Children’s freedom of thought: a strangely controversial position.

From my anti-childist point of view, the issue of children’s freedom of thought is very simple: children are human beings, human beings have freedom of thought, therefore children should have freedom of thought.

Of course, reality is quite different. We live in childist societies where children’s freedom of thought is still considered a strange and quaint idea held by a few crackpots, a hopelessly naive conceit. We believe that children should have the religion of their parents, not the religion they decide to have, and that this is a perfectly normal thing. Then, when they’re adults, they can change their religion if they want. We believe it is perfectly natural that a child should believe they are of a religion, race, class, gender, nationality, political faction, as assigned by their parents.

As an antinatalist, I know this much: no matter their positions on other things, breeders cannot stand to have their parental authority questioned. Even the most liberal atheist flake will become protective of their authority, downright authoritarian, once you start even bringing up the possibility of telling them how to treat their own children. No one likes being told that their privilege should be revoked, even hypothetically; from the backlash against feminism, we know that is the sort of thing people will get violent about.

There can be no justifiable reason for children to be indoctrinated in the religion of their parents, if one first accepts that children are full human beings. I realize this is a huge “if,” since very few people do not buy the childist party line, even in radical circles; as I do for most of my favorite topics, I am writing mostly for my readers and a few other crackpots. But if you accept the premise, then children’s freedom of thought follows inexorably; I believe this is the only defendable position to hold.

Freedom of thought in adults is not really controversial, at least not in the Western world. Freedom of religion, especially, is not at all controversial. So it seems strange, if you look at this without child-hatred, that freedom of religion for children is considered to be so outrageous; even atheists, who are particularly supportive of freedom of religion, balk at such an idea, especially breeders.

It’s hard for me to understand how anyone can be in favor of freedom of religion in adults but not in children. Such a combination is logically contradictory. Person A was indoctrinated in Christianity at a very young age and remains a Christian as an adult because they are completely invested in the fixed ideas they were taught. Person B was indoctrinated in Christianity in childhood, rebelled against it, and later on changes denominations, or becomes an atheist, or simply drops out of the whole religion debate.

Person A has been trapped in some fixed idea (such as the infallibility of the Bible) and is not free to think outside of it. Person B changed their allegiances as a reaction the indoctrination they received, not as a form of freedom. Neither of them had freedom of religion at any point. And yet we believe that after 18 years of age A and B gained “freedom of religion,” when they already got indoctrinated into their gender, race, religion, nationality, and so on, between the ages of 2 and 6, and that these were constantly reinforced by their parents, school and society for at least 12 more years.

Does believing that no one can be free from their childhood indoctrination make me a cynic? Perhaps, but even if some people somehow manage it (and no, changing religious identification in itself is not evidence of that), how does that make freedom of religion real? If you have to fight against your own indoctrination for years to finally be free from it, them it’s not much of a social freedom. Surely the point is that we should all be free, and it should not require tremendous work by the individual to be free, or it’s not freedom at all. It’s like looking at the black elite that came out of affirmative action and saying “you see, black people are equal after all!”

To freedom of thought they oppose parental authority and their own ego. I should raise *my* child the way *I* see fit, they say. To which one can simply reply, what gives you that authority over another human being’s rights? If one accepts the existence of freedoms (a given if they discuss “freedom of thought” in the first place), then how can a fundamental freedom be overridden by someone else’s arbitrary authority? Would parents relinquish their freedom of thought because *I* (as a non-parent) decided it was impractical to grant it? After all, I have about as much justified authority over them as they do over “their” children.

I’ve already mentioned the mafia-like Omerta (conspiracy of silence) maintained around child abuse, which is composed of three elements: the inviolability of the home, the perceived necessity of the family structure, and the ownership of children. The bitter truth about the Omerta is that it not only makes childism and child abuse possible, but it also places near-insurmountable barriers to any sort of reform. When parents say things like “I can set any rules I want in my own home” or “they’re *my* children and I’ll take them to church if I want to,” they are implicitly relying on the Omerta, and on the conspiracy of silence that will support their abuse based on it.

But the funny thing is that we already do have institutions which serve the role of controlling parents (in the United States, Child Protective Services, in Quebec, Departement de la Protection de la Jeunesse, and so on). Western societies already admit exceptions to the authority of parents. So what’s another exception?

Children, I’ll argue, have a human right not to have their minds crippled by exposure to other people’s bad ideas—no matter who these other people are. Parents, correspondingly, have no god-given licence to enculturate their children in whatever ways they personally choose: no right to limit the horizons of their children’s knowledge, to bring them up in an atmosphere of dogma and superstition, or to insist they follow the straight and narrow paths of their own faith.

In short, children have a right not to have their minds addled by nonsense. And we as a society have a duty to protect them from it. So we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible, or that the planets rule their lives, than we should allow parents to knock their children’s teeth out or lock them in a dungeon.

Nicholas Humphrey

One thought on “Children’s freedom of thought: a strangely controversial position.

  1. […] beliefs, but all of them, not just extreme practices, but all of them. I’ve already written an entry on that subject. We also need to look at the social and political influence of religion and how it […]

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