled by six syllable words.

        • Herald Newman
        • Kodie

          Some of them like to learn a few long words, because they figure nobody else heard of ’em before.

        • If you just mean teach critical thinking, I have no problem with that. However, who is going to decide which is the best method of epistemology? I don’t even know for sure what yours entails.

        • TheNuszAbides

          merely ensuring that everyone has enough practice in conscious abstract thought to grasp the definition of ‘epistemology’ would be a huge first step. the map/territory confusion is still a global hurdle as far as i can tell.

  • He quotes the ad hominem definition, yet seems to forget that later. Many people have confused it with mere insults. Though it’s rude, that’s not fallacious. As for evidence, of course they think that. To some people, atheism is delusional (the opposite also occurs, as Dawkins’ title explicitly invokes).

    • All I can figure is that Dawkins’ “Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy are part of the charm of childhood. So is God. Some of us grow out of all three.” is mean because it implies “Those of us who grow out of it are better than the rest.” I wouldn’t even call that an insult, but I think you’re right that that was his thinking.

      • Yes, that must be it. It’s not really a compliment, though he’s said far harsher things about religion. Anyway, insult or no, it’s definitely not an ad hominem fallacy.

      • Kodie

        It’s maybe not ad hominem, but it is a code red passive-aggressive kind of statement, which people can be sensitive to. I think in the future of accusations of ad hominem, we should level to the accuser, “smart people know the difference between ad hominem and passive-aggression.”

  • Kevin K

    I guess I’m of two minds here.

    On the one hand, I agree that parents should be able to decide what kind of education they should get, what cultural norms they should adhere to, etc. I would not suggest, for example, the Amish don’t have a right to raise their children as 18th century farmers. (Though I do wonder why the magic juju of electricity seems to be anti-biblical.)

    But I see anecdote after anecdote from people who come on this channel and tell the horror stories of how their religious indoctrination damaged them. And I would like to find a way to avoid that outcome as well.

    As for an argument against atheism … well … it’s not an argument against atheism. It’s an issue regarding the knowable and known adverse effects of all sorts of religious indoctrination, but most especially the fundamentalist kind that stresses the unworthiness of humans and the eternal torment they’ll be subjected to after death if they don’t hew to a very strict set of behavioral norms. And thought control.

    • Pofarmer

      One problem is, that religous people who have ALSO suffered from this indoctrination, don’t think that they have. They think it’s normal to fear hell to the point of crying over missing one Mass, for instance. This deep seated indoctrination, man. I’m a witness to it at family gatherings.

      • Kevin K

        And, of course, it’s the same kind of indoctrination that protects pedophile priests.

        But short of banning religious instruction for children (and how the hell are you going to enforce that), I see very little that can be done in this regard. Other than to continue to reinforce the damage that religious thought does to individuals and society.

        I wonder if Bannister ever even started to think about Sharia Law when he penned this chapter. His western Christian fundamentalist bubble is certainly showing here.

        • Pofarmer

          Sharia Law Bad. Christian Theocracy Good. I imagine that’s about the extent of it.

    • Raging Bee

      This isn’t intended to be an argument against atheism; it’s an argument against a certain bad (or at least badly articulated) atheist argument.

      • Kevin K

        Kind of a “I know you are but what am I” thing?

        Exceptionally poor rhetoric in any event.

  • Sophia Sadek

    When I was a wee lass, my sisters and I would stay home having a wonderful learning and growing experience as our neighbor friends went off to church services of various denominations Sunday morning. When they came back, they looked haggard. I once asked one of them what church was like. She said it was sheer hell. If that is not child abuse, I do not know what is.

    • Kodie

      I wondered what church was like too, most of my friend would say it was really boring. That’s basically my vision of what church is like – dressing up and going to a place where you have to sit still and can’t talk, and you have to be well-behaved because god is watching and you’ll embarrass your parents. If the kids actually try to listen, or whatever Sunday School is, like, a child-level church sermon that is still “school”, I can imagine it’s worse, but from what I understood, it’s just being forced to go when you want to stay home and play that is bad enough. If they hear that they’re going to hell and listen to the sermon and all the guilt trips and fear and stuff, that’s worse, of course.

      “This is the best part of the week!” – Homer Simpson
      “It’s the longest possible time before more church!” – Lisa Simpson
      https://deadhomersociety.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/inmargewetrust5.png

      • Sophia Sadek

        My mother had taught Sunday school long before she had me. That is probably why she would never send me to such a miserable enterprise.

      • adam

        “If they hear that they’re going to hell”

        This is what I remember most going to Southern Baptist Church.

        ” and listen to the sermon and all
        the guilt trips and fear and stuff, that’s worse, of course.”

