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From dental neglect to child abuse? Ken Perrott Nov 20

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child-report

Talk about conflicts of  interest!

The article, Children’s Health: Shift focus to care of young – MPs,  in yesterday’s NZ Herald really sparked a response in me: 

It opens with this:

Cross-party inquiry comes up with strong message for change from emphasis on caring for people late in life.

 New Zealand must change its health-care priorities from the last two years of life to the womb if it is to improve its record on child health and child abuse, an inquiry has found.

More than half the Government’s $14 billion health budget goes towards caring for people late in life.

The parliamentary health committee says this is contrary to widely accepted research which shows that it would make more economic and social sense to do the exact reverse by focusing on the period between pre-conception and 3 years of age.”

So here I am – at the stage of life where our government is investing half its health budget. Yet my experience cries out to me that the suggested change of emphasis makes sense – for the good of individuals and society.

Most people agree we have to do something about child poverty, child neglect and child abuse in this country. Re-prioritising social health investment would go a long way to doing that. Surely its a no-brainer – look after the health of our children and we get healthier adults in the future who will be more resistant to health problems – even in old age. Investing in the health of children is an investment in the future of all ages – and the health of society in general.

The report

You can download the report which has the rather long title - here

It is actually a report from the NZ Parliamentary Health Committee. The Committee make specific recommendations in it and the report now goes to the government for consideration.

A sample of the chapter headings gives an idea of the report’s scope:

  • The economics of early intervention with children
  • Pre-conception care and sexual and reproductive health
  • Social economic determinants of health and wellbeing
  • Improving nutrition and reducing obesity and related non-communicable diseases
  • Alcohol, tobacco, and drug harm
  • Maternity care and post-birth monitoring
  • Leadership, whole-of-government approach, and vulnerable children
  • Immunisation
  • Oral health
  • Early childhood education
  • Collaboration, information sharing, and service integration
  • Research on children

I have only read part of the report so far so will just comment here on the Oral Health chapter – being quite relevant at the moment.

It introduces the problem with:

“Oral disease is among the most prevalent chronic diseases in New Zealand and among the most preventable in all age groups. We heard that oral disease and their consequences, such as embarrassment, pain, and self-consciousness, can have a profound effect on a person’s quality of life and ability to gain employment. Millions of school and work hours are lost globally to pain and infection from dental disease and the time needed to treat them. Caries can also affect children’s development, school performance, and behaviour, and thus families and society in general. Promoting good oral health benefits children of all
ages.”

True – but I would add the effects of poor oral health in childhood have repercussions right through life – even effecting the quality of one’s life in old age. I see this as a specific example of how investment in children’s health will reduce health costs for the elderly in the future.

Many causes of poor oral health

The report says the “risk factors and indicators for dental caries:”

“ include socioeconomic deprivation, suboptimal fluoride exposure, ethnicity, poor oral hygiene, prolonged infant bottle feeding, poor family dental health, enamel defects, and irregular dental care.”

It expresses concern, and frustration, about the situation with availability of fluoridated drinking water:

“At present approximately only 55 percent of New Zealanders receive optimally fluoridated reticulated drinking water and coverage has recently decreased following decisions from the local councils in New Plymouth and Hamilton to cease fluoridating their water supplies. No substantial increases in coverage have occurred for over two decades.”

Its recommendations in this chapter include two about fluoridation:

102 We recommend to the Government that it work with the Ministry of Health to ensure that the addition of fluoride to the drinking water supply is backed by strong scientific evidence and that ongoing monitoring of the scientific evidence is undertaken by, or for, the Ministry of Health, and that the Director-General of Health is required to report periodically to the Minister of Health on the status of the evidence and coverage of community water fluoridation.

This is already happening to an extent with the National Fluoride Information Service and I hope their work continues and possibly expands. Scientific knowledge is always improving so it is important that we keep and eye on research findings and adjust health policies if, and when, necessary.

103 We recommend to the Government that it work with Local Government New Zealand and the Ministry of Health to make district health boards responsible for setting standards around water-quality monitoring and adjustments to meet World Health Organisation standards (or their equivalent), including the optimal level of fluoridation of water supplies. Part of the work programme would be to ensure that costs imposed on councils relating to standards and monitoring, are realistic and affordable. This should be implemented within two years of this report being published.”

