Richard Dawkins, God and Santa Claus: Belief as a Form of Abuse

Aaron R. aka Rico abuse, doctrine, doubt, God, Mormon 124 Comments

Between Christmas and New Year I had the opportunity to meet with some friends and at one point during the evening we began discussing the role of Santa Claus in raising children.  As I was thinking about what was said on the way home I recalled an article I had read in the ‘New Scientist’ which discussed whether teaching children about Santa Claus is a ‘harmless fantasy’ or whether it is a ‘cruel deception’ [1].  This then led me to consider whether believing in God is a similar relationship?

I admit that I believe in God, but for the purposes of this post I want to suspend that belief.  The reason being that I want to compare it with believing in Santa Claus who I know is not real.

The article argues that although some people are against teaching our children something that is false, there is some evidence to suggest that it might serve some important functions.  Believing in Santa helps to teach the importance of reciprocity in relationships, it assists in the development of imagination and helps children cope with stressful situations.  But are these reasons sufficient to teach your child about God even if you knew it was wrong, and more importantly maintain it.

But is such belief a form of abuse, as Richard Dawkins argues.  When asked about the sexual abuse of the young by religious leaders, Dawkins replied that ‘horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up catholic [or in any other faith – my note] in the first place’ [2].  Dawkins also believes that God should be given up at the same time as Santa Claus.

I would be horrified if someone believed in Santa past the age of 16, but I am not sure I could go so far as to say it is a form of child abuse.  I have a friend with a bright child who ‘figured out’ that Santa was not real and to prove it he set up a video camera watching the tree over Christmas Eve.  Knowing what was happening, the father arranged for a member of the Ward to dress up as Santa and bring the presents around.  Now, I personally do not agree with this, but I am not sure it is abusive.  If this continues then I would fear socially for the child, but the same could be said about believing in God.

So is believing in God a form of child abuse, assuming God is not real?

Notes

1. Gail Vines, The Santa Delusion: Is it harmless fantasy or cruel deception? in New Scientist, 22/29 December 2007, pp. 36-7

2. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion [London: Bantam Press, 2006] p. 356.

Comments

comments

Comments 124

  1. I’m reluctant to comment without knowing the context but is that quote from Dawkins for real? The damage caused by sexual abuse is arguably less than that caused by raising a child a Catholic? Please tell me this is some sick hyperbole.

  2. Having read much of Dawkins, I could see him saying that to make a point. He argues that religious people (Catholics in this example, but you could substitute Mormon) carry around much baggage. We (myself included, being religious) do carry around a lot of unmet expectations. I do feel that there are many areas of my life where I can improve. Utah (not necessarily a perfect proxy for Mormonism) has the highest rate of anti-depressant use in the country. This is the point he was making – that religion can cause long-term psychological damage. Whether this is true or not is up for interpretation. And whether this is better or worse than sexual abuse is certainly up for interpretation. But he does say things using hyperbole to make a point. Some other atheists don’t like his style either, suggesting he actually hurts their cause.

    He also talks about the atrocities that have been put forth in the name of religion over the millennia (ie. Crusades, Jew vs Islam, Sunni vs Shi’ite, Hindu vs Muslim, Protestant vs Catholic, etc.) Additionally, he talks about how the most likely indicator of what religion a child follows is not related to the “truth” of any particular religion, but where the child is born.

  3. “Utah (not necessarily a perfect proxy for Mormonism) has the highest rate of anti-depressant use in the country.”

    We hear this one tossed around a lot, but to be honest I’m not sure what we can actually infer about it.

  4. “Utah (not necessarily a perfect proxy for Mormonism) has the highest rate of anti-depressant use in the country.” and, of course, with the real statistics it is also noted to be the happiest state in the country.

    Interesting, isn’t it.

  5. I wonder if the psychological damage occurs when a child is brought up in the faith, and then decides that it is not true as an adult. S/he might then feel betrayed and may experience struggle in rebuilding new foundations for his/her life. But for people who remain with faith in God intact all of their lives, would there still be psychological damage? They may be ridiculed socially, but feeling that they were suffering for the truth, it does not seem that it would cause too much angst. If it turns out there is no God, they would never have to deal with the consequences, thus they’d be blissfully unaware for eternity.

    It may be better for those who end up atheist to have been raised atheist, because of the inner turmoil it would later cause. If raised in a strong religious background, there must always be some question that they MIGHT be wrong. And in their case, if THEY happen to be wrong, there could be eternal consequences.

  6. I don’t know how I missed that Dawkins bit, as I read the God Delusion. Comparing the religious indoctrination of the young to abuse is one thing, but saying it is worse than sexual abuse is beyond belief. Please tell me this is out of context, because I cannot respect anyone that would hold such a view.

  7. Dawkins is a showman and I am sure he is well aware that he his rhetoric is overly strong. It seems to me that he has a point in the way that SOME parents use the story of Santa as a way to bully and compel their children to good behavior. Children need to view parental love as unconditional and turning reward into such a conditional concept can have lasting negative impacts. However, there is also much good in the concept.

    Likewise, I think that the idea of God can be used in an abusive fashion to prop up authority and to cajole and manipulate children. In contrast, God can also be used as a source of light and equality. The knowledge that we are Children of God for instance is one of the most ennobling concepts in the world.

    I am convinced that deep down Dawkins actually knows this. In his book the Selfish Gene he talks about meme clusters and how certain ideas get linked together through historical and social factors. Thus, he should realize that religion is often clustered with several other concepts some of which are positive and others negative. We can change the packaging of religion without throwing out the idea altogether.

  8. I get tired of the bellyaching about the hardship of living on planet earth sometimes. Is it abuse to be raised to believe in God? Is it abuse to be raised to not believe in God?

    Let’s follow Richard Dawkins’ line of logic. Life is stressful with many events outside of our control. To deal with that, people created religions, so they could have the illusion of control (and hope). If those man-made illusions fail, is that abuse? It’s hyperbole to call it abuse. Life itself is abuse by this definition. Religion is how people deal with the hardship of life. That makes religion a coping mechanism, that BTW works for billions of souls who’ve lived. Even if there’s no God, religion has helped people focus, be more altruistic and tap into their own insight.

  9. Believing in Richard Dawkins is a form of abuse! And, I would never quote Dawkins as an authoritive champion of what is right and wrong in the world. I think that parents who teach their children the writings of Dawkins are subjecting their children to the worst form of abuse there is or ever can be.

  10. “So is believing in God a form of child abuse, assuming God is not real?”

    NO, it is not. And how can you even say that Santa Claus isn’t real, haven’t you seen Polar Express?! 🙂 I BELIEVE and just so you know I got a serious stash from Santa this year just because I do believe.

    “I get tired of the bellyaching about the hardship of living on planet earth sometimes.”

    You sound like a woman who is raising teenagers! ha ha All I can say is AMEN SISTER!!!

  11. OK, I’m not normally a huge fan of Dawkins…haven’t read his books so I can’t say if his actual tone and wordage in the God Delusion deserves such responses against…but I read an article on his site ( http://richarddawkins.net/articles/118 ) which seems to concern a similar subject, and I think people are missing his point.

    Dawkins’s point seems to be that religions aren’t just happy feel-good. Rather, they are tied as well to shame and guilt. Insofar as they are tied to these things (or worse), they are emotionally and psychologically abusive.

    For example, take the non-LDS formulation of Hell. It is a place of infinite misery…and it is used as an incentive to get people to follow God (e.g., if you don’t want to go to this place of infinite misery, turn to Jesus.) On top of that, this fearmongering isn’t necessarily justified with the weight of evidence.

    Even without a place of infinite and unimaginable misery, Dawkins would say that other superstitious frameworks have other lesser, but still potent guilt tactics. If we take the Santa analogy…there is o Christmas Hell, BUT there is the fear of getting coal. Dawkins would say that tis emotional manipulation is abusive because the coal-for-bad-children guilt tool is as unlikely as Hell. What it lacks in sheer terror (let’s face it…coal isn’t quite the deterrent that Hell is), what is most sickening is that people continue the malicious lie EVEN THOUGH THEY DON’T BELIEVE IN IT!”

    The real trick is to look inward carefully. I mean, I can imagine thst a lot of you may be thinking (ok, but all religion isn’t like this. Mormonism doesn’t quite have the cruelt of theology that other denominations have…so Dawkins is still wrong to brush everything with the same stroke.)

    But beware! You *can* read plenty of stories of people “recovering” from SOME aspect of Mormonism. Regardless of what you migt think about these individuals’ claims, there is obviously a group of individuals who could and would support what Dawkins is saying.

    I understand that Dawkins’s claim is jarring and upsetting. He is, if nothing else, a great shock jockey. But that is because he is making a bold juxtaposition that goes against our common sense. We think…what could be more damaging that sexual abuse? And Dawkins suggests religion, and we think: “couldn’t be! Preposterous.” But what if…what if…the accumulation of guilt, shame, fear, whatever inculcated by religious ideas such as Hell nets out to be worse in impact than sexual abuse?

  12. On the dawkins issue, he sees the pain caused by belief as being linked to way that beief is lived, i.e. throughf ear of eternal damnation and the way it sets people against on another. But yes, i have no taken it out of context. The bigger point is that he sees belief as a form of abuse. If you have the book you can check the context as I have given the page number.

    #7 – I am sure your right. His book is aimed at a particular market as the early part of the book sets-out. He wants to convert people to atheims, or perhaps more accurately to give people who already do not believe the confidece to admit it. So I think that him dealing with what he sees as the extremist postion on religion leads him to attack it with severe rhetoric.

    #8 – Thank you Hawk. I agree, but putting on my dawkins hat, he might argue that with the enlightenment we no longer need to God for thohse things and so if he is retained why? To assert power and inculcate fear. My own life-position, as an aspiring academic in the UK, is cognisant of how God is used as a stick to beat ‘stupid’ people. There power and fear have led me to be less-open about my faith at work. Therefore the same argument works both ways.

    #10 – There does not seem to be an argument in what you said, rather just the same type of rhetoric you seem to dislike. Why do you think this?

    #13 – Thank you Andrew S for your expansion and thoughtful response. My question still remains, if God is not real, is there any benefit to believing in God, do we need God to be good or is it impossible to remove God form the cluster of meme’s that bring in fear and guilt?

  13. But what if…what if…the accumulation of guilt, shame, fear, whatever inculcated by religious ideas such as Hell nets out to be worse in impact than sexual abuse?

    I appreciate that here in the bloggernacle people like to ask difficult questions and consider nuance, blah, blah, blah. But sometimes you have to call a spade a spade and this is bollocks.

    What if the guilt, shame, fear of an IDEA about hell is worse than the guilt, shame, fear of actually LIVING through the hell of sexual abuse? Are you serious? You find me someone ‘recovering’ from Mormonism or Catholicism or whatever and then try telling me in all seriousness that their recovery is worse than someone who’s life has been absolutely destroyed by child abuse, who cannot form any kind of relationship, or hold down a job, or turn the light of at night, or shits themselves when they hear the stairs creeking, who can only find comfort in the oblivion of drugs or alcohol abuse.

    Rico, I appreciate what you are trying to do here, but I for one cannot look past Dawkins’ comment to consider the intent of the post. Dawkins’ comment is merely fuel for those who argue that an atheistic mindset is amoral and leads to relativism.

  14. #15 – I agree, and not just because we live in adjacent stakes. I certainly do not believe that Belief is as bad as sexual abuse. But could be a form of abuse. I think including that quotation from Dawkins was perhaps not wise in the context of the rest of the post. Moreover, I also do not believe that Dawkins himself would disagree with what you are saying, i think he senses that fewer people have the experience you describe while many have had the experience of being raised in a religion that inspires fear.

    Regardless, I appreciate your comments.

  15. #13. If I were given the opportunity to go back and replace my religious upbringing with institutionalized sexual abuse, for some crazy reason I think I’d just stick with the religious upbringing. What about you, Andrew? You’re a reasonable person, Andrew, so I’m left scratching my head at your comment.

    I agree with Hawk in #8. If religion is what Dawkins says it is, then it’s pretty much like an appendix: a vestigial organ (given to us through natural selection) that explodes every now and then. But calling it “abusive” or “evil?” Is an appendix evil? Even if it ruptured in every human being?

    Dawkins just polarizes people with statements like this, and placing it in context of his larger statement doesn’t fix it or make it more reasonable. Even reasonable Atheists for some reason feel the need to qualify or defend it, and people of faith think, “Are we really even talking about the same thing?”

  16. re 14:

    Rico, well, obviously, I don’t have a copy of the book in front of me, so I can’t just flip to that particular page :3

    But to address the questions you specifically asked…I think Dawkins must say that there *is* a benefit to believing in God if God is not real. After all, if God is not real, then all of the benefits in believers’ lives must be a rather potent “placebo” (this isn’t to knock down the nature of spiritual experiences…rather, it elevates the placebo). However, I think what Dawkins would say next (and what most atheists would agree) is that even if this idea is good as a kind of “honing tool,” it is not a necessary tool. Particularly, we don’t need God to be good. Theoretically, it shouldn’t be impossible to remove God from the cluster of memes that bring with it fear and guilt…the problem is that religions aren’t quite like scientific endeavors, where the hope is to upend the previous “in hypothesis.” Even in revelatory religions like Mormonism, we still have this “stickiness” toward known, familiar doctrines rather than speedy progression, culling, and cutting.

