Those who watched Q&A on Monday night might have been taken aback by US Biologist and Ecologist Dr Paul Ehrlich’s claim that religious instruction is child abuse.
Host Tony Jones had asked Dr Ehrlich whether he sang the US national anthem when he was at school. “We did, but we didn’t have child abuse required in those days. We didn’t have any religious instruction in the schools,” Dr Ehrlich said.
He went on to say, “That’s what Richard Dawkins and lots of other people have said; that you teach people details about non-existent supernatural monsters and then behave in reaction to what you think they are telling you. That’s child abuse. You don’t raise your kids that way,” Dr Ehrlich said.
If there is one thing I feel I am qualified to comment on, it is Catholic religious instruction in the 1950s and 60s. Make no mistake, it was child abuse and I am one of those “lots of other people” Ehrlich was referring to and I have been saying it for years.
Imagine if you will, an eight year old in grade three at a Marist Brothers’ College in Melbourne in 1953. Every day we had one 40 minute period set aside for Religion, i.e. Catholic instruction.
Fundamental to that period was to learn the Catechism, a simplistic question and answer booklet that gave the brothers the authority to brainwash, bully, threaten and physically punish us for not learning.
The particular version we were taught was approved by the Irish hierarchy in 1951, and was specially intended for teaching primary-school children, who were required to memorize each prescribed answer by rote.
You can view it here.
That teaching, delivered as it was with all the certainty and ferocity of a tyrant stayed with me for decades before I was finally able to shake it off.
At a recent catch up with some old school friends, I found that I wasn’t alone. While some were able to dismiss it as superstitious rubbish from the moment they left school, others like me weren’t so lucky.
But we all agreed it was psychological abuse, deliberate and unyielding. So, when I listened to Paul Ehlrich describe it for what it was, I said, ‘Bravo’.
One of the Catholic Church’s principle teachings is that of free will. We choose either to resist temptation or succumb to it. More rubbish.
It took some time to realise that all our actions are determined by a long chain of prior causes in our lives; for example, bad genes, an unhappy childhood, good or bad experiences, good or bad education.
Am I exercising free will writing this article? No, I am responding, perhaps reacting to a comment heard on Q&A. This article is written conditional to that. If it is conditional, it cannot be free.
Religious instruction is meant to instruct us into believing something and to react accordingly, bypassing free will. When that instruction is based on a false foundation, unsupported by science, it is psychological abuse.
For any government to sanction such instruction in the classrooms of our most vulnerable, is unconscionable. Unfortunately, Ehrlich then stated that we should respect people who want to do that and in saying so, he let the monster back in the classroom.
Why should we respect people who want to fill our childrens’ heads with such rubbish as the Catholic catechism? Why should we allow our children to be taught human values dressed up as divine instruction?
Are there not enough nut cases out there who, on the basis of false information have reacted in ways that have caused untold damage and heartbreak to otherwise normal, gentle law abiding citizens?
When will we learn?