Pandaemonium

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AND AUTHORITARIAN ATHEISTS

My ‘Notes on Religious Freedom’, a shorter version of which appeared in New Humanist, was picked up by Jerry Coyne’s blog Why Evolution is True and led to a fascinating debate, much of it critical of my arguments. I am grateful to WEIT for linking to the essay and for hosting the debate. What was striking about much of the criticism was the degree to which it was underpinned by deeply authoritarian sentiments. I have observed before the way that many contemporary atheists adopt an unpleasantly authoritarian stance. Many now demand, in the name of ‘reason’ or ‘science’, state restrictions or bans on views that might cause ‘harm’. It is a strange attitude for those who supposedly believe in free speech and free thought. (And before anyone jumps on me I am not suggesting that all atheists, or even most atheists, believe this – there were many on the WEIT thread who challenged such views; what I am suggesting is that such claims now form an important and objectionable strand in contemporary atheism.)

What is particularly disturbing is the casual bigotry that now seems acceptable and often goes unchallenged. One of the criticisms on the WEIT thread was of my opposition to the burqa ban. One commenter had this to say:

Alexander Hellemans: Imagine you would board the Paris metro, and there is a seat next to some person in a burqa, very fat, and you can’t see its face. Would you feel comfortable sitting next to it?

‘It’ is a person. However much one might loathe religion, however much one might despise what the burqa symbolises, to describe a person as a thing is sheer bigotry. It is to look upon that woman in the same way as do Islamist clerics. We should not need reminding of the consequences, historically, of such dehumanization. Yet no one thought it necessary to challenge Hellemans’ sentiment. Such comments turn up, of course, on many blogs (Pandaemonium included). But the failure to challenge it suggests that people are sometimes so blinded by their loathing of religion that they become inured to such bigotry and do not recognize the need to combat it at every point. That is a dangerous place to be.

I am reposting here my responses to the criticisms on the WEIT thread. Do join in the debate on either blog:

Kenan Malik
Posted August 20, 2012 at 4:44 am

Thanks for linking to my piece and for the debate about it. A few responses to some of the criticism:

Michael Fisher: ‘Freedom to teach your children any old codswollop? I don’t think so…’

Unless you want to live in a Stalinist state in which the state determines what people can say in private, the answer is yes.

Stephen Q Muth: ‘Where’s the concern over psychological harms, incl. harms against the young (or mentally unstable, impressionable, or otherwise vulnerable)’

That, of course, is the classic argument against free speech, and for the banning of material deemed to be offensive, abusive, pornographic or hateful. I am surprised to find that argument in a forum such as this.

NortCal: ‘The fact that some women may have been brainwashed to the point that they WANT to wear a burqa or a veil, well…’

The claim that someone has been ‘brainwashed’ is a lazy argument. It can be – and is – used by anyone who disapproves of someone else’s act or belief, and cannot find a rational argument for it. It is a claim that is often used by believers about atheists. If we are to ban women from wearing the burqa because they have been brainwashed into doing so, perhaps we should also ban people going to church because they have been brainwashed into doing that? Or from voting Conservative or Republican because they could only do so if they had been brainwashed?

I have dealt the with arguments for burqa bans in many debates and articles, including this.

Marella: ‘So it’s ok to harm someone with their consent?’

Actually yes, unless you want to ban, say, sado-masochistic sex or even smoking or binge drinking.

Dominic: ‘I am not convinced that expression of belief is a valid reason for stomping on fact, if we accept that there are real facts.’

It is not. But that is different from saying that false beliefs, or beliefs that ‘stomp on facts’ should be banned. Creationism should have no place in a biology course at school. That doesn’t mean that Creationism should be banned.

Left Coast Bernard: ‘What would Malik have to say about the Catholic bishops’ claim that requiring them to arrange for their employees’ health insurance programs to provide birth control coverage with no co-payments infringes upon their religious freedom?’

