Religious leaders are well aware of the vulnerability of the child brain, and the importance of getting the indoctrination in early. The Jesuit boast, ‘Give me the child for his first seven years, and I’ll give you the man,’ is no less accurate (or sinister) for being hackneyed.
The above quote comes from Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion in the chapter titled “The Roots of Religion.” I was thinking about that chapter when I heard that Mr. Dawkins was putting out a children’s book. Has Dawkins decided he needs to get into the ‘indoctrination’ business?
Of course, the word ‘indoctrination’ has taken on a negative air, and is only applied when one disapproves of what is being transmitted—even if one is about the same business. Dawkins’ real problem is not with the Jesuit’s ‘sinister’ approach. He admits it is ‘no less accurate.’ His real beef must be with the content the Jesuits presented.
Good! Then we are all agreed! ‘Indoctrination’ isn’t ‘sinister.’ Transmitting the beliefs, values, and perceptions of one generation to the next is an important and unavoidable necessity that must take certain definite forms because of the nature of who we are transmitting them too: children.
Now, we cannot really believe that atheists and secular humanists have every really thought that ‘indoctrination’ was the exclusive domain of the religionists. For the last hundred years, they have been on a tear doing all that they can to purge any vestige of anything that even smacks of religion from public society and the public schools. A more accurate assessment would suggest that even when Dawkins bemoaned the tawdry work of the Jesuits, his side knew early on the importance of ‘getting the indoctrination in early.’
So what, then? What might motivate this upcoming release? There may be some clues in Dawkins’ Delusion.
In his chapter “The Roots of Religion” he faces up to some very difficult facts. He would like to chalk up the continued presence of nonsense-believers to the ‘sinister’ work of those like the Jesuits but he is prevented from doing so by the apparently scientific observation is that children are psychologically primed for religion.
Now, in a sane world, this observation would be recognized by all for what it is: positive evidence for the Christian claim that people are made in God’s image, meant from the start to be in a relationship with Him. But since Dawkins already ‘knows’ that this can’t be the case, but he also knows that we are ‘psychologically primed for religion,’ he has got to find himself a way out. Because of the constraints of his worldview, he is compelled to search out some strictly materialistic evolutionary explanation.
He picks the worst kind of explanation possible. It is as Chesterton described it in his book Orthodoxy, “a thought that stops thought.”
Dawkins’ explanation? The inclination to religion is a misfire of the brain. It was, indeed, a product of evolutionary processes which means somehow it was necessary to select for.
What we are expected to believe here is that the natural need for a child to learn how to survive in the world meant being primed to receive counsel from one’s parents, but nowadays this must be seen largely as a ‘misfire’ of the brain, because it prevents the child from knowing when he is being exposed to pure nonsense. We are likened to a moth which mistakes a streetlight that will zap it for the sun.
But this begs very important questions. For example, how does Dawkins know that it is the poor little children experiencing the misfire, and not he? Did he not himself begin as a child? He admits as much! Since he also admits that we are biologically disposed to be ‘religious’ but is himself arrayed against religion, isn’t it him at warring against his own brain? Isn’t it his atheism that is the misfire? How does he know it isn’t? How does he know that any given belief about anything isn’t a misfire? The belief in the supremacy of the scientific method, evolutionary theory itself, a belief in God, that my coffee is cold—all, potentially, misfires.
Seeing as a hundred plus years of ‘getting indoctrination in early’ by the secularists hasn’t been able to overcome society’s predisposition to religion, this explains, perhaps, Dawkins perceived need for a children’s book. In light of the foregoing we may consider some other possibilities for the failure of this indoctrination program.
It may be that children are the sanest of all of us. It may be that children’s great love for myth, story, fairytale and general absence of cynicism, isn’t an accident of nature at all, but really is a manifestation of an aspect of God’s design for humans.
Consider the irony involved when a staunch atheist and philosophical materialist reductionist feels compelled to approach children by invoking ‘magic,’ as illustrated in the title of Dawkins’ book, The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True. To this, we could add the fantasy-laden “His Dark Materials” series by another hardcore atheist, Philip Pullman. When even the ones who mock and deride fanciful fairytales and fantasy must turn to them to get their viewpoint across, surely something is amiss!
If that something is that we are made in God’s image, then no amount of indoctrination or molding or shaping will ever be able to purge religious sentiment from humanity.
Even if the ‘conditioners’ in C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man put their hand to it, they will be unable to stamp out our humanity because each newborn child enters the world ‘hard-wired’ to pursue, or at least seriously consider, non-materialistic explanations. Dawkins chalks that up to a mental defect, but regardless, its acknowledged biological basis means that unless the ‘conditioners’ take a strong hand in genetically tinkering with our offspring, we can be sure that religious explanations will be sought, religious explanations will be adopted, and religious explanations will be transmitted to the next generation. While it remains legal, anyway.
Moreover, some of us will continue to believe that it is reasonable to look at that biological ‘priming’ for religion and come to an opposite conclusion: it isn’t a misfire at all, but positive evidence for the very propositions atheists reject as having no evidence. We may see it as a good sign that the atheists and secular humanists are doubling-down on “getting the indoctrination in early.”
All will be well, I submit, until such time they decide its time to attack the ‘misfire’ at its source: its biological (created?) basis. Then, and only then, will the Abolition of Man be at hand.
Although, that day may be closer than we may suppose.
Anthony Horvath is the Executive Director of Athanatos Christian Ministries, an apologetics ministry that focuses on ‘literary apologetics,’ or using the arts (such as literature) to promote and defend the Christian faith. He is the author of “Mother Teresa, Antony Flew, and Richard Dawkins Go to Heaven: A Collection of Short Stories.” (Also available on the Nook.)