Sunday, January 20, 2008

Forcing faith on children is abuse

The playwright makes a provocative case for parents not to impose their religion on their young.

reposted from:
Chris Street comments are in bright green;
highlights in yellow blockquotes.
Forcing faith on children is abuse
By Julie Pascal

Why does my heart sink when I see a toddler with a dummy in her mouth dressed in the hijab? Or a small boy in peot and the hat of an 18th-century nobleman?
The Jesuits are famed for declaring that all they need is the first seven years of a child’s life to make him a Catholic for life.
Perhaps organised religion should carry a health warning and only be made available at 18 with the right to vote. Isn’t it child abuse to imprint religion and identity on an infant?

In our Western democracies, we say we believe in the freedom of the individual to make their own life choices but we allow parents to enforce their own dogma on their offspring.
Why not teach children about all religions, as well as secularism and humanism, and let them decide how they wish to identify when they become adults?

The 1989 Unicef convention on the Rights of The Child expressed the importance of “respect for the views of the child”, but
which son or daughter is ever consulted about which religion they wish to follow?
You get what your parents give you. Few of us are offered an enlightened education revealing the alternatives of healthy scepticism, secularism and atheism.
As a result of this, many British-born children live in isolated ghettoes and lead parallel lives which rarely overlap.

What rights does a Jewish or Muslim son have over circumcision? Why not offer it as an adult choice?

Similarly, if a child wishes to identify as Jew, bar and batmitzvah ceremonies can be initiation rights celebrated in young adulthood.

I am not negating religious study, rather suggesting how home and school could be really educational by revealing how religion has been used as a legal system codified to control human behaviour: diet, sexuality, marriage and divorce. Some people may choose to believe in a deity, in saviours and prophets, just as others choose to believe that the Earth is flat. But when children are shown the wider picture of all the major religions and not just the monotheistic, patriarchal ones, they have an increased chance of understanding the history of humanity, its cultures and complex systems of worship. By increasing debate and critical analysis, both at home and at school, there will be no domination of one religion over another.

The root of the problem is the total muddle of our British constitution. We are not citizens but subjects. The Queen is Defender of the Faith and her son wishes to become “Defender of the Faiths”.
Church and state are inextricably linked and, the way the law stands, to take organised religion out of schools is to take the Queen out of England.

France has partially got it right by banning religious symbols in schools. Certainly there was protest by many Muslim parents insisting that their daughters should wear the veil, but civil war did not break out and reluctant agreement was ultimately reached by all communities.
If French Muslims, Christians, Jews and Sikhs can accept a law which keeps veils, crosses, yarmulkas and turbans out of the classroom, why can’t we do the same?

Of course, France had a revolution which separated Church and state. We could have a quieter one to resolve the problem. This is not to say that religion is not taught at all in France. There are private Catholic, Jewish and Muslim schools, but at least the taxpayer is not paying for religious doctrine promulgated in state schools.

There is a fear here of state interference in religious matters. Multiculturalism, notions of “race” (a dangerous 19th-century concept still used in government tick boxes) and ethnicity are all jumbled up in a desire to offend nobody. And, because of this, even creationism has slipped into science lessons in some schools. The government needs to be braver around religious education.

Not that we should ignore the study of religious texts. Certainly it is important to read the Bible and the Koran to understand and discuss their influences on cultures, literature and world history. But we should access them as informed adults, not as impressionable children with no critical analysis.
We cannot take them literally and consider ourselves enlightened human beings. And I am not convinced that most British schools are examining these as poems and legal systems rooted in a history quite different from our own.

All children undergo a collective act of worship as determined by the 1996 Education Act. The non-elected Muslim Council of Britain says in its school guidance information pack: “It is not permissible for Muslims to actively participate in non-Islamic acts of worship.”

The same is true for Orthodox Jews. Separate prayers are the suggested way round, but this means that children are made aware of religious difference at the age of five.
How cruel to start endorsing difference and religious barriers so young and so well below the age of reason. If parents really care for their children, then allowing them to make an informed choice is the most valuable gift they can give.

Julia Pascal is a playwright

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