The Children of Dogma

| by Tony Philpott |

In the 1500s the Vatican aligned itself with its favorite despots — and the Protestants cuddled up to their preferred tyrants. Each religion claiming divine sponsorship — each ruler laying claim to whatever land the ruler next door happened to occupy. After the Diet of Speyer, the principle of cuius region, eius religio (The religion of the ruler is the religion of the ruled) was established and this really clarified matters for all concerned — at least it did if you were a ruler. As battles raged, frontiers shifted backwards and forwards, countries were claimed and conquered depending on who was victorious. Armies advanced and retreated and a peasant could find himself being a Protestant at breakfast time and a Catholic by lunchtime (if you were a Jew you would be dead by teatime).

With the capture of land came the capture of souls. The religion of the victorious army was imposed on the conquered: it happened with almost all religions all over the world.

In Saudi Arabia during the 18th century a man called Ibn Al-Wahhab, an extreme Islamic fundamentalist who believed that music and reproductions of the human image should be banned and that all non-believers should be beheaded, cozied up to Mohamed Ibn Saud, founder of Saudi Arabia, promising him that the Wahabi movement would help him achieve “power and glory” and gain him conquest over “the lands of men.” And conquer, he did.

But let’s deconstruct such a scenario.

Any invading army with colonial aspirations first gains control of the resources and geography of their “enemy.” They then forcefully impose the religious and political ideology on the extant population of adults. But what about the children? If a religion is not to die with the first generation upon which it has been imposed, then that religion must be propagated through the generation which will succeed them. Children must therefore become indoctrinated, and such indoctrination comes at the hands of their parents and whatever teacher/priest/imam happens to have access to them.

A Jesuit maxim is: “Give me the boy until he’s seven — and I will give you the man.” And it is indeed a truth. No religion can expand its philosophical and geographic domain without children.

Control of children’s minds, especially in their formative years, is something for which all religions strive. From the madrassas in the Islamic world, to the faith-based schools of Europe, to the Christian fundamentalist boot camps in America; children are brainwashed with the precepts and prohibitions of whatever doctrine happens to be geographically in place. But pluck an infant Hindu from the Kush — drop him in Ireland and fill him with the stories of the Bible and he’ll soak them up just as readily as he would the Bahagavad Gita had he been left where he was. That fact alone should have allowed for the possibility that exclusive revelation, or the primacy of one God over another; is nonsense. The religion of the ruler is the religion of the ruled. Or, to put it another way — it’s not who you are but where you are that determines which religion is going to program your thinking.

In Michael A. Sherlock’s recent Areo article “Scientology, The Simpsons, Cults, Christianity, and Islam,” he states that: “Childhood indoctrination is possibly the most effective strategy for propagating an ideology, which is why religions and cults have employed this strategy with outstanding results.” And that indoctrination works better, lasts longer and becomes more steadfast when it’s applied to children. Watch Palestinian pre-schoolers being rehearsed, with cardboard cut-outs of machine guns, in how to kill Jews. Watch the children of Christian fundamentalists wailing heavenwards as they believe they have become possessed by some divine force. They were not born to this — it’s learned behavior, and worse, it’s taught behavior.

The will to believe is powerful. Most of us never actively pursue belief; we passively absorb it in a slow accretion of ideas and dogmas layered onto our emerging and receptive psyches by mothers, fathers, teachers and priests. You don’t have to do anything to believe. Such conditions make religious belief especially difficult to relinquish.

So, how to propagate a religion, even a hateful one like Jihadism, or an irrational one like Christian Biblical inerrancy..? … it’s child’s play, really.

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Tony Philpott is a published author and screenwriter. His latest book “Faithless — A Journey Out Of Religion With Stops For Light Refreshment Along The Way” is a biting and humorous critique of religion and irrationality.  

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Header Photo: David Beale

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