Is raising a child Catholic really worse than sexually abusing them?
By now, those of you who follow the New Atheist beat will likely have heard about Richard Dawkins’ latest attempt to keep his name in the news. The English academic appeared on the Arab news site Al Jazeera and claimed that rearing kids to believe in a religion is a form of child abuse – and a worse form than sexual molestation. I was inclined at first to laugh this off (I’ve often quipped that it’s cruel to raise a child outside New York City) and wonder what Dawkins would do next: Challenge the pope and the Dalai Lama to a round of jello wrestling? Relieve himself on the Wailing Wall? Pose in a satin teddy for Victoria’s Secret?
But then I remembered that we live in an incipient global nanny police state in which Germany can institutionalize a homeschooled Catholic teen for “school phobia” and the U.S. will try to deport her family, which fled here for refuge; where parents who try to switch hospitals for their infant can lose custody of their baby; where states like California ban parents from sending their sexually confused kids to Christian counseling. And so on. Real child abuse is such a sickening evil that false charges of it can be used as a potent tool by social engineers who hunger for power to reach into citizens’ homes and pluck out their kids for re-education.
The family – the basic unit of society – is fragile and irreplaceable. It is by far the safest place for a child to grow up, and kids who lack intact families are far more likely to live and remain in poverty. One of the strongest ties uniting a family is a common faith; when he attacks that bond, Dawkins is effectively (and knowingly) smashing the cohesive molecule of the nuclear family into tiny, isolated atoms, whose only protectors will be hirelings of secular social service agencies – Big Brother and Big Nurse.
Atheists aren’t the only people who have ever attacked the family in the name of a “higher good.” England’s Elizabeth I bribed Catholic children to abandon their parents’ faith; the Ottoman Empire periodically kidnapped Orthodox Christian boys to raise them as Muslim Janissaries; the French monarchy banned Huguenot families from rearing their children as Protestants. Most infamous was the case of Edgardo Mortara, a Jewish child in Pope Pius IX’s Papal States whose Catholic nanny illegally baptized him, leading that pope to abduct the child and ensure his “right” to a Catholic education.
But in most cases, even really bigoted Christians have recognized (along with St. Thomas Aquinas) that the right of parents to pass on their faith to their children trumps any claim of the State to promote religious orthodoxy. It is modern, secular states that reject this tenet of natural law that have really made their name by reaching inside the family to disrupt and reengineer it, from Bolshevik bans on catechesis of children to Nazi attempts to corral all children out of churches and into the Hitler Youth. Now, public schools in states like Massachusetts are required to teach gay “marriage” as equally normative. Catholic schools and parents are free to say otherwise (for the time being). But stay tuned: Canadian courts have ruled that Christian sexual ethics amount to hate speech punishable by law.
So when a prominent figure like Richard Dawkins says that religious parents are child abusers, his statements aren’t merely provocations; they’re test balloons, sent up by zealous enemies of liberty and religion to see how far they will fly. If Dawkins gets away with this, more people will chime in and second him, and soon you’ll be hearing earnest, “balanced” discussions of his crackpot assertion in places like National Public Radio. The