It will be interesting to see how the government reacts to this recommendation. Fluoridation has become a bit of a political football for local bodies. This is not good because local body councillors can often have minority viewpoints and tend to be more easily influenced by ideologically motivated political activists. It seems more responsible that such important health issues are handled centrally by bodies with health expertise.

Dental neglect is child neglect

Another recommendation in the Oral Health chapter struck a chord with me:

“109 We recommend to the Government that “dental neglect” be defined as an important category of child neglect and recognised and managed accordingly. Systems must be established for following up children who do not attend scheduled appointments, and therefore risk pain from dental abscesses and untreated decay.”

Considering the consequences of child dental neglect I fully endorse that recommendation. Perhaps I would go even further – my reading having encouraged me to think of child neglect as a form of child abuse.

Perhaps we should admit that child dental neglect is a form of child abuse?

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The importance of books for kids Ken Perrott Jun 24

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Here’s a nice video where Lisa Bu describes the importance of books in her development.

She  talks about her cross-cultural experience and how books have helped here understand both her original culture and her new culture.

Her talk reminded me of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s experience. She describes in her book Infidel how growing up in Somalia she managed to read some English books. Although these were  basically crappy novels they did open her mind to another culture.

Even within a country and a culture books can do a lot to open children’s minds up to the possibilities of their future life. It is really sad that many homes do little to provide reading material for children. But even disadvantaged children can get access to books through their schools, library and helpful adults outside the family. 

Books are important for kids.

Lisa Bu: How books can open your mind | Video on TED.com.

Education should never validate ignorance Ken Perrott Feb 06

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Quite a concise and clear argument from Lawrence Krauss on the silly idea of giving equal time to creationism in a science classes (a big problem in his country – the USA). As he points out – the role of education is to overcome ignorance – not confirm it.

Teaching kids that the earth is 6000 years old, just because (in the USA) half the population believes it, is only validating ignorance. The fact is that half of the US population does not think the earth orbits the sun – they are clearly wrong but should that widespread belief mean that kids must be taught that mistake in their science classes?

Of course not.

That would be validating ignorance and is a form of child abuse.

Lawrence Krauss: Teaching Creationism is Child Abuse



The arrogance of supernatural privilege Ken Perrott Nov 21

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I’ve often criticised the arrogance of some of those with a supernatural ideology. Their claims of special access to the “Truth,” to morality, etc. But I get especially angry when this arrogance rides roughshod over the most innocent and vulnerable people in society. Our children.

 Recently the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced a Royal Commission to uncover the truth about sexual abuse of children in Australia. This is a response to the public outrage against revelations and accusations of paedophilia and its cover up by a number of institutions with responsibility for care of children  – including Churches. The commission has generally been welcomed across the political spectrum with the strongest concern being that it should get to work and produce results quickly. That it shouldn’t dawdle on for decades and itself contribute to the cover up.

 So I was shocked to see a local blogger, Kereopa at beingfrank, interpret this commission as “persecution” of the Catholic church (see Persecution begins against the Catholic Church in Australia)! Talk about (guilty) paranoia. Gillard made clear that the Catholic Church was not the only institution targeted. That its scope would cover:

 ”all institutions, including religious institutions, state-based organisations, schools and not-for-profit groups such as scouts and sporting clubs. It will also look at the response of child services agencies and the police to accusations of abuse.”

 So what does Kereopa want? Exclusion of the Catholic Church from such an inquiry? And how can she/he justify that? Because of its supernatural privilege? That it must be protected from such accusations and investigations because it is “sacred?”

 How else can Kereopa interpret an objective investigation of all bodies as persecution of his/her own organisation?

 Plain supernatural arrogance. Arrogance which is medieval and in this day and age deserves only a laugh. Why should the Catholic Church be exempt from such investigations, immune to even accusations or concerns? Especially as we now know its functionaries have often sexually abused the children in their care. And the organisation has often denied these crimes, protected the criminals and gone to great efforts to cover up the crimes. To the extent of allowing the crimes to continue and usually slandering the victims in the process.

