Skip to content

Religion is Bad for Children

February 20, 2012

These words first came out of my mouth several years ago, quite without forethought, while riding in an elevator with two friends. I don’t even remember what we were talking about that prompted me to say it, though I do recall their reaction being something along the lines of “We’ll tolerate that because you’re our good friend, but you’re a raving lunatic to say such a thing and it doesn’t deserve consideration.”

I’ve thought about it a lot since then, and still believe it 100%. Here’s why.

Children are by nature magical thinkers. They are incapable of syllogistic reasoning until somewhere around age five, and when it begins, it does so very slowly. My daughter has only recently begun to make her first reasoned arguments, and they are rudimentary and only occasional. When she does, it’s really exciting for me and I light up with praise for her. But most of the connections she makes between things are a sort of reasoning by proximity, which is just magical thinking. For instance, yesterday she was spinning coins. She called tails twice in a row and got heads. Before spinning the third time, she said she would try calling heads in the hopes that this would cause the coin to come up tails. When I asked her why the word she said should affect how the coin fell, she just looked at me blankly, and then went back to spinning. It didn’t even occur to her to consider that her words didn’t determine how the coin fell.

If you’ve ever been acquainted with any small children, you know that’s pretty typical. If they wish for snow and the next morning there is snow, they immediately assume they caused it. We tend to find this rather endearing, but it can also go awry. If a child for some reason wishes for his grandmother’s death and then she dies, he will in the same way assume that he caused her to die and be guilt ridden. possibly to a devastating extent.

It’s our job as parents and other reasoning adults to help nurture the onset of reasoning ability in children and coax them out of this stage into the full ownership of their powers as homo sapiens, just as much as we help the grow in other ways. As soon as their minds are ready for it, they need to be led out of their magical thinking into the rational, scientific thinking of which they are all capable. It will expand their world, give them far greater ability to function in it, and help to preserve them from the bizarre fallacies which can result from magical thinking.

Many adults, however, seem to feel quite the reverse, that children need to be protected from reasoning and encouraged in their childish magical thinking. They equate it with ‘innocence’ (which can be quite a dangerous concept) and want to preserve it as long as possible. This is a strange and I would even go so far as to say abusive retardation of a child’s mental growth, the psychological equivalent of underfeeding him to retard his physical growth. Whence comes this idea that children need (unreal) magic in their lives and that they ought to be protected from being able to think clearly about the world?

I had an argument with my daycare provider a couple months ago because she reprimanded my daughter for telling the other children that there’s no such thing as Santa Claus and then told me I needed to reign her in on this subject. My child was in trouble for telling the truth? She’s depriving them of magic, I was told. So it’s my child’s job to help propagate a lie the other children’s parents have told them? Apparently so. And in fact I am making a mistake by not also telling my child the same lie. I am depriving her of wonder and innocence. My response that I spend time every day showing her the wonders of reality and the unfathomable immenseness of the undiscovered world met with an ‘agree to disagree’ response. But my daughter herself had the wisest words on the subject for me when we discussed it later: “I would like to believe in Santa Clause, but I’d rather you tell me the truth.”

So here is this delicate point in a child’s mental development, when they need to shed the primal, animalistic stage of connection-making by proximity and take up their human inheritance of reason. Enter religion, the queen of magical thinking. Parents and authority figures, instead of teaching reason, telling children that they have a an invisible part of them that can live separately from their bodies and will live forever, that there is an old man in the sky who can read their thoughts, that a man was once born of a virgin and that man can hear their thoughts too, and on and on. Endless lists of nonsensical, magical ideas, which the adults whom the children trust and listen to clearly fervently believe. It feeds into their ready inclination to believe irrational things. How can syllogistic reasoning develop in such an environment? How can a child shed magical thinking when he is being fed more magical ideas all the time? Introduce these ideas for the first time to a fully developed, thinking adult and he may choose to believe them for himself (though more likely he will laugh them off), but a small child is not yet capable of judging the likelihood of what he is told for himself. If it comes from trusted adults, it will be believed, and more often than not held on to in the face of contrary information even when the child has reached an age at which he can reason. How many billions of potentially intelligent thinkers have had their intellectual growth retarded by the malnutrition of religious ideas in childhood?

I know I’m not going to change the way anyone else chooses to raise their child, but at least I can teach my daughter that if A=B and B=C, then A=C. I consider it my moral duty to preserve her from religion.


From → Education

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: