Christmas is at our door, a religious festival which for most Brits has lost its religious grounding, leaving behind only its cultural, family-orientated traditions. Many outspoken atheists of today argue that we as a society should leave all our religious grounding at the door when raising our children, allowing only secular rituals to survive onto our next generation. Most prominent amongst these is Atheism's golden-boy turned embarrassing-uncle Richard Dawkins, who has repeatedly argued that, "...there really is an important difference between including your children in harmless traditions, and forcing on them un-evidenced opinions about the nature of life or the cosmos." The argument is that to raise a child with religious beliefs is indoctrination, and that we should instead let them be until they reach intellectual maturity, whereupon they can choose their own faith or non-faith world-view.
The argument is often quite jarring for religious parents, as the concept seems reasonable at first glance. Its logic, however, is deeply flawed. Here are four reasons why religious people have absolutely every right to raise their children according to their own religious convictions:
1 . We all raise our children according to our beliefs- atheists included: When we examine Dawkins' above statement, the hypocrisy of the stance is immediately apparent. It hinges on the idea that religious people hold "... un-evidenced opinions about the nature of life or the cosmos." Hold on, that sounds rather like an opinion itself doesn't it? I don't think my beliefs are un-evidenced. After all, who does? It's true that we can't all be right, but we all reserve the right to believe that we are! Who's to say that I don't deem atheism as an un-evidenced stance that is harmful to the moral and spiritual welfare of my children? If so, how could I, in right conscience, allow my children not to be given the opportunity to spiritually develop in their youth? What Dawkins' argument boils down to is: your belief is different to mine, and I'm obviously right, so how dare you spread your ignorant beliefs to your children! The whole position flies in the face of the very freedom of conscience it purports to protect.
Don't worry, that's no vice grip- he's just signing his shirt. Courtesy of syslfrog.
2. Religion teaches me not to force belief upon my children anyway: There is a huge difference between raising your children in a religion, and forcing that religion on them. I think people of all religions will follow this principle. Personally speaking, I believe in the Qur'an, which teaches clearly that "there is no compulsion in religion,"(2:257) and, "whoever follows guidance, follows it for the benefit of his own soul; and whoever goes astray, goes astray only to its detriment. And you are not a guardian over them," (39:42). In line with this, I plan to raise my children as Muslim, and to teach them why I believe my religious convictions are true. But if, as they reach intellectual maturity they're not convinced, then so be it- I won't force them to profess belief, not least because forced belief is hollow. I stand with people of all faiths and none in condemning those who seek to force their religion upon others. As Damir Rafi successfully argued in HuffPost recently, punishment for apostasy is un-Islamic concept, rife though it is in some parts of the Muslim world.
3. Being raised outside religion means you're not given an informed choice: The premise upon which this idea is built is that it's fairer for a child to be raised irreligiously, leaving the door open to them to choose a religion in adulthood if desired. This however means that people will end up atheists- and for all the wrong reasons. Religion may have a very rational basis, but many of its fruits are not purely intellectual- they are also experiential. If you grow up without having experienced spiritual satisfaction, answered prayers, and a relationship with God, then how can you possibly make an informed choice about religion's truth? You can only make an informed choice about religion once you've lived in it. If then you decide its promised fruits were non-existent then you're free to leave- but a rejection of religion without ever endeavouring to truly experience its benefits is meaningless.
4. If a religious upbringing meant permanent indoctrination, there would be no atheists: Perhaps the greatest proof that the whole idea is totally unnecessary is that most of the leading proponents of contemporary Atheism were raised in religious environments. And we all know that religiosity is on the decline, and atheism on the rise. None of this would be possible if raising a child as religious bore some kind of indelible religious streak on their psyches. So what's all the fuss about anyway?
Well, there you have it. Enjoy your Christmas break, whether you'll be in a Church on Friday or just at home with loved ones!
A version of this article was originally posted by the same author on End of Atheism- a response initiative to New Atheism movement that begin with Sam Harris' famous book: 'End of Faith.'