As if to rub the salt into the psychological wounds of the victims of this child abuse, apologists for the Catholic Church have been frantically attempting to defend the supernatural privilege of confessions, the seal of the confessional. To protect this from investigations by the Royal Commission. They think their obligation to protect children in their care can be superseded by mythical supernatural claptrap.  Here’s how blogger Lucia Maria at New Zealand Conservative argues for a privilege of exempting Catholic confessions from the law:

“Confession is where a person is forgiven of their sins so that they are able to enter eternal life (ie not go to Hell). The priest represents our Lord Jesus Christ, and has been given the power to forgive sins.”

So, put a guy in a dress and give him a cross and he can represent a god! And you then claim that such a claim supersedes the rights of the victim? Innocent and defenceless children? Or the rights of society to get justice?

Who do these people think they are fooling – or even talking to? Most of us just don’t share their particular brand of supernaturalism. We are not convinced they have special privileges putting them above the law. Their talk of angels, hell and heaven don’t convince us that they should not have to obey the same laws we do. Especially when it comes to protecting our children.

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Capturing kid’s minds with emotions Ken Perrott Nov 15

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I have commented on the problem of religious indoctrination at secular New Zealand schools before (see What really happens in religious instruction classes? and Cynical evangelisation of children.) That’s bad enough but a friend recently described such indoctrination occurring at a day care centre! This was a secular centre, but influenced by a church. So the obvious happened – infants came home asking about gods, devils and hell.

It’s bad enough when they go after children of school age – but it seems they also consider children of preschool age, other people’s children, “fair game” as well.

Unfortunately, the concentration on children is common among evangelical Christians. Consider the document is Evangelisation of Children.” This was prepared several years ago and sees indoctrination of children as part of a general plan of world evangelisation (see my post .

Jerry Coyne has a video showing an even worse side to the evangelisaiton of children – the use of emotional methods (see A Christian brainwashes two-year-olds). These people recognise that bible stories just aren’t enough. Kids go through the intellectual learning procedure and come out the other end without a strong commitment. But emotional experiences can be a lot more powerful than intellectual exercises in getting commitment.

Again, it’s one thing to know that consenting adults take part in happy clapping speaking in tongues to get their kick. But imposing it on children? Even babies? That is what this video shows.

Babies and God

Perhaps parents are a bit naive to think the religious instruction classes in our secular schools are harmless. After all, they might think, it helps kids understand how others think and won’t education in science and reason supersede these myths in the long run. That’s the message of the recent Jesus and Mo cartoon below.


But what if the evangelicals who tend to teach these instruction classes are messing with the kid’s emotions instead?

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Cynical evangelisation of children Ken Perrott Aug 12

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All parents are concerned when they send their children out into the world. We all hope that our schools, and other places our children go, are going to be safe. We are rightfully shocked when we find adults entrusted with the care of children have actually been preying on them.

Sexual predators get the headlines. But children can also be subject to unhealthy interest of adults who interests are more political or ideological than sexual. I am beginning to think we should look at the way religious instruction operates in our public schools as an example of this unhealthy interest.

There has been a lot in the media lately about “bible in schools” and similar programmes. Simon Greening, the chief executive officer for the main provider of these religious instruction programmes (the Churches Education Commission),  has been assuring everybody that their interests are not evangelical. They are not trying to convert children – just educate them about values (see Their mission – values or advancement of religion?). It hasn’t helped him that other spokesmen for his organisation have presented a different story – admitting that they see religious instruction in public schools as a great opportunity for their religious mission. There has even been talk of creating disciples out of children in these religious instruction classes.

George Higinbotham (@streligionVIC) a recent commenter here pointed me to a document which is very relevant to this issue. Partly because one of the drafters of the document is Mitch Jordan who is currently Chairperson of the CEC board. But also, and more seriously, the document outlines a cynical programme for the evangelisation of children that seems to actually now be in place in New Zealand.

The document is Evangelisation of Children.” Prepared several years ago, it’s seen as part of a general plan of world evangelisation. I’ll present some extracts from the document and compare them with what is actually happening here.

Identifying children as a fruitful group for evangelisation

We are all aware of the importance dogmatic religions place on the early indoctrination of their own children. But this document describes the same approach to your children.

“Children represent arguably the largest unreached people group and the most receptive people group in the world. “

“Children are more open and receptive to the gospel than at any other time in their lives.”

„ “Between the ages 5 and 12, lifelong habits, values, beliefs and attitudes are formed.  Whatever beliefs a person embraces when he is young are unlikely to change as the individual ages.”

