Should It Be Illegal to Indoctrinate Kids With Religion?

By Zoltan Istvan | 15 November 2014
The Huffington Post

Religious child soldiers carrying AK-47s. Bullying anti-gay Jesus kids. Infant genital mutilation. Teenage suicide bombers. Child Hindu brides. No matter where you look, if adults are participating in dogmatic religions, then they are also pushing those same ideologies onto their kids.

Regardless what you think and believe, science shows human beings know very little. Our eyes register only 1 percent of the electromagnetic spectrum in the universe. Our ears detect less than 1 percent of its sound wave frequencies. Human senses—our brain’s vehicles to understanding the world—leave much to be desired. In fact, our genome is only 1 percent different than that of a chimpanzee. Amazingly, despite the obvious fact no one really knows that much about what is going on with ourselves and the universe, we still insist on the accuracy of grand spiritual claims handed down to us from our barefoot forefathers. We celebrate holidays over these ancient religious tales; we choose life partners and friends over these fables; we go to war to defend these myths.

A child’s mind is terribly susceptible to what it hears and sees from parents, family, and social surroundings. When the human being is born, its brain remains in a delicate developmental phase until far later in life.

“Kids are impressionable,” said Dr. Eunice Pearson-Hefty, director of the Teaching Environmental Science program of Texas’ Natural Resource Conservation Commission. “Anything you tell them when they’re real small can have a lasting impression.”

It’s only later, when kids hit their teens that they begin to think for themselves and see the bigger picture. It’s only then they begin to ask whether their parent’s teachings make sense and are correct. However, depending on the power of the indoctrination in their childhood, people’s ability to successfully question anything is likely stifled their entire lives.

In my philosophical and atheist-minded novel The Transhumanist Wager, protagonist Jethro Knights ends up with the ability to rewrite the social laws of the world. One important issue he faces is whether to make religion illegal altogether. There are many arguments for why religion has not been beneficial to the human race, especially in the last few centuries. In the end, a love of basic liberties prevails over Mr. Knights and he allows religion to exist. Although, he restricts religion from the public sphere, restricts religion from being integrated with education, and restricts religion from being pushed on minors.

Not surprisingly, some in the atheist and transhumanist communities feel the same way Mr. Knights does. While they may think that believing in a warmongering prophet, or a four-armed blue deity, or a spiteful God who drowns nearly all of his people is wrong, atheists and transhumanists are willing to allow it. So long as it doesn’t meaningfully interfere with the world.

The problem is that it does meaningfully interfere with the world. 911 was a religious-inspired event. So was the evil of the Catholic Inquisition. And so is the quintessential conflict between Palestine and Israel. If you take “God” and “religion” out of all these happenings, you would likely find that they would not have happened at all. Instead, what you’d probably find is peaceful people and communities dedicated to preserving and improving life through reason, science, and technology—which is the essence of transhumanism and the outcome of evolution.

“Religion should remain a private endeavor for adults,” says Giovanni Santostasi, PhD, who is a neuroscientist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and runs the 10,000 person strong Facebook group Scientific Transhumanism. “An appropriate analogy of religion is that’s it’s kind of like porn—which means it’s not something one would expose a child to.”

Unfortunately, even though atheists, nonreligious people, and transhumanists number almost a billion people, it’s too problematic and unreasonable to imagine taking “God” and “religion” out of the world entirely. But we do owe it to the children of the planet to let them grow up free from the ambush of belief systems that have a history of leading to great violence, obsessively neurotic guilt, and the oppression of virtually every social group that exists.

Like some other atheists and transhumanists, I join in calling for regulation that restricts religious indoctrination of children until they reach, let’s say, 16 years of age. Once a kid hits their mid-teens, let them have at it—if religion is something that interests them. 16-year-olds are enthusiastic, curious, and able to rationally start exploring their world, with or without the guidance of parents. But before that, they are too impressionable to repeatedly be subjected to ideas that are faith-based, unproven, and historically wrought with danger. Forcing religion onto minors is essentially a form of child abuse, which scars their ability to reason and also limits their ability to consider the world in an unbiased manner. A reasonable society should not have to indoctrinate its children; its children should discover and choose religious paths for themselves when they become adults, if they are to choose one at all.

Reprinted with permission from the author.

Zoltan Istvan is a Libertarian candidate for California Governor 2018. Previously, he was a 2016 US Presidential candidate who aimed to put science, health, and technology at the forefront of American politics. At the age of 21, Zoltan began a solo, multi-year sailing journey around the world. He’s explored over 100 countries, many as a journalist for the National Geographic Channel. His work has also been featured in many major television channels, such as CNN, FOX News, and BBC. Zoltan writes futurist and transhumanist-themed blogs for The Huffington Post, Vice’s Motherboard (Transhumanist Future), and Psychology Today (The Transhumanist Philosopher). He has also written for Slate, Gizmodo, Daily Mail, Salon, Newsweek, Wired UK, Singularity Hub, The San Francisco Chronicle, and Outside. Zoltan has started various successful businesses, from real estate development to filmmaking to viticulture, joining them under ZI Ventures. He is a philosophy and religious studies graduate of Columbia University and resides in San Francisco with his two daughters and physician wife. Zoltan is the creator of the Immortality Bus, a 38-foot vehicle shaped like a coffin to spread the message that science can conquer death. He is the author of The Transhumanist Wager, an award-winning, #1 bestselling Philosophy book describing philosopher Jethro Knights and his unwavering quest for immortality via science and technology. You can follow his work at zoltanistvan.com, on Wakelet, Facebook and on Twitter.

