I do agree that religious types have abused their children in the name of religion. This still continues to happen. In fact, we need look no further than a current story in the US media pertaining to polygamy and child marriages: Man Charged in Rape of Teenager in Fundamentalist Sect.
Mormonism encourages polygamy and marriage to minors. Mormons have claimed that this is part of their religious beliefs and that they are entitled to live their lives in this way. To some extent, that argument should be allowed to stand. But, that right should not extend to harming other people in the process. And, in my personal opinion, I think it’s great that the US attorney’s office has finally found a way to deal with some of these crimes that are being committed in the name of religion.
Protection for the weak and vulnerable among us is something that I hold in high regard. In some cases, this competes against some other rights that I hold quite high, including freedom of religion and freedom of speech. There are numerous ideas that I do not want to introduce my children to, but I don’t think it is right that those ideas and opinions be abolished. If we allow that, then what’s next? Burning books and censoring our news sources? Censorship is occuring in the world, notably in China. The state control of media and information can lead to population control, which can then be abused for the sake of state motivations. Without checks and balances like freedom of speech and freedom of information, there is no way to ensure that abuses are not taking place.
Which brings me back to religion… Some religious people try to limit the amount of information available to believers. I remember when I first started taking an interest in my own Christian faith. I asked my pastor for a good resource that would explain the various types of religions to me and that would provide a good explanation for what made my faith something that I should believe. Unfortunately, I didn’t receive the response I had hoped for. I was told that there is no need to look at other faiths. I should just focus on the my own faith by reading the bible and some “my-faith-specific” reading to solidify my beliefs. It was disappointing, to say the least. And, when I mentioned that I was going to go to University to study philosophy and religious studies as a potential precursor to ministry, I was again disuaded. I was told that questioning my faith in this way wouldn’t strengthen it, but instead, would only weaken my faith and my ability to believe.
Good advice or bad? What do you think? I didn’t buy it… I’ve always been one to question things. I think questioning things is healthy. Unfortunately, any opinion is open to question. Any time someone puts a stake in the ground, someone else will come along and challenge it. I think debate is good. It is healthy. It leads to more understanding. It leads to increased awareness and if the argument is a good one, it will stand up to scrutiny. And, bad arguments will be exposed for what they are: bad arguments.
So… I didn’t particularly like the advice to keep my head in the sand and sit still. If my faith was worth following, it should stand up to scrutiny. So, I did the opposite of what I was advised to do. I went out and compared and questioned my faith. I believed then, and I still believe now. And my faith is stronger now because of this journey. To be fair, I must say that not everybody learns or believes or requires this level of commitment. And that is fine. But I do think that there is danger in not being able to explain what we believe and why. “Just because…” is not sufficient. There’s gotta be something more.
And that’s where I think that many abuses stem from… isolation and lack of information. If people are kept in the dark and are unable to ask the tough questions, then how can this work out for the best?
As with other abuses that we’ve already discussed in this series, I do think that the church has contributed to numerous abuses within society in the past. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that these abuses are identified, corrected and that proper controls are put in place so that they cannot happen again. But, no system is foolproof… didn’t World War Two prompt the expression, “Never again” in response to the holocaust? Well… what do we make of the recent ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia or Darfur? I say this only to say that even the most visible of abuses cannot always be prevented. They should be prevented, but they aren’t. But at the very least, they should be recorded and their perpetrators brought to justice.
So… what can we do? Well… we should start with open minds. We should be allowed to question. If our beliefs are worth believing, then we should be able to explain them and defend them. As I’ve demonstrated over the course of this series, Dawkins hasn’t provided anything that should disuade our beliefs in religion. He’s highlighted some of the abuses that can occur as a result of belief, but that doesn’t discount the belief itself. All it does is highlight the crimes that have been committed by misrepresenting the belief.
And, we should also ensure that sufficient controls are in place to avoid the obvious abuses that can occur. We can easily ensure that physical and sexual abuse are guarded against. Censorship… well, that’s a matter of opinion. The argument over what to believe and why is a tough one. It’s quite subjective in nature. Just look at the current “should creationism be taught in schools” argument. I think that kids should be taught about the debate, if only so that they understand that there are different worldviews. And, part of that education process can be to help kids assess what they believe and why. But I don’t think the people that are most invested in the debate want that… they don’t want the kids to think for themselves. They are too busy fighting about what they want their kids to believe. And that’s the real shame of that situation.
As for my two cents on what worldview a child should be given… well… it’s not my place to push my worldview on anyone else, but I have written a series that has taken on a life of its own since I published it. This article started as a philosophy assignment during my undergrad. I wrote it quite sincerely, but from the perspective of a philosophy student. I don’t intend for this to become public policy in any way, shape or form. My only request is that it make you think about what you believe and why. This series has earned me more scorn and vilified hatred from anonymous readers than I thought possible… So much for freedom of expression, eh? hahaha. Anywho… Give it a read and let me know your thoughts:
But back to today’s discussion…
Dawkins and others within this genre offer the following argument: Religion has led to the abuse of people throughout history. Because of this, religion should be abolished. Well… our global economy is currently supporting the slavery of children in the manufacture of the products that keep our global economy humming along. Should we abandon our current economic system in favour of more local production so that we can do away with these abuses? But that would be crazy talk… the global economy has opened doors and created opportunities for untold numbers of people that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. That’s the typical response that we hear.
The obvious point here is that we should try and correct the wrongs and to continue to support the rights. So, onward and upward. Let’s keep an open mind. Let’s open up the dialogue. It’s already happening in a lot of places. Educational institutions are rife with debate over the pros and cons of reliigon. I think it’s great. I think that the critical reflection that we’re currently experiencing will strengthen the church in extremely positive ways.
So… I guess I should be thanking Dawkins, Harris, Onfrey, Hitchens and the gang. So thanks guys. Thanks again for the great press you’re giving to religion. And thanks for your criticism. I view you guys as external auditors. You’re doing a great job of keeping religious folks honest. And, you’re also helping to weed out the bad apples. Soon enough we’ll be in tip top shape. Couldn’t have done it without you.