Friday, February 27, 2009

Does teaching your child to believe in God amount to child abuse?

I have three children, ages 3, 6 (pictured above a couple of weeks ago in the Dominican Republic) and 8. My wife and I are not raising them to believe in God nor are we raising them to be atheists. Our hope is that we are raising them to be thoughtful, considerate and skeptical about the world. They get fed alot about "God" at school and from their friends - we live in a small city in southwest Ontario, Canada which seems to have as many churches as people. Of course, at their ages, the thought that God made the sky, trees and everything else that they see around them provides a comforting and simplistic certainty.

The point of this post is to hammer home my fervent belief that indoctrinating children to believe in God (and, more to the point, to believe that acting good will result in them going to heaven and that the contrary will result in eternal damnation) is tantamount to child abuse.

If I taught my children that little green men lived on our roof, they would be removed by the child welfare authorities and I would be committed to a psychiatric facility. However, if I teach them that a certain Hey-Zeus was REALLY born of a virgin, walked on water and rose from the dead, everything is copacetic.

In honour of the fact that Richard Dawkins is on his way to North America to begin a speaking tour on Monday (starting at MSU where I will be in attendance), I will reproduce his famous letter to his daughter:

"To my dearest daughter,

Now that you are ten, I want to write to you about something that is important to me. Have you ever wondered how we know the things that we know? How do we know, for instance, that the stars, which look like tiny pinpricks in the sky, are really huge balls of fire like the Sun and very far away? And how do we know that the Earth is a smaller ball whirling round one of those stars, the Sun? The answer to these questions is ‘evidence’.

Sometimes evidence means actually seeing (or hearing, feeling, smelling….) that something is true. Astronauts have traveled far enough from the Earth to see with their own eyes that it is round. Sometimes our eyes need help. The ‘evening star’ looks like a bright twinkle in the sky but with a telescope you can see that it is a beautiful ball – the planet we call Venus.

Something that you learn by direct seeing (or hearing or feeling…) is called an observation.

Often evidence isn’t just observation on its own, but observation always lies at the back of it. If there’s been a murder, often nobody (except the murderer and the dead person!) actually observed it. But detectives can gather together lots of other observations which may all point towards a particular suspect. If a person’s fingerprints match those found on a dagger, this is evidence that he touched it. It doesn’t prove that he did the murder, but it can help when it’s joined up with lots of other evidence. Sometimes a detective can think about a whole lot of observations and suddenly realize that they all fall into place and make sense if so-and-so did the murder.

Scientists – the specialists in discovering what is true about the world and the universe – often work like detectives. They make a guess (called a hypothesis) about what might be true. They then say to themselves: if that were really true, we ought to see so-and-so. This is called a prediction. For example, if the world is really round, we can predict that a traveler, going on and on in the same direction, should eventually find himself back where he started. When a doctor says that you have measles he doesn’t take one look at you and see measles. His first look gives him a hypothesis that you may have measles. Then he says to himself: if she really has measles, I ought to see… Then he runs through his list of predictions and tests them with his eyes (have you got spots?), his hands (is your forehead hot?), and his ears (does your chest wheeze in a measly way?). Only then does he make his decision and say, ‘I diagnose that the child has measles.’ Sometimes doctors need to do other tests like blood tests or X-rays, which help their eyes, hands and ears to make observations.

The way scientists use evidence to learn about the world is much cleverer and more complicated than I can say in a short letter. But now I want to move on from evidence, which is a good reason for believing something, and warn you against three bad reasons for believing anything. They are called ‘tradition’, ‘authority’, and ‘revelation’.