I dealt with this in the longer version of this article on my blog:

‘This is not a matter of religious freedom, but of employee rights. Churches are not being forced to provide contraception. In their role as secular employers, they are being asked to provide employee benefits that all employers must provide. To exempt Church-run organizations would be to deny those benefits to a particular group of employees.’

ironwing: ‘So hassling, proselytizing, bullying, and being a nuisance are OK? This loser is just making excuses for being abusive.’

If being abusive is good enough for you, why not for anyone else? Your argument against being abusive is exactly the argument that believers and others use to ban material that is offensive, or abusive or ‘hate speech’.

Explicit Atheist: ‘The one detail where it appears we may disagree concerns government enforcing laws against violent expression. Kenan Malik is somewhat vague about where to draw the line, he doesn’t give any examples where someone crosses the line to criminal expression.’

I have spent nearly two decades explaining where we draw that line. This interview I gave for a recent book with the pithy title The Content and Context of Hate Speech: Rethinking Regulation and Responses sets out my argument out in some detail.

There is, I have to say, a disturbing degree of authoritarian sentiment in some of the responses in this thread, disturbing particularly among people who presumably stand for freedom, free thought and free speech.

And my second crack at responding to the criticism:

Kenan Malik
Posted August 21, 2012 at 12:57 am

Torbjörn Larsson: ‘Children has the right to a good education, and states have the right to fight terrorism by fighting dangerous extremism. There is nothing of an “reductio ad Stalinum” in that.’

That is true, but it has nothing to do with whether the state should deny parents the ‘Freedom to teach your children any old codswollop’. For ‘children [to] have the right to a good education’, the state must provide access to good schools with sufficient resources and working to a proper set of standards. It does not require the state to censor the conversations that parents have with their children. That would indeed be Stalinist.

Torbjörn Larsson: ‘The crucial point then is if wearing these garbs are harmful for the individual or not. Smoking, drinking and sexual practices _are_ banned in many placer, and/or severely restricted throughout many societies.’

And many of these policies are deeply illiberal. We should not defend one form of illiberalism by appealing to another.

Torbjörn Larsson: ‘Pursuing human rights and freedoms are often seen or responded to as authoritarian by those who don’t like such pursuits for one reason or other.’

That may well be true, but that clearly is not my view. The trouble is, atheists can be as one-sided in their defence of freedom and rights as many religious believers are.

SteveDGH: ‘Kenan I was exposed to religion as a child. Now I realised it wasn’t true in my early teens. This was the easy bit abandoning religion is not so simple as installing a new OS in a computer. It took me years to excorcise the ghosts and spirits from my mind. I resent the damage done to me by the clergy. I’d like to sue them but of course I cannot. I am not suggesting religious indoctrination should be banned. You may be right that the cure is worse than the disease. So you have to allow people to be taught things that are not true like creationism and worse. I don’t have a solution I’m just pointing out your libertarian view allows cruelty (in the form of my religious childhood) to continue in the name of freedom.’

Parents indoctrinate their children with all manner of odious beliefs. That is the nature of parenting. And the nature of growing up is that young people decide for themselves, often rejecting the views of their parents. This is not specifically an issue of religion. Parents pass on all manner of unpalatable political, cultural and social beliefs, too. We might want to challenge those beliefs. But we should not look to the state to ban them. Mine, incidentally, is not a ‘libertarian’ position. It is simply an anti-authoritarian one. After all, do we really want the state to determine what conversations parents may or may not have with their children, whether cultural, political or religious?

Stephen Q Muth: ‘Some psychological harms (most, I would argue, when of a repeated nature) lead directly to physical harms through canalization (in the psych sense). The brain gets hardwired, literally, to believe things that make future physical harm (to self or others) much more likely. Such hardwiring ITSELF I would argue is actually a physical harm being done to a person, though it may be impossible to prove. I suppose I wouldn’t go so far as to promote hate speech legislation (indeed such laws are being used by mostly “Anti-Western” immigrants against Canadians who naively put them on the books long ago). But citizens will continue to fight for resolutions to all kinds of perceived tramplings of their rights, and sometimes this leads to non-physical harms (like changing science and history textbooks towards nonsense, or encouraging genocidal tendencies). Where do you draw the line?’

