It is unethical to exploit an advantage

A bit more on indoctrination. What is wrong with indoctrination?

Guardian readers were upset, David Shariatmadari says, by ‘the idea that a religious group should set about “indoctrinating” children who were intellectually defenceless.’ But just how damaging is this, he asks.

There are a few arguments I can think of, but I’m not completely convinced by them (as always, I’m open to persuasion). The main one is that children do not yet have the capacity to evaluate the worth of religious ideas.

No not quite – that puts it too mildly. Children do not yet have the capacity to evaluate the worth of any ideas, and that’s why adults should be very economical about imposing ideas on them. Children believe what they are told, especially when parents or authority figures are the ones doing the telling. That’s just a brute fact, as brute as the fact that children are shorter and lighter than adults. Adults should be economical in their use of superior size and strength on children, and they should be economical in their use of superior cognitive abilities on children. Adults shouldn’t exploit either advantage unless there’s a very good reason which is at least compatible with the child’s well-being.

Religious parents of course think religious ideas are crucial for the child’s well-being, so that’s a complicated issue. But churches and other religious institutions – they have other motivations for imposing their pet ideas on children, motivations which include their own continued employment and status. They are interested parties, and that means they should be very cautious indeed about ‘indoctrinating’ children who are intellectually defenseless. It’s only fair.

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