    And I think that when people *try* to do religion in a way that culls and cuts quickly, they end up losing something from religion. I mean, you have all of these amorphous liberal religions and their supporters, who seem not to get what the allure of God and religion was in the first place, so they reject any feasible resemblance of God and go for something that cannot even be described — although they will try their hardest to convince you that you should trust that THEY can and have adequately described it.

    re 15,

    gomez,

    People live through guilt, shame, and fear, just as they live through sexual abuse. Don’t be so quick to deem one so *obviously worse* than the other just because it is physical, produces gruesome pictures, makes a big media show (that the media, of course, highlights upon every time), and even has spawned an entire series Law and Order just to cover it in all of its terrible forms. Don’t be so quick to say that the abuse from child abuse or the abuse from sexual abuse is the *only* thing that causes such rampant damage — even if it may appear to manifest in ways different than the ones you’ve listed.

    re 17:

    Arthur H.

    “Hmm…if I could choose between slavery in 19th century America and being a child sweatshop laborer in today’s China, for some crazy reason I think I’d go with being a child sweatshop laborer. At least they earn *something* and medicine is at least *somewhat* available so that they don’t die from a disease that only exists in history books now.”

    …I dislike Suffering Olympics. Taking two painful situations and trying to measure which is “worse” (often being biased to certain aspects of one or the other — e.g., people seem to care more about *physical* aspects and *visible* manifestations than internal ones, so it seems *obvious* that the former is worse than the latter) doesn’t make either situation desirable.

    I think you should stick with your religious upbringing because you obviously don’t feel it was abusive. That is why you juxtapose “religious upbringing” — oh, how innocently phrased — with “institutionalized sexual abuse” — how egregious! (So I fully anticipate the risk that the first thing you’ll do, when seeing my comment is, is protest: “The comparison of sexual abuse to religious upbringing is *nothing* like slavery and child labor! You must be deluded.”) You might, like others, be baffled by the suggestion that it could be abusive, and maybe you even think that people who do think it to be abusive are just being “unreasonable,” or are being “whiners,” or are “making a mountain out of a molehill.” After all, no matter what happened in a church, it COULDN’T be worse than “institutionalized sexual abuse.”

    To be sure, I believe I’ve gotten off pretty well, so I would keep the religious upbringing too. I’d definitely keep this alienation from everyone and continue to call it uniqueness. I’m not saying I necessarily *agree* with Dawkins’s argument…and not to the extent that he’s pushing it (so I guess “even reasonable atheists for some reason feel the need to qualify…it”). But all I’m saying is…I see plenty of people who I want to reach out and help them, but I can’t. They have already internalized whatever sludge they have gotten from their religious culture, and so trying to detach it from them (or encourage them to do so) seems too risky a task — it would kill them inside, and alienate them from the outside world as well, before it saved them.

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    #18 – The page number thing was not aimed at you, sorry, it was for Adamf. But I agree that we do not need God to be good, nor do I think we need God to find meaning in the suffering in the world even if it has been successful, which is wh for me this thought-experiment is interesting. I cannot think of God reasons to teach or act out my belief if I did not believe. This is not to criticise those who this but merely to state my own position. However, I agree that the pain of leaving a tradition might not be worth it, which leaves people in a very difficult position.

  18. re 19:

    Rico,

    And I mean, if we take something Dawkins has said (maybe in the book too, maybe just elsewhere) that it is “wrong” to “label” children (e.g., Christian child, etc.,), then I think that would relate. The labeling is part of what makes it painful to leave. Because you have all these role expectations that you are breaking when you leave. For some, it’s worse than others (love bombing, guilt tripping, social pariahdom, being kicked out of the house, etc.)

  19. I do many things out of a belief that that is what God wants me to do. However, there are hundreds of millions if not billions who don’t need this as a motivation. Buddhism leaves the issue of God out of the equation. It’s set of morals are based upon what works, etc. And I would argue that in many ways, Buddhists historically have done a better job over the millennia of “looking out for their fellowmen” than Christians have done. Many people in predominantly Buddhist countries look at the greed and inequality in the Western (and generally Judeo-Christian based) countries and wonder why we do what we do. So, arguing that a belief in God is necessary to have a set of morals is not a valid argument.

  20. Let’s not forget that some religious teachings can exacerbate the pain of sexual abuse. The idea that any illicit sexual act inherently defiles the people involved or that there is some kind of purity that is lost creates inordinate guilt in an abused child. The abuser can twist the idea of chastity against the victim by convincing them that the abuse is consensual.

  21. “labeling is part of what makes it painful to leave”

    Andrew, this reminds me of the issue of praising kids as well. Research suggests that praising kids for things like “you’re so good at math” or “you’re such a good example to the other deacons” will ultimately hurt them, and cause them to lie more, while praising their effort, i.e. how hard they tried or what they did, will serve them better. Perhaps that first kind of praising is a form of labeling.

  22. re 23:

    AdamF, I actually would’ve never believed something like that until I saw it firsthand. I am still somewhat skeptical, but my sister and her friends in the gifted and talented classes have caught on to doing a particularly annoying thing…if they have struggle in some area (LOL, struggling in fifth grade? I REMEMBER THOSE DAYS), they just *won’t do anything*. They are so used to being “good at things” that they don’t even want to risk doing something and getting it wrong. And I don’t know if that’s better or worse than the others who, if they don’t get something, will come up with creative (at least, for fifth graders) ways to cheat to maintain appearances and keep the praise coming.

    Of course, now everyone has to tell them how not doing anything at all gets you zeros (and cheating will get the same, if not worse). And zeros are way worse than whatever ego is bruised from having your work evaluated and corrected so that you can LEARN.

  23. Andrew, that example of your sister is like it’s right out of the chapter I read on this. They just give up if they can’t do something. Kids need to be praised for the struggle, for the effort.

    As for religion, I am going to focus on praising my son for the efforts he makes, and for his actions, rather than his *state*. E.g. “We really appreciate your working hard at (blank) action” rather than “you’re such a good little sunbeam” lol.

  24. I think Andrew S makes some good points, and while it gives me a better idea what Dawkins is saying, I still disagree. Dawkins is arguing just as much against morality as he is against religion. Here are some of my thoughts why:
    – Religion is the vehicle society uses to curb anti-social behavior. Laws are also used in this way, but there are behaviors that are difficult to legislate (or prove) that are still anti-social behaviors (meaning that they denigrate society or harm others).
    – In a way, religion recognizes that there are not always appropriate consequences for bad behavior, so religion provides imaginary future consequences (sticks with which to beat stupid people, as Rico put it). These incentives are useful at curbing anti-social behavior for those who believe them.
    – Children are not inherently good. While religion is only one method at keeping their homocidal and anti-social impulses at bay (using candy to reward good behaviors might be another), Dawkins’ argument implies that any manipulation of individual freedom (e.g. my freedom to harm you) toward social needs (e.g. a society of respect) is abusive. Religions certainly blunder at preserving society’s interests (e.g. by promoting tribalism), but to equate that with abuse is a ridiculous overstatement. Without man-made consequences, we’d get a Lord of the Flies situation pretty quickly – mostly I’m talking about children here, but that’s probably just because adults have gone through years of behavioral conditioning to societal norms.
    – Shame and guilt are not the same thing. Shame is external – applying emotional manipulation through rejection. Guilt is internal – one feels bad for doing something one feels is wrong, whether the outcome was intentional or not. Shame can be abusive or not – again, society shames all the time through any behavior it strives to deter. There is a stigma associated with all anti-social behaviors.

    Dawkins essentially calls all personal restrictions abuse, but that assumes that the universe (God?) will right all wrongs in the end, so it doesn’t matter. He must have some basic personal morality driving his assumptions, but he calls it abuse if someone imposes moralistic restrictions that differ from his own on anyone else. That’s just arrogance. But I’m sure we all do more or less the same. For example, if you are Catholic but not Muslim, you might think it’s abusive to encourage your daughter to wear a Burkha. If you are Muslim, but not Catholic, you might think it’s abusive to encourage your son to enter the Priesthood and be celibate for life. When encouragement or teaching turns to control, abuse begins to creep in.

  25. #21: “And I would argue that in many ways, Buddhists historically have done a better job over the millennia of “looking out for their fellowmen” than Christians have done. Many people in predominantly Buddhist countries look at the greed and inequality in the Western (and generally Judeo-Christian based) countries and wonder why we do what we do.”

    And yet you could also argue that the practical result of Buddhism in those countries where it was popular, was a fatalism that held back economic and technological advancement. I stand by my firm belief that indoor plumbing, Norman Borlaug, internal combustion, and antibiotics have done more for human happiness than any religious or philosophical tradition ever did. Yes, there’s “greed and inequality” in the Western world — but those things are the side effects of a paradigm that succeeded in advancing human well-being in ways that Buddhism never did (or arguably, could).

    N.B. Richard Dawkins is a complete jerk.

  26. re 26:

    hawkgrrrl:

    I think that Dawkins would necessarily also advocate for morality apart from religion. Even if it is a social construct, he would say that religion is not the only (nor the best) vehicle to use to curb anti-social behavior. So, to go through your points.

    1) Is religion the BEST vehicle society can use to curb anti-social behavior? Note that your only two answers don’t have to be “law” and “religion.” I think what Dawkins would argue is that not only is religion not the best vehicle, but that the nature of religion makes it a particularly inefficient, slow-to-improve vehicle. I mean, our laws are slow-to-improve because Congress is Congress. Religion is slow-to-improve for entirely different factors (e.g., is this really a revelation from God? etc., etc.,)
    2) These incentives *shouldn’t* be useful for a vast majority of people. People shouldn’t (and probably don’t) do the things they do because God says so. People who don’t murder don’t do it because God said murder is wrong. So, heaven or hell or anything in between are not what is “useful at curbing anti-social behavior for those who believe them.” Locks don’t keep out crooks…even “imaginary futury divine locks.”
    3) I don’t know if Dawkins’s argument quite goes as you say it. Rather, Dawkins would probably challenge what “societal needs” are. I have no doubt that he challenges the “societal need” for “respect for sacred ideas.” Again, the choice isn’t between man-made consequences (must be religion) and nothing. Rather, it’s toward developing a better system of man-made consequences in lieu of the very unwieldy religious hodge podge we have.
    4) Shame and guilt *aren’t* the same thing. That’s why I mention them separately. But how can religion have a role with both? Well, here’s the deal…is our internal compass hermetically sealed from the world? While I certainly believe that we have a sense of right and wrong distinct of whatever society or religion tells us (that’s why society does have to socialize us to fit in with the societal rules), I think that our sense of these things is heavily impacted by the communities we grow up in. So, if our communities teach us that certain things are bad (when perhaps, they aren’t bad at all), we could face quite a bit of guilt for something that need not be. Society shames us…yes…but if that was all that happened, then we’d simply have iconoclastic sociopaths. No, the socialization process is only “complete” when an individual INTERNALIZES a sense of guilt for breaking away from society. That is really what will deter him, and that is really what has opportunity to be abused.

    Maybe I REALLY need to read the book, because I have NO IDEA where you are getting what you say last. I don’t think Dawkins assumes at all that the universe (God?) will right all wrongs in the end. This is more of a theistic conception than anything (oh, so there is terrible suffering, but don’t worry, because there are great and final imaginary future consequences to make up for this. There is a great and final judgment to give everyone what for. The first shall be last and the last shall be first, etc.,) so I really don’t know where to begin.

    Instead, I think the case is that we need to admit that things aren’t catered to us. So that means that, even if we want all wrongs righted in the end, we aren’t owed anything of the sort. If we want to see “wrongs” righted, then we’ll have to “right” them ourselves. And even this can’t be seen in the same sense. Really, what will happen is something of a process of natural selection…where the “fit enough” (not necessarily the fittest) to adapt to the environment can survive. AT BEST, I can see that Dawkins is arguing for an “evolutionary” moral fit…(e.g., if we could somehow commit to doing x, y, and z, we’d find that we’d be more successful as a species. So, people who tend to do these things will survive and thrive and people who do not will languish. But this isn’t survival of the fittest. Just survival of the “fit enough,” so we shouldn’t believe that things will become super awesome just because.)

    I have no doubt that Dawkins (as do we all) wraps and conflats his subjectively felt sense of morality with some objective morality, but this is…a spectator ion…Since it appears on both sides of the equation and effectively cancels out. The real issue is…when we make these claims, what are they based on? If Dawkins makes an evolutionary argument, we can point out that an is is not an ought. But when the Catholic makes a claim, or the Muslim, and what they have to bring to the table is the perennially reticent God, I can honestly see why Dawkins and others get frustrated.

