Religion vs. Atheism in Parenting

A few weeks back, I read Richard Dawkins in The God Delu­sion say:

I want us to flinch when we hear of a ‘Chris­t­ian child’ or a ‘Mus­lim child’. Small chil­dren are too young to know their views on life, ethics and the cos­mos. We should no more speak of a Chris­t­ian child than of a Key­ne­sian child, a mon­e­tarist child or a Marx­ist child. Auto­mat­ic label­ing of chil­dren with the reli­gion of their par­ents is not just pre­sump­tu­ous. It is a form of men­tal child abuse.

I’ve been think­ing about this ever since, when I was asked the fol­low­ing ques­tions by Ashok in com­ments on his Tem­ple Mat­ters post:

1) What is your opin­ion on chil­dren being tak­en to tem­ples but not encour­aged to ask why?

2) At what point do you think parents/elders should leave the deci­sion of find­ing per­son­al mean­ing in reli­gion to the indi­vid­ual? What would you do with your chil­dren?

For a novice par­ent, these are pro­found ques­tions, and it is impor­tant for any par­ent to think about these.

To start with, there is no doubt in my mind in ful­ly agree­ing with Dawkins. I was indoc­tri­nat­ed as a Hin­du child, and chose athe­ism only in my teens, after I dis­cov­ered and stud­ied oth­er philoso­phies. I did not have to go through a tena­cious strug­gle myself, but I can well imag­ine dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ences for oth­ers. I would dis­agree with indoc­tri­na­tion of any kind. One must encour­age one’s chil­dren to think for them­selves, and choose what they think is right.

Giv­en that reli­gion is based on blind faith and not rea­son, it is hard­ly sur­pris­ing that most reli­gious par­ents blind­ly indoc­tri­nate their chil­dren in what they them­selves believe is the best for their children’s good. But what about athe­ists? Do athe­ists equal­ly pro­vide an open envi­ron­ment for their chil­dren to let them choose between reli­gion and athe­ism?

Even as an athe­ist, I believe that I should not indoc­tri­nate my child with athe­is­tic prin­ci­ples. Even if I was raised as a Hin­du, I will let my child attend a Chris­t­ian con­vent school if it offers qual­i­ty edu­ca­tion, even though it may expose her to Chris­t­ian tra­di­tions. I will let her grand­par­ents take her to Hin­du tem­ples and let her see and have that expe­ri­ence. I will teach her not to dis­crim­i­nate among her friends based on reli­gion if I find hints of any such thing. Over time, I would encour­age her to think crit­i­cal­ly for her­self.

So my response to Ashok’s ques­tions is: #1 is pure indoc­tri­na­tion. Not encour­ag­ing chil­dren to ask ques­tions is bad par­ent­ing. Not allow­ing them to, is men­tal child abuse, as Dawkins points out. #2: From the birth of the child. You can pro­vide facts, infor­ma­tion, and knowl­edge. But the deci­sion of find­ing per­son­al mean­ing in reli­gion or else­where is a birthright of the child.

Of course, it’s not as sim­ple as it sounds (who said ratio­nal par­ent­ing was easy?). When she asks me for the first time (when­ev­er that is), “Dad, what is God”?, what will be my response? Will it be “Dear, God is a fic­ti­tious enti­ty that many peo­ple believe in?” No, I sus­pect I will point at an idol some­where and say “That is what peo­ple call God”, and thus side-step the ques­tion of his exis­tence. If after a cou­ple of years she asks “Dad, where can I find God?”, I’ll say “I don’t know dear. I haven’t found him yet. If you do, please let me know.” As she grows up, I will con­tin­ue to encour­age inde­pen­dent think­ing. When she is mature enough to under­stand how dif­fer­ent peo­ple can have dif­fer­ent val­ues, I can then explain what my val­ues are. Well, I hope so! 🙂

What are your thoughts?

Update: 11th Oct: I real­ize that com­ments sec­tion on this post can be too restrict­ed a space for many peo­ple to espouse their ideas. I have also learnt that this is a uni­ver­sal top­ic for par­ents who think. Hence, as can be seen from the com­ments sec­tion below, this top­ic is now a meme, open to all.

It has already been tak­en up by The Ratio­nal Fool, La Vie Quo­ti­di­enne, and Age­less­Bond­ing. Feel free to take up this meme on your own blog and write on this top­ic.

Car­toon Cred­its: David Horsey, via The Pri­mate Diaries

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  • Mahen­dra: On this top­ic, a read­er of my blog and fel­low blog­ger Worth had a post some days ago.

    I thought you would like to read it, com­ments and all:

    http://worthreading.typepad.com/worth_reading/2007/05/what_if_kids_sa.html#comments

    Thanks.

  • She­faly: Thanks for shar­ing that!

