Last week blogger Neil Carter, of Godless in Dixie fame, wrote a blog that has raised the ire of a whole mess of atheists. The blog was headlined: Stop Saying That Teaching Children Creationism Is Child Abuse. In it, he argues that theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss got it wrong when he claimed, on an Australian show called “The Weekly,” that teaching creationism to children is a form of child abuse.
Neil cites the exchange between Krauss and the show’s host, which was recounted on Raw Story:
During the show, host Charlie Pickering recalled that Krauss had described telling children that evolution was a lie as child abuse in a 2013 video. “That’s a fairly brutal way of putting it,” he noted.
“Yeah, exactly, but it got some attention,” Krauss replied, “cus if I hadn’t [used that description] you wouldn’t have read the line.”
“But it’s true. I mean, there are different levels of child abuse,” Krauss added. “It’s like not allowing your children to have medicine, not allowing you children to be vaccinated, for example, is child abuse, because you are doing them harm.”
“In some sense, if you withhold information from your children because you would rather them not know what reality is really like, for fear that it is going to affect their beliefs, then you are doing them harm.”
Carter disagreed with the sentiment, writing:
You rob words of their meaning when you try to use them in situations that don’t merit the use of those words. You render meaningless all the other times the word more legitimately applies because now you’ve cheapened the term. Please stop doing this.
That’s when atheists lined up in Neil’s comment section to tell him how wrong he was — accusing him of giving religion a pass and of “cheapening” the religious abuse so many children suffer growing up.
Which was surprising to me. Because he’s right. He’s really, really right.
Here’s the thing: Many people in this country, and throughout the world, have been negatively (even terribly) affected as a direct result of religious beliefs and actions. This is, unfortunately, not a rare occurrence.
For a great many, their experiences with religion start very early in childhood — when mothers and fathers present beliefs as though they are facts; when kids aren’t misled intellectually or kept from certain philosophical truths that could potentially make their lives easier, happier and less confusing. They are threatened with bad things (hell and whatnot) if they don’t obey authority. They are shamed for perfectly normal, healthy thoughts. They are told that people who don’t believe in their family’s “Truth” are evil.
If you have been in this situation yourself, and have since turned away from the religion of your upbringing, you know all too well the harm these things can inflict on people. The way religion was imposed on you as a child has left an imprint on both your conscious and subconscious thoughts. Perhaps you struggle now, as an adult, in ways you wouldn’t have had you been raised in a secular home.
And because of that, you may very well think of religion as child abuse. You may think of indoctrination as child abuse. You may even think of teaching creationism as child abuse.
But in order to see Neil’s point, and to appreciate what he has to say, you need to step outside your circle of experience. Because here’s the thing, guys: We all have our shit.
Childhoods are messy places. Kids endure a lot during their early lives. You endured. I endured. Almost every person I know endured. Look back on your own childhood; I bet you can pull things out that you wish would have happened differently. You might be able to relate you’re your childhood experiences to issues that you now face: low self-esteem, lack of focus or direction, an inability to make decisions, addiction, anger issues… the list goes on. None of us is immune.
Parents are imperfect. Life is unfair. We all have baggage of some degree or another. This is what it is to be human.
Now, let’s talk about child abuse.
Because while you may throw that word around in various contexts and for various effects, “child abuse” has a special meaning. It is a meaning with a face. Many faces, actually.
Unlike the emotional impact, let’s say, of being taught that creationism is true, child abuse—whether physical, mental, emotional or sexual — results in serious psychological trauma: post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic depression, severe anxiety, and, often, the inability to form and maintain healthy relationships.
And what is required to overcome their abuse — to repair the damage that has been done to them — is significant.
My sister has a grant-writing business and often applies for funding on behalf of child abuse organizations. I have edited a number of her grants, and I can tell you that the abuse these children encounter is startling.
• Children who have been abandoned by their parents, neglected, beaten, molested and raped.
• Children who are told they are useless, who are bullied by the people who are supposed to love them, who are humiliated for the humor of others.
• Children who are made to watch their pets suffer; who have been made to suffer themselves for no reason at all.
• Children whose lives are unstable in every way and who must live in group homes with other kids because they literally don’t have anyone to care for them.
This is what child abuse looks like.It involves lack of love, lack of a nurturing environment, lack of stability. It does not, generally speaking, involve being taught that the Biblical story of Genesis is true. In fact, I’m quite sure these children would laugh at the suggestion. They would call it Yuppie Child Abuse. The kind of child abuse they could only dream of.
The problem, in my mind, is not only that Krauss and Richard Dawkins (and so many others in Neil Carter’s comment section) are distorting and cheapening the meaning of abuse or that they are generalizing religious situations to suit their own motives; the problem also is that what they are doing assumes that bad things can’t be bad unless they are stated to be “abuse.”
And they can be. And they are. And we all know it.