Let’s have an Age of Consent for Religion

Mark Thomas

Mark Thomas

WE like comedian Mark Thomas and his  no-nonsense, sabre-toothed approach to religion.

And we were particularly amused by the suggestion on his Radio 4 The Manifesto programme last night that an Age of Consent law should be slapped on religion.

This is what audience member Laura proposed, to enthusiastic applause:

There should be a minimum age of consent before anyone joins a religion, because the vast majority of religions’ members were put through ceremonies by their parents when they were far too young to know what was going on. And while many of them renounce their faith when they are older, indoctrinating children allows religions to claim more members and more influence than is actually justified.

Asked on the programme for his thoughts, comedian Robin Ince – “a torch-bearer for atheism” – went further, by suggesting that bits of the Bible should should be restricted to readers over a certain age. Revelation, for example, should carry an 18R certificate

You can hear the entire clip here.

This is not the first time I have heard it suggested that religion should keep its clammy mitts off children. In a much more serious piece, award-winning blogger  Robert Sharp said in 2007:

Many countries around the world, including the UK, have an Age of Consent law. By stipulating the age at which one can legally be said to have given consent to sexual relations, it effectively says that children under that age are not capable of making such an important decision for themselves. However, I do not believe such laws exist for the adoption of a religion. This is in many ways odd. Choosing a faith (or none) is arguably a more important decision for a person, than whether to have sex or not. Most religious people cite their faith as the most important thing about them. They would surely be the first to agree that it outweighs the very human choice over whether to indulge in intercourse or not on any given evening.


Its a conundrum for the religionists, who are happy to use the language of choice, responsibility and rights when it comes to promoting their faith, yet deny similar choices can exist for sex and sexuality. I say that if a 14-year-old is old enough to make a decision about their God, then they are also ready to make a decision about sex! Alternatively, if a 14-year-old cannot make a responsible decision about sex, then they cannot possibly make a responsible decision about God. Note how children like Lydia Playfoot are only deemed capable of making a responsible choice when they choose chastity. In that case, is it any kind of choice at all? Should it be respected in human rights law?

My suggestion is to broaden the definition of the ‘Age of Consent’ to include a consent to religion too. By this rationale, children could still, of course, wear religious symbols in school… but below the age of consent, they would not be deemed, in a legal context, to have chosen to wear those things for themselves.

Rather, they have been dressed by their parents. If religionists wish to assimilate young members into their Church, and use their ‘choices’ as the basis of a campaign… then they have to allow those young members the choice to have sex too. Alternatively, if they cannot stomach such a permissive idea, then the religious choices of school-children can no longer be the basis of a Rights campaign in the courts.

Either way, The ‘Age of Consent’ will remain a law designed to protect youngsters from the predatory influence of adults.

47 responses to “Let’s have an Age of Consent for Religion”

  1. shargraves says:

    It is a good point and echoes in some way Dawkin's feelings about religion being a form of child abuse.

    There are so many wrongs that are brought on by this weird brainwashing – that ANYTHING along these lines is a good start!

    As an age shall we say 25? Maybe 30?

    18 year olds are notoriously vulnerable. At least by 30 most people have some sort of responsibility, life-experience and stability in their lives…. At least enough to hopefully see through the shockingly bare-face deceit of religion. :o)

  2. This is something that I have thought for a long time. It just never made sense to me why parents should be allowed to impose their beliefs on their children when the kids are not capable of making a thoughtful choice. All it is, is brainwashing. I would go further and make it illegal for parents to force any kind of religion on their kids. It's simple enough to teach morality without religion being used as the rationale for good behavior.

  3. mumfie says:

    Opportunity to see Mark Thomas tonight

    Mark Thomas, political activist, commentator, performer, writer and comedian is to perform a gig in a squatted house owned by two scandal-hit Labour MPs Ann and Alan Keen.

    He will headline a comedy line-up there, also featuring Attila the Stockbroker, a sharp-tongued, high energy, social surrealist rebel poet and songwriter and up and coming punk rock folk storyteller Wlil Hodgson. The show, which will raise money for refugee support, takes place at the property – 38 Brook Road South TW8 0NN – from 9pm this evening. The recommended donation is £4 and more details are available from 07549 160296 or 07912 078757.

  4. Mcfight says:

    Out of curiosity, what do you think is the analogue for chastity in terms of having a world view, if you continue with the age of consent analogy? I gather you don't mean no belief systems entirely.