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38 COMMENTS

  1. There would not be religion if it was not for the fear put in children through parental and pastoral indoctrination. Not only should the indoctrination of children be illegal it should be classed as child abuse. There will be those who say, we teach nothing fearful to children, well I am not so sure every child bible I have ever seen describes heaven and hell, that alone was enough for my entire childhood hell. Nothing to do with morality either it is usually about not believing, not going to church, no masturbation, disagreeing with elders etc.
    It should not stop there either, it should be against the law to sell any religious texts to under 18's and against the law to bring it out of your chosen four walls, be it church or home.
    Religion is dying, unfortunately it is not dying fast enough but hopefully with current affairs and the religious showing their true colours, it will die a little faster!

  2. This really is a pretty dumb article. While man himself cannot detect much in his surroundings, man has invented and built instruments and machines that can detect practically all of the the electromagnetic spectrum and as such we have studied it in great detail. We have also realized and studied the quantum world and understand it to a large extent. AS such today, and really only with in the last 50-60 years have we been able to make the realization of the actual nature of existence itself. Please do not confuse consciousness with existence, they are completely independent from each other. The nature of existence, quantum fields of energy shows us that gods are present within these fields and therefore do not exist. Some day this will be common knowledge and god belief will be exposed as the rot it is.

  3. Ah, we're supposed to believe that only that state can indoctrinate our children without abusing them. I own title to the Golden Gate Bridge and all the toll booths leading up to it, a huge money-maker! I'm ready to retire and wish to sell it. Message me for details….

  4. So, are we to isolate children under 16 from all human contact until they become "of age"? Because, regardless of what religion (or none at all) you follow, it is ingrained into your life. It determines every choice, every thought, every course of action in your life. It determines your values, your ethics, your morals, your goals, your ambitions. It determines how you view nature, science, and the world around you. It determines how you interact with other people. It determines your family structure. It determines what you teach your children (or even if you have children). Religion is not just something people do for an hour a week (or however often they go to church/temple/meeting/whatever). Religion is a way of life. Why is it only considered "indoctrination" if it is a religion contrary to one's own?

    • Religion is 'made' a way of life!!
      It is not natural, it is indoctrination.

      Religions are lies about their created gods –

      Lying to children, continuing these lies into childhood is child abuse!!

    • I have been an atheist my entire life. Religion has not had any influence on my choices, values, ethics or goals. It has never determined how I view nature, science or the world around me. It does not determine my family structure.

      Everyone is born an atheist. Most only become religious because that is what they are taught from a young age before they have developed critical thinking skills.

      I think everyone should do what my parents did and totally ignore the subject due to its irrelevance. Obviously you can't completely isolate someone from it but there is no need to directly teach it as truth from a young age.

  5. Some people commenting here are obviously the kinds of revisionists who changed the lyrics of John Lennon’s “Imagine” from, “… and no religion, too”, to “… and one religion, too”. RRWNJs.

  6. Instead of teaching religion, how about teaching our children to be kind, moral human beings. If you look at the rhetoric and actions of the “god fearing evangelicals” they are on a greased, 45 degree angled path to hell (if you believe in hell)

  7. If mankind had the mental fortitude to grasp and cope with an indifferent and Godless universe they wouldn’t have invented religion in the first place. If people are comforted by these beliefs and feel genuinely compelled to help their children because they believe in these things, then who are we to tell them not to? I think role modelling your own strength in letting go of religion would be of more benefit. It’s quite ridiculous to think you could ban religion. If 911 was caused only by religion you might have an argument…but even then how do you suppose we would ban this?

  8. I wish it was realistic to ban religion. How could you possibly enforce it though? Would children be taken away from religious nutter parents who actually love them and potentially put in foster homes with people who won’t care about them? Perhaps the key would be strict adherence to “religion is dangerous bullshit” in all public schools and government offices. We have to stop saying “well, there are some people who believe xyz” and let kids think those people might be right. We must instead say “science is reality and people who believe xyz are wacko.”

  9. No. it is 'brain washing' all religion should be studied as part of general knowledge studies. including early religions , human & animal sacrifice, divine ruler sydrome, witch hunts, wars, mind control, finance, evolution. the list is huge but then so is the subject

  10. Yes. 100%. We already know children do not have the life experience to make rational and logical choices. Brain washing and scaring a child in to Submission is 100% child abuse. Religion is a plague on humanity and is inherently self-serving and self-righteous.

  11. This is dictatorship. Indoctrinating people that a single worldview is valid and all others should be banned.
    For most people of the earth, atheism is the lie and theism has conclusive proof.

    Also, many of the greatest atrocities were done by atheists, or simply by power hungry people. Like the tens of millions killed in the conquests of the Mongols, or by Stalin's regime or by Mao Zedong's policies.

    • That claim that 'atheist' have killed in the name of atheism is one of the greatest lies by the religious people… They never killed in the name of atheism – unlike the religions which killed only for their beliefs!!

      Just prove your god instead of looking at evasions…

    • Truly nonsense. It looks as though YOU have been indoctrinated into religion. Unfortunately, you have missed out on learning about science, logic, observation, and proof. You really have no concept of what designates proof, and your knowledge of history is severely lacking. The greatest atrocities committed by humans have been in the name of god. You are truly ignorant.

  12. “If you take “God” and “religion” out of all these happenings, you would likely find that they would not have happened at all. Instead, what you’d probably find is peaceful people and communities dedicated to preserving and improving life through reason, science, and technology—which is the essence of transhumanism and the outcome of evolution.”

    Yes! Just like the atheistic utopias of the former Soviet Union, China, and North Korea, where these enlightened peoples threw off iron age peasant beliefs and now live in perfect harmony with each other, leading the world in charity and scientific advancement. If the golden era of of the twentieth century and the rise of atheism has taught us anything, it’s that only religion leads to the deaths of hundreds of millions of people, and the only way forward is for those backwater religious zealots to realize how right we are and do what we tell them to. Or else.

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