First, tradition. A few months ago, I went on television to have a discussion with about 50 children. These children were invited because they’d been brought up in lots of different religions. Some had been brought up as Christians, others as Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs. The man with the microphone went from child to child, asking them what they believed. What they said shows up exactly what I mean by ‘tradition’. Their beliefs turned out to have no connection with evidence. They just trotted out the beliefs of their parents and grandparents, which, in turn, were not based upon evidence either. They said things like, ‘We Hindus believe so and so.’ ‘We Muslims believe such and such.’ ‘We Christians believe something else.’ Of course, since they all believed different things, they couldn’t all be right. The man with the microphone seemed to think this quite proper, and he didn’t even try to get them to argue out their differences with each other. But that isn’t the point I want to make. I simply want to ask where their beliefs came from. They came from tradition. Tradition means beliefs handed down from grandparent to parent to child, and so on. Or from books handed down through the centuries. Traditional beliefs often start from almost nothing; perhaps somebody just makes them up originally, like the stories about Thor and Zeus. But after they’ve been handed down over some centuries, the mere fact that they are so old makes them seem special. People believe things simply because people have believed the same thing over centuries. That’s tradition. The trouble with tradition is that, no matter how long ago a story was made up, it is still exactly as true or untrue as the original story was. If you make up a story that isn’t true, handing it down over any number of centuries doesn’t make it any truer!.

Most people in England have been baptized into the Church of England, but this is only one of many branches of the Christian religion. There are other branches such as the Russian Orthodox, the Roman Catholic and the Methodist churches. They all believe different things. The Jewish religion and the Muslim religion are a bit more different still; and there are different kinds of Jews and of Muslims. People who believe even slightly different things from each other often go to war over their disagreements. So you might think that they must have some pretty good reasons – evidence – for believing what they believe. But actually their different beliefs are entirely due to different traditions.

Let’s talk about one particular tradition. Roman Catholics believe that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was so special that she didn’t die but was lifted bodily into Heaven. Other Christian traditions disagree, saying that Mary did die like anybody else. These other religions don’t talk about her much and, unlike Roman Catholics, they don’t call her the ‘Queen of Heaven’. The tradition that Mary’s body was lifted into Heaven is not a very old one. The Bible says nothing about how or when she died; in fact the poor woman is scarcely mentioned in the Bible at all. The belief that her body was lifted into Heaven wasn’t invented until about six centuries after Jesus’s time. At first it was just made up, in the same way as any story like Snow White was made up. But, over the centuries, it grew into a tradition and people started to take it seriously simply because the story had been handed down over so many generations. The older the tradition became, the more people took it seriously. It finally was written down as an official Roman Catholic belief only very recently, in 1950. But the story was no more true in 1950 than it was when it was first invented 600 years after Mary’s death.

I’ll come back to tradition at the end of my letter, and look at it in another way. But first I must deal with the two other bad reasons for believing in anything: authority and revelation.Authority, as a reason for believing something, means believing it because you are told to believe it by somebody important. In the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope is the most important person, and people believe he must be right just because he is the Pope. In one branch of the Muslim religion, the important people are old men with beards called Ayatollahs. Lots of young Muslims are prepared to commit murder, purely because the Ayatollahs in a faraway country tell them to.

When I say that it was only in 1950 that Roman Catholics were finally told that they had to believe that Mary’s body shot off to Heaven, what I mean is that in 1950 the Pope told people that they had to believe it. That was it. The Pope said it was true, so it had to be true! Now, probably some of the things that Pope said in his life were true and some were not true. There is no good reason why, just because he was the Pope, you should believe everything he said, any more than you believe everything that lots of other people say. The present Pope has ordered his followers not to limit the number of babies they have. If people follow his authority as slavishly as he would wish, the results could be terrible famines, diseases and wars, caused by overcrowding.

Of course, even in science, sometimes we haven’t seen the evidence ourselves and we have to take somebody else’s word for it. I haven’t with my own eyes, seen the evidence that light travels at a speed of 186,000 miles per second. Instead, I believe books that tell me the speed of light. This looks like ‘authority’. But actually it is much better than authority because the people who wrote the books have seen the evidence and anyone is free to look carefully at the evidence whenever they want. That is very comforting. But not even the priests claim that there is any evidence for their story about Mary’s body zooming off to Heaven.

The third kind of bad reason for believing anything is called ‘revelation’. If you had asked the Pope in 1950 how he knew that Mary’s body disappeared into Heaven, he would probably have said that it had been ‘revealed’ to him. He shut himself in his room and prayed for guidance. He thought and thought, all by himself, and he became more and more sure inside himself. When religious people just have a feeling inside themselves that something must be true, even though there is no evidence that it is true, they call their feeling ‘revelation’. It isn’t only popes who claim to have revelations. Lots of religious people do. It is one of their main reasons for believing the things that they do believe. But is it a good reason?

