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Archive for the ‘Atheism / Belief’ Category

I Sold My Soul on eBay author Hemant Mehta has a blog called “Friendly Atheist”.  Some of his posts are indeed of a friendly nature while others, especially recently it seems, are a bit less so.

Two recent entries are worth looking at:

Christians hurting Christianity 

Hemant asks: “Have any of you (Christian or atheist or otherwise) had encounters with Christians who were well-meaning about sharing their faith, but actually ended up pushing you further away from Christianity?”

Atheists hurting Atheism 

Hemant asks: “Have you ever met an atheist who pushed you away from atheism (whether you’re a religious or non-religious person)?”

Have a look and add a comment if you have one.

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Scott “Dilbert” Adams just put a post up that goes well with the discussions we’re having here regarding religious and Atheist violence and the body counts of each. I imagine there will be many comments there so go join the fray.

***update – Scott Adams says he accidentally deleted his own post.  The post and the comments up to that point that were deleted can be viewed here.  I don’t think you can add more comments at this point. ***

The CBC program Ideas recently did a piece called “On Radical Orthodoxy” that is worth a listen.

And on the podcast Nuclearity the topic was “Without A Father” and featured Donald Miller talking about his book To Own a Dragon. I’ll be doing a series on Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz shortly so go ahead and get familiar with him.

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Over at the blog Piece of Mind, in a post called Doubt is a Higher Calling, Mark Tokarski has challenged me to define my thinking about childhood indoctrination a little more clearly.  It’s a valid challenge.  It’s worth reading his post before you read the following response:

Mark,

I’m glad we’re having this conversation… and this is good – you’re getting me started on my post about indoctrination. You don’t mind if I steal my own comments off your blog right? ;-)

The reason I have “dealt with this somewhat, but not thoroughly” is that my kids (all girls) are 4, 3, and 1 and when it comes to parenting I try to live by the rule that I don’t comment – not with apparent authority anyway – on things I have not yet experienced.

So, with my oldest being only 4 she is starting to ask questions, starting to pick up things here and there that she hears about “God”. This is where you and I differ – you have older children and you’ve already been through this. So I do appreciate your insights, and for that matter the honesty of your post.

I am in the process of determining proper responses to my daughters. Am I going to bombard them with theology that they have no hope of understanding? No, of course not. Am I going to answer their childlike questions in equally childlike terms that they can understand? Yes I am.

Where I have determined that I have found Truth I will tell my children. Where I have doubts I won’t pretend to be certain. That’s the way I work.

As for your childhood experience… yes, things tend to be overspiritualized in many ways. It’s an error I try to avoid. You have that in common with another one of my other commenters who I went out for a Guinness with last night (I still don’t like it BTW – I try to like it every 2 years or so). His point was similar to yours: things were so overspiritualized for him in a negative way that he couldn’t be in a dark room alone without being afraid.

Now this is all very unfortunate when it is the result of religious fearmongering. Do I believe demons and angels exist? Well, as a Christian, of course I do. But the manner of their influence is considerably more subtle, as a rule, than what is portrayed in a Frank Peretti book or for that matter a Stephen King book/movie.

The extremity of your treatment is common to some Catholic communities; I am far more familiar with extreme fundamentalism though, which is very common here in Southwestern Ontario (Canada). You have these groups nailed and I agree with you that they are involved in malicious indoctrination. I know many such people personally and they don’t even consider me a Christian. Seriously… especially if they read this and find out I had a beer.

If you don’t mind me asking, what was the “bolt of lighting that knocked you off your horse”? I’m assuming this is not the same flash of light that knocked St. Paul off of his.

You’re right on this too: children should know all of it, the good and the bad together. And here’s another point we won’t agree on but from personal experience many of the friends I grew up in church with ditched their Christianity when the other half of the truth was known. My belief is that they, along with a couple of generations in North America would still be Christians today if they had known all of it and been able to work out their faith with the knowledge of both sides.

