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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Godblock or not?

My attention was drawn, via a tweet from @evilbiblequotes, to a new (to me at least) web utility, GodBlock.

The premise of the utility seems sensible enough at first glance: in tune with similar products dealing with unwanted advertisements and pornographic material, Godblock is a web filter that actively blocks websites with overtly religious content from being downloaded by your browser. From the website, GodBlock:
"...is targeted at parents and schools who wish to protect their kids from the often violent, sexual, and psychologically harmful material in many holy texts, and from being indoctrinated into any religion before they are of the age to make such decisions."

Surely, as someone who is a thoroughly convinced atheist, I should be supportive of such a utility?


No, actually.
Don't get me wrong: I'm of the strong opinion that religious indoctrination of children is a form of child abuse, and I fully support the GodBlock team's implication that children should be protected from indoctrination into any religion before they reach an age at which making such a decision sensibly is a reasonable possibility.

But I don't think that this is the way to do it. I have a few reasons for this, the most important being...


I am against wanton censorship in general
The key phrase here is 'before they are of age to make such decisions'. This age is surely different for every individual and depends on many factors, not least of which are their personal intellectual development and life experiences.

Picture this: Somebody spends their first eighteen years of life completely sheltered from the idea of religion. Then, the day after their 18th birthday, after the hangover has lifted, they are all of a sudden bombarded with invitations to join various groups with such rewarding carrots as heaven, eternal life and The Answers dangled in front of them as well as sticks like hell, eternal damnation and All Seeing Eyes brandished behind. How on Earth is this person supposed to make a reasonable, informed decision with absolutely no experience behind them? They're plunged straight back to square one; the learning process has been stalled by eighteen years.

The same concept works with many of the morally objectional, offensive and illegal things that we, in today's society attempt to hide our children from, and it doesn't really work that well with them: sex, drugs and pornography are all taboos in our prescribed moral culture, and as such we attempt to hide them away from our children. Yet their misuse is rife. I'm not saying we should throw these things at our kids, but trying to lock them in cupboards wrapped up in layer after layer of cotton wool plainly isn't working. But I'm getting off topic...

There are a couple of other reasons I don't like the idea of GodBlock (and these can also be applied to other such issues of contention, but I'll try to keep it relevant!):

  • It won't just block the objectional stuff.
My personal experience of web filters is that they do more harm than good. When I'm searching for new and dynamic ways of thinking, explaining and presenting the material that I teach, I am often barred by a page telling me the content I am trying to access has been blocked for some tenuous (and usually falsely applied) reason based around keywords, and it frustrates me something chronic.
  • Forbidding something makes it all the more desirable.
It's human nature to want things we can't (or shouldn't) have. Block it, and the mind asks why, what and how can I get some? Honestly, if we made sprouts illegal, the British public wouldn't be able to get enough of them.


In conclusion...
As with most of the world's issues, the key is education. And by that I certainly don't mean hand it over to the teachers and let them deal with it*. I mean that children should be educated and encouraged by their family, by their friends, by their peers and elders, and by society at large, to think for themselves wherever they are, whatever they do and whenever they do it. Censorship is never the way: it promotes apathy, stifles free thought, and encourages the offloading of responsibility onto parties that often don't even exist.


Sorry, that turned into a bit of a rant, didn't it?




* This is the way it all seems to be going at the moment, which is bad and won't help / isn't helping anything.