  5. Larro says:

    How would such consent laws be enforced?

    Let's say that a student were wearing a cross in school wouldn't this be a violation of age of consent? Could the parents be charged?

    Or are we talking about strictly taking children to houses of worship and similar functions? Indoctrination of children would go underground and parents would secretly groom their children in their religion.

  6. Matt says:

    You've got it backwards. Fairy tales are for children. By the time they're 18, people should no longer believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, or God.

  7. […] July 3, 2009 Wonderful post. […]

  8. rog says:

    It's a nice Idea but hard to implement; IMHO the best place to start would be to do away with faith schools in this country.

  9. cabalamat says:

    Choosing a faith (or none) is arguably a more important decision for a person, than whether to have sex or not.

    Certainly no-one has ever flown a plane full of people into a crowded building because they had sex.

  10. Anna says:

    "… indoctrinating children allows religions to claim more members and more influence than is actually justified …" Amen!

  11. Scott says:

    I understand how some people see religion as child abuse, it can certainly be a cause just as many other things can. However if we start by saying that parents can't teach their children truth as they see it then you're basically saying that parents should give up their children at birth to the government or non religious people. The same was as a child can be "brainwashed" by religion so can they be "brainwashed" by atheism. The whole point of freedom of religion is to allow people to follow their beliefs free from persecution ie having the government take away their kids or tell them that they are wrong and are not allowed to teach their children the proper way to live as they see it.

  12. barriejohn says:

    I think the age of consent for religious instruction should be six months before a person dies, as that would then give them enough time to make their peace with their creator (or creators) if that is what they really wanted to do. (Please note that I am of Irish descent, and along with their soon-to-be-enacted blasphemy law – see – Oi considers dis t` be anodder foine piece o` leguslashun!)

  13. Derek says:

    Athiesm teaches all points of view, all religions and otherwise . Not just one dogmatic view.

  14. William Harwood says:

    The religions whose membership claims are the least exaggerated are the largest. The RC church has 650 million members worldwide, and claims to have 1.1 billion, an exaggeration of less than 100 percent. Christianity as a whole claims 2.2 billion (actual figure 1.1 billion), an exaggeration of precisely 100 percent. In the past week I have heard news broadcasts from England (BBC), Canada (CBC) and America (ABC) that all stated as fact that there are 1.5 billion Muslims (actual figure 1 billion).

  15. William Harwood says:

    The greatest exaggerations come from hoax religions such as the Mormons, a cult based on a historical novel that Joseph Smith plagiarized from Solomon Spaulding, and pseudoreligions such as Scientology, based on a fantasy scenario by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in recognition that religion is "where the money is." The Mormons claim 15 million adherents, a 500 percent exaggeration, while the Scientologists claim 8 million (actual figure 50,000, although some estimates put it as high as 100,000), an exaggeration of at least 8,000 percent.

  16. William Harwood says:

    The only statistics on religious belief that are consistently deflated are those for nontheists. Even Richard Dawkins goes along with the Big Lie that nontheists number no more than 16 percent of the population. In fact the worldwide proportion of nontheists is 36 percent, as Ronald Aronson ascertained in research for his book, "Living Without God." There are more nontheists (2.2 billion) than Christians, Musliims and Jews combined.

  17. barry_duke says:

    Your point being …?

  18. barriejohn says:

    …That this is the sort of garbage that gets published when otherwise highly intelligent people, such as the authors, are brainwashed into believing in the existence of invisible,magic sky-gods, of course, Barry!

  19. Derek U dumbass says:

    Does it? I thought it was just a way of saying you dont believe in god. Where can I aatend this athiesm?

  20. William Harwood says:

    Let me quote from my review of Alister McGrath's pathetic attempt to rebut Dawkins (What To Believe, pages 229-233): [McGrath] is a rationally challenged doublethinker who can delude himself that black is white if that is what it takes to reinforce his permeating ignorance. He writes that Dawkins "abandons even the pretence of rigorous evidence based on scholarship. Anecdote is substituted for evidence … displaces rigorous evidence and comprehensive engagement with primary sources. In the book [he] throws the conventions of academic scholarship to the winds; he wants to write a work of propaganda, and consequently treats the accurate rendition of religion as an inconvenient impediment to his chief agenda." I could not have described McGrath's book more accurately myself. The problem is that McGrath thinks he is talking about Dawkins. It is called "projection," attributing to an antagonist what one sees in the mirror.
    The most charitable interpretation of McGrath is that he is a conscious, blatant, unmitigated liar deperately fighting to preserve his bread and butter. The only other explanation is that he is dangerously, incurably insane.

