Recently I read a few comments by Richard Dawkins on the phrase “a Christian child” or “a Muslim child” etc. he writes:
A phrase like “Catholic child” or “Muslim child” should clang furious bells of protest in the mind, just as we flinch when we hear “One man, one vote.” Children are too young to know their religious opinions. Just as you can’t vote until you are eighteen, you should be free to choose your own cosmology and ethics without society’s impertinent presumption that you will automatically inherit those of your parents. We’d be aghast to be told of a Leninist child or a neo-conservative child or a Hayekian monetarist child. So isn’t it a kind of child abuse to speak of a Catholic child or a Protestant child? Especially in Northern Ireland and Glasgow, where such labels, handed down over generations, have divided neighborhoods for centuries and can even amount to a death warrant?
Catholic child? Flinch. Protestant child? Squirm. Muslim child? Shudder. Everybody’s consciousness should be raised to this level. Occasionally a euphemism is needed, and I suggest “Child of Jewish (etc.) parents.” When you come down to it, that’s all we are really talking about anyway. Just as the upside-down (Northern Hemisphere chauvinism again: flinch!) map from New Zealand raises consciousness about a geographical truth, children should hear themselves described not as “Christian children” but as “children of Christian parents.” This in itself would raise their consciousness, empower them to make up their own minds, and choose which religion, if any, they favor, rather than just assume that religion means “same beliefs as parents.” I could well imagine that this linguistically coded freedom to choose might lead children to choose no religion at all.
There’s a certain disanalogy here with political points of view. Being a “Hayekian monetarist” or a “Leninist” is largely (or at least to some extent and in an important way) about cherishing certain values, whereas religious belief has more to do with affirming certain claims as metaphysically true. Some parents look for a discounted nursery at the beginning to see if the child would fit in.
But more importantly, Richard Dawkins is on record as treating all factual beliefs as “scientific” beliefs. There’s a factual answer to the question of whether or not the moon orbits the earth, or how many protons there are in an atom of lead. I doubt that Professor Dawkins would look kindly on the parent or teacher who answered a young boy’s question about the moon by saying “I’m sorry Timmy, you’re too young. I can’t possibly impose my view of the moon’s movement upon you. How dare I try to make you share my beliefs.” I’m interested in your thoughts. Do you agree with Richard Dawkins? Should fact claims that most people would consider “religious” be treated as exceptional – unlike all other beliefs – and excluded from the beliefs we share with our children? If so, why?
I do wonder, too, how Richard Dawkins would answer his own child (hypothically) if she asked him: Is there a god?