This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

← The perfect riposte to childhood indoctrination

The perfect riposte to childhood indoctrination - Comments

Chris Roberts's Avatar Comment 1 by Chris Roberts

"What's a sin?" asked the 11-year-old atheist. I could have sung with joy knowing a child knew right from wrong and good from bad but knew not what the word "sin" meant.

Ruined it.

Looked like it could have been a nice article, but I can't read any more of this.

I can't imagine how any 11-year olds could even want to make a decision of that magnitude, let alone one that requires a load of research - it isn't something you just decide one morning when you feel a little rebelious after flicking your cereal at your little sister.

Mon, 20 Apr 2009 06:11:00 UTC | #350315

Quetzalcoatl's Avatar Comment 2 by Quetzalcoatl

"What's a sin?" asked the 11-year-old atheist. I could have sung with joy knowing a child knew right from wrong and good from bad but knew not what the word "sin" meant.

A bit of labelling going on here, not sure I'm happy with it. Depends what the rest of the article has to say.

Mon, 20 Apr 2009 06:17:00 UTC | #350317

amuck's Avatar Comment 3 by amuck

Not being indoctrinated in the dogma of sin is hardly a personal decision.

The idea behind childhood eduction is to teach the child how to think, not what to think.

By all means introduce them to the concept of sin and other irrational belief systems in a course in anthropology, well armed with a mental tool chest of evidence based rational thinking.

Mon, 20 Apr 2009 06:20:00 UTC | #350318

Quetzalcoatl's Avatar Comment 4 by Quetzalcoatl

Later in the article the author said this:

I'm with Richard Dawkins. Indoctrination of children into religion is child abuse. Children should have the right to be raised free from their parents' superstitions, prejudice and mumbo jumbo. Let them make up their own mind when they're adults. Instead, let us use our powers for good and brainwash our children with tolerance, acceptance, rational thought and unconditional love.

It's a shame she then calls an 11 year old an atheist.

Mon, 20 Apr 2009 06:23:00 UTC | #350321

Sciros's Avatar Comment 5 by Sciros

LOL Quetz, I know. I was like "wtf he is only 11 wait until he's at least 30 sheesh."

An 11-year-old might not have a "sophisticated"-enough religious viewpoint to accurately label him/herself as one denomination of Protestantism over another, but if an 11-year-old doesn't believe in any gods then he/she is atheist. At some point you guys have to get real instead of assuming that until someone says "I am a ___!" you're not allowed to accurately identify them as such.

Mon, 20 Apr 2009 06:26:00 UTC | #350322

gazzaofbath's Avatar Comment 6 by gazzaofbath

I'm not sure what the problem is with the above comments? Having also been brought up in a strict Irish Catholic environment I was similarly refreshed when a French friend of mine and his two kids stayed a while with me in the UK. They had absolutely no awareness of christian doctines. With the state and religion seperation in France it was quite possible for them to avoid any contact with religious dogma provided their parents didn't compell them. And like many French kids they were intelligent and well behaved - without the concept of sin being involved! I take good behaviour and manners as something approximating to 'good', if that's the ethical aspect that disturbs the other commenters.

I did wonder, with my friend, whether some knowledge of christianity might be useful - a 'know your enemy' strategy - along the lines of religious stories being revealed to them along the same lines as one would a fairy story. But at ages of 11 and 9 they were probably a bit past fairy stories - religious or not.

Teaching religion as a 'truth' to kids is truly brainwashing. As many have said it should be witheld from kids in an education system until at least the age of 15 or 16.

Mon, 20 Apr 2009 06:28:00 UTC | #350323

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 7 by Cartomancer

Actually, I am perfectly fine with calling an eleven year old an atheist. Atheism is merely the lack of belief in a god or gods. It doesn't matter how simple or crude one's idea of a god is, if you have any kind of idea along those lines and believe it describes something that isn't real, you are an atheist. An 11 year old won't have Thomas Aquinas's subtle understanding of the concept of a god, but most will understand something like "a big shouty invisible man in the sky". Indeed, many adults' view of their god is not so far removed from this either...

Religion, on the other hand, is not merely theism. It requires particular beliefs about particular things, and if it is to be treated as a valid world-view, it must be assessed using an adult mind and appropriate reasoning capacities. Atheism is a simple factual proposition, entirely analogous to not believing in fairies - and I think we would all be happy to say that an eleven year old is perfectly able not to believe in fairies. Religion is a whole set of beliefs, attitudes and cultural alignments however.