    The post and com­ments real­ly go hand-in-hand with mine. While I jux­ta­post reli­gion with athe­ism, it dis­cuss­es dif­fer­ent reli­gions. I find Worth’s fol­low­ing state­ment quite inter­est­ing:

    //I would think those that spread through mil­i­tary expansion/empire and forced coer­cion, i.e. Chris­tian­i­ty and Islam, may not fare as well as Judaism or Bud­dhism or many oth­ers that aren’t even on our radar.//

    Very nice to get a per­spec­tive from a reli­gious par­ent, writ­ing almost on the same top­ic before I did. Thanks again for shar­ing.

  • Mahen­dra: You are wel­come.

    From the empir­i­cal evi­dence of my life and the lives of my sib­lings, I can tell you that it does not mat­ter what you tell the child now. If you infuse the spir­it of enquiry in her, she will ques­tion, refute, reject or accept what­ev­er you tell her based on the evi­dence she gath­ers.

    For hav­ing been brought up in the same house­hold, my sib­lings and I have very dif­fer­ent paths as far as reli­gion is con­cerned. We have dif­fer­ent tem­pera­ments; we meet and argue with dif­fer­ent sorts of peo­ple; we have dif­fer­ent read­ing inter­ests so we have made our choic­es dif­fer­ent­ly.

    It hurts par­ents to hear this but in the end, par­ent­ing shapes only a small part of behav­iours; what it does shape is val­ues. And an open mind and a spir­it of enquiry are pret­ty good val­ues to teach any child, I think.

    Thanks.

  • Mahen­dra, when we were very young, my moth­er told my broth­ers and me that we should grow up first and become adults before decid­ing whether we thought God exist­ed or not. I took her advice and con­se­quent­ly grew up agnos­tic, refus­ing to make a deci­sion about the exis­tence of deity until I was 40 (The typ­i­cal age at which an Amer­i­can becomes an adult). Look­ing back, I think mom was right — it’s best not to make some deci­sions when one is still a child.

    Very good post!

  • Too much indoc­tri­na­tion by par­ents can result in rebel­lion.
    But yes I agree with She­faly about bring­ing up the kids with an open mind and a spir­it of inquiry. Amaz­ing­ly my kids nev­er once asked me about God when they were grow­ing up! They asked me about every­thing, except God. We nev­er dis­cussed God with them but we have dis­cussed what is good, what is right and what is wrong, and yes we have dis­cussed every­thing under the sky from space­ships to phi­los­o­phy, but nev­er God.
    I guess they nev­er talked about it because they knew it didn’t mat­ter. Not to me nor to my hus­band.
    Today they asso­ciate reli­gion with rit­u­als, not good­ness, with weak­ness, not strength.
    I don’t know why. I nev­er told them.

  • Great post. I read Dawkins (I’m a big fan of his books of evo­lu­tion) and I want­ed to find out how hard it is for Indi­an par­ents to keep an open mind about their children’s views on reli­gion. I sus­pect that deep down, it is very hard for us Indi­ans to tell our chil­dren — “look. this is what I believe. But keep an open mind and for­mu­late your own opin­ions”. I am not a psy­chol­o­gist or a soci­ol­o­gist, but I think that’s very hard to do in our cul­tur­al con­text, where there is no clear sep­a­ra­tion of reli­gion from any­thing we do — wak­ing up, eat­ing, going to work, writ­ing an exam, start­ing a new ven­ture etc, I get this feel­ing that as par­ents, we are always wor­ried about indoc­tri­na­tion from the out­side — in oth­er words, “what if my child con­verts to anoth­er reli­gion? Id bet­ter play it safe and indoc­tri­nate him/her to my own religion/caste/sub caste/deities”

  • Mahen­dra wrote:

    Do athe­ists equal­ly pro­vide an open envi­ron­ment for their chil­dren to let them choose between reli­gion and athe­ism?

    The ques­tion is mis­lead­ing, and a clever trap, often set by the reli­gious. It sub­tly casts athe­ism as just anoth­er reli­gion. It’s not.

    I’d reframe this ques­tion as “Do irre­li­gious par­ents pro­vide an open envi­ron­ment for their chil­dren to let them choose between reli­gion and rea­son?” My answer is an unequiv­o­cal, “I would not”. And, I did not.

    I have plen­ty more to say on this sub­ject, but to econ­o­mize on the stor­age resources, I’ll urge you to read my response to the Edge Annu­al Ques­tion for 2007, What are you opti­mistic about? Why?.

  • I sus­pect that deep down, it is very hard for us Indi­ans to tell our chil­dren — “look. this is what I believe. But keep an open mind and for­mu­late your own opin­ions”.”

