Monday, November 08, 2010

Swallow your coffee FIRST before reading this ...

From the Guardian:

Religious ideas that are taught during childhood very often stick for life. Cursory reviews of the number of believers who come to faith during childhood or adolescence reveal this to be the case. According to research cited by the evangelical Christian group Youth for Christ for instance, 85% of Christians come to faith before the age of 23, with 15 the average age of conversion. Such figures should make the antennae of secularists twitch, for they suggest that taking on religious faith is often done by minors who are emotionally and intellectually vulnerable to the claims of adult religious authorities. Given the propensity of religious groups to inspire in young people long-term allegiance to their particular faith, questions also arise concerning the potency of the doctrine that religious institutions preach to youngsters.

A scrutiny of the youth evangelism strategies of one of the UK's largest faith groups, evangelical Christians, should give liberals serious cause for concern. Let us take as exemplar the work of Soul Survivor and Audacious, two large British youth evangelical organisations that run holiday camps attracting British youth in their tens of thousands. One striking aspect of these camps is the intensity of the doctrine that is preached and the zeal with which it is delivered. Leaders passionately inform children and teens of their conviction that evangelical doctrines, all of which are of course highly questionable when considered soberly, are absolutely true.

Children at Soul Survivor meetings have, for instance, been told that their generation can help bring Jesus back to Earth within their lifetimes. The "conversions" of children on the basis of such techniques is exploitative and can cause emotional pain when, in later life, it is discovered that such beliefs simply do not bear rational scrutiny. Other lessons preached at these camps are even more potentially damaging to children. At recent Soul Survivor meetings that have been featured on God TV, leaders have told young people they will be judged by God on the content of their thoughts when they die, that witch doctors can stunt the mental and physical capacities of children by cursing them, and that Jesus can heal children of medical ailments.

At an Audacious event, a boy about 13 years old described how he had been healed while at a meeting of the organisation.

Such lessons can potentially cause serious emotional and physical damage to the children receiving them and should anger anyone who cares about child welfare. Nor are such youth organisations on the Christian fringe. Anglican clergy are involved in the management of Soul Survivor for example. Rather, the intensity of evangelisation efforts at mainstream youth ministries suggests that youth evangelism is even more extreme in pockets of UK Christianity.

All of this raises the question of what is to be done. Given the emotional impact such ideas potentially have upon children and youth, it appears to me highly desirable that some form of public action is taken. Two minefields present themselves.

The first is the view that religious institutions, under the aegis of religious liberty, have the right to preach whatever doctrine they wish without state interference. This position is rebuttable. Christian churches would not be able, under hate legislation, to advocate slavery or the killing of witches (as many once did) on the basis of certain Old Testament verses for instance. Twenty-first century child welfare standards mean that other doctrines should join the list.

A second objection, that parents have the right to take their children to the religious services of their choosing, is trickier to negotiate. The state placing limits upon children's attendance of religious services with their parents is clearly unacceptable in a liberal society.

The proposal that I would like to make thus falls far short of this. I believe a public commission should be established that issues non-legally binding guidelines on the forms of doctrines that it is desirable that children are taught. The preaching of hellfire or of divine faith healings to children could form part of such guidelines. Non-compliers could be "named and shamed" by such a commission.

Such a venture would carry the advantage of leaving intact the parental right to educate children in their faith tradition, but would also go some way towards recognising the potentially damaging impact of certain religious doctrines upon developing minds.

Thomas Prosser, writing for the Guardian, is a lecturer in sociology at Trinity College, Dublin.

BB NOTE: Kinda charges one up for youth and children's ministry, doesn't it? 


The Underground Pewster said...

I wonder if the hypothetical public commission would be prepared to stick its nose into the madrasas' doctrines as well?

Floridian said...

Excellent comment Pewster!

Wilf said...

I have also heard of public schools attempting to indoctrinate children in a highly dogmatic manner regarding another ideology which is highly questionable and in no way scientifically proven - that is, human rights. Shouldn't the state also be concerned about this trend, and enforce just and legally binding limits upon this practice?

[/irony] (nb, the satiric article linked is much worth the read - and the challenge to thought)

Andy said...

Greetings from Mexico City this morning.

Well said Pewster. OK now, (Wait for it...) Let's hear the predictable TEC talking points in support of this.

The Lakeland Two said...

Aww, Andy, now TEC will. Johnson's Law, you know.

Daniel Weir said...

While I find the examples in the article disturbing (if they are described accurately), I think the responses suggested wrong-headed. The challenge is to present our understanding of the Gospel persuasively.

The Lakeland Two said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Lakeland Two said...

Apologize and deleted my last comment, my brain was on a different thread.

Wilf said...

Much agreed, Daniel.

I'm guessing the author singled out these two camps since he knew their messages would sound particularly unacceptable to his audience. I find some of these things disagreeable, but certainly not an excuse to invite the government to engage in regulation of church doctrines and practices.