  21. William Harwood says:

    see part 3 of my reply further down. That is what comes of not being able to make a correction after accidentally hitting "send".

  22. cerpas says:

    Religion…thats man made. Because its man it is also corrupt. Faith on the other hand is a horse of a different color. Many will find it on thier own accord, I know that I did. It takes very little time for one to begin to understand if one starts with researching Jesus Christ. I found lots of evidence of His time with mankind, historical documents which refer to Him. It was a simple conclusion to come to after reviewing said documentation. I thought hmmmm….if this guy Jesus Christ did all they said He did in the letters, books ect ect and if they were also correct pertaining to His life as perfect then there must be a God as this guy Jesus Christ said He was His son….didnt need to join some religious organization to figure that out…still not involved in the church, I cant figure out why they preach in a 10 million dollar building drawing a half a million salary while there are homeless shelters overcrowding…oh well…not my issue to deal with.

  23. GNG says:

    They might have done if they were having sex whilst they were flying the plane.

  24. GNG says:

    I guess you've got a real point there cerpas. If religious believers have written books telling us that a man called jesus lived 2000 years ago and was the son of god then it MUST be true. Especially if you can just ignore all the other evidence that the whole god thing is total crap. Yes, let's just do that and believe that there is a god because some people said there is.

    I can help you with your other little conundrum:

    "I cant figure out why they preach in a 10 million dollar building drawing a half a million salary while there are homeless shelters overcrowding"

    This is easy. Religions are into control, money and corruption though that's not all. if you can think of something vile, they'll be doing it.

    Godless not gormless

  25. Bubblecar says:

    I agree, Scott. When some atheists start pushing for this kind of state interference in people's lives, I think it's important for those of us who reject such extremism to do so loudly and clearly.

    I don't want to live in a Police State, whether it be secular or religious.

  26. Derek, you seem to have a strange view of what atheism is about. We don't teach anything. Nor are we an organized group. We are just people who have rejected religion as being a preposterous notion. Most of us are free thinkers. But there are plenty of other types of people too. None of us subscribe to an organization that teaches anything. Were you perhaps thinking of some other group and just happened to amble by here by mistake?

  27. barriejohn says:

    Thanks to a site called – which I have been promoting recently – I now have irrefutable evidence that everything in the Bible is 100% correct and divinely inspired, GNG! This proof is to be found in the Holy Bible!!! See – it was staring you in the face all along!!

  28. Susan Rose says:


    This post was sent to me and I thought some of you might be interested in knowing a bit about Ethical Culture. Our approach to religious education for children tends in the direction of comparative religion, exposing young minds to different religious views and practices, including our own which invites people to think for themselves and to use one's beliefs to make the world a better place for all.

    Ethical Culture is a religious, philosophical, and educational movement. Our focus is on how we live our lives and not on what we believe.

    A recent statement by the Leaders of the American Ethical Union states in part:
    Dedicated to cultivating moral development in personal life and moral reform in society, Ethical Culture seeks to nurture relationships in which we act so as to elicit the best in others and thereby in ourselves, to provide inspiration and guidance for moral living, and to transform the way humanity views the meaning of life.

    Our faith is inspired and animated by the deliberate and reasoned choice of attributing worth and dignity to all. Imbued with a profound sense of interrelatedness, we recognize that we are both dependent and independent—each a unique end unto ourselves. We understand that if any one of us were different life itself would be different. It is through this sense of ourselves as members of an organic whole that we reinforce the attribution of moral worth to every individual.

    Ethical Culture is a religion of ethical relationships, a Humanist movement in which ethics is central. We organize congregationally in order to live out our values in community with others, inspired by the ideal of perfected living that always lies beyond our reach. Together we direct our efforts toward assuring a just and abundant life for all. You can read the entire statement and see who signed it at

    While we only have very few ethical societies for people to attend face-to-face, we do have the Ethical Society Without Walls which is available to everyone around the world at

    I know this sounds primarily like an advertisement, but it is also an invitation to learn about another approach to religion, a non-theistic approach.