    Hmm. The more time I spend in the blogosphere’s Indi­an “zone”, so to speak, the more I appre­ci­ate my father and his meth­ods in bring­ing us up… 🙂

  • wish­to­beanony­mous

    Hi, I chanced upon your blog from Nita’s blog com­ments. This is a good post. This is a top­ic that always brings con­flict between me and my spouse. He prefers to bring up his chil­dren with all the rit­u­als that our reli­gion has though he is not per­fect­ly reli­gious at all. Instead of teach­ing good val­ues like being respect­ful to oth­er human beings, being kind and cour­te­ous etc., many reli­gious­ly (or rit­u­al­is­ti­cal­ly) blind par­ents just go on to teach the mechan­i­cal aspects of a reli­gion like light­ing a lamp, pros­trat­ing before an idol or pic­ture and chant­i­ng mantras with­out know­ing the mean­ing etc. I think reli­gion should evolve with time and reli­gion should per­mit ques­tion­ing. My son asked his father “what is that thread?”. His father answered that its because we belonged to a cer­tain com­mu­ni­ty. For now, I guess that answer is good as my son is too young to under­stand any­way. But as he grows old­er, I only hope that he does not blind­ly fol­low his reli­gion and turn a blind eye to human­i­ty.

  • A very impor­tant issue in the even more dif­fi­cult sub­ject of rais­ing a child.
    I guess it is more impor­tant for a child to grow up being tol­er­ant to all reli­gions than being an athe­ist or non athe­ist.

  • Do athe­ists equal­ly pro­vide an open envi­ron­ment for their chil­dren to let them choose between reli­gion and athe­ism? — Dif­fi­cult ques­tion.

    I remem­ber walk­ing by a shlo­ka class for under 10 yr olds and being hor­ri­fied at the lev­el of indoc­tri­na­tion. But then I would like to think that I would give my child an open envi­ron­ment and let the choice hap­pen nat­u­ral­ly.

  • a shlo­ka class for under 10 yr olds”

    Par­don my French, but WTF is THAT? And where does this hap­pen?

    Nev­er in my school­ing in India did I ever expe­ri­ence any­thing sim­i­lar except for a 2-month peri­od when I attend­ed a school that read out The Gita loud­ly in assem­bly once a week…

  • All: Thank you for your sin­cere com­ments and response!

    She­faly: //If you infuse the spir­it of enquiry in her, she will ques­tion, refute, reject or accept what­ev­er you tell her based on the evi­dence she gath­ers. //
    Yes, that ‘If’ is a very big If, and is crit­i­cal, I think.

    //For hav­ing been brought up in the same house­hold, my sib­lings and I have very dif­fer­ent paths as far as reli­gion is concerned.//
    I think this is more the case in the mid­dle to upper eco­nom­ic and edu­cat­ed stra­ta of soci­ety, but I may be wrong.

    //It hurts par­ents to hear this but in the end, par­ent­ing shapes only a small part of behav­iours; what it does shape is values.//
    Yes, my focus in the post is only on val­ues, not on behav­iors.

    //And an open mind and a spir­it of enquiry are pret­ty good val­ues to teach any child, I think.//
    Absolute­ly. Thanks for your response. I think so too.

    Paul: I admire your moth­er!

    //…until I was 40 (The typ­i­cal age at which an Amer­i­can becomes an adult)//
    Ha ha ha…why do you say that?!

    Thanks for the com­pli­ments!

  • Nita: //Too much indoc­tri­na­tion by par­ents can result in rebellion.//
    Yes…

    //Amazingly my kids nev­er once asked me about God when they were grow­ing up!//
    That is indeed very surprising…you dis­cussed ethics and val­ues, but nev­er God…

    //I guess they nev­er talked about it because they knew it didn’t mat­ter. Not to me nor to my husband.//
    Your com­ment has raised a new train of thought in my mind. Is there a way par­ents imbibe val­ues in their chil­dren in an implic­it man­ner? By not doing some­thing, by not talk­ing about some­thing, too, we must be com­mu­ni­cat­ing its unim­por­tance to us to our chil­dren…?

    //Today they asso­ciate reli­gion with rit­u­als, not good­ness, with weak­ness, not strength. I don’t know why. I nev­er told them.//
    Quite inter­est­ing. Thanks for shar­ing, Nita.

    Ashok: //I think that’s very hard to do in our cul­tur­al con­text, where there is no clear sep­a­ra­tion of reli­gion from any­thing we do…//
    I ful­ly agree. It is very dif­fi­cult. Each time my daugh­ter spends time with either of her grand­par­ents I know she’s going to learn some­thing of a reli­gious nature, whether it’s clap­ping her hands to the sound of ‘Gan­pati Bap­pa Morya’ or what­ev­er. That’s why this deci­sion mak­ing regard­ing let­ting her have this expo­sure is a very real one for me.

