The holiday season brings familiar sights every year. Chestnuts on open fires. Turkeys in ovens. Holly wreaths hanging on front doors. And of course, anti-God advertisements on buses and billboards.
In late November, prominent atheist Richard Dawkins and the British Humanist Association (BHA) promoted bus ads featuring two smiling children and the statement “Please don’t label me. Let me grow up and choose for myself.” The words “Libertarian Child,” “Buddhist Child,” “Agnostic Child,” “Mormon Child,” “Protestant Child,” “Muslim Child,” and others appear in the background.
Ironically, the two children appearing on the ad come from an evangelical family. Brad Mason, a web designer and photographer, supplements his income by selling photos on royalty-free image websites like iStockphoto, including a photo of his daughter Charlotte, 8, and his son Ollie, 7. Regarding the images of his children used on the atheist ad, Mason told British news service The Times, “It is quite funny, because obviously they were searching for images of children that looked happy and free. They happened to choose children who are Christian. It is ironic. The humanists obviously did not know the background of these children.”1
The BHA said that it didn’t matter whether the children were Christians. Its education director told The Times, “The message is that the labeling of children by their parents’ religion fails to respect the rights of the child and their autonomy. We are saying that religions and philosophies—and ‘humanist’ is one of the labels we use on our poster—should not be foisted on or assumed of young children.”1
Atheist and children’s book author Philip Pullmans supported the ad campaign, saying, “It is absolutely right that we shouldn’t label children until they are old enough to decide for themselves.”1
But when are children old enough to decide such things as religious and philosophical association for themselves? Blogger Stephen Wang wrote in response to the ads’ message, “The exercise of freedom requires some prior foundation. Children have to learn how to make choices: how to weigh things up, how to judge what is best, how to take responsibility….And an essential part of learning to choose is having some sense of the meaning of the world we inhabit, of the value of our actions, and of the significance of their consequences. In other words, freedom can’t be learnt outside a context of meaning and values.”2
He added, “If you believe something important to be true, then you shouldn’t pretend it is an open question. This goes for secular humanists as much as for religious believers.”2
“If you really want your children to be free, you need to tell them why their freedom matters, and help them appreciate some of the values they might pursue. And to do that, you need to use at least a few labels,”2 Wang concluded.
The wisest man who ever lived said, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”3 Children will grow into decision-making adults one day and they will make their own choices. But unless they have an understanding of what those choices are and the consequences of them, they will not be able to make them with confidence. And that indeed requires “at least a few labels.”
- Gledhill, R. 2009. Children who front Richard Dawkins’ atheist ads are evangelicals. The Times. Posted on timesonline.co.uk November 21, 2009, accessed December 8, 2009.
- Wang, S. 2009. Religious education is not brainwashing. The Times. Posted on timesonline.co.uk November 23, 2009, accessed December 8, 2009.
- Proverbs 22:6.
* Ms. Dao is Assistant Editor at the Institute for Creation Research.
Article posted on December 14, 2009.