Suppose I told you that your dog was dead. You’d be very upset, and you’d probably say, ‘Are you sure? How do you know? How did it happen?’ Now suppose I answered: ‘I don’t actually know that Pepe is dead. I have no evidence. I just have this funny feeling deep inside me that he is dead.’ You’d be pretty cross with me for scaring you, because you’d know that an inside ‘feeling’ on its own is not a good reason for believing that a whippet is dead. You need evidence. We all have inside feelings from time to time, and sometimes they turn out to be right and sometimes they don’t. Anyway, different people have opposite feelings, so how are we to decide whose feeling is right? The only way to be sure that a dog is dead is to see him dead, or hear that his heart has stopped; or be told by somebody who has seen or heard some real evidence that he is dead.

People sometimes say that you must believe in feelings deep inside, otherwise you’d never be confident of things like ‘My wife loves me’. But this is a bad argument. There can be plenty of evidence that somebody loves you. All through the day when you are with somebody who loves you, you see and hear lots of little tidbits of evidence, and they all add up. It isn’t purely inside feeling, like the feeling that priests call revelation. There are outside things to back up the inside feeling: looks in the eye, tender notes in the voice, little favors and kindnesses; this is all real evidence.

Sometimes people have a strong inside feeling that somebody loves them when it is not based upon any evidence, and then they are likely to be completely wrong. There are people with a strong inside feeling that a famous film star loves them, when really the film star hasn’t even met them. People like that are ill in their minds. Inside feelings must be backed up by evidence, otherwise you just can’t trust them.

Inside feelings are valuable in science too, but only for giving you ideas that you later test by looking for evidence. A scientist can have a ‘hunch’ about an idea that just ‘feels’ right. In itself, this is not a good reason for believing something. But it can be a good reason for spending some time doing a particular experiment, or looking in a particular way for evidence. Scientists use inside feelings all the time to get ideas. But they are not worth anything until they are supported by evidence.

I promised that I’d come back to tradition, and look at it in another way. I want to try to explain why tradition is so important to us. All animals are built (by the process called evolution) to survive in the normal place in which their kind live. Lions are built to be good at surviving on the plains of Africa. Crayfish are built to be good at surviving in fresh water, while lobsters are built to be good at surviving in the salt sea. People are animals too, and we are built to be good at surviving in a world full of … other people. Most of us don’t hunt for our own food like lions or lobsters, we buy it from other people who have bought it from yet other people. We ‘swim’ through a ‘sea of people’. Just as a fish needs gills to survive in water, people need brains that make them able to deal with other people. Just as the sea is full of salt water, the sea of people is full of difficult things to learn. Like language.

You speak English but your friend speaks German. You each speak the language that fits you to ‘swim about’ in your own separate ‘people sea’. Language is passed down by tradition. There is no other way. In England, Pepe is a dog. In Germany he is ein Hund. Neither of these words is more correct, or more truer than the other. Both are simply handed down. In order to be good at ‘swimming about in their people sea’, children have to learn the language of their own country, and lots of other things about their own people; and this means that they have to absorb, like blotting paper, an enormous amount of traditional information. (Remember that traditional information just means things that are handed down from grandparents to parents to children.) The child’s brain has to be a sucker for traditional information. And the child can’t be expected to sort out good and useful traditional information, like the words of a language, from bad or silly traditional information, like believing in witches and devils and ever-living virgins.

It’s a pity, but it can’t help being the case, that because children have to be suckers for traditional information, they are likely to believe anything the grown-ups tell them, whether true or false, right or wrong. Lots of what grown-ups tell them is true and based on evidence or at least sensible. But if some of it is false, silly or even wicked, there is nothing to stop the children believing that too. Now, when the children grow up, what do they do? Well, of course, they tell it to the next generation of children. So, once something gets itself strongly believed – even if its completely untrue and there never was any reason to believe it in the first place – it can go on forever. Could this be what happened with religions? Belief that there is a god or gods, belief in Heaven, belief that Mary never died, belief that Jesus never had a human father, belief that prayers are answered, belief that wine turns into blood – not one of these beliefs is backed up by any good evidence. Yet millions of people believe them. Perhaps this is because they were told to believe them when they were young enough to believe anything.