  27. #26 – Hawk, I may just be too simple to understand what you’re saying, but I don’t see how Dawkins is arguing that “all personal restrictions” are abuse. It seems to me that he’s only arguing that personal restrictions based in religious lies (as he sees them) are abuse. You said yourself that “religion is only one method at keeping [children’s] homocidal and anti-social impulses at bay.” I think Dawkins is just arguing that any other, more genuine, method would be less abusive. I don’t see how you extrapolate that to him arguing for anarchy in place of religion.

    With respect to the difference between shame and guilt, I agree with your distinctions. The difference between societal and religious attempts to shame are that religious tactics are not based in reality, and are not testable or provable. To shame or scare a child with threats of a disappointed or angry god and eternal punishment and suffering is different than society’s attempt to shame or scare someone out of an antisocial behavior by threatening social stigma or punishment. In the context of society, a person can test the water, so to speak, and make a rational decision about whether or not the social stigma or punishment is worth the crime. With religion, there is no way to do this, since all the consequences are going to come in the next life, which allows you to simply continue to raise the eternal stakes until you find a threshold that the child or the person can no longer bear, in order to induce guilt and manipulate behavior. I think this is a significant distinction, and it is unique to religion. In what other context does such “manipulation of individual freedom” involve unseen and unprovable supernatural punishment and scorn?

    I think it’s perfectly acceptable to disagree with and criticize Dawkins’ use of words, but I think you’re reaching with these comments, Hawk.

  28. 1st I would distance myself from Dawkin’s sex abuse comments, I think that Dawkin’s public persona is built on a “shock jock” style which he uses to sell more books, (I’d do the same in his position)

    “So is believing in God a form of child abuse, assuming God is not real?”

    I find it difficult to see abuse in the teaching of a supreme being, even if there is a lack of belief on the part of the teacher.
    In the simplest sense the teaching of the existence of a higher power, can emphasise or magnify or reveal dormant values. I don’t necessarily believe that it is the belief in a god that does this, but rather a humbling understanding of ones place in humanity.

    However a “dogmatic” teaching of religion has a potential to be a form of child abuse.

    Assuming God is not real, or assuming he is; many foul abusive things have been done in the name of God from “god hates fags” campaign to certain forms of jihad not to mention the centuries of Christian atrocities such as crusades & slavery.

    Interestingly in a world where God does exists, some of the dogmatic teachings of religion have a greater level of abuse and longer lasting consequences than some sexual abuse.

  29. I think as far as the OP is concerned, I don’t think we can categorize teaching children that God exists as child abuse. Even the Santa Claus example doesn’t work, because parents don’t typically believe in Santa Claus. If the parents truly believe in God, then teaching their children about this belief just isn’t in the same ballpark.

    Maybe if Dawkins tried to support his arguments with evidence. For instance, children who are sexually abused show patterns of negative behavior. If teaching a child to believe in God is categorically the same, we should expect some sort of behavioral consequences which we can measure with the same metric we use for other types of child abuse. Perhaps religious children are more violent, find less meaning in their lives when they grow up, can’t hold down a steady job in their adulthood, etc.

    If Dawkins truly thinks it’s child abuse, then he should follow that up logically. If children are being sexually abused, then we need to remove the children from that environment so further damage isn’t done. Should children be removed from their parents if they are taught to be Catholic? If not, then Dawkins must admit that we’re not talking about the same thing. If he really thinks it’s child abuse, then he’s consenting to child abuse by not advocating that we take the same steps to protect children as we do with “real” child abuse.

  30. brjones: I’m not the expert on Dawkins either, so I may be reaching. The way this argument flows (if I’m getting this right), Dawkins believes that religions (which were created by people) are inferior to one’s individual sense of morality (also necessarily man-made), and he equates the restrictions of religious moral codes with abuse. Certainly any group ethical code is going to be inferior to an individual on the points that the individual’s ethical code differ (at least in the opinion of the individual). But society still should have some sort of ethical code (or law). I’m saying that law and religion are essentially the same thing – a set of identified behaviors that promote the interests of society. I don’t think religion can create feelings of guilt in those not prone to feel guilt (e.g. sociopaths at the extreme). Society (and religion) can only apply shame (group rejection or disapproval), aside from corporal punishments obviously. Dawkins is not referring to corporal punishments here.

    “It seems to me that he’s only arguing that personal restrictions based in religious lies (as he sees them) are abuse. You said yourself that “religion is only one method at keeping [children’s] homocidal and anti-social impulses at bay.” I think Dawkins is just arguing that any other, more genuine, method would be less abusive. I don’t see how you extrapolate that to him arguing for anarchy in place of religion.” I’m not sure he’s pro-anarchy. I’m just saying that there is no difference between man-made religious behavior limitations and man-made laws to restrict behavior and promote society’s interests. Does earnestness make it not abusive? That can’t be right. There are plenty of earnest pedophiles in NAMBLA. I think he’s fooling himself if he thinks that religions are abusive because they are man-made (therefore lies) but that other man-made restrictions are not. It’s contradictory to ennoble man above God (via humanism) but then debase man for ennobling God (if God is man’s creation).

  31. #27:

    I agree with your sentiments about fatalism and progress. I suppose it depends on what we take as progress. If “progress” is tangible things to make our lives easier and more comfortable, I certainly agree with you. If “progress” is more intangible to develop relationships with and concern for our fellowman, perhaps I disagree. The nature of competition in a Western society leads to progress. There is also a great individualistic dynamic at work, where the individual is more important than the society in many ways. Perhaps the same competition and individuality also carries over into “my version” of God is better than “your version”, therefore we fight and argue with each other. Even all the sects just coming from Joseph Smith can’t agree on what he actually meant.

    Granted, I say this typing at a computer in my climate controlled room after eating some food I heated up in a microwave after driving here in my car listening to my iPod. I don’t know that I could give up all my Western conveniences 🙂

    That being said, my point is that it is possible to have an entire society built up with the same checks and balances that we have independent of a belief in God. I have also learned a lot about how to deepen my empathy for others within a Mormon context by studying Buddhism.

  32. #33 Mike, I’m still not convinced Buddhist societies are any better at generating “intangible” progress (i.e., developing relationships with and concern for our fellowman) than Christian-influenced societies are. True, the Judeo-Christian concept of the one true religion has the potential to create hostility and conflict; on the other hand, I wonder if the (nominally) more universalist Buddhist ethic may simply leave the field clear for the human tribal and aggressive instincts to seek other channels. The popularity of Buddhism in mid-century Japan didn’t seem to help things much. The Buddhist majority in Sri Lanka just finished clobbering their pesky Hindu Tamil minority in a nasty civil war. Finally, on a strictly retail level, are we really sure that Buddhist-influenced societies make people better able to relate to each other, and build close relationships? I don’t see it. I see the modern world’s atomizing tendency going through Buddhist tradition (as with many other traditional cultural influences) like the proverbial whale through a net.

    It may be that whatever marginal advantage Buddhism may have over Christianity in the empathy department, is outweighed by revealed religion’s potentially greater staying power, and inculcation in its adherents of cultural self-confidence. An enlightened, humane religion that everybody abandons in favor of iPhones, may not be superior in its practical effects to a marginally less “perfect” religion that at least keeps bottoms in pews.

  33. #32 – I think I understand your point, Hawk. I think Dawkins might argue that non-religious man-made restrictions are preferrable to religious restrictions in that they would generally be based in practicality and would be testable and provable, and would be, generally speaking, changable at the wishes of those individuals who make up society. Contrast that with religous restrictions, which are purportedly given from on high and are sacrosanct and unchangeable, and I think it’s a fair point. I don’t think the argument is that religions are man-made and are lies, therefore they are bad sources of behavior control. I think the argument is that they are systemic and unchallengable, and the teaching of religious systems, by necessity, perpetuates a system of control and lack of rational thought and the absence of self-analysis. I would agree wholeheartedly that any system that encourages someone to receive their morals and values from another source (be it a prophet, a book, etc.) and not to question them or decide for him or herself, is not only of less value inherently to a system that encourages such individual thought, but lends itself to abuse. Perhaps religion itself isn’t abuse, but any system that teaches control and subservience and the subsuming of one’s own desires and thoughts, is just asking for someone to use it for abusive purposes.

  34. Assuming God does not exist:

    democratic secular control systems are superior to Religious control systems and are less abusive, my reasoning for this is for two reasons; looking at malignant control systems.

    1st Individuals have power to make a change, governments, policies and laws have been changed at the hands of the people. within many Religious organisations individuals have no voice, children even less, in reality prolonging the suffering caused by malignant control systems.

    2nd It is the natural propensity of religious organisations to justify the actions of leadership, from genocide, segregation or sexual abuse, there are reams of written records to justify why these acts are according to the will of God, again prolonging the malignant control systems.

    The Priesthood/Temple Ban and Segregation vs Civil rights movement are good modern examples of this.

  35. Hmmm. I see the point that either Dawkins or BroJones & MrQandA are making. I’m not sure I’m convinced, though. Yes, I think that the potential for abuse in religion lies in making its behavioral limitations unquestionable, BUT:
    – people have to be willing to comply with that for it to be binding.
    – most forms of human government have historically been as unquestionable and absolute as religion.
    – despite this, all forms of government (laws, etc.) and religion have changed and continue to change pretty substantially over time based on human input (ongoing revelation, religion would say, but I’m trying to stick to Dawkin’s atheist perspective here). Again, the rhetoric of religion may be scarier (but is it really scarier to go to a future imagined hell than to be corporally punished in this life?), but the fact of the matter is that it’s just tough talk in the case of religion (unless we’re talking about corporal punishment such as Crusades or Inquisition in which religion essentially WAS government – religion today in the Western world doesn’t have that kind of power).
    – democracy has spoiled us with its rhetoric. We believe that as part of “we the people” we have a choice and we nobly make the laws we want to make, but in reality, we are subject to the tyranny of the will of the people. Believing we have freedom of choice doesn’t mean we really do (any more than believing religion restricts our behavior makes it true that it does).

  36. #37 – “Again, the rhetoric of religion may be scarier (but is it really scarier to go to a future imagined hell than to be corporally punished in this life?), but the fact of the matter is that it’s just tough talk in the case of religion.”

    I would agree with that, but I think it’s a little naive to ignore the very real damage that can be done by such (in some cases) extreme emotional manipulation as that which often takes place within a religious context. The real difference, in my mind, is children. In general, the intimidation and scary rhetoric used by secular society is deliberately not directed at children. In fact, there is a societal recognition and respect for the innocence and fragility of children that is severely lacking in religion. Where society generally thinks children should be shielded from behaviors and situations that are above their maturity levels, religion sees children as the perfect tabula rossa on which to project its doctrines and dogmas; a “get ’em while they’re young” mentality, if you will. This is what is really disturbing to me. If children were not implicated, I would be much more likely to ignore religion altogether. When it comes to children, though, I think the attitude of religion is most insidious.

  37. re 37:

    Even though I’ll admit again I’m notoriously poorly read for this discussion, I think that from what I have heard about Dawkins that Brjones (ala 35) and MrQandA (ala 36) “sound” more like the soundbits I hear from Dawkins on these kinds of issues.

    I think that to the extent that ‘most forms of human government have historically been as unquestionable and absolute as religion,’ Dawkins would also argue that these things are evil. (e.g., the vast majority of atheists are not fans of so-called atheistic communist states like the Soviet Union, China, etc., Why? Because these governmental systems instead seem to replicate unyielding totalitarianism and dogma in the Cult of Personality or the Cult of the State.)

    Governments that are more fluid, less “sticky” to change are more praiseworthy under this model. So, in the same way that some forms of government (constitutional democracies, republics, parliamentary systems) are more apt to change based on human input, these governments are preferable to totalitarian regimes.

    I think you miss the crucial second part of the equation when comparing the rhetoric of religion to the rhetoric of government. A future imagined Hell that the church waves around is something that the church has no control of. Corporal and capital punishment is something the government has 100% control of. A future imagined Hell is waved around for all kinds of arbitrary social demands (this really depends on the person.) With a fluid changing government, corporal punishment may be waved around for arbitrary social demands as well, BUT these things are more subject to change. You don’t have to go through God to do it, because you start without the pretense that these are God’s rules. (For example, no hell necessarily involved here, but for the church to make changes to its policies on homosexuals, it would need to reevaluate several theological frameworks regarding the proclamation on the family, the role of marriage in the eternities, etc., For California to overturn Prop 8 involves some constitutional arguments or another referendum.)

    Regarding democracy spoiling us with rhetoric…the issue is that MOST people would argue that that is why we have a *constitution*, *Bill of Rights*, and *several amendments.* We don’t *just* have a democracy that is rule by tyranny. Rather, we (sometimes) make protections for minority interests despite the wishes of the majority. We have checks and balances, and so forth. The comparison is not “any more than believing religion restricts our behavior makes it true that it does,” but rather: do religions stake out positions for the minority members to have a say? To **effectively** air and resolve grievances? To check and balance the majority or the powerholders? These things would effectively be apostasy!

