Janet Heimlich wants to get atheists talking to clerics in order to do a better job of fixing the (enormous and terrible) problem of religious child abuse. She has a post on the subject on her blog.
I’ve been speaking on the subject of religious child maltreatment for some time, and a glance at my speaking schedule shows what groups have been most eager to have me come talk about this topic. While some religious organizations have extended invitations, I have been welcomed by atheist groups more than any other by far. I can think of all kinds of reasons why this would be, but the fact remains, atheists are willing to learn about religious child maltreatment more than any other group. And that’s commendable. I live with these cases of psychological and physical torture and death every day, and it’s not for the faint of heart. So, thank you, atheists, for taking the time and paying the money and whatever else you do to learn about this god-awful and hellish subject.
But, she adds, it’s preaching to the choir. Atheists have to preach to the preachers.
What I mean is, atheists should put aside their theological differences, focus on common goals, and sit down with faith leaders and teach them about religious child maltreatment. Why faith leaders? Because they can have a direct impact on perpetrators, the ones who need to learn about healthy alternatives to raising kids. After all, isn’t this how these problems get started in the first place, with pastors, rabbis, imams and cult leaders telling parents how to treat their children?
I propose we use that powerful force for good, so, atheists, I ask you to have a heart-to-heart with members of the clergy. You, atheists, who rarely need it to be explained that religious child maltreatment is a serious problem; who know we can’t accomplish much with just a lot of hand-wringing; and who want to see change happen to stop child abuse and neglect enabled by ideology and ignorance. I ask you to encourage faith leaders to teach parents about compassionate childrearing and to use healthy disciplinary techniques in ways that would bring a smile to the face of any child development expert.
I completely see her point, but I think it’s difficult. I wouldn’t volunteer to try to do it, because I don’t think I would do it well. I would get too argumentative. I think people who do terrible cruel things because they think there’s a god who wants them to are in need of a lot more than just advice to be kind instead of terrible. I wouldn’t be able to agree with their belief that there’s a god who wants them to do things and disagree only on the particulars of what the god wants them to do. I think the whole idea is horrendously dangerous, so I’d be bad at trying to bargain with it.
But as I said, I see her point. I hope she and others can get through to the preachers.