Millions of other people believe quite different things, because they were told different things when they were children. Muslim children are told different things from Christian children, and both grow up utterly convinced that they are right and the others are wrong. Even within Christians, Roman Catholics believe different things from Church of England people or Episcopalians, Shakers or Quakers, Mormons or Holy Rollers, and all are utterly convinced that they are right and the others are wrong. They believe different things for exactly the same kind of reason as you speak English and someone speaks German.

Both languages are, in their own country, the right language to speak. But it can’t be true that different religions are right in their own countries, because different religions claim that opposite things are true. Mary can’t be alive in the Catholic Republic but dead in Protestant Northern Ireland.

What can we do about all this? It is not easy for you to do anything, because you are only ten. But you could try this. Next time somebody tells you something that sounds important, think to yourself: ‘Is this the kind of thing that people probably know because of evidence? Or is it the kind of thing that people only believe because of tradition, authority or revelation?’ And, next time somebody tells you that something is true, why not say to them: ‘What kind of evidence is there for that?’ And if they can’t give you a good answer, I hope you’ll think very carefully before you believe a word they say.

Your loving,

Daddy"

If I ever have the privilege of meeting Professor Dawkins, I plan to tell him that I have rarely read anything which affected me so profoundly as his letter to Juliet.

23 comments:

  1. This is a question and answer relating to this post on reddit.com:

    Question: What do you mean by "teaching your child to believe in God" ?

    Answer: When they look around and ask you who made the trees, birds, sky and stars, you tell them "God". When they ask you why people die, you tell them: "It's all part of God's plan and you'll see Grandma in heaven." When they ask you about the Bible and you tell them it is "the word of God". When they ask you who jesus was and you tell them that he was "the son of God". That, my friends, is teaching your child to believe in God. In my opinion, it is pscychologically abusive.

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  2. I agree with teaching our children to think and discover for themselves. Hopefully more and more people will join this train of thought and maybe the next generation will be able to figure out some of the problems that narrow minded thinkers have created.
    Free Your Mind

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  3. I think it is a beautifull letter. I have a similiar approach with my own daughter, who is 7.
    Authority tries to impose the belief on a god constantly, but if the parent can guide them through critical thinking the outcome is fairly predictable as a child can see straight through it. My daughter's homework recently was to do a storyboard of Noah and the flood, so we went through it together. When she wrote that god killed all life on the planet i asked her "which god?". She replied "how many is there?", so i told her of Allah and the Mayan and Egyptians gods to name just a few.
    So straight away she rubbed it out and put "his god". Very ammusing, and it pleased me no end.

    Nice article by the way.

    Paul

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  4. I love the story of Noah's Ark. Check out the treatment of this issue at:
    http://godisimaginary.com/i45.htm

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  5. I just adore this letter. It's one of the sweetest things I've ever read. What a lovely Daddy!

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  6. Hey "dumbass". A very thought-provoking letter. Too bad Omerta couldn't think long enough to respond. And nice picture - almost a coming out. Shells would be pleased. Enjoy your trip to East Lansing. Bring back some counterfeit Red Wings tickets.

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  7. What if one of the parents is a believer? How would you handle that?

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  8. Regardless of whether one or both parents are believers, the fact remains that (I believe) it is abusive to indoctrinate children with religious beliefs. The difficulty, of course, is that children are hard wired to believe whatever their parents believe.

    If a parent is religious, I would think that they would still want their children to be brought up with an open mind and to understand that some people believe in God and some people don't (that's exactly what I tell my kids). The next inevitable question will be for the child to ask the parent what they believe and there is nothing wrong with answering that question honestly. What is wrong is to tell a child what to believe in the absence of any evidence - that is what I take Professor Dawkins to be suggesting in his letter to his daughter Juliet.

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  9. This letter is awesome. My wife and I are expecting and discussing our options as far as raising our kids to be free thinkers. Not much out there, but some of the things we have found are actually really good.