All speech ‘rewires’ the brain of the listener. The consequence of your argument is to abolish the distinction between the impact of speech and physical harm. And once that happens there is no point in asking ‘where do you draw the line?’ because there is no line to draw. All speech is potentially harmful and therefore open to censorship. I certainly cannot see if you really believe what you do, why you ‘wouldn’t go so far as to promote hate speech legislation’.

Gregory Kusnick: ‘In point 16 you were willing to grant an exception to doctors who refuse to perform abortions as a matter of conscience. Why would the same exception not apply to teachers who refuse to teach evolution? From the believer’s point of view, the harm is equally great: children’s souls would be condemned to Hell.’

Because there is a fundamental difference between forcing someone to commit what they consider to be murder (even if you and I don’t consider that to be so) and expecting teachers to abide by some basic standards set in the national curriculum.

BillyJoe: ‘In my opinion, the ideal of sexual equality overrides any religious ideas about the subjugation of women. The burqa should be banned on this premise alone.’

So sexual equality for you means not insisting that women should have the same right as men to make choices (even wrong ones), but insisting that the state must decide what they choose?

BillyJoe: ‘What we are hoping for here, is that the daughters of this generation are not subjected to the same discrimination as their mothers. To give in to religion on this matter, is to give up the fight for future generations of muslim women. If your ideas on freedom have this consequence there is something seriously wrong with your ideas on freedom.’

What does it mean to ensure that ‘daughters of this generation are not subjected to the same discrimination as their mothers’? It means that they have the right to make their own choices, not have it made for them, whether by clerics or by liberals. If you truly believe that to accept that women should have the right to decide for themselves is to ‘give in to religion’, then I’m afraid that ‘there is something seriously wrong’ not with my ideas on freedom but with yours.

Roger Lambert: ‘I *wish* we could treat public religious expression as we treat speech, because we disallow lots of speech routinely. But religious expression is protected far more stringently than ordinary speech, which is the whole bloody problem if you ask me.’

The problem is precisely that ‘we disallow lots of speech routinely’ that we should not. It is ironic that the very people who are (rightly) up in arms about demands for censorship when such demands come from religious believers should suddenly lose their abhorrence of censorship when it comes to free speech for religious believers. Insofar as ‘religious expression is protected far more stringently than ordinary speech’, we should oppose it. But that is not the issue in this debate. Here people want to impose of religion the kinds of censorship they would rightly not tolerate elsewhere.

ghassankhan: ‘He has completely missed out the psychological defects of such Religious freedom. This means that Religion can be used to indoctrinate people (like the Taliban use it) and it’ll go unchecked.’

Funny how people only get indoctrinated and brainwashed to believe in ideas of which you disapprove, but those who believe in ideas of which you approve do so of their own free will.

nonfreewillist: ‘There is a wide range of individuals who comment on topics on WEIT.’

Oh, I know and that is all for the good. I was not complaining about the diversity of views, nor suggesting that there is, or should be, a ‘WEIT line’. What I was objecting to is a certain authoritarian sentiment that has become more prominent recently in atheist circles. What I find particularly disturbing is that comments such as this can be left unchallenged:

Alexander Hellemans: Imagine you would board the Paris metro, and there is a seat next to some person in a burqa, very fat, and you can’t see its face. Would you feel comfortable sitting next to it?

‘It’ is a person. We should not need reminding of the consequences of such dehumanization. Such comments turn up, of course, on many blogs (including mine). But have people become so loathful of religion that they no longer recognize the need to challenge such bigotry?

