Monday, January 21, 2008

Why It Is Not Evil to Teach My Children That God Exists

(At Ground Zero in NYC)

For Christopher Hitchens (as for Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris) religion is evil. Their reasoning goes like this:

P1. (Premise 1) The statement "God exists" is false.
P2. Religious people teach their children that "God exists" is true.
P3. It is evil to teach your children false things. (Dawkins thus calls religious education to children a form of "child abuse." And, ipso facto, child abuse is evil.)
C. (Conclusion) Therefore, religious people are evil.

What can we say about this?

About P1 - we can give reasons that support the truth of the statement "God exists." So, for many of us, we think P1 is false. More personally, I believe P1 is false.

About P3 - This statement seems false. The following statement seems true: "It is evil to teach as true something that one believes to be false." But even with this there seem to be cases where it would not be evil to do this; e.g., to tell a patient, if asked, that the stock market has not fallen (when it has and they have really lost all their money) as they are on the verge of having a heart attack.

If a parent believes P1 is false, as I do, then it does not seem evil for a parent to teach their children that P1 is false, and that the statement "God exists" is true. Indeed, it would seem wrong for them not to do so. For example, assume Hitchens teaches his children that there is no God. If the statement "There is no God" is false, then Hitchens teaches his children an untruth. But surely it is not evil for Hitchens to do this. Only if Hitchens believed that the statement "God does not exist" is false and then taught his children that the statement "God does not exist" is true could we think that what Hitchens is doing is evil.

I believe it is true that God exists, and that it is false that God does not exist. Because of this it surely is not evil that I teach my children what I believe is true. Precisely to not do so seems the evil thing. This means that Hitchens, also, is not evil in teaching his children that God does not exist. We just disagree on P1.

How might Hitchens reply to this? He might, as he has, point out all the evils that have been done by religious persons who think P1 is false. Two responses, at least, can be given to this.

1 - Non-religious persons have committed horrendous evils. See, e.g., the catalogue of such atrocities in Dinesh D'Souza's (Stanford University) What's So Great About Christianity.

2 - Religious persons have created great good. Read, e.g., USC sociologist Donald Miller's Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement. I just finished this book and was deeply moved by it. Miller reports on what he has seen around the world as Christian pentecostals have taken Jesus' words in Matthew 25 and created powerful ministries to AIDS victims, the poor and the hungry and the homeless, the sick, the uneducated, and so on. Sometimes these churches partner with local governments. The results are that systemic changes are being made. The foundation for these changes is a personal encounter with Jesus.