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  10. I'm a parent to a 2 & 5 year old, I am a Christian, and I'm a children/youth/family minister in a church. As a parent I want my children to have the tools to think critically and make decisions for themselves. As a Christian I would really like my children to believe in God and salvation through Jesus Christ. At the same time, I have a grandmother who is atheist who constantly mentions my beliefs and work are BS, in front of the children. My bro-in law is married to a Jewish who is Jewish and believes all her Christian half of the thinks she is going to Hell. My 5 yr old (in 4 days) discusses theological differences with her 4 yr old PreK friends who come from families that are Jewish, Muslim, and not associated w/ any religion. She comes home from school and debates with me. I've been told that I'm wrong because Jewish friend's StepMom is always right (she's probably repeating what her friend said). Then she talks to her Sunday school teachers (whom I coordinate) and babysitters and tells them that I know everything about God because I teach people about God at work. I personally think it is great that she debates with her friends and it freaks me out that she thinks I'm some high authority. I try really hard to say "I believe" or "Christians" believe when she asks questions and we've given family members with other viewpoints permission to be open and honest with her should she have any questions -- my Jewish SIL didn't know if it was OK to tell my daughter that she doesn't really believe in Santa, and why, she was shocked that I was OK with it. She's gonna get it somewhere else anyways so might as well get it all out in the open. I hope to teach my daughters how to read the Bible critically, as well as other religious/etc documents and how to think through what logic is possible for religious and faith questions before believe everything someone tells them. Difficult to do with the truth or lie mind of 4yr old. And sometimes we just don't know the answers to everything and that is OK. When she asks about why people die - my answer is that we all die someday and I explain the physical things that happen (up to what is appropriate for a 4yr old). It is really hard and sad for people, but that's what happens. When she asks, then what I say Christians believe that we will join God in Heaven because he created us in the first place. Personally, being a Christian is more about renewing a broken relationship with my creator than about achieving that golden prize of getting to Heaven. But that's just me. :)
    We also pray at night, that's working on the relational piece of faith. Having rituals and traditions with your children is important, no matter what your beliefs. I think if you want children to understand your beliefs, they need the opportunity to experience your rituals for themselves to decide whether it is a ritual/tradition they want to continue to uphold as they grow into adults.


    I agree with the point of this blogging, but am curious if in your mind, I am psychologically abusing my children?

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  11. Leena, this is one of my favorite posts out of the more than 250 on this site. I think Dawkins' letter is a gem.

    You wrote: As a parent I want my children to have the tools to think critically and make decisions for themselves. I say hallelujah to that! However, I warn you that adopting that course will make it very likely that they will end up rejecting Christianity and any other religious belief system which is based on faith (i.e. belief without evidence).

    I consider it psychologically (and intellectually) abusive to indoctrinate children to believe anything without evidence. That is different from exposing them to your beliefs which is what you are doing. We can't help exposing our kids to our beliefs. My kids will grow up knowing that I am atheist. However, I (like you) will certainly not shield them from opposing viewpoints and, in fact, I present them myself. My wife and I don't usually take them to Church but I don't have a problem with them going to Church (my 8 year old daughter was a bit freaked out by a Roman Catholic wedding that we recently took her to - see:http://www.atheistmissionary.com/2009/07/streaming-consciousness-from-one-true.html)

    The only concern I have about exposing children to Christianity is that I consider the concept of eternal damnation in hell to be a PG13 concept. In other words, I don't think the concept is one that should be taught to children unless they were old enough for you to take them to a movie where they could watch someone burn in hell. On second thought, that would probably be NC17 or NR. Just my opinion - I applaud you for being alot more open minded than most theists.

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  12. I'd like to find out where he will be touring. Is it going to be in Michigan?

    Excellent letter by the way. :)

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  13. So, not to come across as confrontational, but I've heard a lot of people say things like this recently, and I have something to say about it:

    When I was three my brothers died. My parents told me that "the part of them that has feelings" (their souls) had gone to Heaven.
    They told me because that was what they believed. For them, it was a fact. That's not abuse, that's being honest with your children. My parents were in a crisis - two of their young children were dead -and they did the best they could (which involved teaching me to believe in God). And they told me what was, from their perspective (admittedly not yours), the truth: that I would see my brothers again in Heaven. Maybe I'm misunderstanding something here, but it seems like you're calling that child abuse.

    As I hope you can imagine, this is a pretty sensitive issue in my book, about as sensitive as it gets, and I have to admit that you and others implying that what they did was wrong and abusive is getting to be really upsetting. Have you really thought about what you're accusing people like my parents of? What should they have done, in your opinion, if their approach was so wrong and horrible?

