The Raving Theist

Dedicated to Jesus Christ, Now and Forever

Childish Custody

March 29, 2006 | 27 Comments

A Mississippi father writes to Andrew Sullivan complaining that he was denigrated for being an atheist in a child custody dispute, and was permanently stripped of Sunday visitation so that his son “could get the religious instruction he needs.” Sullivan’s only commentary: a clueless “I wonder if more of this goes on than we are aware of.”

Why yes, it does. As Professor Volokh has noted, in 2001 the Mississippi’s highest court upheld an order granting a mother custody in part because she took the child to church more often than the father and so provided a better “future religious example.” The Professor finds this to be an “egregious” case of discrimination in favor of religion and against non-religion — but in typical agnostic fashion, offers no better resolution than Sullivan:

I realize that some people think it’s in a child’s best interests to be raised in a religion, perhaps because it will be more likely to make the child feel deeply about the need to follow some moral code. For all I know, this might be true. But other people equally think it’s in a child’s best interests to be raised skeptical of all religions, because it will be more likely to make the child into a rational thinker who doesn’t take factual assertions on faith, and refuses to believe such assertions (whether about the Virgin Birth or the parting of the Red Sea or the creation of the world by an omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent God) unless he’s given solid evidence that they’re true. Freedom of religion, and freedom of speech, means that the government shouldn’t make custody decisions based on such assumptions — and of course if it can make custody decisions based on anti-atheist assumptions, it can also make them (and has made them) based on antireligious assumptions.

Not sure what to make of the last sentence, but the reality is that come Sunday morning that child will be either praying on its knees or not. One parent wants him to do so, the other does not, and when the matter is brought to the court, the court must decide which it is regardless of who is granted custody. I have no difficulty requiring the judge to go with the “solid evidence” and bar either parent from polluting the child’s head with superstitious rubbish. The dichotomy Volokh draws between a moral upbringing and a rational one is a completely false one — it’s just another anti-atheist assumption that declares that people who don’t believe in fairytales are immoral logic-machines.

Comments

27 Responses to “Childish Custody”

  1. Mookie
    March 29th, 2006 @ 1:35 pm

    The cool thing about raising a kid on religion is you can train it to kill people in the name of some invisible being. You can also warp its mind by encouraging religious perverts to molest it. But the worst part is the kid now has to go somewhere every sunday morning, instead of being allowed to sleep in or go out and play. More than the lies, the nonsense, the groping, the hatred and the stifling boredom, its the reduction of available play hours that does the most damage.

  2. Mister Swill
    March 29th, 2006 @ 2:46 pm

    This is probably the exact custody battle I would have gone through had I married the woman I was living with a few years ago. She was one of those people who considered herself a Catholic but never went to church and had no problem with taking the Lord’s name in vain. Still, she could not conceive of the possibility of not sending one’s kids to church and would look at me like I was crazy when I told her I objected to the idea of my hypothetical children being forced to attend any kind of religious services. If I remember correctly, she even said to me “how else would they learn right from wrong?” I don’t think she realized how insulting that statement was to a person who had never attended church or synagogue as a child.

  3. Rocketman
    March 29th, 2006 @ 3:04 pm

    I’m in a custody dispute right now-good thing neither of us is religious. Canada also seems to have institutions with a far greater inherent suspicion of religion than the states. A judge citing religious reasons from the bench would have little time before he or she was removed.

    People talk about the needless removal of religious iconography from public places–court rooms and such–it is necessary to protect people from he assumption of religion as superior to atheism in terms of moral instruction.

  4. benjamin
    March 29th, 2006 @ 3:43 pm

    The father should have tried to bargain with the judge, by promising to teach his kid about FSM.

  5. Lily
    March 29th, 2006 @ 4:55 pm

    It seems to me that this is one of those dilemmas for which there is no good resolution. It surely serves as a reminder that one should not marry someone with whom one is not in agreement on such a fundamental issue. Given that there is no perfect solution, it strikes me that the one who has custody and the primary responsibility for the day-to-day nurture and upbringing of the child is the one who should have the say. If there is a really equitable joint custody arrangement in effect– well, glad it isn’t my problem.