    //I get this feel­ing that as par­ents, we are always wor­ried about indoc­tri­na­tion from the outside//
    You have hit the nail on the head — our cul­ture doesn’t encour­age indi­vid­ual think­ing and the impor­tance of incul­cat­ing a spir­it of inquiry. Indoc­tri­na­tion is a meta­phys­i­cal giv­en, a fact of exis­tence, the only ques­tion is whether its you or some­one else. How sad!

  • TRF: //The ques­tion is mis­lead­ing, and a clever trap, often set by the reli­gious. It sub­tly casts athe­ism as just anoth­er reli­gion. It’s not.//
    I didn’t think it was mis­lead­ing when I wrote the post. The title of my post, the use of the words between reli­gion and athe­ism, like in between apples and oranges, was quite clear I thought. (Both apples and oranges are types of fruit, just as reli­gion and athe­ism are philoso­phies.) But thanks for let­ting me know that it can be mis­lead­ing.

    //I’d reframe this ques­tion as “Do irre­li­gious par­ents pro­vide an open envi­ron­ment for their chil­dren to let them choose between reli­gion and rea­son?” My answer is an unequiv­o­cal, “I would not”. And, I did not.//
    Your opti­mism and response to the Edge Annu­al Ques­tion is very nice­ly essayed. I don’t think I dif­fer from what you’ve writ­ten. But I don’t think a closed envi­ron­ment, and a restrict­ed choice is the cor­rect way to go about it.

    One, I believe that each indi­vid­ual has a right to his or her ratio­nal or irra­tional beliefs. As I’ve writ­ten above, you can pro­vide facts, infor­ma­tion, and knowl­edge. But the deci­sion of find­ing per­son­al mean­ing in reli­gion or else­where is a birthright of the child.

    Two, unless a child or per­son has cho­sen rea­son over reli­gion by delib­er­a­tion, inquiry, eval­u­a­tion, and per­son­al choice, the pur­suit of rea­son is mean­ing­less. It is sim­ply anoth­er kind of indoc­tri­na­tion, thus mak­ing athe­ism just anoth­er kind of reli­gion.

    My thoughts on this are not frozen. I’ve writ­ten what I am think­ing is right. As always, I am will­ing to crit­i­cal­ly eval­u­ate my thoughts.

  • Wish­to­beanony­mous: Wel­come and thanks for shar­ing! What you describe is the sit­u­a­tion in the vast major­i­ty of Indi­an house­holds. In fact, as Ashok has been point­ing out, any attempts to ques­tion are sti­fled with arro­gance or indif­fer­ence. This is poor par­ent­ing. Why don’t you try to spend time with your son in the absence of his father, and do your best to answer his ques­tions as well as incul­cate what you think are good val­ues? Your son might end up lov­ing you and respect­ing you much more as a result!

    Mad­huri: //I guess it is more impor­tant for a child to grow up being tol­er­ant to all reli­gions than being an athe­ist or non atheist.//
    Thanks for shar­ing your view. From my per­spec­tive, respect­ing indi­vid­u­als with­out dis­crim­i­na­tion is more impor­tant than being tol­er­ant to all reli­gions. In fact, there are many aspects in most reli­gions that are evil, and ought to be crit­i­cized, not tol­er­at­ed. The crit­i­cism should be of the evil irra­tional prin­ci­ple involved, not of the indi­vid­ual. This is also not to excuse indi­vid­u­als who prac­tice evil under the guise of reli­gion, I’m just talk­ing of the best case sce­nar­ios. For e.g. if some­one is forc­ing a woman to under­go Sati, both the prin­ci­ple as well as the indi­vid­u­als involved should be crit­i­cized, not tol­er­at­ed.

    Diviya: //I remem­ber walk­ing by a shlo­ka class for under 10 yr olds and being hor­ri­fied at the lev­el of indoc­tri­na­tion. But then I would like to think that I would give my child an open envi­ron­ment and let the choice hap­pen naturally.//

    Wel­come and thanks for shar­ing your view. Unlike She­faly, my response is not of shock but of despair. Your opin­ion on the mat­ter sounds very close to mine, but I will not let the choice hap­pen nat­u­ral­ly. As my child grows up, I will do my best to make sure she has rea­son as an alter­na­tive, and to make sure she knows how her par­ents have cho­sen rea­son over reli­gion. For e.g. when­ev­er she express­es any irra­tional or reli­gious opin­ions, I will argue and rea­son to the best of my abil­i­ty. It is indeed walk­ing a thin line, and that’s the chal­lenge that I’m wrestling with that I’ve writ­ten about.