26 comments

  1. “The problem is precisely that ‘we disallow lots of speech routinely’ that we should not. It is ironic that the very people who are (rightly) up in arms about demands for censorship when such demands come from religious believers should suddenly lose their abhorrence of censorship when it comes to free speech for religious believers.”

    Thanks Kenan. I am glad that I am not the only one that noticed this trend – it makes me feel a little less insane. I tried to challenge a strongly held view over at WEIT a while back… my position was very much dismissed and even ridiculed. As much as I appreciate what Jerry is trying to do, the majority of his followers seem to have a difficult time entertaining anything that does not fit with their strongly held views. These views, in my opinion, lean toward positivism or scientism.

    It seems to me that your arguments are based on your wanting to uphold the value of human freedom. But the majority of these folks will not acknowledge any value more important than ‘truth.’ The irony of these modern atheists is that in wanting to dispel the world of theological religion, they would seek to replace it with another – the worship of science. They take an angry and authoritative stance because they implicitly believe they have the correct scripture and want us all to live by it. But to base a rule for human life on science, is to base an absolute value on an approximate knowledge. Something ‘definitively scientific’ is a contradiction in terms. One must also argue why ‘science’ should be valued over ‘freedom.’ This is not a scientific argument, but a philosophical one.

    • J

      “The irony of these modern atheists is that in wanting to dispel the world of theological religion, they would seek to replace it with another – the worship of science” – [citation needed]

      • If you think I am plagiarizing, then please let me know from exactly where. I am not claiming this to be an original thought. On the contrary, it is a frequent criticism of this breed of atheist. Kenan has made the same criticism, I am sure, in some of his other writings, though it has also been made by Jackson Lears, John Gray, and a host of others. Who was the first? I don’t know.

      • J

        @Brad
        That isn’t what I meant. You made a claim that “these modern atheists” want people to worship science. I think you should back that claim up because I, for one, don’t believe it. It is indeed a frequent criticism of “this breed of atheist” & I reject it, at least for most of the commenters on WEIT.

  2. SteveDGH

    Kennan,

    I do not think it fair or accurate of you to include my comments in a list of examples of ‘Authoritarian Atheists’. For a number of reasons one being I am not an atheist, true, I do not think any of the religions I have heard of so far are true. But, I cannot rule out the possibility that there may be some sort of ‘God’ or creator however unlikely this may be. So when asked for my view on this debate I tick the agnostic box. Much to the dissatisfaction of those that have a settled view on this subject.

    Another reason for my discomfort in being included in this list. Is your response to my view you said ‘After all, do we really want the state to determine what conversations parents may or may not have with their children, whether cultural, political or religious?’ Yet I wrote ‘I am not suggesting religious indoctrination should be banned.’ You also responded with ‘This is not specifically an issue of religion’ now I do agree with that I could have mentioned parents passing on racist, sexist class/caste hating views etc. but the subject of the original blog was ‘Why evolution is true’ which why I specifically mentioned creationism. You took umbrage at me calling your views ‘libertarian’ now I realise that this word has accreted a number of political connotations with which you are uncomfortable with and therefore you prefer the term anti-authoritarian OK, but who actually calls themselves an authoritarian? You might just as well describe yourself as being anti-injustice.

    I think there is a greater complexity to this debate than you have so far acknowledged. And that is the conflict of freedoms to paraphrase John Stewart Mill (I think I’m sure you’ll correct me if I’m wrong) “My freedom to swing my arm ends at your face” As I said I don’t have a solution to this but as a philosophical question. If a parent has the freedom to indoctrinate a child in all manner of ideas you would find objectionable why does the child not have the freedom not to be so indoctrinated?

    Anyway, I am not asking you to remove my original comment and I am looking forward to reading your book On the History of Moral Thought. Your summation of Alasdair MacIntyre’s book After Virtue certainly made more sense to me than the book itself which still irritates me years after wading through it. I would have rather read the complete works of Peter Hitchens and Melanie Phillips it was that wrong headed.

    Any discount for your Twitter followers?