        As I never believed what the church preached, I felt more guilt for NOT feeling guilt, when that was a necessity for salvation.

        What I ended up perceiving was the battle for power, even with and in a small church.

        • Kodie

          I don’t know for sure if you’re atypical, but I guess so, considering how many people endure their childhood indoctrination to bring their own children to church. Most of what I heard about religion growing up was that it was boring. I wanted to play with friends after school, but they had CCD. I didn’t know what that meant, and I asked my mom what was CCD, why can’t I go to CCD? Because we’re not Catholic. END OF CONVERSATION. Some of my neighbor kids went to “parochial school” WTF. A bunch of words that mean nothing to me. I wanted to know why they didn’t go to my school, and what they had to do CCD for when it was after-school time and I wanted to play, but also why I can’t do CCD too to be with my friends, and what church was like. It might be where I’m from, and how people really don’t talk about or inquire about religions in the first place, but you develop awareness of it anyway.

          Most people where I’m from are Catholic, and I would have been Catholic except my grandfather rejected it, and his family. Most kids I know weren’t traumatized (as far as I could tell), and any curiosity I had for what religion was like was that it was boring and something their parents made them do, and they had to wear uniforms for school. This didn’t really give me any religious insight. I kind of wanted a religion badly just to fit in.

          The way it seems to go is, kids go to church like their parents want them to, but as they grow, they do whatever they want, smoke pot, have sex, use birth control and abortions, all the conveniences of modern life. They probably don’t attend church once they are old enough, go to college or such and church falls off their priority (they really couldn’t give less of a shit). If you should challenge any one of them about how Catholic they really are, though, they really are really fucking Catholic. They hold their weddings in Catholic church, they really believe in god and heaven and hell, and when they have kids, they start to sweat about skipping church and then make sure their kids are baptized and go to church, because even though they are terrible careless Catholics, they become reaffirmed through their kids. See, I don’t have kids, but I hear there is something about having them that makes people freak out about what their children need to become a good person.

          If you ever asked them before, they never stopped being Catholic, and they still believe god and Jesus are looking out for them. They retain deep superstition but do not value what the church values, and when they reproduce, they still think there is something essential about going to church, and that they would be terrible parents if they did not go through the christening ceremony or bring their children to church.

        • Pofarmer

          and when they have kids, they start to sweat about skipping church and
          then make sure their kids are baptized and go to church, because even
          though they are terrible careless Catholics, they become reaffirmed
          through their kids.

          Man, I have seen this happen so many times. Reasonable people become religious nut jobs.

        • adam

          “I don’t know for sure if you’re atypical”

          Atypical for Catholics but the Fire and Brimstone seem to be the staple of Southern Baptists.

          It seemed to me like 50 minutes of ‘you’re going to hell’ and 10 minutes of accept Jesus or else.

          It wore on me, even for the short time I attended.

          I have been to Catholic church, Mass a couple of times or more.
          And I agree, boring…
          I remember going to Christmas Mass with a girlfriend, it was in Latin and had no meaning for me at all.

          “they still think there is something essential about going to church, and that they would be terrible parents if they did not go through the christening ceremony or bring their children to church.”

          The FEAR still resides in them.
          Even if it is irrational, years of programming make it effective.

    • wtfwjtd

      That sounds about right, although it’s not just the kids who suffer. My mother, who spent a good part of her life as a fundamentalist, would agree with this, I think. Although she still considers herself a Christian, she rarely attends church these days, and had this to say about it: “Why would anyone want to go to church on Sunday, week after week, only to get beat up all the time?”

      I couldn’t have said it better myself, mom.

  • Pofarmer

    Had a talk with my middle son about this yesterday afternoon. One of the things that helped get me deconverted was him having night terrors. He was deeply afraid of hell and death. So, my answer to the whole hell and demons thing was explaining to him that these things were all imaginary and that death wasn’t anything to fear. This was about the time I’d read “Letters from Earth” by Mark Twain. I think it was last summer I found out his Mother was using the threat of Hell against him to try to get him to believe again. It was all I could do to not lose my shit when he told me this. I had a conversation with him at this point and his mom a little later about it. Thing is, she doesn’t see it as being abusive, she sees it as being faithful, and can’t see the harm she’s causing. Religion poisons everything.

    • adam
    • And Bannister froths at the mouth when Dawkins suggests the same thing and backs it up with an anecdote to illustrate the problem.

      But I recall your kids being old enough to dismiss the Catholic nonsense now?

      • Pofarmer

        But I recall your kids being old enough to dismiss the Catholic nonsense now?

        Pretty much, yeah.