„ “If a person does not embrace Jesus Christ as Saviour before they reach their teenage years, they most likely never will.”

“The data show that churches can have a very significant impact on the worldview of people, but they must start with an intentional process introduced to people at a very young age.  Waiting until someone is in their teens or young adult years misses the window of opportunity.”

“Unevangelised children generally become adults who see no relevance of Christian faith to real life, make no contact with a church, who live and die without knowing that Jesus offers eternal life.  Ineffectively-evangelised children in our churches become ‘well-intentioned, inadequately nurtured, minimally equipped secular people who dabble in religious thought and activity.”

The organisations currently operating religious instruction classes in public schools all seem to express the same belief in the importance of reaching young children.

Evangelisation of children, by children

The document cynically advocates to: “invite children to be active participants in the task of evangelization:”

“The focus of mission and the call to mission do not have any age limitations.”

“The work of mission can be shared by a generation of children equipped to be faithful witnesses for Jesus”

“peer evangelism among young children – one kid leading another kid to the foot of the Cross for a life-changing encounter with Jesus”

“Children bring unique gifts to the task of evangelization.  For example, they have access to thousands of children outside the church – and are often the only means of reaching these children.  They have a simple faith that is attractive.  They put their whole heart into reaching out.  Children will do the job of evangelism in simple obedience.  Even adults will listen to children because they are perceived to have no hidden agenda.”

“Challenge children to be witnesses and challenge them at an early age”

“Marketing companies have recognised that children have the power to enthuse others. Imagine if the church worldwide could harness the enthusiasm of children and encourage them to tell their friends and get them involved as well.”

“existing worldwide initiatives that focus on child evangelism could encourage children who are already churched to take ownership of the event – be trained to share their testimonies, invite their friends and do discipleship.”

What a horrible task to place on children – that their friendships be destroyed by the need to evangelise.

Action plans for influencing children

The action plans advocated in this document are very similar to what is occurring in New Zealand:

“ACTION PLAN for the local church: Think about how a values-based programme might give unexpected access to local non-Christian communities (e.g. schools) and become a vehicle for evangelization”

Provide “Quality interactive websites for children” and  Email, chat-rooms and ‘mailbox clubs’ which are tools to help children to follow Jesus.”

“Going to where the children are in their world.  In every continent, there are more children outside our churches than inside: we dare not be content with hoping that children will come to visit a strange place with strange rituals and unknown people.  Many children require stepping stones before they can cross the cultural barriers represented by church as it is now.”

It advocates “specific application to the evangelization of children in different social contexts.” And “Working within the web of relationships to which the child belongs – friends, gang, family.’

Church groups in New Zealand are forming special relationships with public schools as the document outlines. These also include web sites and email clubs for children who are initially contacted through the religious instruction classes. the Cool Bananas Kids Mailbox Club operated by the Cool Bananas group in Tauranga is one example. The same group offers an Annual 5 day Adventure Camp. Other local groups do the same.

There is a video in my post What really happens in religious instruction classes? describing how Pentecostals in Australia use such camps to further indoctrinate children attracted through religious instruction classes at school.

Tactics – winning the cooperation of care-givers

“For the local church to plan evangelism that minimises offence and maximises effectiveness, it must:  1. Commit to long-term effort, preferably involving a partnership of interested people such as teachers or health care workers”

“6. Be prepared to work within the limitations while taking the opportunities”

“1. Use the window of opportunity  Parents may well have an interest in introducing values, ethics or belief frameworks to their young children.  The church will be one option they may consider.  Make it an attractive one!”

„ “Church members join school boards, volunteer for sports coaching”

This is a cynical agenda for the infiltration of places our children attend with the sole purpose of evangelisation.

Confidence of their plans for your children

“We can bring about a transformational shift even through the timespan of a single generation if we seriously address the challenges and opportunities that face the evangelism of this generation of children.”

This document reads like a cynical action plan for a political/ideological group wishing to carry out a political/ideological change in society. And they are concentrating on our children because they see them as the group most easily captured or evangelised. And as a group which itself can further evangelise others.

When we send our children to public schools with a legally prescribed secular curriculum we do not expect they should be preyed on, evangelised, by such groups.

It’s time this was stopped.