  38. I disagree. This is a typical opening sentence from me, but not the point. Hawkgirl said “Dawkins believes that religions (which were created by people) are inferior to one’s individual sense of morality (also necessarily man-made)….” Wrong. Dawkins takes the position that humans as well as other animals (though developed much more in humans) have an innate sense of right and wrong that we’ve been bequeathed from our genes, our evolutionary history. Humans that get along with other humans make more successful humans. We’re herd animals. We have innate rules as to how to behave to those in our herds. For example, that “do unto others” thingie is pretty much universal in those societal organizations that are called religious. If your neighbors get along with you, you’ll do better.

    However, Religion says, according to Dawkins: “You only need to be kind to your co-religionists. The others that disagree with your set of religious values are fair game for bad bad behavior. (For many examples please see pretty much any random page in the OT.) You can blow them up in suicide attacks, you can throw them (if relatives) out of your families, you can deny them marriage rites.

    In other words, he sees religion as forcing humans into small groups that feel empowered to treat those that are not their co-religionists unfairly. Without religion, he sees more inclusive groups. I think he’s optimistic. Hope I’m wrong.

  39. #40: “However, Religion says, according to Dawkins: “You only need to be kind to your co-religionists. The others that disagree with your set of religious values are fair game for bad bad behavior.”

    Here’s where Dawkins gets tripped up by his own logic. Yes, we are evolutionarily hard-wired to “get along with other humans” — but, specifically, the other humans in our tribe. It’s not “religion” that “forces human into small groups” — it’s the same evolutionary heritage Dawkins is idealizing! If we owe our moral thinking to our genes, our genes are telling us “love your immediate neighbor, but don’t feel any qualms about raiding the next clan over to rape their horses and ride off on their women.” Didn’t these guys ever watch any PBS primate documentaries?

    Dawkins has it exactly backwards. To the extent we thinking, reasoning beings have managed to scale up our basic (arguably evolutionarily-driven) altruistic instinct from “love my neighbor in the clan” to “love my neighbor, full stop,” you cannot take religious thought out of the equation.

    That said, I suppose it’s possible for religion — having served its basic purpose in bringing the concept of universal morality and empathy into our contemplation — to stand in the way of our further implementing the implications of that concept. And of course not all religions are created equal in this respect. I distinguish between sectarian religion and universalizing religion. By fixating on the wrong aspects of faith, sectarian religion does have the capacity to suck us back into tribes.

    That said, I’m coming around to the notion that the tribes will always be with us. If religion gets too universalist, people stop caring. (We need a reserve army of the damned to enable us to conceive of ourselves as the elect; when everybody’s special, nobody’s special.) People then turn away from religion and join other tribes, and proceed to hate each other even more than before. (I suspect the average NPR listener hates Sarah Palin more than the average Mormon hates the average Baptist, and vice versa.)

  40. Thomas, I agree with you about the innate nature of tribes, and I would also agree that many religious traditions have espoused an enlarged sense of human inclusiveness, even while simultaneously fostering a heightened sense of exclusivity. I think it’s very short-sighted, though, to say that to the extent humans have progressed past the tribal mentality, religion gets the credit. Where was religion in the first 75 years of the United States’ existence? Leading the charge for continued slavery, while many godless abolitionists in the north fought for equality. It was the uber-religious south that fought tooth and nail against desegregation and racial equality in the mid-20th century, while progressive secularists fought on the right side of inclusion. Where is religion now, when other minorities are fighting for equality? It’s Salt Lakr City vs. San Francisco, and religion is once again fighting FOR the exclusive, tribal mentality.

    I’m not saying that religion is always on the wrong side of this fight. Just when the books and prophets say they should be. This is the problem. What is a believer to do when inclusion is not justified by their texts or dogmas? Why, they fight against it, per deistic fiat. My point is that human beings, free from religion, are perfectly and admirably capable of deciding to be inclusive.

    To the extent that religion was necessary in the past to break down geographic and ethnic barriers, I would argue it is no longer needed in that realm, and is in fact now working backwards on that front.

  41. #42: “Where was religion in the first 75 years of the United States’ existence? Leading the charge for continued slavery, while many godless abolitionists in the north fought for equality.”

    Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.

    I admit to being more or less shocked at that statement, because you are manifestly an intelligent person — and yet that statement is probably the grossest misstatement of a historical circumstance since Joe Biden talked about FDR going on TV after the 1929 stock market crash to reassure the nation.

    The Abolitionist movement was absolutely God-soaked. (Often Unitarian, but that still counted as “religious” back then.) The civil rights movement was less so (American society as a whole had become less fervent), but still miles from “secularist.” We are after all celebrating the birthday of a certain notable reverend this month…

    The point is that in the United States — which was and remains a relatively religious society — good religion beat bad religion. Glory hallelujah.

  42. I agree that it is the providence of religion to be exclusive. The LDS Church has always tried to be perhaps the most exclusive of all, starting with JS proclamation that all other religions were wrong. Echoes of this came forward to people like BRM who stated basically that if you weren’t the Mormon church, you belonged to the Church of the Devil. Even the whole premise of the missionary program is exclusivist – it doesn’t matter what religion you are (Buddhist, Methodist, Hindu, Catholic, Muslim, Baptist, JW, etc.), you will be better off if, at the end of the day, you leave that and become a Mormon. And no one will ultimately reach the ultimate reward unless they are Mormon, in this life or in the next. It doesn’t get much more exclusive than that.

  43. #43 – lol. Fair enough, Thomas. I don’t know if it’s quite joe biden-esque, but your point is taken.

    I obviously overstated, but my point wasn’t really so much intended to suggest that religion has NOT been involved in inclusiveness, as it was to suggest that secularists have also frequently pressed for inclusiveness without invoking religion to do so. Although the abolitionist movement was “soaked” in religion, it was no moreso than were the supporters of slavery, so I’m not sure there’s any net positive there. Additionally, with respect to the fight for civil rights in the 20th century, I’m much more interested in the views of those who were whose personal rights were NOT at stake. I’d expect a tendency toward a belief in a higher power when one is fighting a seemingly insurmountable battle.

    Again, the point is that as a rule, I think secularists tend to be more “progressive” and hence tend more toward inclusiveness, which involves change and is thus an inherently liberal movement. Religious adherents are generally conservative and so are often resistant to such change. Again, I’m just arguing that the evidence doesn’t suggest to me that non-religious persons are any LESS apt to break down tribal tendencies than are religious persons. If anything, it seems they’re more likely to do so.

  44. #45 — Thanks for the good humor. Some people don’t take my smartbleepery nearly so well.

    “I think secularists tend to be more “progressive” and hence tend more toward inclusiveness, which involves change and is thus an inherently liberal movement.”

    That may be the case today. It wasn’t necessarily so for the thinkers of classical antiquity, or for the original Progressives, who were often avid supporters of eugenics (“three generations of imbeciles are enough”) and social Darwinism. Neither would I say that modern “progressives” are perfect examples of inclusiveness; many of them do still entertain a kind of folk-Marxist concept of politics as class struggle, which by definition excludes the Enemies of the People.

    I believe the best of all worlds is inclusive (rather than sectarian) religion — something out of Karl Ratner.

  45. Thomas:

    People then turn away from religion and join other tribes, and proceed to hate each other even more than before. (I suspect the average NPR listener hates Sarah Palin more than the average Mormon hates the average Baptist, and vice versa.)

    I highly doubt that. At best, I think the average NPR listener regrets Sarah Palin’s irrationality and regrets what they see as the rampant damage that her positions imply or cause. But hate? Not really. And even if such a word applies, I don’t think it is something to put on a sliding scale and say “NPR listeners hate more than average Mormons hate.”

    Really, I think the average Mormon is hungry for acceptance by the average Baptist, while the average Baptist still thinks the average Mormon is an un-Christian cultist. This distinction, btw, is through disagreements about the SAME PERSON (Jesus). And I think that when you get farther away from the average, the average anti-Mormon (which is probably a fringe evangelical or a fringe Baptist) hates Mormonism and Mormons a lot more than the average superliberal (whatever you need to get a fringe NPR listener) hates Palin and her brand of conservatism.

    Brjones re 42, 45: lol why’d you have to go put yer foot in yer mouth? Again, the “net positive” is that good religion won out over bad religion.

    The real question is if this always happens, if this happens efficiently, and if this happens normally? I am cynical that it does. After all, now it is liberal denominations (like the Unitarians) who are dwindling, and conservative, traditional denominations that are picking up steam.

  46. Thomas said: “Here’s where Dawkins gets tripped up by his own logic. Yes, we are evolutionarily hard-wired to “get along with other humans” — but, specifically, the other humans in our tribe. It’s not “religion” that “forces human into small groups” — it’s the same evolutionary heritage Dawkins is idealizing!” I agree. I’m not adamantly opposed to what Dawkins is saying, but there are some inherent fallacies in his logic. And in fact, by taking a swipe at religion as being worse than other man-made institutions, he is merely acting as someone from the atheist/humanist tribe.

    The other key fallacy that I’m not sure I made very clearly is that he elevates human capability to distinguish right from wrong above that of religion, yet states that all religion is man-made. So, which is it? Are humans good at distinguishing right or not? If humans are so good at it, why do they continue to create religions as their method of protecting society’s interests? He acts as though religion exists apart from humans.

  47. #49 – Again, I can’t speak for Dawkins, but I would respond that it’s not necessarily that a secular approach would allow us to get along with other tribes so much better than religion does. I think the overarching point is that religion uses control and manipulation to TELL PEOPLE who they should and should not be getting along with. I think this is inherently problematic. I don’t think Dawkins’s main complaint in the “religion as child abuse” debate is necessarily based primarily in the results. I think it’s based at least as much in the idea that the methodology is offensive. Religious supporters often put forth the idea that the ends essentially justify the means, especially with respect to children. I think Dawkins would reject this argument out of hand, and rightly so, in my opinion. I think the encouragement of an openness of ideas and personal choice through reason and logic is always preferrable to thought control and manipulation.

    “The other key fallacy that I’m not sure I made very clearly is that he elevates human capability to distinguish right from wrong above that of religion, yet states that all religion is man-made. So, which is it? Are humans good at distinguishing right or not? If humans are so good at it, why do they continue to create religions as their method of protecting society’s interests? He acts as though religion exists apart from humans.”

    I’m not sure I see the inconsistency here. Religion is man-made BECAUSE human capability to distinguish right from wrong exists above that of religion. I think there are a couple of reasons that humans continue to create religions as their method of protecting society’s interests. One reason is that the powerful in society (either the holders of actual power or those who are powerful in speech, persuasion, etc.) manipulate those who are less powerful, and the most effective way to establish and maintain power is through religious authority. The reason people allow themselves to be subject to such powermongering is because of fear. As good as human beings may be at naturally distinguishing between right and wrong, this ability does not satisfy the function of answering unanswerable questions that are frightening for most people. People want to know where they go when they die and distinguishing right from wrong doesn’t get you there. I don’t think there’s any mystery in why humans continue to establish religions, and I don’t think it has anything to do with needing to be told what is right and wrong. Being able to sleep at night is a more pressing concern. I think a sampling from various religious traditions demonstrates this quite sufficiently. Even if you just look at contemporary religions and ignore different eras, the idea of what constitutes right and wrong is all over the map from religion to religion, but the one constant in every religion that ever was is this: if you do what we say, YOU AND ONLY YOU will be in paradise/heaven/your father’s mansion/etc. after you die. Right and wrong is a trifle. The big picture is always obedience to gain salvation. This is the point of religion. Insurance.

  48. #50: “but the one constant in every religion that ever was is this: if you do what we say, YOU AND ONLY YOU will be in paradise/heaven/your father’s mansion/etc. after you die.”

    “Every religion that ever was?”

    I suspect what many formerly-Mormon agnostics/atheists have in common with many true Mormon believers is a relative lack of familiarity with other religious traditions. The Catholic Church, for example, has taught the exact opposite of what you’re attributing to them (and every other religion) since Lumen Gentium in the 1960s:

    “Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life.”

    Beware of attributing Mormon-style sectarian exclusivity to the entire religious world.

    “One reason is that the powerful in society (either the holders of actual power or those who are powerful in speech, persuasion, etc.) manipulate those who are less powerful, and the most effective way to establish and maintain power is through religious authority.”

    I would say that the most effective way to establish and maintain power is to shoot people who object to its exercise. Just ask Chairman Mao, Nick Macchiavelli, and probably the vast majority of succesful princes in history.

    Religion is just as dangerous to rulers as it is useful to them — which is why they traditionally have tried to keep a tight control over it, to prevent the emergence of wild-eyed mystics reminding the people that kings also are subject to God.

    Good religion — including Mormonism at its best — teaches that God himself is bound by (or inseparable from) natural moral law. Right and wrong is not a “trifle” — it’s everything. (This is one reason I have a hard time with polygamy as it was instituted by Joseph Smith.) That religion can be abused by people who create a God who happens always to agree with them, and use the idol to browbeat others into submission, says nothing about the relative superiority of faith vs. unfaith. The secular just call the idol “public reason” or the General Will, and try the same trick. If anything, the General Will is even more flexibly adapted into an instrument of tyranny than religiously-based natural law is. Its proponents certainly had a field day over the last two centuries.