Mon, 20 Apr 2009 06:29:00 UTC | #350324

Quetzalcoatl's Avatar Comment 8 by Quetzalcoatl

Points well taken, I think I'm being a bit overly sensitive there.

Mon, 20 Apr 2009 06:33:00 UTC | #350329

AntonAAK's Avatar Comment 9 by AntonAAK

It's an interesting question.

Many of us are happy with the concept of atheism as the default position at birth. Until a child is introduced to the concept of gods and religion there isn't a decision to be made and a child that doesn't believe in a supernatural god can correctly be described as an atheist child.

Or does the term atheist imply a conscious rejection of religion?

Mon, 20 Apr 2009 06:34:00 UTC | #350331

mrjonno's Avatar Comment 10 by mrjonno

Actually an atheist baby makes sense while a christian one does not.

Every single human being (and cat,dog pig etc) is born an atheist regardless of the beliefs of its parents. It doesnt require a conscious rejection of the supernatural its just the default state of any mind

Mon, 20 Apr 2009 06:35:00 UTC | #350332

dirigibleBehemothaur's Avatar Comment 11 by dirigibleBehemothaur

For some reason that statement did make me flinch , but why£ When I was 11 I had already made my mind up about the existence of god.

Mon, 20 Apr 2009 06:38:00 UTC | #350336

ThomasBombay's Avatar Comment 12 by ThomasBombay

The question is, like Richard points out, can an 11 year old child possess the proper faculties in order to make a judgement like that? Are there Christian children or children of Christian parents? It always cracks me up when people say they were saved and accepted Jesus into their hearts when they were 9 or 14. I had many ideas of Jesus at 9 and 14, most of which are all gone or evolved into new ones. Can a child really understand the complexities of religion, philosophy, science, anthropology to make the claims their parents' make. So I think it would be consistent to say that there are no 11 year old athiests, just 11 year olds who's parents are athiests.

Mon, 20 Apr 2009 06:39:00 UTC | #350338

Quetzalcoatl's Avatar Comment 13 by Quetzalcoatl

Having thought about it, I think I was being a bit stupid there. Given that atheism is defined as an absence of belief in God/gods, it would be reasonable to call a new-born baby atheist by default.

Conscious rejection of the concept isn't required, just a lack of knowledge of it.

Mon, 20 Apr 2009 06:40:00 UTC | #350339

Sciros's Avatar Comment 15 by Sciros

Can a child really understand the complexities of religion, philosophy, science, anthropology to make the claims their parents' make.
Funny, I never found that to be a requisite for ADULTS to identify with a RELIGION, let alone for children to identify with no religion :-/

Mon, 20 Apr 2009 06:42:00 UTC | #350342

gazzaofbath's Avatar Comment 14 by gazzaofbath

I understand your point that maybe an 11 year old might not have the depth of knowledge to decide whether they should be a disbeliever or believer. It's a decent point - though as others say if the working definition is disbelief in deities they are for practical purposes, at this time, an atheist.

It raises the reverse question too. Whether a believer has enough knowledge to decide that belief is a reasonable position. I think we'd agree that kids are too young (a reflection of the point about an 'atheist kid'); many everyday believers believe just because they've been brought up that way without having thought through alternative options, or perhaps even being exposed to them. Some more intellectual believers make me laugh, throwing into an argument deep philosophical propositions (eg Godel) and points about a 'first cause', for the Big Bang for example. This usually implies to me that they think a deep philosphical or scientific knowledge is necessary to underpin religious belief. Just as RE is taught at school - NOT!

Mon, 20 Apr 2009 06:42:00 UTC | #350341

irate_atheist's Avatar Comment 16 by irate_atheist

7. Comment #366855 by Cartomancer -

The eleven year old could have self-identified as an atheist. I sure as hell did at that age.

Prefaced with the word 'militant', too.

But only because 'strident' hadn't entered the memosphere at that particular point in time.

12. Comment #366869 by ThomasBombay -

So I think it would be consistent to say that there are no 11 year old athiests, just 11 year olds who's parents are athiests.
It would be incorrect to say that. Rest assured my parents are not atheists. But what they actually are on the theist scale, I haven't a clue and nor, probably, do they. But I was decidedly not raised by atheist parents. Unless the Sunday School, Church of England School, random church services etc. they sent me to was a very clever ploy on their part.

The indoctrination and brainwashing of SWMBO was, however, complete and total. Very impressive stuff. Very frightening, in fact.

