Are Religious Parents Brainwashing Their Children?

Source: Review of Religions

By Umar Nasser, who is a final year medical student at Imperial College, London. He is currently serving as Chair of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Association UK, and is the co-founder of Endofatheism.com, an initiative seeking to provide coherent answers to the questions posed by atheism in the modern age. 

It is a question that has been raised too frequently over the last few years for religious parents to ignore entirely: Is raising a child to hold religious beliefs a sinister form of ideological indoctrination? Many outspoken atheists of today argue just this, with zoologist Richard Dawkins predictably leading the pack. Last year, in a detailed article specifically on this topic, he wrote:

There really is an important difference between including your children in harmless traditions, and forcing on them un-evidenced opinions about the nature of life or the cosmos.”[1]

In another interview he added:

Children do need to be protected so that they can have a proper education and not be indoctrinated in whatever religion their parents happen to have been brought up in.”[2]

The full argument presented by some atheists asserts that raising a child with religious beliefs is a form of brainwashing, which exerts an undue influence on their future. A fairer approach, they propose, would be to raise children without any religious beliefs at all, permitting them to reach intellectual maturity whereupon they can choose their own faith or non-faith world-view.

At first glance, this position may seem reasonable; its logic however, is deeply flawed. Here are five reasons why religious people have absolutely every right to raise their children according to their own religious convictions:

1. We all raise our children according to our personal beliefs – atheists included.

When we examine the aforementioned statements from Dawkins, the hypocrisy of the stance becomes immediately apparent. It hinges on the idea that religious people hold ‘un-evidenced opinions about the nature of life or the cosmos.’ Does that not sound rather like an opinion in itself? I do not think my beliefs are un-evidenced; after all, who does? We cannot all be right, but we all reserve the right to believe that we are. Who is to say that I do not deem atheism to be an un-evidenced stance which is harmful to the moral and spiritual welfare of my children? If so, how could I consciously deny my nearest and dearest the opportunity to spiritually develop in their youth? The argument essentially boils down to a petulant expression of anti-religious outrage: your belief is different to mine, and I am obviously right, so how dare you teach your ignorant beliefs to your children. Thus, it is very clear; if Dawkins raises his children with the belief that naturalistic processes alone can and do explain any and all phenomena, then I have every right to raise my children with the belief that they cannot.

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