In a Publishers Weekly article, of all places, I found this scary quotation (below) by Kyle Hatfield, acquisitions editor of children and family titles for Harvest House, a publisher of Christianity-themed books, many targeting children.
“We feel it is never too early to teach children important doctrines of the faith,” says Hatfield, who was previously a children’s pastor. “We can infuse these central beliefs into their DNA so, when they get older, it will seem as if they have always known this.”
If you’re a non-theist and proponent of secular government (as I am), this evangelical ethos aimed at kids is, to put it mildly, disturbing. Because we nonbelievers see no evidence of supernaturalism anywhere in reality, we view people who want to indoctrinate children in its manifest fantasies, however well-meaning, are the functional equivalent of predatory cultists preaching self-serving lies to the most vulnerable among us.
I’m sure Hatfield is a very good, honorable person embodying what he believes are noble, even sublime motives. But if he’s wrong — and all evidence categorically suggests strongly that he is — it would be irresponsible, even potentially damaging to young pyches for him to be pushing such unverifiable nonsense.
But this one, single Publishers Weekly article — “Religious Children’s Publishing Continues to Grow” — reports on literally scores of new Christian-themed children’s books now being churned out by publishers. They have one goal: to indoctrinate innocent children with supernatural religious ideas for the intention of embedding those assumptions deeply and lifelong in their minds.
That’s why Christian apostates often have such a wrenchingly hard time leaving the faiths of their birth. The face guilt, shame, confusion and doubt, often inflicted by members of their own families, circles of friends and fellow church congregants. But it also comes from the coercive compulsions implanted by indoctrination in their own minds.
Even today, when more than a quarter of the U.S. populace self-identify as irreligious and unaffiliated with any faith, agnostic or atheist, many if not most Christians believe that kids who don’t get a rigorous Christian grounding when young are prone to developing into bad, godless people.
It’s nonsense, of course. Studies and common sense reveal that people can be just as good, kind and empathetic (even better) without believing in the divine as those who do. It’s just a false meme that they somehow can’t. Human evolution over eons has equipped humans with all these humanistic capacities, not because “God” demands it but because practicality requires it for survival of the species. If everyone were only out for themselves, imagine what an awful environment we would live in. It’s bad enough when only a few are pathologically selfish. It’s love, compassion, altruism, reason and self-discipline that have actually saved us in the march of time, and those are naturally inherent human qualities, not something enforced by invisible, inaccessible deities.
So, when I see these bus-loads of Christian books targeting kids, I fear they will only obscure understanding of natural ethics and morality with the holy smoke of religious invention and fantasy. In other words, dreamy falsehoods will supplant truths in their young, absorbant minds.
Certainly, in a society such as ours that glorifies “freedom of religion,” adults should be able to say, write or read anything they want about what they believe. But force-feeding kids this stuff as truth — if its professed truth cannot be even marginally proven — could be fairly viewed a form of “child abuse.”
Evolutionary biologist and prominent atheist Richard Dawkins has long held this view and said it again this week at a literary festival in England, according to the Daily Telegraph:
“What a child should be taught is that religion exists; that some people believe this and some people believe that. What a child should never be taught is that you are a Catholic or Muslim child, therefore that is what you believe. That’s child abuse.”
Some countries, like Dawkins’ native England, give children more say than in the U.S. about what they are or are not taught regarding religion, or whether they are required to go to church services (often in school) or not.
If ever a subject should be completely elective, it would be religious indoctrination.
But devout parents know full well that if their children aren’t filled with images of the Holy Ghost well before they are given the choice of whether to embrace Christian instruction or not, they’ll almost certainly choose “not.”
I’m not sure how it could be executed, but indoctrination of children in religion should be illegal. It should be recognized that it is children’s human right not to be brainwashed before they can understand that it might one day have soul-crushing effects on them (or that it’s not demonstrably true).
If you don’t know what I mean, take some time and read some gut-wrenching accounts (there are thousands) of people brought up in fundamentalist Christian environments who later left them. It’s so bad when they leave that many apostates just want to die (or return meekly to the fold for relief).
It’s not because they’ve angered God that they suffer; it’s because they’ve been rejected by most or all the supposedly good Christian humans they love for making a rational decision.
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3,001 Arabian Days — 3rd Place, Colorado Independent Publishers Association 2020 Evvy Awards
Holy Smoke — “Erudite yet readable … very illuminating” (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion)
Buy either book on Amazon, here (paperback or ebook editions)