Is Religion Child Abuse?

In his book, The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins argues that religious belief is-what else?-delusional. He mocks the irrationality of believing in something that you cannot subject to scientific scrutiny; he rails against the so-called "immorality" of the Bible, like the sanctioning of slavery-untrue-and the alleged way that religion, especially Christianity, stands in the way of scientific progress-also untrue.

Just in case his readers are not convinced, however, he then pulls out the really big gun: Religious belief is a kind of child abuse.

By "child abuse" Dawkins is not, at least not principally, referring to the scandals involving sexual misconduct by Catholic priests. He means that teaching a child about Christianity can damage them psychologically and emotionally.

According to Dawkins, however "odious" sexual abuse is, he "suspect[s] that it may do them less lasting damage than the mental abuse of bringing them up Catholic in the first place."

The "mental abuse" Dawkins refers to is the result of teaching children that nonbelievers will spend eternity in Hell. Dawkins calls this doctrine "an extreme threat of violence and pain" and "mental terrorism." He rhetorically asks, "If you can sue for the long-term mental damage caused by physical child abuse, why should you not sue for the long-term mental damage caused by mental child abuse?"

Obviously, what Dawkins writes about Catholicism is equally true about any Christian tradition whose teaching is grounded in Scripture.

Dawkins's accusations of child abuse are so absurd that it is hard to take them seriously. But someone will, so it is important to correct the record.

Yes, Christianity teaches that there is a Hell and that the unrepentant wicked will spend eternity there. But it also teaches that through His death and resurrection, Jesus freed those who believe in Him from that fate. To leave Jesus' saving work out of any discussion of Hell is a distortion of Christian teaching.

What is also unfair is to criticize Christianity for its teachings on the afterlife without discussing the atheistic alternative presumably preferred by Dawkins and the other "new Atheists": that is, when we die, we become worm food, and the universe soon forgets that we ever existed.

Now, that's the stuff of real childhood nightmares! The idea that there is nothing beyond the grave is the stuff of countless anxieties. And, as Dostoevsky wrote, without belief in a God who judges us, human evil goes unchecked-that is, there is no justice.

In addition, Dawkins's account of the effects of religion on children is, to put it mildly, incomplete. Surely, there is more to religion and children than teaching them about Hell.

There certainly is: Sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton studied the impact of religious practice on American teenagers. They found kids who were described as "devoted" or "regular" participants in religious activities did better than their un-churched counterparts. They did better at school; they were more active in the community; and, contrary to what Dawkins says, they scored higher on measures of "emotional well-being."

In other words, Dawkins is completely wrong about the impact of faith on our kids-so wrong that, if he were consistent, he really might call atheism a form of "child abuse."

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • Guest

    The only response I can give to this article is that Mr. Dawkins has gone over to the "Dark Side" (Star Wars) and is in need of our prayers so that he might see the "Light".Innocent

  • Guest

    It seems to me ridiculously easy to refute Dawkins: does he 'believe' in love?, in hope?  I haven't seen any scientific studies done on those qualities, have you?  So, if Dawkins is wrong there, what gives him any credibility in his easily-proven misconstructions about Chrisianity?

    Just because he's obviously had some bad experiences with Christians doesn't make his biased and predjudiced view legitimate.  Poor soul.

  • Guest

    Put yourself in this man's shoes in the not-too-distant future: even if you're around family and friends you feel terribly alone, bedridden; you are wracked with pain as your aging body fails, your rationality – which was the one thing you valued during your life – is fading. And, as each breath becomes more and more difficult you attempt to cling to life like a drowning animal because the only thing you believe is that this is the end…   how terribly sad and abusive that your family and friends never taught you to hope.  You have my prayers Mr. Dawkins.  

  • Guest

    Dawkins has faith in the likes of Kavorkian to cut short his misery. It's already hell on earth not to see beyond that. We however, should see beyond the brazen insanity of Dawkins' statement. Experience has proven that his will be a class action lawsuit that will win a big settlement. Is it beyond comprehension that our courts would litigate this? Wait another ten years.

  • Guest

    Whatever you're smokin', Goral, change to another brand.  I give it 3 years, tops.

  • Guest

    God loves you .

    I don’t know, now, goral and Cooky -

    With the general population getting more and more web info that the MSM and their elitist leaders do NOT want us to have – especially more and more facts (and contra their lies) on the culture of death’s favorite artifact – abortion – we may see a swing toward morality that precludes these petty forces trying to obviate family religion in favor of schools that, of facts from similar sources, cannot even teach Johnny to read.

    Plus, in three years, ten years, beyond – these so-called leaders of our society are going to have their hands full of uppity illegal aliens and their fellow-traveling (in terms of mischief) Muslimist Islamofascists. (Part of the reason ‘moderate’ Muslims are also ‘silent’ Muslims about their Islamofascist brethren is because they simply must acknowledge that their Koran permits the very worst of terrorism, etc., againt ‘infidels’. And, might not militant illegal-alien supporters decide on the ‘value’ of terrorist activities?)

    Frankly, if the Billary or B.O. or one of these other dubious Presidential candidates gets elected, I’m going to enjoy watching them trying to roll-over for these ‘problem children’ with a citizenry (who pay the bulk of taxes, for one thing) more and more up in arms. Maybe, even those Second Amendment arms? (“You’ll do that only over my dead body – but YOUR dead body, first.”)

    We have a number of issues that are pushing the pendulum back at high speed. I figure that these ‘non-theists’ will be very small potatoes, with about as much influence as broken records (if any remember those). Yet, they may be intelligent enough to get out of the way of that pendulum.

    Remember, I love you, too .

    In our delighted glory in our Infant King,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @catholicexchange.com or … yahoo.com)

  • Guest

    I'll have you know Cooky that drinking is the tradition in this family. Who knows what the years will bring. Before we go to bed tonight we will have religated this one to history and our prayers will be for God's blessings in the New Yr.

  • a-theist

    “What is also unfair is to criticize Christianity for its teachings on the afterlife without discussing the atheistic alternative presumably preferred by Dawkins and the other “new Atheists”: that is, when we die, we become worm food, and the universe soon forgets that we ever existed.

    Now, that’s the stuff of real childhood nightmares! The idea that there is nothing beyond the grave is the stuff of countless anxieties. And, as Dostoevsky wrote, without belief in a God who judges us, human evil goes unchecked-that is, there is no justice.”

    Yes, it IS the stuff of “real childhood nightmares” – that is, if your philosophy never progressed beyond a childlike belief that “it will always be all right in the end” because there is a “parent” who will make sure that it is. I went through such a childlike belief myself as a younger man – in this case the fairy tale was evangelical christianity, which involves somewhat similar mental aberrations to catholicism. At that time, I would have been in full agreement with the above two paragraphs. However, when, after a few years, it dawned on me that there was absolutely no evidence to support my particular fairy tale, I came down with the kind of bump which arises from an earlier belief that “the idea that there is nothing beyond the grave is the stuff of countless anxieties” – it was a hard and worrying time. However, over the years, and also after reading Richard Dawkins’ excellent book, I came to accept (in Basil Fawlty’s) words the “bleeding obvious” – that we come and then we go. And it is all very fine with me thank you very much. I am very comfortable with it. I also think I lead a reasonably moral and caring life – to suggest that “without belief in a God who judges us, human evil goes unchecked-that is, there is no justice” is both an affront to many good (but unreligious) people and manifestly untrue.

MENU