Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Review of Innaiah Narisetti’s book 'Forced into Faith'

Review of Forced into Faith by Innaiah Narisetti; foreword by Naveena Hemanth..How Religion Abuses Children’s Rights, Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY, 2009, 126 pgs. ISBN 10:1591026067: ISBN 13: 9781591026068

From the Publisher: In 1989, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, proclaiming elementary rights for children worldwide. Among other provisions, the Convention safeguards children's religious freedom and their freedom of thought. But because child rearing is recognized as the primary responsibility of parents, the question of what children are raised to believe is left up to their mothers and fathers. In this controversial critique of the UN Convention, humanist Innaiah Narisetti forcefully argues that children's rights should include complete freedom from religious belief. Narisetti proposes that the choice of religious belief or nonbelief should be deferred till adulthood. Just as most societies recognize that marriage and civic responsibilities such as voting are adult prerogatives that children should not be allowed to exercise, so should the choice of a belief system wait till an individual is competent to exercise mature judgment. Narisetti cites numerous examples of the ways in which early religious indoctrination leads to later negative attitudes such as intolerance, suspicion, and outright hostility directed toward those who believe differently. He also notes that religion provides a cloak for such obvious evils as sexual abuse, genital mutilation, and corporal punishment of children. While most societies are quick to condemn such abuses, Narisetti suggests that they should be willing to take the next logical step and look to the role of religion in such problems. Including the complete text of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, this candid, unflinching critique of childhood religious education will provoke much thoughtful discussion.

‘Children should be brought up without allowing religion to influence them. […] Children should not inherit religion. […] Superstitions should not be taught under any circumstances.’ These quotes summarize the essence of Innaiah Narisetti’s appeal to free children from the bondage of religion imposed by parents and the social community. Imposing religion upon children is child abuse. In his succinct book Narisetti cuts to the heart of a much-neglected problem: the education and upbringing of children. For liberals this is considered mostly to be a private matter and therefore not a topic for moral concern. But this is a grave mistake. Liberalism (and humanism) should take the individual as its core value. No individual has the right to limit the freedom of other individuals. Children are not the property of their parents. Parents have no right to force their children into their faith. Education, and upbringing, should be free from religion. Education can be secular by facilitating compulsory public education (political secularism); upbringing should be secular as well, but the state is limited to enforce this (moral secularism). There should be a widespread consensus that it is immoral to speak of religious children, just as it is immoral to speak of a child as belonging to a political party of ideology. Narisetti highlights evils done in name of religion by examples taken from Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism. The documentary Jesus Camp also comes to my mind. This documentary is about a summer camp in the US that brainwashes children by instilling a frightful fear of god and Satan using obnoxious propaganda methods. Narisetti’s moral beacon is the Charter of Rights of Children (1989), which is added in total to the text. On paper the rights of children seem to be well protected, but alas, as with so many things, there is a seemingly unbridgeable gap between promises and reality. What is needed is a cultural gestalt switch about children: children are not property, but individuals who have rights, like the right to good (science based) education that includes education about human rights and the equality of women and men, heterosexuals and homosexuals. Religion is a big obstacle for securing the rights of children worldwide. Laws that protect religion, like the First Amendment in the US (especially the Free Exercise Clause: ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof’), are used as an escape for those who violate human and children’s rights claiming that it is their religion. Religion should not be a hide out for injustices and evil. Narisetti doesn’t say it out loud, but it seems that religion should have the status of a personal opinion and a hobby, and not a privileged status that can be used to subject women and children. We all should be much more careful to protect the rights of children and not be put off by the smokescreen of religion. Narisetti remarks drily: ‘We cannot expect religions to condemn themselves. It is like handling our house keys to a thief with a request to stand guard.’ To remain silent about the injustices done to children in the name of religion is immoral.

Floris van den Berg is a philosopher and Co-Executive Director of Center for Inquiry Low Countries. florisvandenberg@dds.nl.