    • Steve, my apologies – I didn’t mean to suggest that you were being authoritarian, or even an atheist. I was just reposting the debate as it was in WEIT. It was not meant to be a list of ‘Authoritarian Atheists’. I’m sorry if it appears otherwise. Incidentally, I wasn’t taking umbrage at being called ‘libertarian’, just pointing out that one doesn’t have to be a libertarian to opppose state interference in what parents tell their children.

  3. Seriously complex issue.
    Of course bans are by their very nature authoritarian, but isn’t that also true of the burqa?
    I think neutrality could only be achieved if the concept of a ban is married to the same terms we use to define consent.
    Up until the age of 18 we are legally incapable of entering into a contract so I can see an argument for bans of certain things until that age, but not afterwards.

  4. Speaking from the experience of being raised in a conservative (some [but not I] would say oppressive) religious community, one of the best ways that society at large can grant the younger generation the freedom to change their minds about distinctive cultural values is not to threaten those values. Banning an expression such as a head covering can make that expression more valuable to the community; it becomes a symbol of their embattled state as a righteous minority holding out against the destructive forces of the unrighteous culture around them (whether they are truly a minority at this point or not becomes irrelevant). It’s when distinctions of dress and action are met with a collective shrug that they begin to become irrelevant in the minds of those deciding whether or not to practice them.

    • Good points, Marina. I think Kenan has written elsewhere that religious radicalism is more prominent among second generation Muslims compared to their parents in countries where they are made to feel like the inferior, threatening ‘Other’ by the dominant culture. The prejudice and discrimination they experience may contribute to their adoption of overt religious symbols like the hijab or niqab as a reinforcement of their cultural identity and pride.

  5. Kenan, as a regular WEIT reader, just want to say that you’ve won me over on this particular issue. I too was gobsmacked when I first came across Alexander Hellemans’ comment on Prof Coyne’s post. I hardly ever comment on WEIT, but I’m feeling a little ashamed now that I didn’t call Alexander out on his fairly obvious bigotry.

  6. So… if parents believe they can fly, or that blood transfusions are wrong -because that will lead them to hell-, you think that is some misinformation they have the right to indoctrinate their children with, just because it happens to be dressed as religion? I would say indoctrinating children with fairy tales, such as the existence of fairies, or any other kind of non-factual information is children mistreatment! They could try to fly away through the 10th floor window!

    When it comes to religion it’s even worse – you are not allowed to suscribe your child to the Nazi Party (or the BNP for that matter), neither are you allowed to force them to be fans of the Manchester United. You let them grow and make their own minds – same should apply for religion. I’d go as far as to call that child recruitment!

    It’s really simple: we ban alcohol (in the US we could arguably include guns) and cigarettes off children’s reach, since they are harmful, and kids are not old enough to know better. Since there is nothing more harmful than religion, it should be a crime to baptize an underage. It should be punishable with prison the so-called sunday ‘school’.

    Otherwise we should get ready for kids to access alcohol, cigars, and guns, as long as it’s their parents’ religious belief that they’re entitled to do so (and religion being as batshit crazy as it is, no doubt some parents would think about it).

    • J

      Oh really? And how on Earth would you legislate against that? What counts as indoctrination? Telling their child from a young age that this particular set of beliefs is a good thing? Just taking the example you give of bringing a child up as a Manchester United fan shows how silly your argument is – can a parent not take their child to a football game for fear they will be regarded as indoctrinating their child before they’re old enough to decide for themselves?
      You cannot legislate against parents telling their children things! You can only try to educate them as they grow, and even then you can’t force a parent to send their child to a school as they can be home-schooled!
      We shouldn’t look to the government to ban behaviours, but rather look to them to teach reasonable behaviours. Your slippery slope argument is frankly absurd.
      Oh & by the way, I was baptised when I was “an underage” & yet I’ve managed to grow out of religion, so I don’t see how outlawing that would even have an effect.

