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Is a Religious Upbringing Considered Child Abuse?

Sadly, child abuse exists throughout the world. Past and present there are various ways this ugly act presents itself, both verbal and physical. 

Was Richard Dawkins correct in his claims that a religious upbringing sits under the umbrella of abuse? I want to  give my opinion after reading Religious Instruction is Not a Form of Child Abuse by The Fundamentalist Atheist.

First thing we all do, go back to our childhood.

Well, it’s the first thing I do. My parents were religious, so what better way to take this claim into consideration than to consider my upbringing and any potential abuse during this time.

My dad was religious but rarely attended church. My mum is also religious but much less so. It was my fathers side of the family that held deep religious beliefs, once my dad moved out as a young adult I guess he made the most of the freedom from regular church attendance and saying grace. He maintained the belief but ditched the practices. 

Thankfully, I had a neutral upbringing and space to think for myself. I attended Sunday School with my younger sister as a child but mainly for the football we played beforehand.* I decided to leave just before my teenage years and both my parents completely accepted my decision.

*Football was later banned, as one of the kids knocked the vicars cup of coffee out of his hand. This may have led to my desision to leave, however I cannot recall.

From this segment of my post, I see one area where abuse could be present. If I was forced to attend Sunday School or church, wouldn’t this be abuse? Thankfully I wasn’t, and neither should anyone. How does one justify forcing someone into a place of worship? 

If you don’t you will go to hell!’

‘I want you to believe what I believe and nothing else!’

Why else would attendance be so important? It’s not school, therefore it is not compulsory education. It is not a doctors appointment or a dreaded trip to the dentist, a very unpleasant experience but will benefit a child greatly in later life. 

I would consider being forced into attendance abuse, although less severe. Many will disagree with me, maybe it will take decades before this will be seen as immoral. We understand that physical punishments used in schools in early and mid 20th century was abuse, however many that received it would happily see it brought back today. Because something isn’t seen as abuse doesn’t stop it from being abuse. It can take many forms, not always physical.

I have taken the WHO’s definition of child abuse from the above post:

It includes all types of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, negligence and commercial or other exploitation, which results in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power. Exposure to intimate partner violence is also sometimes included as a form of child maltreatment

Three key areas for me in which religious abuse applies are as follows:

1. Emotional ill-treatment– Being born into sin and having to beg for forgiveness cannot be good for a childs emotional well being.

2. Exploitation– Females of specific faiths will grow up in derogatory gender roles and may even come to accept it as the norm. From child to motherhood, taught to the next generation.

3. Dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power– A gay or atheist child brought up in a Christian world may experience discrimination and/or lower job prospects. And atheist or gay child may face rejection from their family. Even in the United States this is still a persistent problem, one I have witnessed first hand from American friends.

Repercussions in adulthood
Firstly, perceptions of reality are distorted. I know a very intelligent young woman fresh out of university, studying medicine. When exploring various areas of science and debating nature, Catholicism takes first priority. Her ideas and beliefs are moulded around Christianity. 

This should not be the case. Belief from a young age cements in place an ideology of one kind or another, largely depending on geographical location. Religion should be moulded around evidence. Evidence should never be discredited or shunned because it does not fit in with the original belief. 

Our reality is incredibly baffling and contradictory on so many levels. Atheism is not the answer but the freedom and space to come to a more reasonable, less contaminated conclusion. Do you think that as a small child you held the most logical and rational grasp of science and nature? There is very high chance this is when your belief was formed.

Once again, intangible abuse. Abuse that gets away with it because your society is a product of the same deluded thinking. This means a whole lifetime can come and go without coming to the realisation that in this short time to think independently, we are made to think what we do. And what a waste of a life that is.

So is this abuse? I think so. Not abuse to the extent or severity that should be prioritised, but still enough for me to address. I know I would feel bad if my child grew up with the exact same beliefs as me, if those beliefs were pushed from a very early age. 

Teach morality and equality for others at an early age, with enough guidance to keep them on the right path. Ensure enough space is given to them to think for themselves. There is little I dislike seeing more than adults living a lifetime of belief, belief in something that they were taught as young children that did not know anything else.


11 replies »

  1. A serious subject to be sure and you did a good job of addressing it. Here’s something to ponder, though. You say teach morality and equality at an early age. So, who’s morality are we going to teach? Is it going to be a religious morality of some sort? Are we going to vote on it? Are we going to teach it in schools? Some atheists would say that they can be moral without religion. I believe them (generally speaking), but I don’t believe that this applies to the masses, or children, who need some direction. There’s no easy answer.


  2. I think this arguement is disrespectful to those that suffer serious child abuse either in a religious household or not. I mean there are folks without clean drinking water… where do people get off belittling that by claiming having the privilege of being the dominate class but not feeling “good” etc. As a kid is abuse?

    If people want to see abuse they should go live in Seria a few weeks… I find the whole argument distasteful and belittling to a serious subject matter that if anyone actual cared about they wouldn’t trivialize to a taking point


    • The only reason I created my blog was for those less fortunate than me. In my country, religion does not affect me to the extent it does to others.
      I clearly state in my post that if religious instruction is child abuse, it isn’t abuse that should be prioritised.


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