Monday Meslier: 32 – It is a Prejudice Which Has Been Handed From Father to Children

Religion is handed down from fathers to children as the property of a family with the burdens.

Jean Meslier Portrait

Your host, Jean Meslier

Very few people in the world would have a God if care had not been taken to give them one. Each one receives from his parents and his instructors the God which they themselves have received from theirs; only, according to his own temperament, each one arranges, modifies, and paints Him agreeably to his taste.

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Ignatius Loyola allegedly said “Give me the child and I will give you the man” although he may not have – some claim that it was a calumny laid on Loyola by Voltaire. Aristotle said:

“Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man.”

These creepy observations reach for a deep truth: children are easier to fool into believing in gods. Imagine if you had an adult who grew up without any “knowledge” about gods, and you tried to explain it to them.

Humans are meta-programmed creatures – we’re not born as completely “blank slates” but a tremendous amount of what we are and how we operate is learned. It seems to make sense to me that a human child (or any animal that has complex learned behaviors) is going to have a critical period in which it is more accepting of instruction. If children were born as little skeptics and kept asking parents “why?” “why?” “why?” (like I did!) the species would probably die out when nobody decided to have children any more. So: get them young, and get the bullshit over the goal-line so it becomes part of their world-view. You can polish it with all the detailed nonsense later.


  1. Owlmirror says

    As I noted elsewhere, I’ve been reading Bruce Hood’s Supersense, which posits that children (and adults) do have a tendency to innately believe things which are “supernatural”; that there are mind-like essences and/or spirits or something like that.

    One more example: A researcher had some cardigans that either belonged to Fred Rogers (of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood), or were claimed to belong to him, and asked college students whether children who wore those cardigans would behave better than children who did not. The prevailing opinion would be that they would, which makes no sense unless they were positing that some essence of Mr. Rogers’ calmness and kindness somehow adhered to the sweaters.

    Hood’s thesis makes sense to me, because when I think back to when I was younger, I think I was more superstitious/prone to believe in supernatural concepts — or at least, believe in the possibility; to believe that there might be something to them. And, I should add, superstitious/supernaturalist in ways that I was not indoctrinated in by adults or even told about.

    But there were also doubts, and skepticism about those ideas. Reading about skepticism on the topics of psychics, magic, and ghosts helped me to question and those tendencies and give more weight to naturalistic hypotheses.

    Of course, I am only one person, and we have to be careful about generalizing from our own single example. But I have seen the reports that even in societies where religion is deprecated, some types of superstition and supernaturalist beliefs still persist. The fact of deep and persistent indoctrination explains the existence and persistence of specific religious beliefs, but the absence of that indoctrination does not mean that less specific supernatural beliefs would not exist.

  2. kestrel says

    These ideas are pervasive and part of our culture. I mention this, Owlmirror, because it’s possible to get reinforced about some goofy idea just from general society, without ever realizing it. I know I received indoctrination from my culture (and yet not from my parents) without it being explicit. As a result I had some fairly goofy ideas; they came from all over the place, books, other children at school, teachers, friends, the way window displays were set up, movies, magazine covers etc. It is insidious.

    But yeah, I do agree with Marcus: having parents that encourage questions and continually ask what you have learned and why you think that, really helps to overcome some of the indoctrination. There does seem to be a time in life when people learn things more easily than they might later on in life so I understand religious people wanting to indoctrinate children; I’m also glad that this attempt fails on a fairly regular basis.