  49. #47: Oh, I absolutely believe that Americans are more prone to political/cultural hatreds than they are to expressly religious hatreds. We’ve had it drummed into our heads since at least the 1940s that religious intolerance is a Bad Thing, like racism. Plenty of people, having made sure they have the correct thinking about those two species of human noxiousness, consider themselves free to be complete jerks in other interpersonal relationships.

    And I absolutely believe that there are culturally-based hatreds for people like Sarah Palin or Barack Obama that are out of all proportion to people’s mere disagreements with their substantive policy positions.

  50. The author of comment 7 said, “The knowledge that we are Children of God for instance is one of the most ennobling concepts in the world. I am convinced that deep down Dawkins actually knows this.”

    Absolute nonsense. Perhaps someone should equally contribute to this conversation by saying that deep down President Monson knows that the church is a fraud, and that the big bang theory is one of the most ennobling conceps in the world.

  51. #51 – “Beware of attributing Mormon-style sectarian exclusivity to the entire religious world.”

    Fair enough. Although I have known a decent number of Catholics (as well as other religions) and I haven’t gotten a strong universalist vibe from any of them. In my experience, regardless of the doctrine, adherants to a particular religion believe that their religion is “right” and others are not so right. Just my impression.

    “I would say that the most effective way to establish and maintain power is to shoot people who object to its exercise. Just ask Chairman Mao, Nick Macchiavelli, and probably the vast majority of succesful princes in history.”

    I would disagree with this statement. Obviously in the short term using violence and terror is a quick way to establish power. However, history shows that it is not an effective long-term strategy. On the other hand, Catholic leaders, for example, have been wielding an inordinate amount of power for going on 2 millenia, with no end in sight. when it comes to effectiveness, it’s a no-brainer. This is particularly true when your goal is not simply behavior control, but thought/belief control. Religious leaders don’t just get people to DO what they want – they get people to BELIEVE as they want. Furthermore, if done properly, this behavior and belief control becomes a self-perpetuating phenomena, with parents teaching/indoctrinating their own children on behalf of the religious leader(s). There may be a few secular leaders who have pulled off such a trick, but I’m not aware of any with the longevity of established religious traditions.

    I agree that religion is dangerous to leaders in secular positions who try to use it to wield power, but to religious leaders, I don’t think the same can be said. How many Pope’s were ever overthrown? How often is the Mormon prophet called to task by the members of the church for failing to be subject to god? Once you convince the people that you are god’s mouthpiece, the heavy lifting is done.

    “Good religion — including Mormonism at its best — teaches that God himself is bound by (or inseparable from) natural moral law. Right and wrong is not a “trifle” — it’s everything.”

    I have no problem with these statements, but they’re really only theory. In practice, not remotely everyone believes and/or lives this, regardless of how much lip service is paid to the idea. This is equally true of religious leaders, in my opinion. Besides, what’s the value in claiming that god is bound by natural moral law, when you can do whatever you want and then just say “that’s in harmony with natural law.” How do you know? “God told me so.” End of story. If god told OT prophets to murder and enslave children, or if he commanded JS to marry a 14 year old or have sex with other men’s wives behind their backs, then god and his natural law are immoral and frankly I don’t care how real they are. It’s a constantly moving target. Either the statement above is a farce, designed to keep the people from getting too rowdy, or it’s a meaningless platitude that only really means god (and his servants) can do literally anything, as long as it’s part of god’s greater plan.

    Let me pose a question (with the understanding that this is a bit of a tangent): If god really IS bound by some higher natural law, then, considering just the things that god has commanded in recorded human history, which must then be consistent with natural law since god did them, then what exactly is it that this supreme natural law is constraining god from doing? The only things that come quickly to mind are a) create or destroy matter and b) allow someone to gain salvation who hasn’t taken the proper steps to receive it. Thanks for that. All the things that I would want a law to prevent someone from doing seem to actually be in harmony with this natural law, so for me, the LDS concept of checks and balances of natural law on god is not really that interesting or appealing.

    Sorry for the tangent.

  52. Hawkgrrl, comment 8, I disagree.

    You simply presume religion has helped the world? Who says? A strong case could be made that religion has done more harm than good. I have read the God Delusion, and Dawkins point should not be ridiculed and people are missing the point entirely when they focus on whether raising a child in religion is worse than sexual abuse. The issue is whether or not raising a child to believe in god is abusive or not. It certainly is in some instances. I think we all agree it is wrong to teach a child that santa will bring them gifts if they are good and bring them coal if they are bad until the child is 18. At some point, it is wrong to teach a child such nonsense. Why is it ok to teach them about god and sins for their entire lives, if the evidence does not support the existence of god? It’s not ok. It’s wrong. I hold most parents blameless bc they don’t know any better. But that doesn’t mean it’s not harmful to the child.

  53. “I hold most parents blameless bc they don’t know any better.”

    If you really believe god does not exist, I would take issue with this statement.

  54. Why? They believe god does exist so by your own rationale they should teach them.

    If Dawkins is right that there is no god, then he is right that it is harmful to teach of him.

    But even if god does exist, I think it would be better to teach children to think for themselves and beleive what they choose instead of teaching them whatever brand of religion the parents use.

  55. Dexter – you are totally missing my point. I’m not defending religion very strongly (nowhere near as strongly as Dawkins opposes it), and certainly not in a vacuum. I’m simply pointing out that religion was created by humans. Dawkins attacks religion but says human instincts are good – yet ignores the fact that religions are the byproduct of human instincts. Dawkins is elevating human instincts into some nebulous cloud above the institutions (religions) they continue to create. If religions are good, it is because of the humans who created them. If they are bad, likewise. To say (or imply) that religions exist outside of humanity is silly, nor is Dawkins even saying that – he’s just ignoring the catch-22 of his own argument.

    I’m just pointing out that he elevates the human systems he personally likes while decrying the ones he doesn’t. Political regimes can be more controlling and evil than religions. People (not religions) are both the problem and the hope for a better solution.

  56. I hate to comment twice in a row, but this article in CNN.com today really does illustrate when belief is twisted to be abusive: http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/asiapcf/01/05/pakistan.taliban.children/index.html

    The caveat I would add is that this is not religion, and the children being targeted for abuse are particularly vulnerable to this kind of brainwashing because:
    – they have nothing to lose; their lives are horrible already.
    – they are told that their life has no value, only the afterlife.
    – they are deliberately substituting education with this indoctrination; the children don’t know any better and are prevented from knowing anything else.
    – they are literally given something that doesn’t exist (promise of virgins and a river of milk & honey) for something that does exist (their life). It reminds me a lot of the movie The Island for those who have seen it.

    To compare these methods of indoctrinating suicide bombers with someone going to a Baptist church weekly, building Habitats for Humanity, and abstaining from premarital sex – well, not all religions are painted with the same broad brush.

    Personally, I think it’s activism that’s the root issue, not religion or politics. Whenever we want to use people as a means to some ideological end, then we are on a slippery slope toward abuse of power.

  57. “I would disagree with this statement. Obviously in the short term using violence and terror is a quick way to establish power. However, history shows that it is not an effective long-term strategy.”

    Oh, I dunno. I think America probably holds the title for “longest-lasting representative democracy” at only 233 years — longer than any of the classical republics lasted. Rome lasted as an empire for 450 years (1450, if you count the eastern empire). Imperial China lasted for millennia; its successors dodged the democracy bullet by shooting lots of their own into Tiananmen Square. As long as autocrats don’t buy into stupid, unsustainable economic theories, history provides plenty of indications that Orwell’s “boot stamping on a human face” is a more proven long-term strategy than democracy — if mere power is the only objective.

    “How many Pope’s were ever overthrown?”

    Quite a few, memorably including Boniface VIII and Gregory VII. More often, they remained in office but were at the mercy of the European great powers, who for awhile sponsored competing Popes in Avignon and Rome. For most of the Middle Ages, the Papacy’s powers were definitely inferior to that of the guys with lots of knights.

    “Fair enough. Although I have known a decent number of Catholics (as well as other religions) and I haven’t gotten a strong universalist vibe from any of them. In my experience, regardless of the doctrine, adherants to a particular religion believe that their religion is “right” and others are not so right.”

    As do secularists. The difference is that a conscientious believer recognizes that there is something subjective about his belief, and so makes allowance for others’ beliefs, while the secular ideologue may suffer from the illusion that his beliefs are convincingly demonstrated by nothing but pure reason — and therefore his opponents must be arguing in bad faith. I get this a lot from many of that tribe. (No, I’m not being paid by Exxon for pointing out the fallacies in “An Inconvenient Truth.”)

    As for “the things that god has commanded in recorded human history,” you need an “allegedly” between “has” and “commanded.” (Or is that splitting an infinitive, and is that still considered bad grammar?) I agree that much of the Old Testament is morally and intellectually indefensible, and if God really is anything like the psychopath a bunch of bloodthirsty desert nomads dreamed up, then we really should be researching how to flip some ICBMs his way. But again, the fact that people were slow on the uptake in understanding the true God, doesn’t discredit faith per se, any more than early Progressives’ fad for eugenics and race pseudoscience necessarily discredits their liberal ideological descendants.

    “If god told OT prophets to murder and enslave children, or if he commanded JS to marry a 14 year old or have sex with other men’s wives behind their backs, then god and his natural law are immoral and frankly I don’t care how real they are.”

    Alternatively, God had nothing to do with any of this.

  58. #60 – Thomas, I need to stop arguing with you for 2 reasons: 1) it’s obvious you’re a lot smarter than me; and 2) I don’t really disagree with you on most of the points we’re discussing. I appreciate your blend of religiosity and common-sense, as demonstrated by your comments in this thread. I agree wholeheartedly that any ideologue, whether religious, political, secular or otherwise, is likely going to employ the same strategies and display the same obstinance and resistance to opposing ideas. Furthermore, I will readily concede that the criticisms I have levelled at religion are largely directed at those who abuse the trust and naivete of religious followers, and should not be used to paint all believers. I just feel that religion is a particularly attractive weapon with which to manipulate and mislead people. That certainly doesn’t mean I think believers are in any way bad or defective.

  59. #61 — “I just feel that religion is a particularly attractive weapon with which to manipulate and mislead people.”

    No argument here.

  60. Hawgrrl, normally I find your comments to be very intelligent but you are way off here. And you say you are not defending religion strongly, but you most certainly are.

    Your basic point has been the following, which you stated in comment 32 I believe: “I’m just saying that there is no difference between man-made religious behavior limitations and man-made laws to restrict behavior and promote society’s interests.”

    I think this is absolute nonsense. Even if religions are man-made (which I believe is the case for ALL of them), the danger, and the abuse, is that children are taught that their parents’ religion is GOD-MADE! The difference between being taught that GOD said such and such, as opposed to saying MEN or SOCIETY deemed such and such, cannot be overstated, especially when the pupils are children. Laws are created by men, by society, and are subject to change. God’s laws, although changed by the brethren every now and again, are treated as unchangeable to the common member. In fact, it’s a sin to think changes should be made in many religions. In a very totalitarian state perhaps your argument would make a little more sense but even then children are not taught that the tsar can read their mind and is taking notes on every bad thought or action they take. And totalitarian states are not really at issue since Dawkins was speaking to the free world and most of us live in the USA or other non-totalitarian regimes.

    Religion is more akin to teaching your child that he will go blind if he masturbates than man-made laws seeking to achieve a better society.

  61. brjones said: “I will readily concede that the criticisms I have levelled at religion are largely directed at those who abuse the trust and naivete of religious followers, and should not be used to paint all believers. I just feel that religion is a particularly attractive weapon with which to manipulate and mislead people.” I fully agree with this.

    Dexter: “children are taught that their parents’ religion is GOD-MADE! The difference between being taught that GOD said such and such, as opposed to saying MEN or SOCIETY deemed such and such, cannot be overstated, especially when the pupils are children.” But the teaching itself is what is or isn’t abuse, not the attribution of the teaching to God or society. If a religion teaches that eating your vegetables is godly, no harm no foul. If a religion teaches that eating nuclear waste is godly, that’s abusive. Most religious teachings are net positive or neutral. And most of the negative religious teachings are motivating by tribalism or politics and are the same outcomes you see from nations, political parties, and other non-religious affiliations.

    “Laws are created by men, by society, and are subject to change.” As are religious tenets – however, I should add that both are generally at the mercy of an elite group of leaders.

    “God’s laws, although changed by the brethren every now and again, are treated as unchangeable to the common member.” Dawkins wasn’t talking about the LDS church, and neither was I, so your reference to the brethren is more narrow than the discussion. I will only state that regardless of the “unchangeability” in the rhetoric, religions change all the time – history proves this. New religions form out of old ones. Old ones are reinterpreted under new leaders or the members simply fly below the radar while disagreeing with the leaders.

    “In fact, it’s a sin to think changes should be made in many religions.” There are many exceptions to this: new sects form within old religions, new interpretations (aka revelations) occur. Again, history shows that regardless the rhetoric, change in religion is constant. Religions may say that they don’t change, but the fact is that they do.

