Thursday, 1 October 2009

Kids need religious certainty, right?

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In the current issue conservative Anglican philosopher Roger Scruton makes the case for teaching children to have faith, before allowing them to doubt. We published it to provoke you all, as is our way, and it seems to be working - we've been asked to create a forum for responses. Therefore if you are infuriated, perplexed or, indeed, delighted by Roger's argument, let us know here.

You can find the more than 130 comments on Danny's piece, a few of which take on Scruton, here.


Keith Sloan said...

What a load of old poppy cock. Children should NOT be taught faith as a baseline.

Les Reid said...

Roger Scruton is right to say that children need security and love. He is also right to say that they need magic, imagination and stories. But those needs do not carry us to the conclusion he draws, which is that children should be encouraged to believe the ancient mythologies and religions which we have inherited from distant ancestors.

Children need loving parents and good friends. They also need a good education, which includes the arts, which help us to enjoy life, and the sciences, which tell us how the world works. Believing ancient mythologies and religions, however, is bad for children because it muddles fact and fiction and leaves them at the mercy of exploitative organisations which will try to create an emotional dependence in the heart of the child.

Scruton says that the stories in Genesis are full of 'insight'. I disagree. The story of Eve bringing ruin on all mankind seems to me to be laden with male chauvinist assumptions. The story of an angry Jehovah (their other 'father') drowning all the people and animals except his own favoured few strikes me as barbaric nonsense which children would be better off without.

Ironically enough, Scruton says that a humanist education "will leave a child exposed to massive and mind-clogging superstitions". I think that his phrase describes exactly all that is wrong with religious indoctrination. I hope that proper nurturing and education will steer children away from any dependence on such foolish beliefs which are the source of so much social division and irrational prejudice.

Seth said...

I think there is room for imagination of a sort that is unique. For example, I think you can co-develop an imaginary world that your child is developed so that you have an insider's relationship with the games your children are playing. I think this is quite different than trying to fit the square peg of Christianity in the round hold of reality. Sure, they are both superstitious. But my proposal is highly individualistic and expected to provoke smiling incredulity in children. It appears to be working with my five year old.

severn said...

Teaching children faith before critical thinking is rather like teaching them to be promiscuous before teaching them how to have responsible relationships.

Les Reid said...

Scruton says that children experience an existential void which must be filled with religion. Existential void? What kind of scare tactics has he been using on his kids? My kids were secure in their parents' love and care for them. I never saw the anxiety that Scruton seems to have found in his. Maybe in the eye of the beholder?

Of course, children do ask questions which require answers which they are too young to understand - concerning sex, birth, death, disease, etc. Most parents use a story which will satisfy the questioner until they are old enough to understand the truth. But using a story is not the same as abandoning all claim to a rational view of our world, as people do when they substitute faith for evidence.

Les Reid said...

Does Scruton contradict himself on ancient beliefs and evolution? Smells like it to me.

First he says that ancient beliefs have stood the test of time ('evolution') therefore they must have some merit in them. They have proved their worth in helping people to survive in this tough world.

Later he says that Christianity is better than other ancient beliefs (hint: Islam) because it commends humility, charity and debate.

The obvious self-contradiction is that ALL ancient beliefs have stood the test of time, so if we are to say that mere survival indicates merit, then ALL have merit. But Scruton only wants to commend his own particular faith, so he criticises the others and thus falls into self-contradiction.

Anyway, his argument does not bear any serious scrutiny. There are many ancient beliefs which have survived for centuries, but are still morally repellant: the Hindu caste system, mutilation of the young, the subjugation of women, etc. Clearly, survival does not prove merit at all. There are also less toxic practices, such as astrology, which have survived despite their lack of any commendable features.

I notice also that Scruton uses the label "Christian" which includes the Catholic church. Does that mean he supports the Vatican line on contraception, abortion, homosexuality, celibacy and cover-ups for paedophiles? Or does he concede that the moral guidance offered by his Christian colleagues on all those issues has been worse than useless, ie noxious?

ColonelFazackerley said...

"More often than not, a humanist education will leave a child exposed to massive and mind-clogging superstitions of the Harry Potter and Star Wars kind."

No-one teaches their children that the force is real! Indeed a child exposed to critical thinking rather than encouraged to believe bronze-age myths are real is less likely to think it is possible to cast spells.

Yahzi said...

"Beliefs which fill the existential void are not scientific beliefs. We don’t arrive at them by the hypothetico-deductive method, or by observation of the empirical world."

Speak for yourself, Mr. Scruton. This statement does not apply to me, or any number of other people.

revjimbob said...

"What existed before the Big Bang? What is consciousness? You can wrestle with these questions through philosophy, but science won’t answer them."
There is no answer to such wrongness.

sailor1031 said...

You might as well use the Grimm "fairy tales", Aesop's fables, the Tale of Genji, Stories of Glooscap or any other fiction as a source of cautionary and instructive tales.

Ajita Kamal said...

This is actually Christian apologetics in secular disguise. It proposes to solve a problem that doesn't exist, by brainwashing children. The ability and need for imagination has nothing to do with religious indoctrination.

Moreover, the singling out of Christianity is disturbing.
Consider this "...the Christian faith makes room for debate as no other faith that the world has known – save possibly Buddhism." Are you serious? Hinduism has atheistic and theistic philosophy built into it with centuries of debate between different schools, Islam had it's enlightenment before Christians had even begun burning witches, and the Jewish tradition of debate is at least as rigorous as the Christian one. To reiterate, this article is nothing but Christian apologetics in secular disguise.