    She­faly: //Pardon my French, but WTF is THAT? And where does this happen?//
    I think a trip to India is high­ly due! 😉

  • To those of you who have shown a ‘bal­anced’ approach (eg, you, Mahen­dra), I ask you:
    If your daugh­ter got scared of ghosts, would you or would you not tell her ghosts are all non­sense? Then why wouldn’t you tell her the same about God?? He is, after all, only a Holy Ghost!
    I am ful­ly with The Ratio­nal Fool on this (and most else, it seems!).…

  • Thanks for your reply Mahen­dra. Yes it is very impor­tant to treat every indi­vid­ual equal­ly, but since the top­ic was about athe­ism and reli­gion, i felt a child should be tol­er­ant to all.
    Since you have men­tioned that all reli­gions do have evils, so all are equal­ly bad 😀 and so while choos­ing a friend, there should not be any dis­crim­i­na­tion based on religion…right?

  • Doc: You real­ly make me think…and I’m very grate­ful for that! 🙂

    As I men­tioned, the sit­u­a­tion is quite com­plex and impos­si­ble to cap­ture in a blog post/comments.

    If there is any emo­tion of fear — regard­less of whether it is due to ghosts or God or astro­log­i­cal pre­dic­tions — I will indeed help dis­si­pate the fear by encour­ag­ing ratio­nal think­ing. But rather than telling her ghosts are all non­sense, I would attack her line of think­ing and make her real­ize for her­self that ghosts don’t exist.

    I think the point I’m try­ing to make is that rather than mak­ing our chil­dren believe in some­thing just because we said so, I’m try­ing to focus on encour­ag­ing their think­ing and learn­ing on their own.

    I sus­pect there’ll be sit­u­a­tions where I wouldn’t act the way I’m describ­ing, so prob­a­bly all this doesn’t make sense. But think­ing about it is indeed help­ing me, if I may say so.

    Mad­huri — right! I’ve already writ­ten that in my post…:-)

    • krish­nan

      Hi Mahen­dra,

      What does the “attack her line of think­ing” mean here.
      “But rather than telling her ghosts are all non­sense, I would attack her line of think­ing and make her real­ize for her­self that ghosts don’t exist.”

      Can u explain it?

  • ram­bodoc wrote:

    If your daugh­ter got scared of ghosts, would you or would you not tell her ghosts are all non­sense? Then why wouldn’t you tell her the same about God?

    These two ques­tions cap­ture the essence of vol­umes of dis­cus­sion on this sub­ject world over. Thanks, doc.

  • Mahen­dra:
    The sub­ject of this post is too impor­tant for me to let go. I have there­fore post­ed an arti­cle of my own, track­ing back to yours. I hope you don’t mind. Thanks.

  • Pingback: A chain of posts, parenting, religion and a child’s perspective « La Vie Quotidienne()

  • Mahen­dra: “Par­ent­ing, reli­gion, athe­ism and rea­son” as a meme? Whod’a thunk, eh? 🙂

  • TRF: I respect peo­ple who don’t let go of impor­tant things until they’re resolved! 🙂

    So, no, I don’t mind at all.

    She­faly: Yeah! I didn’t know that while I was respond­ing to a meme, I had start­ed one in the process! 😉

    Both: I’m grate­ful to you folks for tak­ing this to a wider audi­ence. I am look­ing for­ward to learn­ing more about this crit­i­cal­ly impor­tant top­ic. I’ll con­tin­ue to express my thoughts here itself, so as to retain the ‘root’ of this ‘thought-thread’.

  • She­faly: Final­ly I could spend some time on your post!

    //These par­ents are also all reli­gious par­ents strug­gling with the right way to impart reli­gious val­ues to their children.//
    This is where I stopped in my first read­ing, and decid­ed to read lat­er. Because, like TRF, I do not under­stand where you got this idea that I’m being a reli­gious par­ent try­ing to impart reli­gious val­ues to my daugh­ter.

    //While TRF has a grown-up child, both AUM and Worth have young chil­dren so the out­come of their exper­i­ments will be seen a few years down the line.//
    Giv­en that you’re an eman­ci­pat­ed female, I found it amus­ing to see how you’ve neglect­ed to take into account the child’s moth­er into the pic­ture. What­ev­er my thoughts as a father are, the ‘out­come of the exper­i­ment’ is not sole­ly influ­enced by what I think as the father!

    //It is true that just as reli­gion is often used as short­hand for fram­ing issues of pol­i­tics or soci­ety, chil­dren are referred to as belong­ing to a reli­gion of their parents.//
    True. That it is used in such a way is a very sad state of affairs in human­i­ty.

    //Perhaps reli­gious descrip­tors are not as offen­sive as Dawkins should like to believe. It is just innocu­ous shorthand.//
    “Innocu­ous short­hand” is a euphemism for what you’re refer­ring to. I com­plete­ly and whole­heart­ed­ly agree with Anshul who com­ment­ed on your post in response: “What short­hands we use real­ly affect how we think when we are not con­scious­ly think­ing.”