    “In a very totalitarian state perhaps your argument would make a little more sense but even then children are not taught that the tsar can read their mind and is taking notes on every bad thought or action they take.” Again, history would disagree – the divine right of kings was the rule of thumb for most of recorded history. Democracy is a very recent development. Pharoahs, Caesars, Ayatollahs, etc. were all unquestioned Gods to their people.

    “And totalitarian states are not really at issue since Dawkins was speaking to the free world and most of us live in the USA or other non-totalitarian regimes.” Yes, that may be so, but that was one of my points – that he is fooled into thinking that democracy and free-thinking is the norm or the logical conclusion of humanism. But history does not show us that. History shows us that these so-called enlightened humans continually create and reinforce the systems he considers less enlightened. Why is that? Humans must be less enlightened than he thinks. He only praises their efforts when they are in agreement with him.

  62. re 60:

    Thomas

    “Fair enough. Although I have known a decent number of Catholics (as well as other religions) and I haven’t gotten a strong universalist vibe from any of them. In my experience, regardless of the doctrine, adherants to a particular religion believe that their religion is “right” and others are not so right.”

    As do secularists. The difference is that a conscientious believer recognizes that there is something subjective about his belief, and so makes allowance for others’ beliefs, while the secular ideologue may suffer from the illusion that his beliefs are convincingly demonstrated by nothing but pure reason — and therefore his opponents must be arguing in bad faith. I get this a lot from many of that tribe. (No, I’m not being paid by Exxon for pointing out the fallacies in “An Inconvenient Truth.”)

    I wish. I often find the exact opposite. The conscientious believer is a discussion is more often the person to point out, “Well, morality is *obviously* objective, so you need an objective source like God.” They try to bait the secularist into arguing for some alternative objective source (and ok, I will agree with your point to the extent that some secularists fall for the trap), BUT the believer is confounded when the secularist points out that beliefs about morality (or other issues) *are* subjective and saying they are from God doesn’t mean that is so.

  63. So what if history is dominated by totalitarians? What is relevant is where we are now. We can’t change the past. We can change the here and now, and we should.

    You repeatedly state “history shows…” So what? We are talking about the perceptions of a child. A child is not aware that religions change their tune constantly. Of course religions are led by men who make changes for their benefit, but the child is taught that it is led by an unchanging god, and that it is not their place to criticize or question the religion. This is simply not so with the laws of the nation we live in. For you to say they are the same (teaching man-made laws or teaching god’s laws to a child) is simply way, way off, in my opinion.

    And you continually apologize for religious teachings as if every once in a blue moon it teaches something harmful, and everything else is innocuous. I could not disagree more. One of the biggest problems is that it teaches people NOT to think.

    I am growing tired of this discussion. If you think religions don’t teach anything harmful then I simply disagree.

  64. Dexter – I’m only putting the logic of Dawkins’ argument to the test. He says humans are better than religions at knowing what’s right. I am pointing out that religions are created by humans, so if you indict religions, you have indicted those humans as well.

    “And you continually apologize for religious teachings as if every once in a blue moon it teaches something harmful, and everything else is innocuous. I could not disagree more.” Fair enough. That’s a point on which we can disagree. I’m actually somewhat curious which specific common harmful teachings you take issue with.

    “One of the biggest problems is that it teaches people NOT to think.” I don’t think people need religions to teach them not to think. Most of them choose not to do that all on their own.

    “If you think religions don’t teach anything harmful then I simply disagree.” I didn’t say they don’t teach anything harmful – they may and sometimes do, but that’s just humans teaching other humans things that are harmful, usually because someone in a position of power is trying to control someone else, just as with all other human institutions. Religions aren’t the cause of that – just the steering wheel to control a group of people.

  65. #65 – Hawk, I think all of your points are valid. The disagreement I have with the whole of your argument, though, is what started this discussion in the first place: the way each respective school of thought deals with children. Even if you argue that religion and secular social structures are essentially equally good/bad, I think it’s a fair point to consider the way each deals with children. Religion sees it as a virtue to begin indoctrinating children from the moment they are able to retain information, and it justifies this indoctrination by the idea that the information is true, so it’s ok to manipulate thoughts and emotions. Even if secularism is equally bad, or even if I concede that it’s objectively worse, I think you have to admit that AS A RULE, secularists would not support the idea of implanting any such ideas in a child’s head, or coercing or manipulating their behavior with an “ends justify the means” rationale. Obviously that’s not to say that no secularists do this – there are extremists everywhere. However, I don’t believe that secularists would see such behavior as a positive or laudable strategy. Regardless of which value system is more correct or noble, I would argue, and I think this is much of Dawkins’s point, that this way of dealing with children is objectionable and in many cases harmful.

  66. brjones, the voice of reason: “Religion sees it as a virtue to begin indoctrinating children from the moment they are able to retain information, and it justifies this indoctrination by the idea that the information is true, so it’s ok to manipulate thoughts and emotions.” Yes, I think this is true. Of course, there are forms of early secular indoctrination as well (reciting the pledge of allegiance comes to mind), but secularism tends to be less invasive in scope, especially with the young. However, secularism has a worse track record at sending people off to war than does religion. But I think you’ve conceded that point.

  67. “religions are created by humans, so if you indict religions, you have indicted those humans as well.”

    I have no problem with this statement as I think it is largely accurate. I don’t think Dawkins would argue that all human beings are above religion. Even if human beings possess the potential to rationally or inherently determine right from wrong independent of religion, most choose not to. Thus, I think it’s wholly consistent if you detest religion, to indict those humans who create, perpetuate and follow religions. Again, I don’t think there is any inconsistency in Dawkins’s position in this respect. Humans have the potential and ability to determine right from wrong, but to the extent they cede the responsibility of doing so to religion (a lower order of morality, he might add), they deserve to be indicted.

  68. Hawkgrrl, I am sorry but you seem to think you have cleverly proven Dawkins to be wrong or foolish when your logic is problematic and his is not.

    You said, “[Dawkins] says humans are better than religions at knowing what’s right. I am pointing out that religions are created by humans, so if you indict religions, you have indicted those humans as well.”

    This is not clever or helpful at all. By your rationale, no individual is better than any group of people. I think the individual is better at deciding what is right then a New York City gang. Are you going to point out that gangs are created by humans, so if I indict ganges, I have indicted humans as well?”

    If I say the individual is better suited to raise a child than a neo-nazi group, are you going to point out that neo-nazi groups are created by humans, so if I indict neo-nazi gropus, I have indicted humans as well?

    Im sorry but your logic needs work, not Dawkins’. You claim that no individual can be better than a man-made organization or group. I say this is absolute nonsense. Sometimes the individual is better than a man-made group. So what if the individual is a human and the group or organization is made up of humans or was created by humans? That doesn’t mean anything.

    As far as you asking me what harmful teachings are out there, I won’t waste my time. You are intelligent enough to be aware of plenty, but you choose to believe they are not offensive. If I list them, you will simply not find them offensive. You have seen the list before I am sure.

    Regarding my point the religions teach people not to think, your superb logic shined through again. You said “I don’t think people need religions to teach them not to think. Most of them choose not to do that all on their own.” By that rationale, it would be ok for me to sell drugs because hey, they don’t need me to sell them drugs, most of them choose to do drugs all on their own.”

    And if religion is only one weapon which bad people can use to control other people, it would still be good to remove that weapon from their arsenal. Do I need to provide another example or are we getting the picture? I would rather face an enemy with 3 weapons than 4.

    Basically, I have read the entire book, The God Delusion, and its logic is not nearly as poor as many people who have criticized it here. Pardon my testiness, but I take issue with someone who claims to have logically defeated Dawkins’ premise based on two lines of his book.

  69. #69 – This is not a point of argument, but just something that struck me as interesting as I read this comment. Both of the examples that you cited – reciting the pledge of allegiance and sending people off to war, are, at least today in this country, firmly conservative right issues. As a rule, I think secularists today are opposed to both of these things. Obviously the pledge is very politicized because of the mention of god, but many liberal secularists are opposed to pledging allegiance to the U.S. generally. Similarly, the current wars seem to be inextricably tied up in religion, or at least religious symbolism. Perhaps this is because they are Bush’s legacy, and he was so unabashadly guided by overtly religious principles. It was just interesting that my initial reaction to both of your examples was “secularists in this country today would probably not support either of those things.” Not sure it’s significant, just interesting.

  70. I stand by my arguments but I want to apologize for my tone. I always do this. Sigh. I like Hawkgrrl’s comments and her posts, but on this case I just disagree quite a bit. And I feel Dawkins is being treated like an idiot when he is a world class scientist whose accomplishments and resume are more impressive to me than anyone’s here, so I was greatly annoyed at how he was being treated by many.

  71. Dexter – no hard feelings here! I enjoy talking with you. I think Dawkins is brilliant, too. I also find him arrogant, and I don’t always agree with him. Like anyone who comes from an extreme, I think he’s prone to hyperbole. Yet I find his hyperbole more appealing (believe it or not) than those who bash atheists.

    Dathon at NOM posted an interesting link to a book by Bruce Sheiman called “An Atheist Defends Religion.” Here’s an exerpt: “I approach religion much like an economist. I believe religion persists in our market-based culture, despite the prevalence of secularism, because it provides net value over and above its required investment, and because it beats competing belief systems in the same value proposition. I evaluate religion in terms of its pragmatic usefulness to humankind . . . I am making a broad statement about the affirmative role of religion in the contemporary world and what is lost in a purely secular conception of the world. ”

    Having said all of that, I do think religion is often the opiate of the masses. But it sure does keep those masses quieted down. There’s a reason most geniuses through time have leaned agnostic, heretic, or atheist, and I think it’s because they see past the controlling rhetoric of religion and lived according to their own values. Many of them simply found a way to function in a religious society without making a stink over it. A few unlucky ones rocked the wrong boat at the wrong time and paid the ultimate price. But humanity is mostly made up of non-geniuses.

  72. #65: “BUT the believer is confounded when the secularist points out that beliefs about morality (or other issues) *are* subjective and saying they are from God doesn’t mean that is so.”

    Confounded? As in, Korihor being struck dumb, or something less dramatic?

    Morality, as understood and practiced by human beings, clearly has a subjective component: Reasonable people disagree about what it is. However, it does not follow that because of such disagreement, there can be no objective truth that the disagreeing parties are both seeking. To analogize, the fact that there is debate over just who wrote the plays published under the name of William Shakespeare does not alter the objective fact that somebody really did write them.

    The fact is that it cannot be proven whether morality is entirely subjective, or whether there is an objective moral Reality that exists beyond experience. The believer chooses to venture a wager of (subjective) faith that there is; the unbeliever decides such a hypothesis is unnecessary.

    A problem arises when dealing with children: How on earth would you communicate such abstract concepts to literal-minded children? One either believes that morality has a transcendent objective basis, or that morality is a human construct. Those in the latter category are of course free to try to foster their children’s moral development using whatever methods they can — “be good because it will make you feel good, because your genes say so, because I say so, or because you’ll go to jail or lose your friends if you don’t.” (Leaving a child on his moral own will like as not get you something out of Lord of the Flies, and would absolutely constitute child abuse.) What of people who take the other side of the wager, and choose to believe that maybe there is something objective and transcendent about morality? Is it really out of bounds to use religious tradition as a teaching vehicle, leaving it to inquisitive children to decide how far they want to go in probing out how much of the tradition is literally true?

    To analogize, is it horribly abusive and dishonest to discuss the potential of atmospheric CO2 to warm the climate using the shorthand “greenhouse effect,” notwithstanding that CO2 climate forcing has absolutely nothing to do with how an actual greenhouse retains heat? What other complex concepts do we express in technically inaccurate shorthand?

    You could say that one key difference is that when we use shorthand or analogy, we do so openly, with everyone understanding that the ultimate reality is different. Well, sometimes. On the other hand, how on earth could any conscientious person possibly swallow something like Noah’s Flood as being literal? Aren’t there great big red flags shouting DON’T TAKE THIS LITERALLY! to anyone with eyes to see?

  73. #71 — I don’t think it’s at all impossible that a neo-Nazi group oculd inculcate better values in a child than a single individual — if that individual himself were a neo-Nazi. Group dynamics do sometimes make people dumber or morally worse (think mobs), or they can have a positive or moderating influence (the “wisdom of crowds”). I think the average religion that has stood the test of time (and not gone out in a blaze of Branch Davidian-style glory) has a positive influence more often than it acts like a lynch mob.

    “And if religion is only one weapon which bad people can use to control other people, it would still be good to remove that weapon from their arsenal. Do I need to provide another example or are we getting the picture? I would rather face an enemy with 3 weapons than 4.”

    That assumes that religion’s only function is as a weapon for bad people. By defining the problem as the “weapon,” and removing it from play, you’re also taking religion’s positive function out of the arsenal of decency. Religions don’t kill people. Bad people with religions kill people. So take the bad men out of play (Predator missiles do nicely), and try to encourage the filing down some of the rough edges on the less idiot-proof religions.