      • You’re missing some points here: Take your child to any game you want – don’t force him to be a Manchester United fan!! Taking a boy to one church is not for him to make up his mind, but to indoctrinate him in that particular religion. See the difference now?

        Ohh, you grew out of religion, good for you! It doesn’t even matter. There are thousands of people that don’t care about this, and wouldn’t even care to be baptised… but their names are still on the Church’s lists and in developing countries, the number of Catholics (even if they’re newborns) it’s a strong argument in order to influence public policies.

        And some tax exemptions can be based on the number of followers, so it does matter the way they’re using our names… let alone, amputating our freedom of choice, making a non-vital but really important choice for us, taking advantage that we were’nt able to say no.

        And you are applauding that… because parents’ religious rights are more important than children’s freedoms, right? Isn’t that what advocates of clitoris mutilation say?

      • J

        @Daosorios
        No, I don’t see the difference in taking a child to one team’s home games & one church. Even if you’re not overtly telling the child to support that team/church, they are soaking up the implicit approval in the exact same way.
        Public policies are more heavily influenced by censuses than by church’s own claims of numbers of followers, so it doesn’t matter to me that my name is on a Catholic register somewhere. And if I really wanted to, I could get it taken off. There’s a chance I’ve been baptised-by-proxy as a Mormon, so a church’s own records are essentially useless for dictating public policy.
        Your final paragraph is just ridiculous in trying to compare my comments to those who support FGM. I don’t like that children get indoctrinated in religions, but I see no way to legislate against it. It is also different from physically harming children – children can change their minds when they grow up, but body parts don’t grow back. And yes, I’m sure you’ll say that it mentally harms children – which is dreadful – but it doesn’t mentally harm them all & there is no way to legally differentiate between them.

      • @J

        “Even if you’re not overtly telling the child to support that team/church, they are soaking up the implicit approval in the exact same way.”

        No, they’re not. Maybe in your case, but when it comes to religious parents there’s a world of difference when the child says “I’m more of a Chelsea fan” or “I’m not that all into football” than when he says “I don’t believe any of it”.

        “Public policies are more heavily influenced by censuses than by church’s own claims of numbers of followers, so it doesn’t matter to me that my name is on a Catholic register somewhere.”

        So, it doesn’t strike you as deeply wrong that some parents, for the censuses purposes, say their newborns are Catholics? Even when they’re not-practicing?

        “I’m sure you’ll say that it mentally harms children – which is dreadful – but it doesn’t mentally harm them all & there is no way to legally differentiate between them.”

        Of course I will, because it does. Look: I too think religion is all fairy tales you want. But that’s for US. For religious people (religious parents) god’s existence is real, and there’s a difference between that and leprechauns -once more: for them-.

        So that’s the starting point: religious parents can’t use their children as property – they’re not cars to stick a Jesus-fish on. They’re *people*, with rights, and freedoms and to label them is to openly violate their freedom to make an informed choice.

    • Matt

      What about Santa? The Easter Bunny? Should we ban teaching children about them? Should we ban telling children that the tooth fairy will come and take their old teeth away under your policy of avoiding “indoctrinating children with fairy tales”

      I am a committed atheist but I was exposed to all of this ‘mistreatment’ as a child and I continue to espouse it to my children. Is Santa ‘harmful’ under your definition? Where does it stop?

      • Dude: you end up telling them -at some point- those are fairy tales, and you don’t take it seriously if they don’t buy them.

        Have you ever seen a religious parent do that? *That’s* the difference.

    • Daosorios I fear it is you who is ‘missing some points here’. You want to let children ‘grow [up] and make [up] their own minds’, but seemingly only so long as they make up their minds with ideas of which you approve. In reality, people make up their minds by thinking not simply about the ‘right’ ideas, but about conflicting ideas. Who decides which ideas are to be proscribed and which are acceptable? You? And if it is illegal for parents to tell children that Jesus is the son of God, should it also be illegal for parents to tell their children that, say, Mitt Romney would make a great President, or that the unfettered free market is a good, or that the First Amendment should be scrapped?