I’ll make an assumption here so correct me if I’m wrong, but would your thinking be that given all the evidence anyone who honestly wrestled with it would choose Atheism?

You have my vote on doubt. I even wrote a song about it called Broken Hearted. The song is about the benefits and challenges of embracing doubt.

Cheers Mark, here’s to many more of these conversations.

********************************

(if you liked that song, there are more at http://www.michaelkrahn.com .  Shameless self-promotion, I know, but this is MY blog after all.)

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My friend Nick Fox is also doing a series on Dawkins at his blog.

I am trying to read all 374 pages of The God Delusion and comment along the way; Nick is taking the easy way out and commenting on various interviews with Dawkins. (joking)

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Teach Your Children Well

Dawkins hypothesis of why someone like me is of the same religion as my parents involves what he calls “childhood indoctrination.”

“If you were born in Arkansas and you think Christianity is true and Islam is false, knowing full well that you would think the opposite if you had been born in Afghanistan, you are the victim of childhood indoctrination.”

I think this hypothesis is largely disproved by the significant growth of Christianity in non-Christian nations like India and China. Pretty close to none of the Christians in those countries were born into Christianity.

In assuming that all faith is blind faith he misses the fact that many Christians have struggled, as I have, long and hard to ensure the faith of their parents is a reasonable one. Dawkins impression of Christians as indoctrinated photocopies of their former generation is accurate in one sense – there are indeed many Christians who are just that – but to label all Christians mindless twits is a great error.

I can’t help thinking here of the useful practice of the Bruderhof Anabaptist sect that sends their young adults “into the world” for a minimum of one year before they are allowed to decide whether or not to become members of the community. I read of this practice some years ago in Time or Newsweek and it has remained in my memory as a unique, risky, and useful concept. I believe it would go a long way toward combating both nominalism and the type of blind faith that is likely to fall apart at the first sniff of a challenge.

Dawkins insists that there is no such thing as a Muslim child or a Christian child, but rather that these are children of Muslim parents or Christian parents. “Children are too young to know where they stand on such issues, just as they are too young to know where they stand on economics or politics.” This is a point of some shallowness in his thinking.

The reasoning on the part of many parents goes something like: “I’m not going to bias my kids with my beliefs. I’m going to let them figure that out for themselves.” To me this is a gross mismanagement of parenting responsibility. They will be influenced one way or another and all one is conveying with this “non-influence” stand is that all the searching in life has not led them to anything they want to pass on.

I do agree that children raised under a certain belief system having all other systems withheld will be ill prepared to face the world. My children will be exposed to many viewpoints but I will certainly be passing on to them what I’ve learned along the way. As a responsible parent can I really abandon them in their intellectually formative years to make an unaided decision?

That idea of an unaided decision is a fallacy anyway because children don’t make many unaided decisions – you will either primarily aid them or they will be aided by someone who is not you, and at that point what was the point of your parenting, or your lifetime of learning for that matter?


The Dawkins Challenge – “Hey you idiot – read my book!”

“If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down… Of course, dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads are immune to argument, their resistance built up over years of childhood indoctrination using methods that took centuries to mature. Among the more effective immunological devices is a dire warning to avoid even opening a book like this, which is surely a work of Satan.”

Dawkins’ ego is obviously fully evolved. The above statement he describes as “presumptuous optimism”; I am more likely to describe it as “arrogant hyperbole”, but to each his own.

Must we resort immediately to name-calling? “Dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads are immune to argument”? Does Dawkins really expect those he berates to read his book? On one hand his greatest wish is for these “faith-heads” to pick up his book, read it, and then become Atheists. On the other hand, if you are a “faith-head” do you want to read much further? Its like he’s saying “Hey you idiot – read my book!”

