Tag Archives: children

A review of “Beyond an Absence of Faith”

This review was written for Richard Dawkins Foundation

Beyond an Absence of Faith, edited by Jonathan Pearce and Tristan Vick, brings us the stories of 16 people who came to reject the faith of their upbringing. Most of the writers are American and former Christians, though some are former Muslims. They tell us of their journeys from strong religious faith to atheism, and in the process give a vivid account of the state of Christianity in America today.

What is striking is how all-encompassing and cult-like religious faith can be. These are not the stories of luke-warm believers, but of people for whom religion was a central feature of their lives. We read stories of people brought up in a “fundie bubble” to the extent that:

At one point, I counted five of seven nights of the week as church functions. Monday was a discipleship with a church leader and some students. Wednesday was a youth service. Thursday was a large-group discipleship, where we met at someone’s house for prayer and Bible study. Friday was the “Powerhouse,” a sort of hangout for teens with live music and a small service. Saturday was the Hellfighters service, and Sunday was the main service …

This is coupled with indoctrination of children so complete that one writer recalls:

I came home to an empty house, and became worried that everyone else had been Raptured away while I was out.

Continue reading

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Catholic theology facilitated the child abuse

This article was commissioned for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science and is reproduced here.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has been hauling the Vatican over the coals regarding its record of systematically covering up the sexual abuse of children by its priests. Hearings in Geneva this week are the first time that senior Vatican officials have been confronted in public about the ongoing scandal. Despite UN requests, the Vatican still refuses to open its archives containing records of every instance of abuse reported to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, long presided over by Cardinal (later Pope) Ratzinger. It also tried to argue that it was responsible only for abuse that took place in the tiny enclave of the Vatican City, not by Catholic priests worldwide.

The story is now all too familiar. Time after time priestly child abuse was hushed up by the Church, the victims sworn to secrecy, the files sealed in the Vatican vaults, and the priest not turned over to secular authorities but instead quietly moved to a new parish. There the abuse would continue with a new set of victims. If the Church did apply “punishments” they tended to be a requirement for “penitence and prayer”.

The pattern was worldwide, from Ireland to Australia to Germany to Mexico and the US and … we still don’t know about many Third World countries where the Catholic Church is still powerful enough to continue its cover-up. Power corrupts, and the fact that the Catholic Church regarded itself as morally answerable only to itself, coupled with the excessive deference paid to it by others, enabled the ongoing corruption that has now shredded the Vatican’s claim to any moral authority. Continue reading

Why the non-religious are getting “overheated” about British “faith” schools

The Bishop of Oxford and the Theos Think Tank are complaining that the debate over state-funded “faith” schools in the UK is getting “overheated” and too “ideological”. So let me explain, from the non-religious perspective, why this is so.

First, the number of people attending a Christian church in a typical week in the UK is down to about 6%. Yet fully a third of taxpayer-funded schools are handed over to be run by Christian churches. This means they can discriminate on religious grounds over which pupils they admit, and further, they then get frequent opportunities to proselytise to the captive-audience pupils and can compel them to participate in Christian worship.

Despite the fraction of the population attending church being in long-term decline, and despite the number of people regarding themselves as “non religious” rising fast, the number of “faith” schools is increasing, with thousands of new religiously-restricted places being set up each year.

Why are the non-religious getting “overheated” about this? Firstly, we regard the very concept of taxpayer-funded schools being able to choose pupils according to their parents’ religion to be morally wrong in a modern society that should treat all citizens equally. The fact that this requires a special exemption from the 2010 Equality Act is revealing. Continue reading

Children matter as children: why Dawkins did not say that child abuse is “zero bad”

In his new autobiography and and in interviews Dawkins has been recalling his childhood. He recounts one episode, when aged about 10, of what he described as “mild” sexual abuse by a school teacher, and said that others in the class had suffered the same. Based on his many conversations with his classmates back then, especially after that teacher committed suicide, Dawkins suggested: “I don’t think he did any of us lasting damage”. The wording here is tentative, but he has since accepted that he was somewhat presumptuous, and that he can’t fully know the long-term outcome for his class mates. Continue reading

Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s “refutation” of atheism and the naturalistic fallacy

Writing about the Chief Rabbi’s recent attack on atheism has led me to reading more of his writings. His article in The Times from 2010, proposing a “refutation” of the “New Atheists”, is not recent, but it reveals so clearly a flaw common in religious thought that it is worth a rebuttal.