      You are worried about the indoctrination of children. I assume it is merely a coincidence that people only get indoctrinated with ideas of which you disapprove, whereas those who believe in ideas of which you approve do so of their own free will? In your view, children who were brought up in a faith and have maintained their faith into adulthood have been ‘indoctrinated’. But those have rejected their childhood faith have chosen to do so of their own will. Funny that.

      You argue that children should not be forced to do anything without their consent. Does that include going to school, doing homework, visiting the dentist, being vaccinated, etc, most of which, if given the choice, many, perhaps most, children would refuse to do? Or, again, should it only be illegal to force children to do things of which you disapprove?

      ‘Isn’t that what advocates of clitoris mutilation say?’ That’s about as compelling an argument as suggesting that those who defend free speech, even for racists, support lynching, or that those who insist that the Discovery Institute has the right to exist sympathize with Intelligent Design. It’s bizarre, this growing meme in certain atheist circles that if you believe in religious freedom, then you also believe in genital mutilation.

      • I think I didn’t make myself clear: I don’t want to proscribe ideas, I just don’t want children to be taught irrational beliefs than can endanger their lives and others’.

        Like I said: I think they should be taught evidence based-facts. If they were born to US-Repulbicans, their parents should be able to share their opinions with them, but, ideally, always pointing out it is an opinion.

        That’s it – you think Jesus is the son of god? Fine, tell your children you happen to have that *opinion*, just like you happen to follow Hayek on Economics, or the Manchester United, or the BNP – it is your *opinion*, not fact. You’re entitled to it! And certainly you have the right to tell others -including children- what you think.

        “I assume it is merely a coincidence that people only get indoctrinated with ideas of which you disapprove, whereas those who believe in ideas of which you approve do so of their own free will?”

        I didn’t say that. I approve of Keynesian economics but I wouldn’t even dream to tell children that’s the only way or economic theory! I would say something like “I *think* this is the best way to address economic issues, because…”.

        I would oppose anyone telling children that my point of view is THE point of view.

        “You argue that children should not be forced to do anything without their consent.”

        Again, I don’t recall saying that. What I said -or what I think I said- is that children shouldn’t be subjected to any kind of process of thought that isn’t strictly necessary for their survival – that’s the whole point of them believing what parents tell them and I don’t think that evolutionary mechanism should be used as a way of pushing any ideology taking advantage, precisely, that they can’t give their consent or say -or think- otherwise.

        “It’s bizarre, this growing meme in certain atheist circles that if you believe in religious freedom, then you also believe in genital mutilation.”

        It depends on how you think of religious freedom. Some think it gives parents the right to label children as Christian or Muslim. I think children are as well entitled to religious freedom as adults do – and it is not much of a freedom if someone takes advantage of their inability to say no, in order to shovel their own religious ideas onto them, is it?

      • The trouble is, you still don’t make yourself clear. Are you talking about legal restrictions on what parents can say and do or are you simply giving advice on good parenting? You began in your original comment by suggesting that ‘indoctrinating children with fairy tales, such as the existence of fairies, or any other kind of non-factual information is children mistreatment’ and should be punished. Now you are claiming that all you mean is that it would be good if parents teach their children to think critically. If that’s what you mean, I’m with you. But then this whole thread, including your original comment, would have been pointless.

        ‘children shouldn’t be subjected to any kind of process of thought that isn’t strictly necessary for their survival – that’s the whole point of them believing what parents tell them and I don’t think that evolutionary mechanism should be used as a way of pushing any ideology taking advantage, precisely, that they can’t give their consent or say -or think- otherwise.
’

        I find it very difficult to unpack your meaning here. Are you suggesting that parents should only tell children that something is true if it is ‘strictly necessary for their survival’? In which case conversations between parents and children would be short and sweet. Most facts, most truths are not ‘strictly necessary for survival’. The laws of Newtonian physics, the fact that Paris is the capital of France, that acceptance that Barack Obama is not a Muslim – none is ‘strictly necessary for their survival’. Nor even is the theory of evolution. After all, plenty of people reject it and survive quite happily. This point seems central to your whole argument, but also meaningless.