    Yours in Ethical Communtiy,

    Susan Rose, Leader, Ethical Society Without Walls

  29. BJE says:

    Interesting concept but not in the remotest practical. If all beliefs and opinions are proscribed for under 18’s then that would surely include political and social opinions as well. In which case no social or ethical rules would be allowed to be taught to under 18’s (unless of course we decide which ones they can learn and … oh perhaps that’s part of the point). So children would reach adulthood with no ideas … at all. I am an atheist, and a humanist, believer, and I would be quite happy if all religious teachings were denied within the home before a certain age. But get real folks, not only is it impractical, it ain’t going to happen.

  30. barriejohn says:

    Your mind obviously works along the same lines as mine, GNG!

  31. GNG says:

    You know what they say barrie! Great minds think alike. For the religious though, that would be fools seldom differ!

  32. GNG says:

    There's another good one I came across I'm sure you'd fancy the creationist goggles. After all, they block out 90% of all known science! Must be worth the money. If god had a beta reader is pretty funny too!

  33. BJE says:

    In my last post it says "atheist, believer" – don't recall typing it but of course the word "believer" should not be there!

  34. mike says:

    I understand that in the Wiccan movement, the children are allowed to choose which religion or none, they wish to adopt at the age of 14, always seemed quite a good idea, The primary school I attended gave us a reasonable view of the worlds religions, and sunday school blathered on about our own predesignated christianity, Some kids went to the big church, (catholics) , rest of us the small church (holy trinity, C.of.E I think. Personally I dabbled in a few faiths over the years, nearly got reborn once, and eventually gave up booze and then god, and took up windsurfing instead, much happier these days….

  35. GNG says:

    I'm all for this but I don't see how it could be implemented in peoples homes. In schools yes, but not in peoples private space. But BJE, don't you agree that some discussion on religion is needed before children leave school as it can hardly be avoided and it would be much better to give some positive guidance and good solid information rather than leave them open to persuasion by fundies etc. If this is the case, a decision would have to be arrived at as to what age that should be, therefore an age of consent would become necessary.

    I do think it is possible though to slap a ban on things like baptism for infants. Other religious 'sacraments' may be more difficult to legislate because religions tend to use the argument that when a child reaches a certain age, they have an obligation to go through certain rituals to save their souls from original sin or whatever voodoo the religion their parents chose for them feels they need protection from.

    It shouldn't stop us trying though. I'm sure god can wait a few more years for his children to come to him and if he can't then he can let us know about it and maybe then we will be convinced. Maybe it's just that the clergy don't want to wait until the children are old enough and big enough to assert themselves and refuse to be buggered or forced to give blowjobs.

    Godless not gormless

  36. GNG says:

    If you register you can edit your comments after submitting them. A little off subject I know but just thought I'd say.

    Godless not gormless

  37. GNG says:

    I dont think that's a fair comment actually. No one is advocating brainwashing children with Atheism. All that is being called for is that they are not brainwashed with religion and are instead, given an education. Is that not a fairer deal for children?

  38. barriejohn says:

    The Church of the Latter-Day Windsurfers, eh? Where do the rest of us sign up!!

  39. GNG says:

    I did wonder what you meant by that!

  40. GNG says:

    windsurfing… that's a very dangerous choice you've made there mike. You might find yourself being carried out to sea by a strong current, unable to make your way back to shore and ending up doing what cat stevens did…pleading to god for help and promising to dedicate your life to him in return. Next thing you know…your a muslim!!!! AAAAAARRRRRGGHHHH!!!!!!!!!!

    Godless not gormless

  41. barriejohn says:

    One thing that I have thought ever since I was a student teacher back in the sixties is that Logic should be taught in schools. Anyone agree? It does exist as a discipline, but is usually only touched on in relation to other disciplines, like mathematics. Admittedly, it might go over the heads of a lot of kids, but it`s not only religious propagandists who are duping millions with their palpably false ideas!

  42. barriejohn says:

    One thing that I have thought ever since I was a student teacher back in the Sixties is that Logic should be taught in schools. Anyone agree? It does exist as a discipline, but is usually only touched on in relation to other disciplines, like mathematics. Admittedly, it might go over the heads of a lot of kids, but it`s not only religious propagandists who are duping millions with their palpably false ideas!

  43. bina says:

    god is not dead

  44. barry_duke says:

    Prove it, genius!

  45. Robert says:

    Hi Barry, I’ve only just spotted this link-up. Many thanks for citing my piece.

  46. Rca says:

    Yes! Because walking into a church can get you pregnant and can also cause sexually transmitted diseases!

    I am an atheist and this stretches even my bullshit tolerance to breaking point.