    That is what I tried in vain to talk about in the com­ments dis­cus­sion on a pre­vi­ous post regard­ing the “innocu­ous short­hand” of ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life’. I’m glad I can quote some­one in the cur­rent con­text who under­stands how ter­mi­nolo­gies we use affect our think­ing and why they’re impor­tant.

  • TRF: I find it amus­ing that you too are using a kind of “Argu­ment from Per­son­al Expe­ri­ence”. In my com­ments above, I tried to clar­i­fy that I will nev­er allow an irra­tional fear in my child. How­ev­er, yours and Rambodoc’s approach to exter­mi­nat­ing that fear dif­fer from mine.

    As an aside, I won­der why you had to apol­o­gize and clar­i­fy that you didn’t mean “Ram didn’t exist”, but rather that “there is no proof that Ram exist­ed”. Why was that clar­i­fi­ca­tion and apol­o­gy nec­es­sary?

    I would rather pre­fer my child to learn how to tack­le any irra­tional fear, includ­ing Ghosts, or Demons, or Satan, or Yama, rather than indoc­tri­nat­ing her by say­ing “these things are non­sense”.

    I’m afraid no one seems to get my point.

  • TRF: You have used a fear-mon­ger­ing exam­ple of a hor­ror movie. When I ask “Do athe­ists equal­ly pro­vide an open envi­ron­ment for their chil­dren”, I am not reduc­ing the debate to neg­a­tive expe­ri­ences.

    Should I pre­vent my daugh­ter from watch­ing old Bol­ly­wood movies where prayers cause mir­a­cles? There is a world of great art form in those movies. Should I cen­sor those movies from my chil­dren just because they show reli­gion in a pos­i­tive light?

    When you say Rambodoc’s ques­tions cap­ture the essence of this dis­cus­sion, I beg to dif­fer. By focus­ing on the neg­a­tive aspects of reli­gion and irra­tional­i­ty, these ques­tions do not cap­ture the essence of my ques­tion at all.

  • Mahen­dra: Thanks for your note and thoughts.

    This is where I stopped in my first read­ing, and decid­ed to read lat­er. Because, like TRF, I do not under­stand where you got this idea that I’m being a reli­gious par­ent try­ing to impart reli­gious val­ues to my daugh­ter.”

    This is an inter­est­ing one, because TRF also said the same thing. Alas, in com­mu­ni­ca­tion, one of the key issues is it mat­ters what is received. The impres­sion I got from both your and TRF’s posts was that you were con­cerned about the issue because reli­gion was sig­nif­i­cant to you.

    Giv­en that you’re an eman­ci­pat­ed female, I found it amus­ing to see how you’ve neglect­ed to take into account the child’s moth­er into the pic­ture. What­ev­er my thoughts as a father are, the ‘out­come of the exper­i­ment’ is not sole­ly influ­enced by what I think as the father!”

    I am only privy to the fathers’ per­spec­tives — or what­ev­er part of it you and TRF have shared — on this blog and on TRF’s blog. In the absence of any data on the moth­ers’ par­tic­i­pa­tion or views in the two cas­es, what­ev­er I might have said will have been pre­sump­tu­ous and irrel­e­vant.

    Innocu­ous short­hand” is a euphemism for what you’re refer­ring to. I com­plete­ly and whole­heart­ed­ly agree with Anshul who com­ment­ed on your post in response: “What short­hands we use real­ly affect how we think when we are not con­scious­ly think­ing.”

    It may be my thick skin but a lot of things do not real­ly offend me. Main­ly because I do not care for them. It does not mat­ter whether some­one says “she” instead of “he” or “her­sto­ry” instead of “his­to­ry”; what mat­ters is the real progress women made. My inter­est in the ‘being’ than in the ‘being described’ was a key rea­son why despite major­ing in Mar­ket­ing at IIM-A, I did not pur­sue a career in brand mar­ket­ing… In my post, I used “she” because I was refer­ring to your daugh­ter, TRF’s daugh­ter and by all counts, Worth (I think) also has a daugh­ter so I was not being PC, just accu­rate. Even when I am not think­ing, someone’s reli­gion is quite far from my mind, as is their sex­u­al­i­ty or colour unless they do some­thing egre­gious to draw atten­tion to it.

    And anoth­er thing, though it is addressed to TRF:

    When we were chil­dren, we were not allowed to see any films that were not cer­ti­fied for chil­dren. I did see a film called ‘Escape to Witch Moun­tain’ and one called ‘Rani aur Lal Pari’ both know­ing that witch­es and fairies exist only in sto­ries. Much Bol­ly­wood fare is for grown-ups who can tell the car­i­ca­ture apart from the real thing. So this movie relat­ed thread I am watch­ing with some inter­est.

    Thanks.

