The God decision
Christian parents teach their children to believe in God, atheists teach them not to. Who is doing the right thing?
‘For what we are about to receive’. Children saying Grace, London, 1940s. Photo Hulton/Getty
Ever since I read Richard Dawkins’s book The God Delusion (2006), one thing has stayed with me above all the fiery polemics. It is an answer that Dawkins gave in the book to a question about priestly abuse of children: ‘I replied that, horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place.’ In the five or six years since I read this, it has disturbed me, put me off balance, to an extent that I would not have expected.
I was raised a Quaker, a member of the Religious Society of Friends, and lost my faith around the age of 20. I am as much a non-believer as Dawkins is, yet I look back on my religious training positively. We young Quakers were encouraged to think for ourselves and this was the foundation of my lifetime commitment to philosophy. The moral and social concerns of Quakers have been guides to my life as a teacher. In an entirely secular way, I see the inner light – what Quakers call ‘that of God in everyone’ – in each of my students. So I cannot see religious training as abuse. Nor is this simply because Quakers are a special case. There are Catholic beliefs, such as transubstantiation, that I could never accept, nor do I approve of every aspect of a Catholic education. But, intellectually, I am pretty small beer compared to thinkers such as John Henry Newman, the 19th-century theologian. Socially and morally, I could never measure up to people such as Vincent de Paul or Dorothy Day, whose actions were inspired by their religious beliefs.
Dawkins’s comment has led me to think seriously about the choices we make in being atheists, or theists, for that matter. Atheism, or its opposite, is not just about epistemology, that is, a question of whether or not it is true that there is no god or (Christian) God. It is also a matter of morality, of ethics: should one believe in a god or specifically in God, or should one shun such a belief? And if I believe in a god, am I abusing my children if I bring them up to believe in this same god?
For the rest of the story: http://aeon.co/magazine/world-views/is-it-wrong-to-teach-children-to-believe-in-god/