The religious often accuse atheists of their own worst faults. For any biases or misunderstandings that are common among the religious, one can be sure that they will attribute the very same to atheists. And, as I said in my previous post on Rabbi Sacks, the religious are suckers for the naturalistic fallacy. They readily leap from “this is the case” to “it must be good that this is the case”.

Indeed, Abrahamic theology requires them to make the leap, since they believe in a god that is omni-good, omni-wise and omni-capable; thus anything and everything must be their god’s will, and thus it must be good. Much theology is an exercise in scheming up reasons why a good god would have created the universe as we see it.

So steeped are the religious in this way of thinking that they attribute the same to atheists and scientists. If, for example, they see Dawkins arguing that genes are selfish, they interpret him as lauding selfishness as a good thing. If they see Dawkins writing that our surrounding universe is one of “blind, pitiless indifference” they then regard atheism as heartless and nihilistic. They do not draw the conclusion that humanist atheists actually draw, that since there are no gods to look out for us, then humans need to look out for each other. To the religious, human morals and empathy could not arise from humanity, but can only exist as an echo of a much greater love and morality embodied in a god.

So to Rabbi Sacks’s “refutation” of atheism, which he regards as “worth genuine reflection”. It goes like this:

The first point: if you are a Darwinian, what matters is reproductive success. The rest is mere froth. Forget God, faith and the other relics of a believing age. We are here to pass on our genetic heritage to the next generation. A person is just a gene’s way of making another gene. The bottom line is reproduction.

From there he notes that the most secular countries (such as Europe) have lower birth-rates, whereas more religious countries have higher birth-rates. This he sees as a contradiction to the Darwinian imperative, and thus as a “refutation” of “new atheism”, which he regards as “based on neo-Darwinism”. He says that atheists should want as any people as possible to be religious, since that would increase birth rates. Continue reading

Britain’s 10 worst violations of religious equality

Religious equality — the idea that people should not be treated any more or less favourably because of their religious opinions — is a fundamental principle in any modern liberal democracy. It is written into the American Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. Everyone is agreed on it. Aren’t they?

Well no, unfortunately not. Owing to Britain’s long heritage of religious privilege there are still many instances of the state treating the non-religious less favourably. Here are the ten worst violations of religious equality in the United Kingdom today:

(1) Admission to taxpayer-funded schools: Even though the non-religious pay the same taxes as the religious they have worse access to taxpayer-funded schools. This is actually deliberate and legal. The government put special exemptions into the 2010 Equality Act enabling “faith” schools to treat pupils unequally according to their parents’ religion. About a quarter of state schools are “faith” schools, and often a non-religious family can only send their children to one if it is undersubscribed, even if they live next door.

The government’s excuse is that such schools do well and are popular. Well yes, schools that get to pick their pupils can indeed do well (as private schools show). Study after study has found that “faith” schools use their power of selection to pick middle-class pupils with strong parental support. Parents want such a peer group for their children, so these schools tend to be oversubscribed, and that gives the school more choice in selection, and hence the feedback produces popular schools with good exam results. Being oversubscribed also means that such schools can both expel problem children and not have to take children expelled from other schools. When corrected for the differences in pupil intake, “faith” schools do not do any better.

The non-religious family doesn’t get to play this game since non-“faith” schools don’t get to pick pupils. This is a racket that only the religious can take advantage of. It even extends to provision of school transport. Even worse, religious discrimination is now spreading to non-“faith” schools! Continue reading

Your freedom to impose your religion ends where your child begins

There has been a kerfuffle over a German court ruling that a boy’s right to choose whether he spends his adult life with an intact penis supersedes the religious freedom of the parent, and thus that circumcision amounts to illegal “bodily harm”.

“The body of the child is irreparably and permanently changed by a circumcision” said the court. “This change contravenes the interests of the child to decide later on his religious beliefs”. Further, the “fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents” and “The religious freedom of the parents and their right to educate their child would not be unacceptably compromised if they were obliged to wait until the child could himself decide to be circumcised”.

Predictably, religious groups — Muslim, Jewish and Christian — have been in uproar, claiming that that this ruling violates their “religious freedom”, a supposed right to impose their religion on their children. Notably, they make no mention of the religious rights of the child. Likely they consider that the child has no such rights — or at least, has only the “right” to have his parents’ choice of religion imposed on him. After all, in the United Kingdom, children at state schools are legally compelled to worship the Christian god, and have no right to opt out. When opposing the repeal of this compulsory religious worship in a House of Lords debate Baroness Trumpington said that it “did not matter if pupils were bored, did not like going to chapel or were not interested in religious matters”. So much for religious freedom. Continue reading