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Some Atheists and Transhumanists are Asking: Should it be Illegal to Indoctrinate Kids With Religion?

09/15/2014 04:38 pm ET | Updated Nov 15, 2014
  • Zoltan Istvan US Presidential candidate of Transhumanist Party; Creator of Immortality Bus; Author of #1 bestselling Philosophy novel 'The Transhumanist Wager'

Religious child soldiers carrying AK-47s. Bullying anti-gay Jesus kids. Infant genital mutilation. Teenage suicide bombers. Child Hindu brides. No matter where you look, if adults are participating in dogmatic religions, then they are also pushing those same ideologies onto their kids.

Regardless what you think and believe, science shows human beings know very little. Our eyes register only 1 percent of the electromagnetic spectrum in the universe. Our ears detect less than 1 percent of its sound wave frequencies. Human senses--our brain's vehicles to understanding the world--leave much to be desired. In fact, our genome is only 1 percent different than that of a chimpanzee. Amazingly, despite the obvious fact no one really knows that much about what is going on with ourselves and the universe, we still insist on the accuracy of grand spiritual claims handed down to us from our barefoot forefathers. We celebrate holidays over these ancient religious tales; we choose life partners and friends over these fables; we go to war to defend these myths.

A child's mind is terribly susceptible to what it hears and sees from parents, family, and social surroundings. When the human being is born, its brain remains in a delicate developmental phase until far later in life.

"Kids are impressionable," said Dr. Eunice Pearson-Hefty, director of the Teaching Environmental Science program of Texas' Natural Resource Conservation Commission. "Anything you tell them when they're real small can have a lasting impression."

It's only later, when kids hit their teens that they begin to think for themselves and see the bigger picture. It's only then they begin to ask whether their parent's teachings make sense and are correct. However, depending on the power of the indoctrination in their childhood, people's ability to successfully question anything is likely stifled their entire lives.

In my philosophical and atheist-minded novel The Transhumanist Wager, protagonist Jethro Knights ends up with the ability to rewrite the social laws of the world. One important issue he faces is whether to make religion illegal altogether. There are many arguments for why religion has not been beneficial to the human race, especially in the last few centuries. In the end, a love of basic liberties prevails over Mr. Knights and he allows religion to exist. Although, he restricts religion from the public sphere, restricts religion from being integrated with education, and restricts religion from being pushed on minors.

Not surprisingly, some in the atheist and transhumanist communities feel the same way Mr. Knights does. While they may think that believing in a warmongering prophet, or a four-armed blue deity, or a spiteful God who drowns nearly all of his people is wrong, atheists and transhumanists are willing to allow it. So long as it doesn't meaningfully interfere with the world.

The problem is that it does meaningfully interfere with the world. 911 was a religious-inspired event. So was the evil of the Catholic Inquisition. And so is the quintessential conflict between Palestine and Israel. If you take "God" and "religion" out of all these happenings, you would likely find that they would not have happened at all. Instead, what you'd probably find is peaceful people and communities dedicated to preserving and improving life through reason, science, and technology--which is the essence of transhumanism and the outcome of evolution.

"Religion should remain a private endeavor for adults," says Giovanni Santostasi, PhD, who is a neuroscientist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and runs the 10,000 person strong Facebook group Scientific Transhumanism. "An appropriate analogy of religion is that's it's kind of like porn--which means it's not something one would expose a child to."

Unfortunately, even though atheists, nonreligious people, and transhumanists number almost a billion people, it's too problematic and unreasonable to imagine taking "God" and "religion" out of the world entirely. But we do owe it to the children of the planet to let them grow up free from the ambush of belief systems that have a history of leading to great violence, obsessively neurotic guilt, and the oppression of virtually every social group that exists.

Like some other atheists and transhumanists, I join in calling for regulation that restricts religious indoctrination of children until they reach, let's say, 16 years of age. Once a kid hits their mid-teens, let them have at it--if religion is something that interests them. 16-year-olds are enthusiastic, curious, and able to rationally start exploring their world, with or without the guidance of parents. But before that, they are too impressionable to repeatedly be subjected to ideas that are faith-based, unproven, and historically wrought with danger. Forcing religion onto minors is essentially a form of child abuse, which scars their ability to reason and also limits their ability to consider the world in an unbiased manner. A reasonable society should not have to indoctrinate its children; its children should discover and choose religious paths for themselves when they become adults, if they are to choose one at all.

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