Maybe I am in a unique case. I am a member of a large and rather conservative church, but I heard about this book because my Pastor quoted from it in a couple of his sermons and encouraged me to read it as well. He’s read the whole thing and wrestled with its claims – and he made it through without becoming an Atheist. Thank God for that.

Of course Dawkins probably feels largely justified in his approach because he has been approached by numerous Christians with the same attitude, trying to convert him. I have to say that he probably is justified in that sense, but two wrongs, as they say, do not make a right, and he comes off as a bit of a fanatic. We’ll see if this continues – if it does this could be a long read.

***To read earlier parts of this series go to the Richard Dawkins page***

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***This post is part of a series on Richard Dawkins’ book “The God Delusion”.***

I should start by saying that I’m not that familiar with Atheism. Of course I’ve met many people who have no specific belief in God, but not many who believed specifically that there is no God. So as I walk through these pages and make comments and reflections on their content, don’t assume that I have my anti-Atheist arguments all loaded and ready to launch. I don’t.

Why am I reading this book? Well, I sense that more people than ever are going beyond ceasing to believe in God and are openly proclaiming that they believe there is no God. This is something new as a mass phenomenon and so, as a Christian, I expect to meet more people in the coming years who claim Atheism as their belief of choice. I want to be ready for that conversation.

“But I didn’t know I could”

Dawkins begins:

“As a child, my wife hated her school and wished she could leave.” Years later when she related this unfortunate fact to her parents they asked why she didn’t tell them earlier and she replied “But I didn’t know I could.”

He delivers this as if it is a scandalously telling statement that covers the multitudes trapped in a religion, who are unhappy but do not know that leaving that religion is an option. “If you are one of them,” he says, “this book is for you.”

This book then is not for me, but I think he means it to be. I have continued in the religion of my parents but I was neither forced to continue nor did I ever feel like I didn’t have permission to question it – that is to explore truth and, if found someplace else, to follow where it lead. So I cannot identify with Dawkins when he says “…to be an Atheist is a realistic aspiration, and a brave and splendid one,” although I can see how such a pursuit could require a great deal of courage.

“Killing – and profiting – in the name of…”

The one rather tired argument against both Atheism and religion is “Look at what has been done in the name of…” and Dawkins gets to it on the first page of the preface, listing everything from 9/11 to witch-hunts to the actions of the Taliban as the fault of religion. From a Christian perspective – I cannot answer for the others – this is a rather easy argument to counter: not all who claim to be really are.

I didn’t expect Dawkins to introduce this tactic quite so early. If we’re looking for extreme cases, I can site examples like Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong as atheists who did their share of damage to humanity.

My point is this: any idea with currency, including religion and Atheism, will be exploited until it is no longer useful. When we see someone do something in the name of a particular religion, too often the religion in whose name the person acts is only a means to an end – that end usually being financial gain.

And it is not so only with religion. Think of the fashion counterfeiters in Asia and closer to home in our big cities. They can emblazon a very ordinary article of clothing with a brand name like Hilfiger or Nike and then sell it for far more than its worth. In this way a $0.50 shirt can become a $20.00 shirt by adding $0.25 worth of print.

Does this make clothing bad? Is Nike or Hilfiger at fault? In the same way, what cause cannot be enriched by invoking religion – especially in America? That religion has become more of a brand with benefits than a way of life is certainly not the fault of the religion itself but rather of those who use its currency to further their personal agendas.

Go to the next part of this series – Part 2 

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I am a big Dilbert fan. Dilbert creator Scott Adams has a blog which is always, pretty much 98% of the time, hilarious. Today’s post “God for Weasels” is no exception.

It starts: “One of the great things about being ignorant is that I often think my ideas are original. It’s a wonderful feeling. That’s why I try to avoid any knowledge that would spoil the sensation. Sometimes it isn’t easy. People keep hurling knowledge at me, and I can’t always duck.”

It was a timely one too since I just read about Einstein and Spinoza at lunchtime while reading The God Delusion.

Enjoy!

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