Mon, 20 Apr 2009 06:49:00 UTC | #350346

AntonAAK's Avatar Comment 17 by AntonAAK

No proper faculties, depth of knowledge or judgement are required.

If a child has not been exposed to the concept of god they will not believe in it and will be an atheist child.

If they lack belief in a deity, for whatever reason, then they are atheistic. It's what the word means.

Having said that the term sits rather uncomfortably with me too. I'm not sure that I can justify my discomfort however.

Mon, 20 Apr 2009 06:51:00 UTC | #350347

ThomasBombay's Avatar Comment 18 by ThomasBombay

I was referring to a person making an iformed descision about religions to lead them to the conclusion that all religions are false. I agree, most religious people don't think twice about anything. Also, it seems to me, that athiesm (and it doesn't hold up to the definitions put forth previously) is an intellectual rebellion of some form of religion a person was raised under or knows about. At least, and I don't have nuch evidence for this, that is the case with most of us.

Mon, 20 Apr 2009 06:54:00 UTC | #350348

dirigibleBehemothaur's Avatar Comment 20 by dirigibleBehemothaur

Prefaced with the word 'militant', too.

Nah not until senior school :0)

Mon, 20 Apr 2009 06:55:00 UTC | #350350

Quetzalcoatl's Avatar Comment 19 by Quetzalcoatl


I think it's because it seems like it's labelling the child, even though it isn't really, at least not in the sense that we have all criticised the religious for.

Mon, 20 Apr 2009 06:55:00 UTC | #350349

ThomasBombay's Avatar Comment 21 by ThomasBombay

I see your point. I guess all you really need is skepticism of rediculousness which, I think children by the age of 4 have. Thanks for the pep talk!

Mon, 20 Apr 2009 06:56:00 UTC | #350351

JeanMeslier's Avatar Comment 22 by JeanMeslier

"What is a sin?" I love it.

My own daughter is 10. Both she and her brother are in a catholic school here in Belgium. You might ask yourself how much catholic catholics still are in Belgium (a country where gay marriage and euthanasia are legal). Despite some religious education at school, my daughter asked me the other day "What does resurrection mean?".

Mon, 20 Apr 2009 06:57:00 UTC | #350353

irate_atheist's Avatar Comment 24 by irate_atheist

20. Comment #366882 by dirigibleBehemothaur -

No no no.

Before senior school.

Probably before I exited the womb.

Mon, 20 Apr 2009 07:00:00 UTC | #350356

Mark Jones's Avatar Comment 23 by Mark Jones

As I've commented before, there is no distinction between an atheist who hasn't encountered the god concept, either through lack of exposure (native of darkest Borneo) or inability (babies, hippos or indeed, baby hippos), and those who have encountered it and don't believe it.

I feel we need a new word. Or is there one?

Mon, 20 Apr 2009 07:00:00 UTC | #350354

irate_atheist's Avatar Comment 25 by irate_atheist

23. Comment #366886 by Mark Jones -


Mon, 20 Apr 2009 07:01:00 UTC | #350357

Mark Jones's Avatar Comment 27 by Mark Jones

Comment #366889 by irate_atheist

Pretheist? Preatheist?

Mon, 20 Apr 2009 07:02:00 UTC | #350359

ThomasBombay's Avatar Comment 26 by ThomasBombay

Christopher Hitchens proclaimed himself an anti-theist

Mon, 20 Apr 2009 07:02:00 UTC | #350358

dirigibleBehemothaur's Avatar Comment 28 by dirigibleBehemothaur

A god gene deficiency.

Mon, 20 Apr 2009 07:04:00 UTC | #350362

Russell Blackford's Avatar Comment 29 by Russell Blackford

I didn't learn the word "atheist" until I was about 12, but I had no trouble when I was much younger than that making an intellectual judgment that all the talk of God and so on was just our society's mythology. It's a pity, in a way, that I got dragged back into religion as a teenager, but I had a good basic grasp of the relevant concepts at all the relevant times. Kids are sometimes pretty sophisticated in their thinking, even if they do, of course, have a lot of misapprehensions about the world (as do many adults).

Obviously very small children are in no position to understand religious and philosophical concepts, but I have no difficulty whatsoever with the idea of a bright 11-y.o. being a self-conscious atheist, complete with cogent reasons for it.

Mon, 20 Apr 2009 07:04:00 UTC | #350364

phil rimmer's Avatar Comment 30 by phil rimmer

Comment #366891 by Mark Jones


Mon, 20 Apr 2009 07:08:00 UTC | #350366