You may already be familiar with the name Zoltan Istvan . He’s a transhumanist philosopher, best known for his book The Transhumanist Wager. His protagonist Jethro Knights is a radical iconoclast, and lately Zoltan himself has been publishing articles advocating the drastic change implemented in his book. He received death threats for his WIRED post in favour of restricting Human breeding, and his latest article on Huffington suggests that we should make it illegal for anyone under the age of sixteen to participate in religion .
While I respect Zoltan and enjoy entertaining his philosophies, I believe his radicalism is misplaced. When discussing the dangers that religion poses to children, Zoltan is mostly referring to religious extremism. I wholly agree that such an environment would be emotionally unhealthy for a child. I agree with Richard Dawkins that threatening children with eternal hellfire is cruel and potentially psychologically damaging, and that social services would probably be justified in removing children from a fundamentalist household.
My main issue with militant atheism is that it makes no distinction between moderate religion and religious extremists, and treating religious moderates as dangerous zealots is grossly unfair and counterproductive. In Zoltan’s article, he never really specifies what constitutes religious indoctrination. Does he think taking a kid to a church picnic would be abuse? That doesn’t sound rational to me.
And that is after all the great hypocrisy of militant atheism: it’s irrational. It’s essentially tribalistic hate-mongering for those outside their thede. For instance, many militant atheists cite 9/11 as proof that religion is an existential threat and must be abolished if we are to survive. Although 9/11 did have a high body count for a terrorist attack, and was admittedly a very horrifying spectacle, 3000 deaths is a relatively small fraction of the global death toll. Between 100 and 150 thousand people die every day. Even if religious extremists killed 3000 people every single day (which they don’t), that would still only be a marginal increase in the daily fatality rate.
Statistically you’re more likely to choke to death on your own vomit than be killed in a terrorist attack. It doesn’t matter if you’re an atheist or a right-wing American politician; when you treat terrorism as a greater threat than any of at least a dozen diseases with a higher body count, that is not rationality. That is the primitive, tribalistic, Lord of the Flies part of your brain telling you to hate your enemy.
If we are to rationally discuss the possibility of prohibiting religion, than the costs and benefits of prohibition must be objectively evaluated. I think the comparison to alcohol prohibition is an apt one. Like religion, alcohol is dangerous in excess but mostly benign and even beneficial in moderation. Even if you believe that the destructive effects of alcoholism are so great that it would be better if alcohol didn’t exist at all, eliminating it is not a practical option. Not only is prohibition costly, the black market it spawns feeds organized crime, ultimately making prohibition more destructive than alcohol ever was. Similarly, I believe that suppressing religion in general would have a galvanizing effect, and drive many religious moderates to extremism out of self-preservation.
Zoltan, doesn’t even discuss how we could possibly enforce a law that forbade parents from passing their religious beliefs onto their children. Is praying with your children by their bedside adequate cause to remove them from your custody? I don’t believe that, and I don’t think most atheists believe that either. It’s ridiculously cruel and petty.