  • She­faly: Thanks.
    //The impres­sion I got from both your and TRF’s posts was that you were con­cerned about the issue because reli­gion was sig­nif­i­cant to you.//
    Let me clar­i­fy that it is not reli­gion, but the extent of my open-mind­ed­ness as a par­ent that is sig­nif­i­cant to me and is the sub­ject of my post.

    Regard­ing “innocu­ous short­hand”, I should’ve cit­ed your con­text as well: //Perhaps reli­gious descrip­tors are not as offen­sive as Dawkins should like to believe. It is just innocu­ous shorthand.//
    That is what I was refer­ring to in my response. I apol­o­gize for not being clear in my response.

  • mahen­dra:
    First about the clar­i­fi­ca­tion on the “Did Ram Exist?” post. As some­one who had to com­pete in the mar­ket­place for ref­er­eed pub­li­ca­tions, I have been trained to write my sen­tences very care­ful­ly. As I had writ­ten in the post­script, “To say that there is no proof that Ram exist­ed is not the same as say­ing that Ram did not exit. The state­ment is about the exis­tence of the proof, and not about the exis­tence of the sub­ject of the proof.” To prove or negate the exis­tence of a his­tor­i­cal Ram is out­side the purview of my inter­est or com­pe­tence. The orig­i­nal post was lim­it­ed in scope. It addressed just ASI’s affi­av­it, noth­ing else. The apol­o­gy is for inad­ver­tent mis­comm­ni­ca­tion, if any, and not for the denial of a super­nat­ur­al deity of Ram, which is my unam­bigu­ous posi­tion.

    These things are non­sense” is a sum­ma­ry of the rea­son­ing that went behind a dec­la­ra­tion that super­nat­ur­al stuff don’t exist — their exis­tence do not make any sense, giv­en the cur­rent state of the­o­ry and evi­dence. The crux of sci­en­tif­ic and empir­i­cal inves­ti­ga­tion is whether a null hypoth­e­sis (e.g., ghosts do not exist), which is itself the result of received the­o­ry and evi­dence, is reject­ed or not. I don’t see how this process qual­i­fies as “indoc­tri­na­tion”.

    She­faly:
    In our home, we (my wife and I) deter­mined what was appro­pri­ate mate­r­i­al for my daugh­ter, and not a bunch of bureau­crats who have no idea of even the exis­tence of our daugh­ter, let alone her lev­el of men­tal matu­ri­ty. Some­times we erred, but most­ly we were right, judg­ing by the out­come. In this par­tic­u­lar case, my wife was right, and I was wrong 🙁

  • TRF: Thanks for clar­i­fy­ing fur­ther, and I under­stand my mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of your apol­o­gy. I was try­ing to map the two stands:

    a> There is no proof that Ram exists.
    b> Ram does not exist.

    to this dis­cus­sion. As a par­ent, I will def­i­nite­ly state a> to my child, but will pre­fer leav­ing the child to infer b>.

    The dif­fer­ence in our opin­ions on this sub­ject is that you are will­ing to share the sum­ma­ry and con­clu­sions of the rea­son­ing direct­ly with your daugh­ter, and I am hes­i­tant to do so. (As I said com­plex sit­u­a­tions may arise that may change or influ­ence this, I’m not sure). What I would pre­fer is for my child to under­stand the rea­son­ing first, and be able and empow­ered to reach her con­clu­sions. If her con­clu­sions are wrong, I will engage in a ratio­nal debate, refute, and hope to cor­rect the incor­rect con­clu­sions, but I would like to let her make the rea­son­ing, rather than swal­low my con­clu­sion.

    This is the sense in which I am refer­ring to it as indoc­tri­na­tion. If an atheist’s daugh­ter believes that God doesn’t exist just because her father thinks so, it is indoc­tri­na­tion. If she is able to rea­son it for her­self, it is not.

  • TRF: If your daugh­ter was born in the west, then there is every chance that her exis­tence was known to the bureau­cra­cy 😉

    Mahen­dra: Cafephi­los has an inter­est­ing one going which touch­es both athe­ism and do-words-mean-more-than-they-say:
    http://cafephilos.blogspot.com/2007/10/is-it-time-to-abolish-word-atheist.html

    Thanks.

  • She­faly: Thanks. I’d read that post, but have been gen­er­al­ly play­ing catch up with my work and my blogging/commenting!

    Just attend­ed to Paul’s post. Thanks!

  • Bloghopped over from Usha’s. I had done a post on this a lit­tile while ago

    http://thekarmacallingblog.blogspot.com/2007/09/faithless.html

  • rc

    I want to address this point by The Ratio­nal Fool.

    » To say that there is no proof that Ram exist­ed is not the same as say­ing that Ram did not exit. The state­ment is about the exis­tence of the proof, and not about the exis­tence of the sub­ject of the proof. »

    To say that there is no proof that Ram exist­ed is not the same as say­ing, “There have been no arche­o­log­i­cal stud­ies to assert whether or not there is proof that Ram exist­ed”.

