Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Nonsense of Choice

In a recent discussion with a proponent of the "let them choose" philosophy of religious child-rearing, my conversation partner was shocked by my suggestion that such a proposition was functionally impossible to achieve. It boggled his mind that I would suggest that the very act of raising a child at all is a process of "indoctrination" (his term, and a favorite of those who oppose parents passing on religion to children). In fact, I had the audacity to claim that all parents indoctrinate their children with their own ideology, even if that ideology happens to be religious apathy, religious pluralism, or positive irreligion. Your children will take their cues from you and develop in response (either positively or negatively) to the ways in which you behave. In the words of J. C. Ryle: "Imitation is a far stronger principle with children than memory. What they see has a much stronger effect on their minds than what they are told." The "let them choose" advocate was unconvinced, I suspect in part because of a contemporary anthropological fallacy that irreligion is a biological or psychological default, a neutral rather than a positive state.

More recently still, I was delighted to discover that Stephen Prothero had apparently read our conversation and retroactively written my thoughts back into his 2007 book:

Some friends tell me that they don’t bring their sons and daughters to worship services or talk with them about their faith because they want their children to be free to choose a religion for themselves. This is foolhardy, not unlike saying that you will not read anything to your daughter because you don’t want to enslave her to any one language. The fact of the matter is that you cannot avoid teaching religion to your kids; if you offer them nothing, you are telling them that religion counts for nothing.

Sure, I would have liked a citation, but I suppose I will settle for the tacit affirmation of my highly original argument that irreligion is a positive position and, consequently, an attitude of "let them choose" is self-defeating.

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