Image credit: God Discussion

See also
Human values are secular


Mixing values and Jesus in secular education
What really happens in religious instruction classes?

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Peter Singer on the misrepresentation of Peter Singer Ken Perrott Jul 11

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We have been having a raging debate here in the comments on a previous post End of life decisions. A lot of it is centred on the writings of the moral philosopher Peter Singer. One of the commenters posted a video where Singer explains his views in this and other issues. Its well worth watching, part of the Uncut Interviews recorded for the series The Genius of Darwin

Peter Singer – The Genius of Darwin: The Uncut Interviews

Singer is controversial because he is dealing with controversial ethical subjects. Subjects where there seems to be a taboo on discussion or even active attempts to present discussion. In the 2nd edition of his book Practical Ethics.
Singer describes the extreme reaction his writing had received in Germany. Speakers were prevented from speaking – even physically attacked, conferences closed down, academic invitations withdrawn and there had been difficulty in getting academic books published.

I thought his description of the way his ideas get distorted was very useful because it seems to happen all the time in controversial areas, or just in areas where some groups oppose ideas where there is actually a consensus.

Here it is:

For the most part each of the books [criticising Singer's ideas] appears to have been written to a formula that goes something like this:

1:  Quote a few passages from Practical Ethics selected so as to distort the book’s meaning
2:  Express horror that anyone can say such things.
3:  Make a sneering jibe at the idea that this could pass for philosophy.
4:  Draw a parallel between what has been quoted and what the Nazis thought or did.

But it is also essential to observe one negative aspect of the formula:

5:  Avoid discussing any of the following dangerous questions: Is human life to be preserved to the maximum extent possible? If not, in cases in which the patient cannot and never has been able to express a preference, how are decisions to discontinue treatment to be made, without an evaluation of the patient’s quality of life? What is the moral significance of the distinction between bringing about a patient’s death by withdrawing treatment necessary to prolong life and bringing it about by active intervention? Why is advocacy of euthanasia for severely disabled infants so much worse than advocacy of abortion on request that the same people can oppose the right even to discuss the former, while themselves advocating the latter?

These are important ethical questions and should be discussed. It’s a pity that people with fixed opinions attempt to close down discussion by presenting extreme  parodies of participants in the possible debate.

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Mixing values and Jesus in secular education Ken Perrott Jun 05

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Daniel Dennett calls it the “last big fib.*” The claim that religion and human morality are intimately entwined – that you can’t be good without god. That does seem to be a widely held misconception, or should I say widely promoted.

The New Zealand educational curriculum provides for values education. And in public schools by law the education must be secular. But these  (the teaching of values and secular education) are threatened by the legal provision which allows religious (Christian) groups to come into public schools and provide religious instruction. The “trick” is that schools are legally “closed” during that time – and parents can “opt-out” their children (if they know what is going on).

I think that is bad enough but some groups, and schools, pull another trick. They tie in values and religion so that the intruding religious group provides the curriculum requirement for values education – or justifies their intrusion this way.

On the one hand children are taught a very biased form of values and in practice these groups are more interest in converts and talking about “Jesus” than they are in values). On the other, those children who are opted out miss even that form of values education.

Very unsatisfactory!

A newly formed New Zealand group, the Secular Education Network, is attempting to publicise and change this situation. If the issue interests you or you wish to participate in this work go and have a look at their website at http://reason.org.nz/.

Here’s an excellent, and short, video highlighting the problem in Auckland.

Religious recruiting in our schools.

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*Have a look at this excellent video of a recent discussion between Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins where Dennett uses this term:

Richard Dawkins & Daniel Dennett. Oxford, 9 May 2012

That’s what I like to see in a young woman! Ken Perrott Sep 07

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Credit: Toothpaste For Dinner (http://toothpastefordinner.com/)

Recently, I have been debating with some of the theologically inclined the question of religious privilege in a secular society and the funding of private religious schools. Coincidentally I came across an internet post which illustrates one of the problems of these “special character” schools – prohibition of selected reading material (see Is it OK to run an illegal library from my locker at school?)

It’s quite heart-warming story, really.