  74. I have read nearly all of Dawkins’ books. They are, in general, extremely well written. One may not agree with him, and there may be lines here and there to nit-pick about when taken out of context, but overall, his arguments are compelling and well-supported. In contrast, I find many arguments made by those who “argue” with him directly or indirectly fairly wishy-washy. As an example, you could take Dawkins name off any of his books and it would stand alone on its own merits, regardless of his position in academia, etc. Many other books, like Joseph Fielding Smith or BRM books would fail were it not for an appeal to their positions.

    Probably my biggest question actually relates to an argument Dawkins has made. We try to be inclusive with post-mortal conversion and temple work, etc., but the LDS Church is probably as exclusive as any other in the world. Not only do you have to believe in Christ to attain the highest level of reward, but you have to believe in OUR version of Christ, with OUR baptism, and OUR ordinances. For the 99.9% of the current population who aren’t active Mormons, this necessarily bars them from the ultimate reward (against, except for post-mortal conversion, in which case it doesn’t really matter what religion you are here anyway, perhaps defeating the purpose or mortality??). Other Christian demonimations are equally as exclusive, as are Jews and Muslims. Even Buddhists are exclusive to an extent. You won’t necessarily be consigned to an eternal hell if you miss nirvana this time around, but you’ll have to repeat the test.

    If there were truly ONE way back to the highest level with God, doesn’t it seem that this should naturally grow and be predominant? Doesn’t seem that people should inherently “flock” to this out of an inborn feeling that “this is it”? Shouldn’t it resonate with nearly everyone that comes in contact with it? But as Dawkins (and others) have pointed out, the number one determination of someone’s religion doesn’t seem to be anything like this, but something as mundane as what religion a child’s parents profess.

    Any answers here?

  75. Mike S.:

    I quoted in a previous post from Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the [Catholic] Church, one of the major documents of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. A larger quote:

    “Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God. In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh. On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues. But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things,and as Saviour wills that all men be saved. Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life.”

  76. re 75:

    Thomas,

    More like when the mustachioed villains plans to tie the damsel to the train tracks plans are confounded than divine intervention.

    I think you’ve slipped around what I’ve said. The point is not whether morality has any objective component…but rather, who is more likely to assert that what they *subjectively* believe is actually an objective component? That someone wrote the plays that some of us attribute to William Shakespeare doesn’t mean that any of our stabs at historical narrative writing are objective, “pure” narratives. That they may, occasionally, coincide with the objective facts that occurred is nice, but what is more pressing in the day-to-day life is not that. The question is if we can recognize the subjectivity of our narrative formulation or if we seriously think that we are approaching an untainted narrative.

    For example, let’s say Mary Sidney wrote all the plays. For this example, this is a given, so this is “objective reality.” The people who believe Shakespeare wrote the plays may or may not recognize that what leads them to interpret the historical data in that direction (the subjective narrative they have adopted) is *not* objective. They may believe that it is objectively true that Shakespeare wrote the plays, instead of recognizing that what actually is the case is that it is personally persuasive to them to believe that Shakespeare wrote the plays, which isn’t quite the same thing as saying that the data show that he did.

    On the other hand, even if someone believes Mary Sidney wrote all the plays…even though their subjective belief coincides with objective reality, this doesn’t necessarily mean that their position is objective. But again, the issue is that such people may or may not recognize that their historical narrative construction is a subjective process.

    You think that believers have this penchant for recognizing the subjectivity of their position, but I think this is really *not* the case. Now, I admit that some nonbelievers try to argue for an objectivity of their position, but in my experience, it is more often a common tactic for believers to use God *as* their source of objectivity, not realizing that their conception of God itself is affected by their subjectivity. These believers are, as I have said, confounded, when someone breaks out of such a mold and suggests that the insistence of objectivity was not and never was necessary.

    I mean, really, the point I’m contending with is this. You say,

    “The difference is that a conscientious believer recognizes that there is something subjective about his belief, and so makes allowance for others’ beliefs, while the secular ideologue may suffer from the illusion that his beliefs are convincingly demonstrated by nothing but pure reason — and therefore his opponents must be arguing in bad faith.”

    But doesn’t it seem that, in your analogy with raising children, that the person who believes in a transcendent, objective morality (in addition to, or apart from a transcendant, objectively existing God) would be less likely to admit the subjectivity about his belief, and so would NOT make an allowance for others’ beliefs? When he teaches his children, he teaches with the idea that his beliefs are objectively and externally correct, rather than being something that subjectively appeals to him. So, if his children decide differently, he doesn’t “make allowance for others’ beliefs.” Rather, he argues that his children are arguing in bad faith, lack of faith, temptation from Satan, desire to sin, unwillingness to endure to the end, etc., etc., etc.,

    This produces meaningful differences to the expectations for children, and the stress that children who don’t believe will go through. A child who grows up in such a system and does not believe blames himself first and beats himself up…after all, what he has learned is, “This is the way things are.” So, the child’s inability to believe is his inability to understand the world as it actually is. It would be QUITE NICE if most believers did as you say, and recognized that there is subjective about their belief. After all, in particular, Mormonism has a lot of subjective argumentation. It would be nice if members recognized that their burning in the bosom is sign of…a burning in the bosom. It isn’t necessarily evidence that the Book of Mormon is historical, or that its teachings are objectively true, etc., etc., (And even if the Book of Mormon happens to coincide with facts about history, the burning in the bosom does not address that in the slightest.) But that doesn’t happen very often.

    I’m not quite sure how to put the CO2 analogy in with what I am trying to say, since I think you’re trying to address a different point with it (e.g., relating to how symbols can be used to communicate?)

    However, to address the Noah’s Flood idea…here’s the issue. APPARENTLY some conscientious people can accept the flood story as “literally true,” because they do (unless you’re suggesting that they are doing so in ‘bad faith’). That someone can be conscientious and still believe in the literalism is very easy to account for if we acknowledge the subjectivity of their views (e.g., the story is personally persuasive to them) and the subjectivity of our views (e.g., the story is not personally persuasive to us.) The problems come when we confuse subjectivity with objectivity…which can happen on both sides. E.g., the person who believes Noah’s Flood happened believes it is an event that aligns with objective reality and probably believes that he came to this position not through a subjective narrative (e.g., the way he personally interpreted the data) but through an “obvious” look at the data that should be “clear to anyone who can see.” Similarly, the person you suggest who rebuts, “How can anyone believe this?” probably fails to realize that he came to his position through subjective narrative as well…just one that is different from the first person’s

  77. Andrew, ultimately all knowledge, or belief, has a subjective component. I believe the objective should be try to align our subjective opinions to objective truth as closely as we can.

    Clearly this is possible. An engineer designing an airplane can make calculations that are objectively correct, such that the plane gets off the ground.

    I believe certain moral conclusions flow logically from positing a God who desires human happiness. As you note, there will always be a subjective component to those conclusions, “as long as man’s reason continues fallible,” as I think Madison put it. That leaves us with two choices: We can declare the whole enterprise pointless (because of the inevitability of some quantity of error), or we can act “with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right.” We do need to balance our resolve to act on our convictions, with the recognition of the limitations of subjective faith, and the moral right of others to hold other views. In the Mormon context, I believe that should incline us to adhere more to Joseph’s remark that he didn’t blame anyone for not believing his history, than to the currently emphasized warnings about “the bitter fruits of apostasy,” snide comments about people “crawling” over the Book of Mormon, and self-righteous comparison of Mormon doctrine with that of other churches (the details of which we frequently distort in the process).

    “This produces meaningful differences to the expectations for children, and the stress that children who don’t believe will go through. A child who grows up in such a system and does not believe blames himself first and beats himself up…after all, what he has learned is, “This is the way things are.” So, the child’s inability to believe is his inability to understand the world as it actually is. It would be QUITE NICE if most believers did as you say, and recognized that there is subjective about their belief. After all, in particular, Mormonism has a lot of subjective argumentation. It would be nice if members recognized that their burning in the bosom is sign of…a burning in the bosom. It isn’t necessarily evidence that the Book of Mormon is historical, or that its teachings are objectively true, etc., etc., (And even if the Book of Mormon happens to coincide with facts about history, the burning in the bosom does not address that in the slightest.) But that doesn’t happen very often.”

    I agree with all of this. I was raised in a Mormon home that was probably more emphasized by the David O. McKay/Stephen L. Richards/OC Tanner school of irenic Mormonism, and not the Bruce R. McConkie ultramontanist variety. And yet I still experienced plenty of stress, and self-doubt, and beating myself up over the possibility that I was to blame for the fact that I simply couldn’t reconcile myself to some major aspects of the Church being literally true. I wonder, though, whether this might simply be an unavoidable price to be paid for faith (which I am convinced does carry some precious advantages). Religious literature is full of references to “wrestling” and dark nights of the soul and so forth. I am not sure I would be better off for having avoided the stresses faith has brought me — if I had settled down to a bland “I’m OK, you’re OK” conventional American therapeutic mindset. (Man does not live by Oprah platitudes alone.)

    I think Mormonism does have a long way to go towards honestly facing up to its uncertainties, and towards making proper allowance for other opinions. But that doesn’t necessarily mean chucking faith altogether.

  78. Andrew S – I think this quote would be more accurate if it read like this: ““The difference is that a conscientious believer (or secularist) recognizes that there is something subjective about his belief (or secularism), and so makes allowance for others’ beliefs (or secularism), while the secular (or believing) ideologue may suffer from the illusion that his beliefs are convincingly demonstrated by nothing but pure reason (or truth) — and therefore his opponents must be arguing in bad faith.””

    The key word is “conscientious,” meaning aware. A believer who is unaware of the subjectivity of his/her belief (or who has too strong a belief in its objectivity) is not conscientious, and therefore does not allow for the subjectivity of others’ experiences. It’s the old problem with polemics. Those who see only black and white can only deal with people at the extremes. They can’t relate to the other 80% of the human race.

  79. re 84:

    I agree with all of this. I was raised in a Mormon home that was probably more emphasized by the David O. McKay/Stephen L. Richards/OC Tanner school of irenic Mormonism, and not the Bruce R. McConkie ultramontanist variety. And yet I still experienced plenty of stress, and self-doubt, and beating myself up over the possibility that I was to blame for the fact that I simply couldn’t reconcile myself to some major aspects of the Church being literally true. I wonder, though, whether this might simply be an unavoidable price to be paid for faith (which I am convinced does carry some precious advantages).

    I think Dawkins entire point is that this *is* somehow an unavoidable price to be paid for some aspect of faith. It *is* an unavoidable price to be paid if we teach children that our beliefs are The Way Things Are instead of The Way Things We Perceive.

    Now, I guess where every individual differs is on the level of precious advantages that faith has, the level of precious advantages that *any particular* faith has, and whether these precious advantages overrule the unavoidable price to be paid for.

    If I say “This doesn’t necessarily mean chucking faith altogether,” it is with the preface that faith *must* be radicalized into something that admits that it is steeped in subjectivity. But I can’t expect the church — or most other churches — to do this, and understandably so. The church isn’t positing a subjective God, a subjective Priesthood, a subjective burning in the bosom, a Book of Mormon that has subjective value. Rather, the church is proposing a God who externally and objectively exists for everyone, a priesthood that externally and objectively affects everything, a burning in the bosom that is connected with external truths, and a Book of Mormon that corresponds to objective facts about the universe and the world.

    re 85:

    hawkgrrrl, again, no. Conscientious does not mean aware. So someone who is unaware of the subjectivity of his/her belief can still be conscientious. Your argument seems to be an adjustment on the “opponents must be arguing in bad faith,” where you exchange “bad faith” with “unawareness.”

    I think this is still improper. I don’t think it gets us anywhere to write off those who believe their beliefs are objectively grounded as “unaware” anymore than these people may think that people who disagree with them are arguing in “bad faith.”

  80. Andrew, I think our choice is between a certain percentage of angst-ridden little religious questioners, or an equivalent percentage of angst-ridden little secular existentialists. Some fraction of children — regardless of whether they’re raised in a religious or a secular framework — are eventually going to look behind the curtain, and be shaken by what they find. (Ambiguity in the former case, nothingness in the latter.) Any reflective person is going to suffer some intellectual sturm and drang at some point. Choose your poison. Dawkins’ argument is that there is something uniquely painful about religiously-inspired stress, such that exposing a child to it constitutes child abuse. If that’s so, it’s at least equally true that setting a child up for secular existential horror is abusive, too.

    No, the Church isn’t positing a subjective God, Priesthood, etc. But I could see it coming to declare an objective God and Gospel, which can only be known by subjective means. The argument that the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and other aspects of Mormonism are logically self-evident is not a winner, and has been abandoned (or at least qualified) by even most LDS apologists, who often close their apologetics with a recital that in the end, it all comes down to “faith.” (Whether faith is a proper tool for measuring the truth of propositions capable of being evaluated by reason is another matter.)