        Mom doesn’t get it, though.

        • A shame. Perhaps the critical mass of the family can move Mom to a more sensible attitude. Or at least one where she understands that this is just her private superstition that doesn’t benefit the rest of the family.

  • Raging Bee

    “Horrible as sexual abuse [of children by Catholic priests in Ireland] no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place.”

    Wow, how pig-ignorant do you have to be to say something like that at all, let alone without being horribly embarrassed at how callous and stupid you sound? Did Dawkins ever read ANYTHING about what “sexual abuse” really entailed for its victims? I only read a little, but what little I read was far more beastly than anything my Catholic father did to me, or any story he told about what his Catholic parents and teachers did to him. I know Dawkins only told of experiencing “mild pedophilia,” but he’s a professor, FFS — he has no excuse for thinking no one suffered worse than him, when plenty of documentation is available to show they did.

    • Maybe there are multiple interpretations, but all I see Dawkins saying is that it isn’t the case that all sexual abuse is worse than all Catholic upbringings.

      Is your concern with the misinterpretation of his statement?

      • Raging Bee

        My concern is with gross over-generalization. “Multiple interpretations” means he chose his words very poorly indeed, and probably should have just shut up about something he showed no sign of understanding.

        • Susan

          My concern is with gross over-generalization. “Multiple interpretations” means he chose his words very poorly indeed,

          Did you read his original artiicle on the subject? As I said, I can’t find it.

          I wish we could link to it for discussion.

          From what I remember, I don’t think he should have just shut up at all.

        • It’s in Dawkins’ God Delusion. You can see the page online here.

        • I see neither multiple interpretations nor overgeneralization. We can vary his words and find those sentences offensive, but he didn’t say that.

          All I can see that you’re saying is that this is a sensitive subject and it’s best not to say anything to avoid offense. Is that it?

    • Susan

      “Horrible as sexual abuse [of children by Catholic priests in Ireland] no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place.”

      Sometimes, I think Richard Dawkins is a victim of his academic training. That is, that it’s useful to bring up complicated scenarios in which his question might be useful in provoking discussion but the question iiself provokes such a strong reaction in people that they react to it, rather than discuss the subject.

      I can’t find the article (because Google searches lead to cherry-picking leads) but I recall him talking about his own experience with inappropriate touching by a cleric and how it was less traumatic than the teachings about eternal hellfire and he also talked about a woman who was touched sexually by a priest but who was much more traumatized by teachings about hellfire.

      I can say the same. It was not the inappropriate sexual behaviour that tormented me as a child but the statements that people I loved (and I) might burn in torment forever.

      We forget that kids that were raped in more physically traumatic ways were often tormented as well with threats of eternal torture and torture for people they loved

      Have we forgotten the value of provocative questions put up for discussion?

      how pig-ignorant do you have to be to say something like that at all, let alone without being horribly embarrassed at how callous and stupid you sound?

      I think it’s a reasonable point to raise.

      Let the chips fall where they may. It’s a useful discussion.

      • Raging Bee

        Yeah, it’s a useful discussion that can be had without stumblebums like Dawkins making asses of themselves every time their fingers hit a keyboard.

    • josh

      Why do you think how your father treated you and how you reacted are an excuse for thinking no one suffered worse? Dawkins isn’t saying no one had it worse than him. He’s pointing out that in emotional terms both can qualify as abuse. Some people get over one or the other, some don’t and how bad these things are varies with the person and the circumstances. Arguably, he says, the net damage from the non-sexual abuse is worse than the sexual cases. If you want to argue that here, with maybe some studies or certified psychological opinion instead of personal outrage, I guess you can but that’s rather missing the point. I get the impression though, that you are just looking for an excuse to vituperate Dawkins.

      • Raging Bee

        None of that was what Dawkins himself said in that quote. If it’s what he’d meant to say, then he chose his words incompetently, at best. YOU just stated his argument without sounding like a total fucking idiot — why shouldn’t we expect the same of Dawkins?

        • josh

          I’m not sure why you don’t understand his statement and mine to say the same thing. (Of course I didn’t repeat him verbatim, how would that resolve anything?) Nowhere did he say his experiences were equivalent to everyone’s. He says “arguably” and in TGD (thanks to Bob for linking the page below) characterizes it as an off-the-cuff remark in the heat of the moment. He gives an example of a woman who apparently agrees from her personal experience that the psychological torture was worse than sexual abuse (for her). He notes that the audience to whom he made the remark applauded it, presumably more than a few former Irish Catholics among them, and he’s even careful to note that the audience is obviously not representative of the public at large. None of this sounds like someone who is stubbornly ignorant or inconsiderate.