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  15. I've yet to hear or see an Atheist logically embrace Atheism.

    Generally teaching to your children that the purpose to the universe is that it's purposelessness seems rather silly to me.

    Usually this is not done, man needs a purpose to live and man recognizes that he very well can't go about saying that (I purpose to be purposeless) and not be laughed at (except online hanging around communities of fellow skeptics).

    Ultimately, your purpose my friendly Canadian Skeptic is right there "reasoned and peaceful eradication of religion."

    Now my purpose is that the Christian God (as if there are any others) is to be glorified and I want to love Him and love others.

    You seem to be moving away from the purposelessness Atheism espouses and towards the same kind of vague purpose that many Atheists have of "defeating religion" or "uplifting science".

    Now I recognize that I'm not doing everything I can be doing to obey Christ right now, in fact, I can not be perfect if it is based on my actions alone. That is why the God-man came to earth so that we may worship Him in spirit AND in truth.

    To be Christ-like.

    But what is the Atheist to be like?

    "New Atheism" it seems has almost become a political or scientific tool that has no bearing outside of those two arenas.

    All I hear about is, "What is Atheism" and there are many hundred thousands of blogs that will tell you what it is.

    But none, including this one, answer the question, "Who is the Atheist?"

    I will never tell my children to walk the path I have walked when I don't know who I am at the end of it.

    See I do know this perfect God-man (there is a good book about Him) who was the one who told me to walk this path. And in all things, He is with me.

    But who beckons me come at the end of the Atheist trail?

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  16. Sermonfire, you have a fundamental misunderstanding of atheism. While atheism does amount to a rejection of what you believe, it does not amount to a uniform set of any beliefs or values. Some atheists believe that life is purposeless while others are convinced that there is some kind of order in the universe. If you want to believe the latter and call what you don't understand "divine", that is fine. However, by calling yourself a Christian you immediately identify yourself as someone who is willing to believe a set of beliefs which, if I altered them only a bit (such as Mormanism), you would regard as insane if held by others.

    You see ... you are an atheist towards all other gods but your own. I just go one god further than you.

    I should add that I have no objection to anyone (atheist or theist) deciding to lead a Christ-like life. I just don't believe there are any post-death consequences to that decision.

    I couldn't agree more with your comment to the effect that man needs a purpose to live. However, my view is that we as individuals define what that purpose is. Asking what is the purpose of life aside from the purpose defined by the individual is meaningless - it's like asking what is the purpose of a mountain range.

    BTW, I don't indoctrinate my children one way or the other.

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  17. Two things. One, I would very much appreciate it if you would answer my questions, as you have answered 'Sermonfire' and Leena. If you're in any doubt, the questions I'd like answered are the ones at the end: Have you really thought about what you're accusing people like my parents of? What should they have done, in your opinion, if their approach was abusive?

    By the way, if it's relevant, I was an atheist for 6 years. I'm not anymore.

    I also have a comment on your last response. I've seen this argument a lot, and agreed with it myself once upon a time, but I was thinking about it a few weeks ago, and maybe I'm making a mistake here but it seems logically quite flawed. Here's the argument:

    "You see ... you are an atheist towards all other gods but your own. I just go one god further than you."

    I have two problems with that. First, when you say it, it is based on the assumption that theists go through one god after another and reject each one on various principles. I understand how it could be confusing when people talk about "believing in the God of Abraham, not in Allah or Brahman" or something like that. It sounds like the reject they looked that the idea of Allah, said "that's silly", and moved on. Then they looked at Brahman, said "that's silly" and moved on. They only accepted the idea of Yahweh. But that's usually not what happened. Think about it- a lot of them, if they stopped believing in Yahweh, wouldn't NARROW their definition of god (say, "okay, it isn't this god either", cross the last remaining god off their list, and become atheists), they would BROADEN it. They would still believe in a 'Supreme Being', just not one as specific as the Christian God.

