The wisdom of Nicholas Humphrey on religion


I want to propose a general test for deciding when and whether the teaching of a belief system to children is morally defensible. As follows. If it is ever the case that teaching this system to children will mean that later in life they come to hold beliefs that, were they in fact to have had access to alternatives, they would most likely not have chosen for themselves, then it is morally wrong of whoever presumes to impose this system. No one has the right to choose badly for anyone else.

Children, I'll argue, have a human right not to have their minds crippled by exposure to other people's bad ideas—no matter who these other people are.

Parents, correspondingly, have no god-given licence to enculturate their children in whatever ways they personally choose: no right to limit the horizons of their children's knowledge, to bring them up in an atmosphere of dogma and superstition, or to insist they follow the straight and narrow paths of their own faith.

In short, children have a right not to have their minds addled by nonsense. And we as a society have a duty to protect them from it. So we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible, or that the planets rule their lives, than we should allow parents to knock their children's teeth out or lock them in a dungeon.


One objection unsurprisingly from Christians asks, "Who decides what ideas are bad for children?" Liberals who tend to hold that one opinion is as good as another would ask that too! They stupidly want children endangered with nonsense. Christians who ask it mean that nobody should decide their ideas are bad but if the ideas are non-Christian then it is okay to look at them with suspicion or even hatred.

The answer to the objection is that nobody is to decide but to try and let the evidence make the decision. To do that requires freedom and it is hoped that most will come to an understandable decision. It is never acceptable even for scientists who have proof for their teachings for them to encourage any laziness. Encouraging children to just believe things even if they are true is wrong when they should be given evidence and allowed to make informed decisions.

Another objection is why fairy stories are allowed. Fairy stories do not indoctrinate.

Another is that there is no such thing as neutral education. In some subjects neutrality is possible but perhaps up to a point. Some subjects are neutral. There are no Catholics maths and Protestant maths. Those who think they are not biased can sometimes by very biased. You do your best to eliminate bias and get on with it. If neutral education is hard or impossible that does not mean you should give up and just let it be biased.

Another objection is that it is as religious to say that there is no purpose in our existence as it is to say God has a plan for us.

That is total garbage. Everything is religion if that is true. 1 and 1 being 2 is up there with the virgin birth. Religion and the idea of purpose go together.

And objectors ask if is it right to say that children are indoctrinated when they fall away from faith in their teenager years and rediscover it later on in life? It depends. You can get distracted from your indoctrinated beliefs.

Another objection is that banning religion only leads to a worse evil - idolatry which is a debased approach to religion. But if you make an idol out of the starving babies is that really that bad when you go among them to devote yourself to looking after them? Atheists are accused of idolatry. That assumes that everybody worships something religiously. So if you do not worship God you will worship your family or yourself or sex or drugs or whatever. But that is not religious worship. Valuing things does not necessarily mean you worship them. Valuing things does not necessarily mean that they are gods to you if you do not believe. Worship is treating an allegedly divine creature or entity as someone you can have a relationship with and upon whom you totally depend.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “If it is I who determine where God is to be found, then I shall always find a God who corresponds to me in some way, who is obliging, who is connected with my own nature. But if God determines where he is to be found, then it will be in a place which is not immediately pleasing to my nature and which is not at all congenial to me. This place is the Cross of Christ.” Only a tiny minority recognise these principles and a tiny minority of them live them. If religious education is so uninfluential then what is the point?

Another objection is that if we are not taught at school to convert to God and Jesus and even if such conversion is partly down to being conditioned, the alternative is worse. Christianity says that evil and sin cannot be rooted out of human life and that is mainly what the doctrine of the fall and original sin is about.

Are we that radically flawed? If so then the more power we get through science the more we have to worry. Make no mistake - if Christian leaders were able to suppress science they would. They settle for ignoring it, distorting it, cherry-picking it and making out that religious faith is a way of knowing things that science cannot touch on.

And if evil and sin cannot be erased on earth there is no need for Christianity and it will just be another way in which people hide their true colours and provide another way to hurt people.

And if religious faith is a problem, getting rid of it is not going to help because man will develop something else to create a problem about.

At another time, Nicholas Humphrey has noted how miracle tales and paranormal tales have “a somewhat self-righteous aura to them.” That is because they presume you are cynical and ungrateful to the supernatural which can help us if you do not believe. The anger that will be unleashed against you if you debunk or query the correctness of the tale is a sure sign of that arrogant holiness of the one telling you the magical tale. The objections to his reasonable ideas from religious people is a good example of how toxic supernatural believers are. The internet gives them an ideal thing to hide behind as they unleash their hate and their acidic lies. The biggest religious war ever is the faithful's war against truth and unbelievers online.


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