Wednesday, August 8, 2007

"The sins of the fathers"...

...and of the mothers

Since "the sins of the fathers" are visited upon the sons (and the daughters) not through some mysterious metaphysical agency but by indoctrination, Christopher Hitchens's chapter "Is Religion Child Abuse?" might be the most important one in his book God Is Not Great. In this excerpt Hitchens characterizes the practice of "faithful parents":
...If religious instruction were not allowed until the child had attained the age of reason, we would be living in a quite different world. Faithful parents are divided over this, since they naturally hope to share the wonders and delights of Christmas and other fiestas with their offspring (and can also make good use of god, as well as of lesser figures like Santa Claus, to help tame the unruly) but mark what happens if the child should stray to another faith, let alone another cult, even in early adolescence. The parents will tend to proclaim that this is taking advantage of the innocent. All monotheisms have, or used to have, a very strong prohibition against apostasy for just this reason. In her Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, Mary McCarthy remembers her shock at learning from a Jesuit preacher that her Protestant grandfather—her guardian and friend—was doomed to eternal punishment because he had been baptized in the wrong way. A precociously intelligent child, she would not let the matter drop until she had made the Mother Superior consult some higher authorities and discover a loophole in the writings of Bishop Athanasius, who held that heretics were only damned if they rejected the true church with full awareness of what they were doing. Her grandfather, then, might be sufficiently unaware of the true church to evade hell. But what an agony to which to subject an eleven-year-old girl! And only think of the number of less curious children who simply accepted this evil teaching without questioning it. Those who lie to the young in this way are wicked in the extreme. [p. 220]

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