Should It Be Illegal to Indoctrinate Kids with Religion?

By Zoltan Istvan | 15 November 2014
The Huffington Post

In this still from the documentary, Jesus Camp, a little girl is seen expressing her “joy” while other children look on, uncertainly. (Credit: YouTube)

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, on Wakelet, Facebook and on Twitter.

Transhumanist presidental candidate Zoltan Istvan on science and technology

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  1. If religion (belief systems) had never existed we would be forced to live as cannibals by now; there wouldn’t be anything else left. People naturally devolve into groups, and each group is predisposed to repress other groups in favour of their own. Without this, the population of this planet would expand exponentially greater than it has already.

    However, notwithstanding the arbitrary nature of disease; technology, science and the enlightenment now allow us to explore potential alternatives. It is imperative that we thoroughly examine both the possibilities and possible pitfalls that these opportunities might bring.

  2. The answer is Yes, of course, and i speak as someone who knows how hard is it to escape the catholic fears instilled in me from a young age. But, you cannot stop parents from teaching their children, in good faith, their own fervent beliefs. The answer must surely be education and debate, which is already responsible for changing the world for the better in many other ways. Teach (older) children about all religions, as well as the reason why they exist and how they get perpetuated. Teach them about the insecurities that we all have and the longing for some greater existence that explains why we are here. Show how stories and myths become beliefs because of this, and how being surrounded by like-minded people can convince you of these untruths. Men cant walk on water and children cannot be conceived by virgins, fact. If you are born into a christian family you are unlikely to become a muslim, and vice versa, which says it all – its not because any of it is true, its because you’ve been convinced its true by people you love and/or trust. We will never stop evolving.

  3. The alternative is kids are indoctrinated to be mindless consumer sheep.

    The govt and big business want us smart enough to pay taxes, but dumb enough to keep voting for the same 2 crooked political parties.

    The argument is stupid you remove religion and something better will take it's place…..STATE BASED DOGMA.

    The upside is religion teaches kids essential life skills.
    1. There is a higher order possibility than the constraints of science.
    2. There are higher values than just fulfilling my greedy ass.
    3. Islam and Catholic fasting during holy days trains kids brains to resist basic impulses. Essential skill later in life to deny the urge for drug, tobacco, gambling, alcohol cravings.

    These religious practices teach kids – SELF CONTROL.

    If the state was doing such a good job and religion is such a problem. Why then is substance abuse and violence from lack of self control so prolific amongst non believers.

    Go to any Church – see how many people have tattoos on them ? None or near none.
    Go to a Federal prison in the section for murders, rapists and deadly assault – what do 99% of them have in common:-


  4. What you propose is outlawing religion entirely. For a Catholic, baptizing your child and raising them in the Faith is not a luxury or an option; it is a grave obligation, such that we consider it a lesser crime to murder your child than to fail to baptize and catechize them. We don't need your permission to do this, and any attempt to suppress it is an atrocity.

  5. It is sad to see children forcibly indoctrinated, then expected to fully understand it as if they have full-grown adult brains. One slight mistake, the child is made to feel condemned for the rest of their lives. Picture a gay or transgender child in particular too afraid to come out to their church and families. These kids are often forced to hide their true selves and be something that they are not, causing some of them to even commit suicide. Some children raised in religious homes are even physically abused, beaten and terrorized. And imagine a child attending Sunday school, youth group, or even a religious Christian school who is an intellectual and would rather explore other learning opportunities and philosophies, expand their minds with science, logic, and reason, and basically become more involved in secular humanism than merely save souls, maybe even explore other world religions and spiritual belief systems, and because of the way the child was wired to think, no matter how hard they try to conform to and agree with what is being preached to them, they are simply unable to comply, but again, they must hide this part of themselves out of whatever fear is being imposed on them. And what about that child who loves Harry Potter and has a very creative imagination? Imagine being severely punished and told you are going to Hell because God doesn't like little children who make-believe that they have magical powers that can save the world from dark, evil forces. The list goes on and on. I was never indoctrinated as a child, thankfully, but as an adult I used to attend church with my dad and before that my neighbor and his then teenage daughter. I enjoyed it at first and made a lot of friends. Until I realized I was gay, and then learned the hard way that your church did not believe you when you tried telling your Bible study group one evening about your dad being a narcissistic pedophile who was only pretending to be a Christian just to impress his friends. My relationship with the church went downhill from there, then I eventually quit going. It took me several years to get over the fear of Hell. I am now spiritual in my own way, but I am no longer a Christian. I know my story has nothing to do with this topic, but I just wanted to share. I don't know if the religious indoctrination of children should be made illegal. All I know is, based on my research, it can be harmful to children if they are not allowed to think for themselves. Maybe we should make it illegal for religious parents to even have children and place their children in re-education programs that teach them how to think for themselves so that they can learn to make informed decisions on their own about religion, then surgically sterilize the parents and any child who chooses to stick with the faith so they can't bring any more babies into this world to abuse with religious indoctrination.


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