    You assume they've gone down the checklist of gods, crossed them all off, and were left with only Yahweh, whereas you went down the checklist and checked Yahweh off, too. You assume that when you’ve checked off (become an atheist towards) the final god, and you’ve become a complete atheist. But to defend the argument that “checking the last god off the list makes you an atheist”, you have to assume that Christians believe in Yahweh, and THEREFORE think there is a Supreme Being. But that isn't the case for most Christians. Most Christians believe there is a Supreme Being, and in ADDITION to that believe the biblical God is the most accurate reflection of it. If they lose their belief in the biblical God, they still believe in a Supreme Being, because their belief in the God of the Bible was an ASPECT of their belief in a Supreme Being, not the CAUSE of their belief in a Supreme being. So crossing that last god off the list wouldn’t make them atheists, it would make them agnostic towards the exact nature of god, but still believers in the existence of a Supreme Being. It’s like you’re saying “if you just stopped believing in the last god on your list, you would be an atheist like me”. But that isn’t true.

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  18. Secondly, you assume that Christians are atheists towards other gods for the same reason you are an atheist towards those gods - because they think the ideas are preposterous. Again, not the case. I know analogies aren’t quite logic, but consider this for a moment – You’re sitting at a café with a friend, and his sister comes along. She tells the two of you that her piano is bright green piano. You’ve never seen this piano, but your friend has. I don’t know if you would believe her if this happened in reality, but let’s assume you don’t believe her. Your friend doesn’t believe her either. Then her son comes and says that the piano is bright yellow. Neither of you believe him. They her husband comes and says its bright blue, and you don’t believe him either. But your friend does. You’re surprised at that. After all, a bright green piano is a silly idea, and he rejected that. A bright yellow piano is a silly idea, and he rejected that. A bright blue piano is a silly idea, but he accepted that.

    But remember- your friend has seen the piano before. Maybe he doesn’t think the idea of a bright green or yellow piano is crazy – after all, he’s seen a bright blue one. Your reason for rejecting all three statements was that they sounded silly to you. His reason for rejecting the first two wasn’t that is sounded silly – it was that he knew the piano was bright blue all over, and it can’t be all blue and all green or yellow at the same time. There’s a similar principal here – a lot of Christians don’t reject Vishnu because the idea sounds silly to them in and of itself. They reject Vishnu because they believe they have experienced the existence of the Christian god, and that it was real. Vishnu is incompatible with the reality they believe they’ve experienced, so they reject him. So, you reject all gods because they sound silly. Many Christians reject most gods because they believe they KNOW one God exists, and this Gods existence doesn’t allow for any other gods to exist. It’s like the difference between saying the piano isn’t green because you’re sure that’s silly and saying the piano isn’t green because you’re sure it’s blue.

    Lastly, my apologies if you're one of those people who are annoyed when people put a few words in all capitals to emphasize them. I didn't mean to annoy you.

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  19. Look, you answered other people right away, so you must be getting some notification when people post comments. I'm sorry if I'm pestering you, but this matters to me, and I really would like an answer. It doesn't have to be an answer I like... people keep pretending I'm not here, and that's a lot more frustrating than getting an answer that seems callous or uncaring.

    I'm not asking you to be nice or say that maybe you were wrong. I'm asking you to be honest. I'm not asking you to speak for everyone who shares your opinion about religion and child abuse. Only for yourself. I'm not going to be angry or lecture you about your answer. I'll just go away.

    But I really want to hear someone answer, and no one will. If you think it's still bad, just say so. But please don't ignore me like my question doesn't matter:

    When I was three my brothers died. My parents told me that "the part of them that has feelings" (their souls) had gone to Heaven.
    They told me that because that was what they believed. For them, it was a fact. That's not abuse (in my opinion), that's being honest with your children. My parents were in a crisis - two of their young children were dead -and they did the best they could (which involved teaching me to believe in God). And they told me what was, from their perspective (admittedly not yours), the truth: that I would see my brothers again in Heaven. Maybe I'm misunderstanding something here, but it seems like you're calling that child abuse.

    What should they have done, in your opinion? Was their approach was so wrong?

    Please answer.

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  20. Since Atheist Missionary seems busy, I'll take stab Marie.
    It's very true that religion has it's benefits and comforts. However, children grow up thinking with a closed mind. This can hinder imagination. Instead of thinking of all the wonderful possibilities of how matter formed they only answer is : "God did it." You're free to believe whatever you want, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Paganism, Wicca, Atheism or whatever. Just don't force your beliefs on other. I am very sorry for the loss in your life. The simple fact that your brothers lived once and were good kids is cause for happiness.

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