    But who goes to Andrew Sullivan for advice of any sort?

  6. Chris Treborn
    March 29th, 2006 @ 4:56 pm

    If you atheists are so sure that religon is all fake why are you so against a woman taking her son to church? Scared that he will actually think about it instead of blindly dismissing it maybe? Perhaps if you bothered to study religon properly you would understand why most people believe in god in some form, and why the judge was absolutely correct in his ruling.

  7. Mister Swill
    March 29th, 2006 @ 8:00 pm

    Hilarious! For once, I agree with basically everything Lily said. Especially the last sentence.

    And Chris, you’ll find that most of the atheists who post on this site (including the RA himself, if I’m not mistaken) had religious upbringings and/or attended church throughout their childhoods. So perhaps “actually thinking about” what they were being taught played a part in their atheism.

    Now, I’m an exception to the trend. Though my Jewish mother and my Catholic father did make references to God during my childhood, I never received a formal religious education nor was I ever forced to attend religious services on a regular basis. And I’m really, really grateful that I was granted the freedom to make up my own mind about what I thought about religious matters. I would want any child of mine to have that same freedom.

  8. Tom
    March 29th, 2006 @ 8:17 pm

    O, please tell us, wise and wonderful Chris Treborn, how to study religion properly, so that we atheists will no longer blindly dismiss it, nor fear mothers taking children to church, nor dispute the pro-religion stance of the state. We will only know we have bothered to study religion properly when our opinions reflect your own. Please show us how to believe in god in some form, like most people. It’s what we really want. Thank you in advance for your generosity and compassion.

  9. The No God Boy
    March 29th, 2006 @ 9:29 pm

    My wife dealt with this situation with her now-deceased ex and her (their) daughters very well.

    She is an athiest and he was into religion.

    She said she would allow them to attend church if he agreed to take them to each and every type of chuch. One week catholic, then jewish, then protestant, then muslim, then hindu, then buddist…..and so on.

    She felt if the purpose was to expose them to god then they should be exposed to it in all its forms and not just their fathers favorite.

    That ended the discussion. He never took them.

  10. Chris Treborn
    March 29th, 2006 @ 9:43 pm

    Tom, try reading some books you twit! If you are serious I will help you, but you are probably just another rude atheist with only insults and scorn.

  11. "Q" the Enchanter
    March 29th, 2006 @ 10:03 pm

    Chris, I attended Catholic schools throughout primary and secondary schools. In my experience, indoctrination at school has little effect without some sort of supplementary brainwashing at home.

  12. "Q" the Enchanter
    March 29th, 2006 @ 10:03 pm

    Chris, I attended Catholic schools throughout primary and secondary schools. In my experience, indoctrination at school has little effect without some sort of supplementary brainwashing at home.

  13. "Q" the Enchanter
    March 29th, 2006 @ 10:03 pm

    Chris, I attended Catholic schools throughout primary and secondary schools. In my experience, indoctrination at school has little effect without some sort of supplementary brainwashing at home.

  14. Chris Treborn
    March 29th, 2006 @ 10:16 pm

    Q, although you are trying to insult my faith you do raise a good point, which is that parents have to be an integral part in religious education. That’s why it is a good idea to have sunday protected and set aside for chirch.

  15. "Q" the Enchanter
    March 29th, 2006 @ 11:30 pm

    ” although you are trying to insult my faith…”

    Ah, but brother Chris, it was ye who cast the first stone–by trying to insult our intelligence. Not as “Christian” as, say, taking an “an eye for an eye”–which is only the worst my earlier comment could be construed as doing. (The best would be that it was mirthful, light-spirited razzing. Oh well, take it as you will…)

  16. "Q" the Enchanter
    March 29th, 2006 @ 11:30 pm

    ” although you are trying to insult my faith…”

