Not a sheet of blank paper

PZ Myers, a biologist and atheist who writes an extremely insightful and intelligent (if sometimes excessively vitriolic) blog about atheism, just posted something about parents giving their kids home tattoos of religious symbols. The parents in question happen to be Christians and happen to be giving their kids tattoos of crosses, but he (rightfully, I think) insists that the identity of the religion is irrelevant, and he’d be unhappy if these were atheist parents tattooing “A”s on their kids. He points out the real problem extremely eloquently, so I’ll let him speak for himself:

Children are your responsibility, not your personal sheet of blank paper. They aren’t there for you to scribble on, crumple up, and throw away if you don’t like them. Isn’t it weird how the religious wackjobs can howl about how a fetus is a human being that must be granted the privilege of existence, but once it pops out, it reverts to being a possession, a thing that mommy and daddy can do with as they please?

I’d add that it’s not just religious whackjobs who think this way. It’s our legal and social systems, which largely treat children as the property of their parents (and of their schools when they’re not at home). Fortunately, here in the US, we live in a country with decent child abuse laws which keep most kids out of the worst kinds of abuse, but parents are still allowed to choose their childrens’ schools, religion, activities, schedules, and even friends. Don’t get me wrong, there are good reasons for this. Part of a parent’s job is to provide a healthy, safe environment for their children, and that means exerting influence over things like schedules and friends, but it’s a fine line between providing a healthy environment and living vicariously through your child.

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