Remember about a month ago when a toddler was refused a birthday cake because his name is Adolf Hitler? Well, apparently the boy has been removed from his parents’ home, along with his two younger sisters, despite the fact that, according to local police, there have been no abuse or neglect reports filed against the family. Some confusion remains in this story: the boy’s father has reportedly commented that in fact the children have not been taken, while the local police chief says that they were removed last week, and the social services department have declined to comment.
Regardless of how this shakes out and which bits turn out to be true, it raises some interesting questions, mostly hovering around the intersection of parents’ rights and children’s rights, and the definition of abuse. Some within the atheist and skeptic community (most notably Richard Dawkins) are trying to further the idea that indoctrination should be considered child abuse. The same logic seems to be in play in this case. Assuming the story above is true, the county has stripped parents of their rights because it does not agree with what they are teaching their children.
This all sounds great on the surface to most of us who do not share their views. What better way to ensure that these children don’t grow up to be misinformed and hateful? Yes, parents have the right to raise their children as they see fit (within reason, obviously), but where does a child’s right not to be burdened with outmoded ways of thinking come in?
But what can seem clear on the surface becomes murkier as one dives in. We live in a free country; or at least that’s what we try to tell ourselves. The people of the United States are a very diverse bunch. Most are Christian, yes, but even this majority is full of conflicting viewpoints. What I’m getting at is that anyone from any worldview could come up with a list of other groups whose principles violate their own and should not be taught to children. We as atheists should be especially careful with this, as many people would say that raising a child without religion is tantamount to abuse.
As much as it pains me to say it, as long as there truly is no abuse happening, the Nazis should get their kids back. Actually, I think the kids even have a shot at turning out alright. Children have a tendency to rebel against their parents. After all, how many of us were raised atheist? A few, yes, but not many. I come from a very religious upbringing, and have managed to find my way out and onto my own path. That is not to say that it is common for people to question their inherited belief system, but in this case, I think they will find themselves challenged frequently; something most Christians never encounter, due to their status as members of the majority.
Speaking as someone who has gone through the experience of examining and changing my beliefs, and values that experience very highly, I’m not sure we can or should sanitize that possibility for future generations. I may be biased, but I think a journey of self discovery is just about the best thing we can do as humans, and most of us do it, regardless of where we start out.