As this young woman, Katherine, explains it:

“I go to a private school that is rather strict. Recently, the principal and school teacher council released a (very long) list of books we’re not allowed to read. I was absolutely appalled, because a large number of the books were classics and others that are my favorites. One of my personal favorites, The Catcher in the Rye, was on the list, so I decided to bring it to school to see if I would really get in trouble. Well… I did but not too much. Then (surprise!) a boy in my English class asked if he could borrow the book, because he heard it was very good AND it was banned! This happened a lot and my locker got to overflowing with the banned books, so I decided to put the unoccupied locker next to me to a good use. I now have 62 books in that locker, about half of what was on the list. I took care only to bring the books with literary quality. Some of these books are:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
His Dark Materials Trilogy (The Golden Compass; The Subtle Knife; The Amber Spyglass)
Sabriel (Abhorsen)
The Canterbury Tales (Oxford World’s Classics)
The Divine Comedy
Paradise Lost (Modern Library Classics)
The Godfather
Mort
Interview with the Vampire (Vampire Chronicles)
The Hunger Games
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
Animal Farm
The Witches
Shades Children
The Evolution of Man – Volume 1
The Holy Qur’an

Anyway, I now operate a little mini-library that no one has access to but myself. Practically a real library, because I keep an inventory log and give people due dates and everything. I would be in so much trouble if I got caught, but I think it’s the right thing to do because before I started, almost no kid at school but myself took an active interest in reading! Now not only are all the kids reading the banned books, but go out of their way to read anything they can get their hands on.”

As she says – she thinks  “it’s the right thing to do.”

Well of course it is. Sometimes one must act according to one’s conscience, not figures of authority.

But what initiative! Such an intelligent approach to this problem.

Thanks to Alice Sheppard (@PenguinGalaxy)

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Ideological infections Ken Perrott Jan 29

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Book Review: The God Virus: How religion infects our lives and culture by Darrel W. Ray

Price: US$12.91
Perfect Paperback: 241 pages
Publisher: IPC Press; First edition (December 5, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0970950519
ISBN-13: 978-0970950512

The virus metaphor has been extremely useful in computing. The parallel with biological viruses is close so the word provides an accurate but succinct description of the phenomena of, and problems created by, computer viruses. And this particular metaphor offends no one.

The idea of a ’god virus’, which treats religious ideas in a similar way, also has some traction. Darrel Ray shows in ’The God Virus’ that this particular metaphor can be an accurate description of the problem. The metaphor is useful. But in this case some people do get offended.

Maybe they overreact? (Religious people often do). Ray does make clear the metaphor applies to other ideological viewpoints besides the religious ones. That it is more general. For instance, he includes communism and Marxism in some of the discussions. He also points out that, just as with ideologies, biological ’viruses can be benign, even beneficial in some cases.’ Although ’parasite’ may be a more suitable description of how ideas sometimes work — he wanted ’to avoid the negative connotations’ of that word.

Not a new idea

Application of the virus metaphor to ideas is not Ray’s invention. The philosopher Daniel C. Dennett promoted the metaphor in his book Breaking the Spell and in some of his lectures. He describes how ideas, like viruses, can take over people’s brains (hosts) to advance their own purposes, rather than those of the host. The host can be sacrificed to perpetuate the idea. People will die for democracy, communism, freedom, etc. Just as they will for ’God, King and country.’ He is clear the virus metaphor applies to non-relgious as well as relgious ideas.

However, in this book Ray further develops the metaphor. He persists with it throughout the 230 pages and explores the metaphor thoroughly. I found this helps immensely in understanding the role of various religious behaviours, traditions and rituals.

And the metaphor is accurate. Just as biological viruses can strike when the host’s immune system is compromised the god virus can strike at times of personal crisis. In fact, religion recognises this and tries to take advantage of personal crises and susceptible stages of development. Some obvious examples are in children’s education and ’love bombing’ of new students at universities. People experiencing personal bereavements, illness and periods in hospital, divorces, counseling, etc., are also vulnerable to infection.

The god virus has effects on the host which are not immediately obvious to them. It disables critical thinking skills and sets up defenses against other infections (competing religions and ideologies). The host can see faults in these other religions but is unable to see them in their own.

The virus will sacrifice the host

The god virus clearly operates in its own interests, not the hosts. It will encourage celibacy, genetic sacrifice for the sake of the advancing the relgion. Priests and similar hosts can more efficiently act as vectors for infecting others. The churches see these vectors as valuable, will invest time and resources in them, and will do everything to protect them. Religious organisations will protect paedophile priests and ministers, even to the extent of slandering their victims. Protection and advancement of the religion (the infection) is more important than the individual.

