He is a kid just eight years old. His teacher in Paris announced to his class one morning recently that they would all keep quiet and say nothing for one minute, to pay their respects to the seventeen people killed by terrorists the week before. The child, who is French but also Muslim (although it is not certain that he would say it that way …), refused. When asked why he refused to respect the minute of silence, he answered that his Daddy had said that the victims deserved to be killed.
Readers may recall the quotation in my book, “From Illusions to Illumination”, page 67, from Bishop Geoffrey Robinson’s book, “Contemplating Power and Sex in the Catholic Church. Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus”, John Garratt Publishing, Mulgrave, Victoria, Australia, 2007, page 255 :
“If someone were to ask me whether I believe in the Assumption, I would answer ‘Yes’. If I were asked why, I would answer ‘Because that is what my mother told me as a child and I have always believed it’.”
If I return here to this shattering, mind-blowing admission of a Catholic Bishop’s childish credulity, it is to underline the frightening responsibility parents have in educating their children. We cannot police or prosecute parents for what they teach their children. If they tell their kids that their Jewish schoolmates are Christ-killers, if they tell them that their Catholic and Protestant and Jewish playmates are infidels and enemies whom the Koran tells them to kill, if, on the other hand, parents tell their children that all Muslims are terrorists, there is not much we can do about it. If Mummy says that Mary the Mother of God was taken up bodily into Heaven, if Daddy says that “Charley Hebdo” cartoonists deserved to be shot for blasphemy against the Prophet, how can we expect a child to think otherwise ?
The question touches every parent, non-atheist and atheist alike. How do we determine what we have the right to teach children ? Atheist parents will find many occasions, inspired by family, local, national, and international events, as well as by the perennial, innocent questions of their offspring, to instill in them the conviction that fairies and angels and gods do not exist. Non-atheist parents will consciously and unconsciously lead their children to believe in prayer and its supposed effects, in God and His supposed love and protection, in the Devil and his supposed efforts to drag them into the fires of Hell.
How much damage do parents do in forging their children’s identity, values, attitudes and convictions, even before they are exposed to formalized education beginning with pre-school ? Teachers face a daunting challenge when they discover the evidence of an eight-year-old’s brainwashing. What hope is there of contradicting and correcting the convictions inculcated by the child’s parents ?
Many parents prefer, if they can afford it, to send their children to faith-based schools. Jewish, Islamic and Christian schools are dedicated to the development of the religious faith that is their principal raison d’être. But even if such schools did not exist, children would bring to their free, secular and obligatory public schooling the mindset they have acquired at home. The lucky ones will – because of, or in spite of – their schooling, learn to think for themselves. Most will not.
This Blog exists for graduates of the educational system who have found reasons to wonder about the beliefs – or the denial of beliefs – which they have inherited. Its purpose is to help them pursue their personal thinking and questioning, and encourage them to dismiss, hopefully, their long-held inherited illusions. At very least they should examine why they believe or do not believe. If they discover it is because Mummy or Daddy told them, it’s time, your Lordship, they grew up.