Norman Geras yesterday pointed to a Dawkins quote and said some things which I agree (in which neither of us agree with Mr Dawkins) yet I would go further. He begins (the quote is from Mr Dawkins):

‘that imposing parental beliefs on children is a form of child abuse’ surely merits some clarifying explanation before we assent to it. It is, of course, easy as well as necessary to draw a distinction between putting a belief to children in a way that makes it plain to them that there are alternatives to, questions about, disagreements over it, and insisting on the belief as the sole unchallengeable truth. There’s a difference between trying to educate children in a spirit that encourages interest in the world and finding out about it, on the one hand, and indoctrination, on the other.

I don’t think this is really a reasonable point of view. The decision of whether there are “alternatives” depends in part on how strongly we feel the matter at hand is true and by contrast how strongly we believe the contrary is false. Take ethics. There are a variety of starting points for ethics, one of which is solipsism. We do not necessarily want to teach our children that solipsism is a reasonable basis for normative ethics even if some philosophers have suggested or explored that possibility (or even if some long lost civilization based its particular practices on that).

Mr Geras continues:

Again, must we not discriminate better from worse as between maintaining some standards of personal cleanliness and not doing so, or between behaving with consideration and kindness and being rude and dishonest? More generally, educating children involves, willy-nilly, the imparting of moral beliefs. This cannot be done without the presentation of some things as good and others as less good or downright bad. Even done in a non-doctrinaire way, it must involve a degree of active direction. It’s misleading, therefore, to pretend that only dogmatists and fanatics narrow the minds of their children to the available sum of human beliefs.

So the question I pose is as follows, examine this exchange attributed to St. John Chrysostom (wiki on St. John here):

“You cannot banish me, for this world is my Father’s house.”
“But I will kill you,” said the empress.
“No, you cannot, for my life is hid with Christ in God,” said John.
“I will take away your treasures.”
“No, you cannot, for my treasure is in heaven and my heart is there.”
“But I will drive you away from your friends and you will have no one left.”
“No, you cannot, for I have a Friend in heaven from whom you cannot separate me.
I defy you, for there is nothing you can do to harm me.”

Imagine a person with that sort of view of his faith (if that does not strike a chord or set an example to which you would aspire) and the way in which he sees the world. For more, I’d also recommend his very famous Paschal (Easter) homily as well, which might rightly be put in similar pride of place for the Church as the US places the Gettysburg address. Any educational process includes an implicit or explicit evaluation of the value of the “alternatives” suggested. How would this parent instruct his children? In yesterday’s discussion JA offered:

That being said, I think the idea that there’s something wrong with indoctrinating a child with one religion is an important one. Now it’s one thing if you are the liberal sort who says this is our tradition and this is what we do and this is what it means to us… but it’s quite another if you are more dogmatic and say this is what’s true, period.

I don’t find any way that a person, who is like St. John can do anything other but state that his faith is “what’s true, period.” It is my contention that those who assent to the notion as expressed in the quote above have a tepid faith specifically not a faith such as expressed by St. John above.

Filed under: ChristianityMark O.Religion

Like this post? Subscribe to my RSS feed and get loads more!