By abolishing all transcendent or supernatural truths, science can establish itself as the only source of truth, our only access to reality. The objective of science education, according to biologist Richard Lewontin, “is not to provide the public with knowledge of how far it is to the nearest star and what genes are made of.” Rather, “the problem is to get them to reject irrational and supernatural explanations of the world, the demons that exist only in their imaginations, and to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, science, as the only begetter of truth.”
What, then, happens to religion? Philosopher Daniel Dennett suggests that “our religious traditions should certainly be preserved, as should the languages, the art, the costumes, the rituals, the monuments. Zoos are now more or less seen as second class havens for endangered species, but at least they are havens, and what they preserve is irreplaceable.”
How is all this to be achieved? The answer is simple: through indoctrination in the schools. In his book Breaking the Spell, Dennett urges that schools teach religion as a purely natural phenomenon. By this he means that religion should be taught as if it were untrue. Dennett argues that religion is like sports or cancer, “a human phenomenon composed of events, organisms, objects, structures, patterns.” By studying religion on the premise that there is no supernatural truth underlying it, Dennett argues that young people will come to accept religion as a social creation pointing to nothing higher than human hopes and aspirations.
As for atheism, Sam Harris argues that it should be taught as a mere extension of science and logic. “Atheism is not a philosophy. It is not even a view of the world. It is simply an admission of the obvious….Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.”
Of course, parents—especially Christian parents—might want to say something about all this. That’s why the atheist educators are now raising the question of whether parents should have control over what their children learn. Dawkins asks, “How much do we regard children as being the property of their parents? It’s one thing to say people should be free to believe whatever they like, but should they be free to impose their beliefs on their children? Is there something to be said for society stepping in? What about bringing up children to believe manifest falsehoods? Isn’t it always a form of child abuse to label children as possessors of beliefs that they are too young to have thought out?”
Dennett remarks that “some children are raised in such an ideological prison that they willingly become their own jailers…forbidding themselves any contact with the liberating ideas that might well change their minds.” The fault, he adds, lies with the parents who raised them. “Parents don’t literally own their children the way slaveowners once owned slaves, but are, rather, their stewards and guardians and ought to be held accountable by outsiders for their guardianship, which does imply that outsiders have a right to interfere.”
Psychologist Nicholas Humphrey argued in a recent lecture that just as Amnesty International works to liberate political prisoners around the world, secular teachers and professors should work to free children from the damaging influence of their parents’ religious instruction. “Parents have no god-given license 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.”
Philosopher Richard Rorty argued that secular professors in the universities ought “to arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own.” Rorty noted that students are fortunate to find themselves under the control “of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents.” Indeed, parents who send their children to college should recognize that as professors “we are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable.”
This is how many secular teachers treat the traditional beliefs of students. The strategy is not to argue with religious views or to prove them wrong. Rather, it is to subject them to such scorn that they are pushed outside the bounds of acceptable debate. This strategy is effective because young people who go to good colleges are extremely eager to learn what it means to be an educated Harvard man or Stanford woman. Consequently their teachers can very easily steer them to think a certain way merely by making that point of view seem fashionable and enlightened. Similarly, teachers can pressure students to abandon what their parents taught them simply by labeling those positions as simplistic and unsophisticated.
Children spend the majority of their waking hours in school. Parents invest a good portion of their life savings in college education and entrust their offspring to people who are supposed to educate them. Isn’t it wonderful that educators have figured out a way to make parents the instruments of their own undoing? Isn’t it brilliant that they have persuaded Christian moms and dads to finance the destruction of their own beliefs and values? Who said atheists aren’t clever?
This article is adapted from What’s So Great About Christianity, which is just published by Regnery. Find out more at dineshdsouza.com.