Commentary | At least use logic

A response to Davide Mastracci’s “Religion and children”

I should hope that the following exercise in logic will not appear alien to Davide Mastracci, who seems partial to circumventing it in order to propogate his own religious bias. The argument he makes concerns the dangers of instructing religion to children: i.e. Is it “just” a parent instructing (or as he would call it, “indoctrinating”) religion unto children when they are not yet capable of grasping such a grand and abstract concept at their current stage of growth? He has stated that religious instruction of children is synonymous with brainwashing – taking advantage of the impressionable mind of the child, who does not know enough to divorce facile “blind belief” from enlightened logic. Evidently, the lot of McGill believers were not aware, until they read Mastracci’s piece, that the reverence of their messiahs, the morals of their texts, and the tutelage of their parents are all unwelcome instruments of religious brainwashing.

Let me begin by asking what method he used to come upon the notion that the universe operates in such a way today that we see logic “trump blind belief.” As a proponent of logic, what logical means of operationalizing did he use to compute that logic was decisively winning?  One explanation for his conjecture is that he was merely referencing statistics: Non-believers are becoming greater in number while believers are becoming fewer. Somewhere after that observation, he managed to situate a “therefore” in front of a “don’t maliciously indoctrinate your children with religious propaganda” and deemed it a workable theory.
Applying Mastracci’s “trump” logic in different contexts might help to elucidate its theoretical weakness. For example, the number of creationists in America is on the rise while the number of proponents of evolution is on the relative decline. Therefore (I am capable of using this word as well), evolutionism is illogical, and it is trumped by the universal truth that is creationism. Amazingly, I was able to use the exact same application of logic that Mastracci used and yet, somehow, I arrived at a seemingly opposite conclusion. One might characterize this phenomenon as an exercise in incoherent or even blind logic. It generally is a symptom of operationalizing things like logic and faith in wholly incommensurable units of “good” and “bad” or “biased” and “unbiased.”

This should provide an alarming demonstration of the bias of his own enlightened logic. To say that the “abusive[ness]” of the religious instruction of children is made apparent in the hate-filled messages of the youth of Hamas and Westboro Baptist is an assertion of one’s own religious bias. I do not hear him singing the praises of the young men and women who volunteer their time to noble causes in the name of their faith. When I imagine the disappointment in his tone when he opines that “it is likely that indoctrination will continue, as parents wishing for their children to follow their religion know that, without biasing the process, children will likely emerge as non-believers”, at the same time I can hear the elation in the believer’s voice who articulates the exact same thing, only with the word “instruction” in place of “indoctrination” and the word “encouraging” in the place of “biasing”.

Mastracci appears to subscribe to the notion that secular instruction is ideally void of all bias. This notion is considered fallacious by believers and non-believers alike. Realistically, there can be no escape from pedagogical biases as long as we are human. The normative mission of religious instruction should thus never consider the extinguishing of bias as amongst its many goals. The worthier cause always lends itself to the instilment of virtues, which all parents should consider part of their raison d’etre.
I do not see the same innate perils that Mastracci sees in instructing religion to children, but – like with any form of instruction – one cannot be weary enough of poor instructors (didactic teachers, ones with bad motives, etc). There is no hierarchy that favors logic to faith that either reason or belief can effectively determine. There is a vast plurality of wisdoms – secular and non-secular – that may benefit humanity at every age demographic. We should not limit the lessons one can obtain because they might contrive the logic of another unless we can prove (and not allege) that it is inherently destructive for everyone. If secular logic can empower the mind to effect good, then teach on.  If faith can be an engine of benevolence for the human spirit, then preach on.

Zachary Sleep is a U3 Political Science and History student. You can reach him at zachary.sleep@mail.mcgill.ca.


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