One of the RSS feeds I follow is for a web site called Religion Dispatches. I will admit that I generally just read the short blurbs in the feed instead of going to the site—as a whole their pieces are on the liberal end of the spectrum and my traditional Christian hairline doesn't have much to spare. 🙂
And it did seem like the article, "Richard Dawkins' Atheist Academy of Unguided Truth" was going to be standard fare for Religion Dispatches. The title was enticing enough that I clicked through, and although I didn't want to try to read the whole thing on my iPhone I did run into this:
[Dawkins] wants to raise questions—Why is there a sun? What is an earthquake? What about rainbows?—and provide clever, rational answers. He has toyed with opening his own state-sponsored school, though under the British system he would have to come up with matching money. But it would not be a school for atheists. The idea horrifies him. A child should skip down an idiosyncratic intellectual path. "I am almost pathologically afraid of indoctrinating children," he says. "It would be a ‘Think for Yourself Academy.'"1
The author of the article (Paul Wallace), however, wasn't buying that…and after a bit more discussion writes:
Can he really mean this? Does he really think that any child can stand above the fray of competing worldviews and let reason eliminate all but the best, like a cautious consumer?
And really, why not an atheist school? As Chris Mooney wrote over at Science Progress in response to the same Times profile: "Dawkins really, really, really thinks he's right about things." Assuming that's the case, why not teach children the truth? I mean, if it's true? Isn't it good to know the truth, and isn't it our duty to pass the truth on to our kids?
Yes, but apparently the greatest virtue—that children should not be indoctrinated—now trumps even the truth. This seems somehow wrong to me, and very un-Dawkins. What's going on here?2
There are quite a few directions one could take this article at this point, but I'd like to focus on three things…
First, for all intense purposes in the U.S. (and I suspect most Western nations) we already have the equivalent of atheist academies—otherwise referred to as public education. In trying to remove all vestiges of religion (especially Christianity) from the state all that is left (or approved) is atheism. And even if the materialists don't succeed in weakening our children's faith through 12 years of education (more if kindergarden is thrown in), it gets progressively worse for those who continue on to higher education (especially if they choose to then become professors). It may be concerning that our kids can't be taught creation as an alternative explanation for us being here on this blue planet—but it can kill a career for a scientist to even allow an intelligent design paper into a peer-reviewed journal (even if he personally doesn't believe it).
Second, although I'm glad that Dawkins isn't spawning a bunch of schools to teach youngsters there is no God (especially in his judgmental, condescending, and insulting way), Wallace was right in asking, "Does [Dawkins] really think that any child can stand above the fray of competing worldviews and let reason eliminate all but the best, like a cautious consumer?"3 The most important word in that sentence may be "competing"—and the anti-Christian side has far more weapons than we do. Even with the vast majority of Americans claiming to be Christian, our children are constantly bombarded with forces that are trying to pull them away from our Lord and toward both a godless and immoral world. There is a reason we are commanded:
You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise (Deuteronomy 6:7, English Standard Version).
Even without the "in your face" attacks on our children's faith it is so, so easy to lose track of what is really important. "Competing worldviews" benefit Dawkins—he doesn't have to spawn atheist academies because he and his fellow new (militant) atheists are slowly winning.
Finally, if folks think that an idealogical school can't be a "Think for Yourself Academy" they are very wrong. My experience at a very conservative Christian college, Liberty University, is that we spent our time on the hard questions instead of the ones we'd all nod our heads in agreement too. Additionally, we were forced to give reasoned answers for our beliefs…and I was never marked off for having a non-traditional view as long as I did that. Wallace's experience in a Catholic academy was similar:
What I do remember are [Father Cavanaugh's] questions, which cut through all the higher philosophical claptrap and jangled our nerves. He would look directly into our eyes and ask in his soft Irish accent, Who are you? Do you believe in God? Why? Do you believe in God because your mother believes in God? Why do you believe God loves you? Do you believe God loves you because your priest told you so? And so on.4
No, we shouldn't indoctrinate our kids…we don't want "blind faith" ("blind faith" is an oxymoron). However, we also should not treat them like sailboats, letting the philosophical winds of the world blow them whichever way it will, assuming their ultimate control of the rudder means it is okay. Instead, we should teach them truth…while at the same time asking them the hard questions and making sure their faith is theirs…not ours.
I kind of wish I had been in Father Cavanaugh's class…you?
1 Wallace, P. (2011, September 26). Richard Dawkins’ Atheist Academy of Unguided Truth. Religion Dispatches. Retrieved September 30, 2011, from "Richard Dawkins’ Atheist Academy of Unguided Truth"