‘One meets closed minds.’
For those who missed it, Clifford Longley’s column in the November 28 issue of the Tablet does a good job of teasing out the absurdity in Richard Dawkins’s insistence that it is wrong to “indoctrinate tiny children in the religion of their parents, and to slap religious labels on them” (as Dawkins puts in The God Delusion). “There is no such thing as value-free parenting,” Longley writes.
Simply to avoid all discussion of the parents’ religious beliefs…is to impart the clear and strong message that religion does not matter. Given that if it were true it would matter a great deal, that further imparts the message that religion is not true. That is, if you like, atheist indoctrination.
Longley proposes this as an argument about parenting, but it is hard to see why it wouldn’t also apply to education. If the argument doesn’t apply to education, why doesn’t it? If it does — and if it is a good argument — then people of faith have a compelling reason not to send their children to schools where the subject of religion qua religion is carefully avoided. One could, I suppose, argue that the tacit message of such schools is that religion is too important to get mixed up with the tedious but necessary stuff of primary education, but of course public schools approach important matters all the time, and cannot avoid doing so. However fastidiously they dodge metaphysical questions, they cannot dodge what Socrates called the most important question: how to live. Educators who think they do or can avoid this question are fooling themselves. And educators who answer this question while systematically avoiding religious questions inevitably impart the lesson that “religion doesn’t matter” — or at least not in the way most religious people think it does. If Christian claims are true, then, as Longley says, they matter a great deal, in ways that bear, directly and indirectly, on much of what students learn in an ordinary grade school. This is obviously not an argument against religious pluralism, but it may be an argument against Catholics’ accepting the most common way of accomodating religious pluralism in public schools.
Longley goes on to ask why so many vocal atheists seem so uninterested in conversation with believers.
[W]hy are atheists so passionate, indeed so irrational? I could not have an intelligent conversation with my father about religion, and I don’t suppose it would be any easier to have one with Polly Toynbee, A.C. Grayling, Richard Dawkins and the other evangelists of the New Atheism. With some of them I’ve tried. One meets closed minds.
That is what characterizes a fundamentalist — whereas I have to renew my Catholicism every day. The fact that today’s perfectly good answers are the same as yesterday’s does not exclude the possibility that one day they won’t be. Faith, as Pope Benedict has said, has to allow itself to be continuously interrogated by reason. It is as if atheists cannot bear the thought of their reason being interrogated by faith. As mine was; and faith broke through. Is this the possibility that really scares them?