Thursday, August 13, 2009

Toxic Traditions

I recently read two news items that were published on the same day and which appeared to be unrelated to each other. But the more I thought about it, the more I noticed a similarity in their content.

In India there is a custom—probably a symbolic child sacrifice ritual—practiced by both Muslim and Hindu parents, in which they throw their babies off temple towers into makeshift nets (actually taut bedsheets) near the ground. The purpose of this act is that according to local beliefs it will assure the health and good fortune of these infants. And supposedly, since these babies are caught before they hit the ground, none have suffered any physical harm. But even if such a"perfect" record were true (which is extremely doubtful), who knows what psychic damage they may suffer. According to my wife who is a child psychologist, such trauma can be profound. Falling—especially from a great height—is one of the most traumatic events that the mind can register, no matter how young the victim. So it's no surprise that according to the article the infants were said to be screaming during their plunge.

In the other news story, a father in Wisconsin was convicted in the death of his seriously ill daughter. He withheld medical attention from her in favor of faith healing as a cure, which of course failed to save her. The victim's mother was also convicted a few months earlier on the same charge. Incidentally, have you noticed that it's almost always children and never adults who die as a result of being "prayed" to death instead of receiving medical care. If there are any adults who have died as a result of withholding medical care from themselves and opting for faith healing instead (and I haven't heard of any), it's their own choice, and not forced on them by other adults.

That is the point of this post. Regardless of culture or society, children are powerless and must rely on their parents or guardians to look after their welfare. When those in control use religion as an excuse to inflict harm on their children, whether actively as in the form of physical and emotional violence or passively by refusal to provide medical care for illness or injury, this is out and out child abuse. And it's no less the case than if committed in an alcoholic or other drug induced rage, or because of the sadistic character of the perpetrator.

What would the world be like if children were spared their elders' superstitious ignorance and brainwashing done in the name of a supernatural being or beings? Yet how can such relief ever happen when in most countries it's unlikely that there will ever be a generation of parents (and perhaps one is all that it would take) who are willing to break the chain and not hand down or inflict such warped nonsense on their offspring in the name of religious tradition? In this regard there's not much that America can do about the rest of the world, but in the U.S. , a small step in that direction would be publicizing and confronting faith-based child abuse wherever or whenever it's known to occur and never allowing religion to be used as a legal justification for such behavior, especially by parents or other guardians.

But do atheists have a better track record in raising and disciplining their children because they don't resort to punishments and fear-mongering in the name of a likely non-existent supreme being? If so they need to become more vocal and present these child-rearing methods as superior to that of traditional theist parental practices of control via threats of divine retribution. In fact, there should also be extensive scientific studies as to which group has a better success rate in bringing up their children to become socially responsible and emotionally healthy adults.

However, the results or at least strong indications may already be in on this one: Supposedly atheists make up only a small percentage of the U.S. prison population. And as indicated in my Feb. 28, 2009 post in this blog site, Corruption And Religion: Not Such Strange Bedfellows, enlightenment and good conduct by their citizens are salient features of secular cultures such as Finland, Denmark, and New Zealand. As might be expected, such countries also have strong social safety nets and public programs that benefit their children, who as a result grow up to be productive citizens of those societies. It is this virtuous cycle as practiced by these countries in nurturing children and directly or indirectly minimizing their exposure to religious abuse that may serve as a beacon to the rest of the world.

But as so many other countries throughout the world are still shackled by the interrelated evils of governmental corruption, private greed, and religious zealotry, most children face a lifetime not just of material deprivation but of irrationalism as well.