    On the top­ic of athe­ism:

    I have no opin­ion on athe­ism, although I like Sam Harris’s views on keep­ing it under the radar. I find it unac­cept­able if athe­ists attack the beliefs of devo­tees of Sabarimala/any oth­er tem­ple. Would a true athe­ist turn to God if some rit­u­als were “fixed” ? I also find it hyp­o­crit­i­cal if athe­ists (esp Indi­ans) engage in “role play­ing” cer­e­monies, while hold­ing the priests to ridicule.

    Either you are in, or you are out. No tears will be shed on either side. Make your choice and stick with it.

    I think it would be very unlike­ly for a kid to become reli­gious if both par­ents are true athe­ists. We can fac­tor out exter­nal influ­ences (grand­par­ents, uncles, neigh­bours) because they are applic­a­ble only when the par­ents con­scious­ly allow them.

  • rc:
    I agree with you, so far as the proof in ques­tion here is for the exis­tence of his­tor­i­cal Rama. I was not aware that there had not been any archae­o­log­i­cal stud­ies to gath­er evi­dence to estab­lish or negate the exis­tence of his­tor­i­cal Rama. The orig­i­nal state­ment in the ASI’s affi­davit (since with­drawn) is “… [Ramayana] can­not be said to be his­tor­i­cal record to incon­tro­vert­ibly prove the exis­tence of the char­ac­ters.” This state­ment is more pre­cise and rig­or­ous, and I stand cor­rect­ed. Thanks.

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  • Dot­Mom: Nice write up, thanks for shar­ing…

    RC: //I think it would be very unlike­ly for a kid to become reli­gious if both par­ents are true atheists.//
    You’re prob­a­bly right.

  • I agree with Dot­Mom (above). That’s why it’s a bless­ing to be raised in a reli­gious fam­i­ly. Prun­ing them to be good chris­tians, bhud­dists, etc. may be mind bog­gling to the child. I myself was sub­ject to hours of prayer meet­ings, ser­vices, and more at a young age. But, it only added to the curios­i­ty and respect for the God I was spend­ing so much time for. I’m 17 now and aware of oth­er var­i­ous reli­gions and their con­cepts. I believe the seri­ous­ness put into my child­hood has showed me tha reli­gion is a dan­ger­ous thing. One has to be care­ful when ques­tion­ing, doubt­ing, and research­ing reli­gions for one is deal­ing with their own lives and the wrath of ‘God’. I have doubt­ed and ques­tioned and only found my reli­gion to hold true. but, hey don’t get me wrong. I’m not a devout, holy, strict indi­vid­ual. I have my doubts and fears but that there is NO God is just beyond me.

  • I’m sur­prised I hadn’t read this post! Won­der­ful­ly writ­ten!! My son has already asked me what God is. (My hus­band is an out and out athe­ist — I’m not a believ­er either, but I leave oth­ers to their beliefs (and devices) and wouldn’t mind being a part of some small poo­ja if it’s going to make some­one I care for hap­py.) That said, here’s part of our con­ver­sa­tion:

    What’s God, mom­my?”
    “God is being good and fair to every­one, and being respon­si­ble to your­self.” (Respon­si­ble will change to ‘answer­able’ when he’s slight­ly old­er & knows the dif­fer­ence).
    “But Kel­ly says Jesus is God.”
    “Well some peo­ple just like to call it by dif­fer­ent names. But if you like, you could ask Kel­ly to ask her mom­my if being kind is the same as God.”
    “But then who made the world?”
    “Didn’t you watch Plan­et Earth? It made itself, bit by bit. The world is ssss­soooo big, it’s hard for just one some­one to make it.”

    Etc. etc…he was curi­ous because some­one men­tioned God. Now he doesn’t real­ly care, he prefers Star Wars 🙂 I’m sure it will crop up again.

    I should book­mark this post and dis­cus­sion; very inter­est­ing.

    g

    • Dear Gau­ri,

      Thank you! I think my blog has too many diverse top­ics, which typ­i­cal­ly results in a frag­ment­ed read­er­ship, where read­ers of one kind of posts don’t know about the oth­er kind of posts! 🙂

      Thanks for shar­ing your con­ver­sa­tion. I am very grate­ful. This top­ic con­tin­ues to engage my mind. It is two years since I wrote this post, and my daugh­ter is now three. I think a fol­low-up post will help me observe how this top­ic has evolved in my par­ent­ing life.

  • krish­nan

    Great Arti­cle. But what hap­pens in real­i­ty is as was indi­cat­ed a form of Child abuse. Let­ting not the child think or rea­son com­pro­mis­es the true pur­pose of edu­ca­tion which now has the only mean­ing of a way to teach how mon­ey can be churned out ignor­ing the mutu­al love among human beings.