    Ah, but brother Chris, it was ye who cast the first stone–by trying to insult our intelligence. Not as “Christian” as, say, taking an “an eye for an eye”–which is only the worst my earlier comment could be construed as doing. (The best would be that it was mirthful, light-spirited razzing. Oh well, take it as you will…)

  17. "Q" the Enchanter
    March 29th, 2006 @ 11:30 pm

    ” although you are trying to insult my faith…”

    Ah, but brother Chris, it was ye who cast the first stone–by trying to insult our intelligence. Not as “Christian” as, say, taking an “an eye for an eye”–which is only the worst my earlier comment could be construed as doing. (The best would be that it was mirthful, light-spirited razzing. Oh well, take it as you will…)

  18. Tom
    March 30th, 2006 @ 12:46 am

    Chris, how many books do I have to read before my atheism is a legitimate, well-considered and informed position? Or is belief in God the only option?

    And, by the way, ever hear what the pot called the kettle?

  19. gravitybear
    March 30th, 2006 @ 8:47 am

    What Tom (8) said.

    Chris: Insults and scorn? Did you read your own post?

  20. Random-Witticism
    March 30th, 2006 @ 9:13 am

    “try reading some books you twit… you are probably just another rude atheist with only insults and scorn.”

    yeah, do what jeebus did.

    What is most amusing about this type o believer is that you can tell right away that they’ve probably read very few books that support their own position, much less some that don’t…
    like, for example, how many people think that CT has ever heard of the synoptic problem? or even read mark, matthew, and luke in their entirety?

  21. Aurelius
    March 30th, 2006 @ 10:20 am

    Losing the opportunity to watch your children grow up has to suck. Knowing that they will be raised in the damaging environment of many of the southern religions has got to be even worse.

    I say the taboos against mocking someone for their beliefs have got to end! These types of theists just sit around in their circle jerks telling each other how ‘saved’ and right they are, while the rest of us are too polite to confront them on their rediculous beliefs.

    When a quarter of Americans believe 9/11 was predicted in the bible (guess which book. ..) and about 45% believe that the antichrist is currently walking the earth (guess in which country. . ) we need to wake up to the danger these wackos represent. When you live in a fantasy world, you not only hurt yourself, you hurt the society as well.

  22. conleythorn
    March 30th, 2006 @ 11:03 am

    You are right, Aurelius, of course. Only problem is that scorn and criticism only harden a spiritualist’s defences. Christians in the U.S. are already complaining that they are under attact by secularists. We are greatly outnumbered, and if the righteous brotherhood can put another Scalia or two on the S.C., a modern Office of the Inquisition may not be far behind. -Thorngod.

  23. Konrad West
    March 30th, 2006 @ 11:11 pm

    RA:

    Do you think that Volokh was *consciously* being “anti-atheist”, or just spouting an ill-considered dichotomy? I never come across an agnostic who is anti-atheist; the only ones I found are theists.

  24. Tom
    March 31st, 2006 @ 2:37 am

    Konrad – Personally, I’ve noticed that many agnostics (though certainly not all of them) tend to equate atheism with religious fundimentalism. Indeed, in my experience, many agnostics tend to ” sympathize” with theism more than atheism — at least until they encounter and discuss atheism with an atheist.

  25. Alfredo
    March 31st, 2006 @ 3:40 pm

    Don’t feed the troll, kids; that way he’ll have more time for his blood-drinking resurrection cult.

    Although I agree with Lily (ewww!) on being careful about whom you marry, it is not entirely unknown for a previously-sane spouse to suddenly discover religion, leading to divorce, and child custody dispute.

  26. Jeff Guinn
    April 1st, 2006 @ 7:36 am

    Tom:

    I’m an agnostic. Near as I can tell, spelling is the only meaningful difference between atheists, agnostics, and deists.

  27. conleythorn
    April 3rd, 2006 @ 8:09 am

    Now there’s an assessment I’ve never heard before, Jeff G. Unless you’re saying that one’s philosophy of life has no effect whatever on the course of events, I’d be interested in an elaboration of your statement. -Thorngod.

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