        ‘It depends on how you think of religious freedom. Some think it gives parents the right to label children as Christian or Muslim. I think children are as well entitled to religious freedom as adults do – and it is not much of a freedom if someone takes advantage of their inability to say no, in order to shovel their own religious ideas onto them, is it?

’

        As someone who has spent two decades arguing against identity politics, and who has written several books on the issue, I am well aware of the problems of identity labeling. However, what you seem opposed to is the very fact of children being brought up within a particular religious context. You talk of ‘children’s religious freedom’, and yet you yourself point out in the very same sentence that children are children precisely because they have not yet developed the capacity to discern and choose for themselves. Whether brought up as Muslim or atheist, radical or conservative, children, in the process of growing up, come to make up their own mind. Sure they are influenced, sometimes deeply influenced, by the views of their parents. That is inevitable – but not as inevitable as some seem to think. As I pointed out in the WEIT thread to a different commenter, ‘it’s funny how people only get indoctrinated and brainwashed to believe in ideas of which you disapprove, but those who believe in ideas of which you approve do so of their own free will’. You seem to be using the idea of ‘children’s religious freedom’ as a means not of enhancing freedom but of ensuring that children are brought up only in the way that you think fit.

      • You got me there!

        I’m talking about legal restrictions: I wouldn’t give a child a gun and I wouldn’t have him baptized. I think these things are dangerous and should be restricted only for consenting adults!

        So, you can tell them what your magical explanation is (hopefully, also telling them it’s just your opinion) but no labeling them and no Sunday school, neither bar mitzvahs, or First Communions, or Confirmation.

        Alcohol, cigarettes and religion should be banned for children, pretty much for the same reason. When they turn 18, they can do whatever they feel like with them. (And, since we’re at it, drugs too!!).

        Did I make myself clear? Do you think that is still autoritharian?

  7. J wrote: “You made a claim that ‘these modern atheists’ want people to worship science. I think you should back that claim up because I, for one, don’t believe it.”

    Fair enough. But I’ll borrow from Camus, who quoted Dostoevsky to pursue a related point: “If Stavrogin believes, he does not think he believes. If he does not believe, he does not think he does not believe.” (The Possessed).

    One does not have to acknowledge their assumptive beliefs in order prove that they have any. I think Kenan is saying that there is something in the ‘attitude’ or ‘tone’ in the discussions of some atheists that suggest a contradiction. Some of these folks undermine the same values that they explicitly claim to defend. This offers further proof, in my opinion, that some have forgotten those initial values and have instead bought into their own absolute system of ideas – namely the pursuit of scientific truth… which if we are not careful, will be at the expense of other values (e.g. human dignity, freedom, etc.).

    • J

      Some of these folks undermine the same values that they explicitly claim to defend

      I agree with you there (though emphasis on the “some” part – it’s certainly not the majority of the so-called ‘New Atheists’)

      namely the pursuit of scientific truth

      I think you’re being a bit melodramatic, and this is what I was objecting to in your original comment. I very much doubt that anyone has the pursuit of “scientific truth” as their absolute ideal.

  8. I am Authoritarian. About wanting people to consider how completely irrelevant the “Atheism debate” is in some senses – especially in practical real-life senses. And I am very,very “Authoritarian” – whatever this term means – in my total opposition to Psychiatry and to Economics.

  9. BTW “Authoritarian” – unless I am very much mistaken – is in origin principally a descriptive term mainly originating in what our brothers in America are more used than us to calling Political Science – or in France – les sciences politiques. It describes re’gimes, people etc…. more than other domains. Lots of love, the Sofa.:)

Comments are closed.