Sunday, April 23, 2006

Child rearing and fundamentalism

There's an interesting article in yesterday's Guardian about the relationship between the way we care for infants and programming children in a rigid belief system. Two basic approaches are contrasted - that of attending to an infant's needs in response to the infant's signals and that of putting the infant on a fixed schedule, i.e. letting it cry to learn that "there's no point". Here's an excerpt:

There may be links here with the role of religion. A key element for a baby's development is security. Attending a tiny baby in the middle of the night and catching a glimpse of the anxiety or even fear in their face is a reminder of how vulnerable these small people must feel. Programming may provide a certain type of security, but of a rigid and brittle kind, which may also contain seeds of anger or despair at feeling deserted when they most needed comfort.

This brings echoes of those forms of religion that offer a fixed and firm belief system. Believers know their dogmas: there is no space for discussion or debate. If one aspect of the "faith" is undermined, or creates doubt, the whole system can collapse. Such dogmatism (rather than "fundamentalism") can be found in most faiths, and can be a driver for destruction. If your security is bound up in a belief system that by definition is right and true, you can bomb non-believers into dust, or blow yourself up with them, in certain hope of your ultimate vindication.

This is a more urgent issue than I realised when I began my exploration. Infants who are trusted to let us know when they need to eat, sleep, be comforted or held can perhaps also be trusted to let us know when they are ready to read, go out alone, surf the internet and formulate a faith. If they are programmed to accept what to do and when, we should be unsurprised if later they simply follow orders, or react aggressively.

Someone has said that the opposite of faith is not doubt; the opposite of faith is certainty. According to that point of view, the fundamentalists are not people of faith at all.

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