Religious organisations often mouth fine words about compassion etc., but they act for the interests of the infection, promoting and defending the religion, rather than the host. Religious organisations like ’Focus on the Family’ really focus on the virus. The religious infection is advanced even while the victims are sacrificed.

Religions promote programmes aimed at imposing their ideas of morality and behaviour — which prove not to solve the problems they claim to be aimed at. Abstinence programmes do not prevent teenage pregnancies — they promote guilt, which has a religious purpose.

Fundamentalism

Fundamentalism is an extreme virus reaction, an antibody, to fight off other viruses. To protect the host and to disarm or isolate alternative infections.  We have seen this also with fundamentalist secular cults like Maoism (remember the ’Red Guards’ in Maoist China’s ’Cultural revolution’).

Sometimes these ’antibodies’ take an organisational form — such as the Inquisition of the Catholic Church, or the Control Commissions in Communist Parties.

I found Ray’s discussion of the psychological role of religious ceremony and routines fascinating. This is an area where he has professional expertise having been trained in psychology, anthropology and sociology of religion. He works as an organisational psychologist. Ray describes how religious services and rituals act to create emotions which strengthen infection. These help bind the host to the religion. Rituals, songs and sermons can manipulate members of a congregation to feel guilt, pride, self-doubt, a chance for resolution or redemption (usually involving a collection plate) and finishing with a sense of joy and hope.  The larger the congregation the more powerful the emotional manipulations. Modern religious leaders in the supermarket churches have to be experts at group dynamics and mass psychology

The book has an interesting discussion on the modern phenomenon of civil religions. These are less concerned about creeds but more aimed at winning political power and influence for religion in general. So they promote ideas that we live in a ’Christian country’ or that our country is ’chosen’ or ’blessed’ We can see this in the USA where religious groups work hard to demonise the non-religious.

Ray recognises the influence of the god virus is not restricted to the religious. He provides examples of religious ideas and morality being imposed on society in general by social rules and laws, or just by influencing the minds of others. Concepts of sexuality and sexual taboos and promotion of guilt, especially in sexual areas, influence more people than just the religious themselves.

Living with the ’god virus’

A section of the book aims to help the non-religious live alongside the religious, alongside the infection. It gives helpful advice on how to deal with attempts to proselytise and how to avoid falling into a parallel trap of a non-secular virus in our reactions. He describes the viral role of anger and why we should avoid its influence. The book also deals with defensiveness and our own secular conversion programmes.

Ray advises against sectarian reactions to the ’god virus.’ And, in a twist, points out that telling the religious person they are infected with a ’god virus’ is the worst possible thing to do. He recommends that in our interactions with religious people we should be respectful, avoid lecturing and being judgemental, be an active listener, avoid leading them on and ’remember that you have no interest in converting them to anything. They are the ones with the virus.’

I found the book to be easy to read and well organised. I like the brief ’overview’ and ’summary’ at the beginning and end of each chapter. An excellent way of quickly going back to check on the content covered — and useful for reviewers. However, while the index is satisfactory I found it was inadequate for easy reference.

There are relevant quotes from freethinkers, etc., throughout the book. They themselves are a useful resource.

Dr. Ray was raised in a fundamentalist home with first-hand exposure to all the ideas and practices of that group. He relates some of his own life experiences as a Christian, his study in a Methodist Seminary and as a Christian youth worker but the book is in no way biographical. Ray recently founded the organisation Recovering from Religion (www.recoveringreligionists.com). This helps people get out of religion or to deal with the negative effects of religious upbringing. The group currently works in several locations (see for example http://www.meetup.com/The-Atlanta-Recovering-Religionists/ and http://www.meetup.com/Johnson-County-Recovering-from-Religion/)

This is a book about religion — not about the metaphor itself. But clearly the use of the metaphor helps to clarify how religion and similar ideologies operate. The clear description of this operation makes this a useful book.

See also:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/dec/23/church-recruiting-drive-targets-children
YouTube The God Virus channel
PIO interview: Original audio source (POI_2009_10_16_Darrel_Ray.mp3)

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