  81. Andrew S – I thought I was being conciliatory. Let me try again.

    “Conscientious does not mean aware.” How can one be conscientious without being aware? Conscientious means meticulous, painstaking, careful, thoughtful. How can one be accidentally thoughtful or meticulous? Conscientiousness implies deliberateness, which means one has to be aware. Is Dawkins using this word in some way that differs substantially from the dictionary definition?
    “So someone who is unaware of the subjectivity of his/her belief can still be conscientious.” I don’t see how one can be unaware that one’s belief in God contains subjective components (e.g. personal experience, feelings, desire) and still be conscientious.
    “Your argument seems to be an adjustment on the “opponents must be arguing in bad faith,” where you exchange “bad faith” with “unawareness.”” Yes, I suppose I would consider bad faith and unawareness somewhat equivalent – both show a lack of conscientiousness or thoughtfulness.
    “I think this is still improper. I don’t think it gets us anywhere to write off those who believe their beliefs are objectively grounded as “unaware” anymore than these people may think that people who disagree with them are arguing in “bad faith.”” I’m not saying there are no objective components to one’s faith or secularism, just that neither is provable; therefore, any reasonable and conscientious person on either side of the divide should be willing to admit subjectivity is involved in their conclusion.

  82. re 87:

    Thomas, and what I think is that our little individuals should be allowed to choose which they will be. Precisely BECAUSE some fraction of children are eventually going to look behind the curtain, we should speak out against environments where looking behind the curtain is frowned upon or seen as a personal failure. So, I don’t know if, when you say “sturm and drang,” if you are quite getting my point. I understand that there is sturm and drang regardless…HOWEVER, there is an additional sturm and drang that is needless from this idea that any questioning we have is a failure on our part…a “bad faith” on our part, a deficiency on our part.

    From seeing the “sign” (ah, those atheist signs) against labeling children, they include “agnostic” and “atheist” in their list too. Here it is: http://parentingbeyondbelief.com/images/nolabel.jpg

    The problem is that when you have a secular existentialist (PARTICULARLY a secular existentialist), the parent isn’t going to say, “OK, you must believe this, and if you don’t, that is your failure to see the world for what it is.” However, to the extent that the church (and most churches) are positing objective God and Gospel, they *are* positing that if you don’t believe this, that is your failure to see the world for what it is. Consider your sentence: “But I could see it coming to declare an objective God ajnd Gospel, which can only be known by subjective means.” This really highlights the point. “OK, OK, so you have to come to know the Gospel is true through subjective means…but it is true regardless of if you come to know it through those means. If you don’t use those means, that means you have simply failed to have the subjective experience. You have failed to see; failed to hear; etc.,”

    The related idea (with faith) is that if you have failed to see, failed to hear, then you *should* endure to the end, believe on the words of others (at the least), desire to believe (at the least), and if you don’t do this, if you don’t endure to the end, if you don’t have faith, then that is your personal failure, your personal pride, etc,.

    This is an argument that, even if all religious people don’t make it, I can see why Dawkins would say it is a uniquely religious argument.

    re 88:

    hawkgrrrl,

    You tried very well, but that’s kinda my point. It seems that reconciliation often works by making someone else the bad guy. So, we change the goalpost to people who are “unaware” who we say cannot possibly be conscientious.

    So, now to answer your questions. Conscientious means meticulous, painstaking, careful, thoughtful. It also means controlled by or done according to conscience, scrupulous. And conscience relates to an inner sense of what is right or wrong in one’s conduct or motives.

    Now, to you and to me, this seems to imply very well a subjective component. It relates to an “inner sense,” right?

    But what if someone believes that conscience represents…oh…a light of Christ. In this sense, the light of Christ (or any related concept) is a beacon back to God…an objective source of this inner sense of right or wrong. SO, even though we apparently have disagreements on what is right or wrong, we can feel anyway and feel comfortable arguing that *our* sense of right and wrong isn’t simply subjective but is a beacon back to the objectively existing God.

    But, going back to your definition. Yes, conscientiousness means meticulous, painstaking, careful, thoughtful. But with respect to what? You assume that it means in terms of self, but this, I would imagine is an uncommon use of it that does not follow. When we say someone is a conscientious worker, we mean that they are meticulous, painstaking, careful, thoughtful with respect to the object — the work. They are *aware* and *deliberate* of the work. But that does not mean they are self-aware. So one can EASILY be a conscientious…say…Mormon, and be meticulous, painstaking, careful, and thoughtful with respect to their interpretation of the object — Mormonism. They are *aware* and *deliberate* of the commandments and their search to fulfill them. But they need NOT be aware that what they call Mormonism is simply a subjective interpretation.

    Now, getting to belief in God containing subjective components…this is because if they believe that these components are “beacons” to objective sources (e.g., your personal experience is not just a personal experience. It is a beacon to the Holy Ghost, which is presumed to be objectively existant. Your desires and feelings are beacons to the Light of Christ, which is presumed to be objectively existent). So, such a person could be conscientious and still be unaware of the implications of the subjectivity of his beliefs. It’s as simple as when people are CERTAIN that answers to prayers are “from God” instead of being “from themselves.” Do you want to say that these people are not conscientious for their sincere belief in the external source of these answers? I think that actually is an almost Dawkinsian misunderstanding of some of the allure of religion.

    Yes, I suppose I would consider bad faith and unawareness somewhat equivalent – both show a lack of conscientiousness or thoughtfulness.

    Do you think you are conscientious or thoughtful? Do you think anyone is? just a personal question…

    I’m not saying there are no objective components to one’s faith or secularism, just that neither is provable; therefore, any reasonable and conscientious person on either side of the divide should be willing to admit subjectivity is involved in their conclusion.

    If you’re not saying that there are no objective components to one’s faith or secularism, then isn’t there a possibility that one can uncover these objective components. This need NOT prove faith or secularism, but it IS an objective component. And if one finds this objective component (or better yet, BELIEVES he has found it), then couldn’t he reasonable and conscientiously believe that he has used objective data in his conclusion?

    I’m particularly interested in your answer to the question before (is ANYONE conscientious or thoughtful) and then your answer to this. Because I imagine people would have to be much more wholly skeptical along a wide range of things (history, etc.,) than they actually seem to be to fit your criteria for conscientiousness.

  83. Thomas, you make it sound as if Bishop Bob and Scientist Sam will teach their children opposing things but using the same methods. Nothing could be further from the truth. Dawkins is saying it is wrong, even abusive, to teach children about religion as if it is a matter of fact and to teach that a failure to accept or belief those teachings means the child’s heart is lacking faith, etc., etc. Meanwhile, Dawkins is saying that Scientist Sam (and every other parent in the world)SHOULD teach the child to think for himself and to come to his own conclusions based on the evidence the world contains. Religious teaching invokes believing what cannot be seen, and praises one who will believe without evidence. Dawkins endorses teaching a child to come to their own conclusions. There will be no curtain to look behind under Dawkins’ method because the child’s beliefs will not be based on some mysterious lurker who may or may not exist.

    And by the way, EVEN IF THE CHURCH IS TRUE, I think Dawkins method of parenting is far superior to Bishop Bob’s. Let the child determine what to believe on his own. If the church is so true, he will find it. He doesn’t need to be brainwashed about it from day 1.

  84. #90:

    This sounds very Buddhist. As Buddha said:

    “Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe simply because it has been handed down for many generations. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is written in Holy Scriptures. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of Teachers, elders or wise men. Believe only after careful observation and analysis, when you find that it agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all. Then accept it and live up to it.”

    There is much truth everywhere…

  85. Dex and Andrew, the problem is that your average six-year-old isn’t quite capable of reading Kant and grasping the notion of “things beyond experience.” So by default, by declining to at least open your child’s eyes to the possibility of such things, you are limiting his contemplation to things known by experience alone.

    “There will be no curtain to look behind under Dawkins’ method…”

    Really? A conscientious child, finding himself with a developed moral sense he doesn’t remember consciously choosing, will never question where it came from, and be unsettled by the possibility that it’s just a matter of genetic shuffling, no different in substance than his preference for Swedish Fish over broccoli?

    A child grows up thinking he’s the center of the universe. There is absolutely a “curtain” concealing the likelihood that the universe doesn’t care one bit about him. Everybody — secular or religious — at some point eats the fruit of the tree of knowledge and discovers he’s naked.

    “Let the child determine what to believe on his own.”

    Nobody, but nobody, genuinely believes or practices that.

    Re: #89: “Precisely BECAUSE some fraction of children are eventually going to look behind the curtain, we should speak out against environments where looking behind the curtain is frowned upon or seen as a personal failure.” — No argument from here.

  86. Further re: #89:

    ““OK, OK, so you have to come to know the Gospel is true through subjective means…but it is true regardless of if you come to know it through those means. If you don’t use those means, that means you have simply failed to have the subjective experience. You have failed to see; failed to hear; etc.,”

    The related idea (with faith) is that if you have failed to see, failed to hear, then you *should* endure to the end, believe on the words of others (at the least), desire to believe (at the least), and if you don’t do this, if you don’t endure to the end, if you don’t have faith, then that is your personal failure, your personal pride, etc,.

    This is an argument that, even if all religious people don’t make it, I can see why Dawkins would say it is a uniquely religious argument.”

    Again, as we’ve discussed, the Catholics have formally renounced the thinking you condemn. They are open to the possibility that a person’s declining to become Catholic might have other reasons than personal failure, pride, or the like, and to the possibility of those people achieving salvation by living with what grace they have received, and go so far even as to contemplate salvation for atheists.

    There are aspects of this thinking in Mormonism. I remember an interview between Neal Maxwell and Hugh Hewitt where Elder Maxwell put it this way. It may be in a bit of eclipse these days, but things change.

  87. Even if every child eventually looks behind the curtain to some extent, which child will be more upset upon looking behind the curtain? The one who was TAUGHT God will help him find his lost baseball and that one day he will create worlds or the child who mistakenly believed, without being taught, that he was more important in the grand scheme of things than he really is based on his own perception of self importance?

    Dawkins is absolutely 100% right.

    “‘Let the child determine what to believe on his own.’ Nobody, but nobody, genuinely believes or practices that. Some come closer than others. Scientist Sam comes much closer than Bishop Bob. And Dawkins’ encouraging all to be more like Scientist Sam is a very moral and compassionate position.

  88. #93 – Thomas, I think you make a valid point, but I don’t think it needs to play out this way in practice. Obviously you can’t raise children by not telling them anything about the world around them or attempting to instill in them a sense of right and wrong. However, to use a personal example, I try very hard when teaching my children or answering their questions about morality, etc., to make sure they understand that a) what I’m telling them is usually just my opinion; b) there are many other good people who feel completely differently than I, and it doesn’t make them bad people or even wrong (and I try to give concrete examples of family members, etc., with differing viewpoints); and c) that every person eventually has to decide for him or herself what they believe. Often when making the last point, I will explain to my children that mommies and daddies have the responsibility for raising and teaching and making decisions for their children when they are small, so for right now we’re doing the things that mommy and daddy believe are best, but at some point they’ll have to decide for themselves, and whatever they decide is find with us. I think this strategy serves us well as parents, because it consciously and purposely tries to avoid giving our kids the impression that we know everything or that the values we hold are absolutely true or even necessarily the best. Additionally, and most importantly, we try hard to convey to them that someday they’ll be old enough to decide what they think is important and right and wrong, and whatever they decide, even if it’s different from what we believe, it doesn’t mean they’re wrong and we won’t be disappointed or upset with them. There may be a loophole in my parenting strategy, but I’m relatively satisfied that it’s a good way to approach things. As far as looking behind the curtain, I can’t think of anything that would come out from behind a curtain to shock them, because I’m not attempting to cover anything up or (I think/hope) present anything in a false light. In a nutshell: I don’t know everything about right and wrong, but for now I have to decide for my kids. Eventually they’ll make up their own minds, and whatever they decide is fine.

    The one thing I feel compelled to push on them as an imperative is to always gather as much information as possible and use their intellect to make decisions.

  89. So here’s my personal feelings on this, not quoting anyone else or anything, followed by a sincere question:

    I was raised LDS. I did seminary and was on seminary council. I went on a mission, serving as ZL, AP, etc. I married in the temple. I’ve always had a temple recommend. I’ve served in a number of callings. Etc. I have done all of these things because of what my parents instilled in me. I have read the BofM 10-15 times in my life. I have prayed about it hundreds of times. And, to this day, I can’t say that I’ve ever say that I’ve received an answer as to the simple question as to whether the BofM is true, along with all that implies. I feel it has truth in it, and have had good feelings when reading it, but I have had the same feelings reading the Bible, the Qu’ran, the Bhagavad Gita, the Dhammapada, etc. The conflict between what I was raised with and what I have experienced (or not) had personally caused tremendous anguish in my life. I’m sure it isn’t to the level of sexual abuse that Dawkins referred to, but I don’t know as I’ve never experienced that.

    So, what do I do?

    a) Stick to the “faith of my fathers”. Remain active LDS as I’ve been my whole life and hope that at some point before I die that God will finally reveal to me that what I have devoted so much time to is exclusively true (meaning the only way to ultimately get back to the highest reward is through LDS ordinances, and through those only – done either while you’re alive or dead)

    b) Stick to what I have increasingly felt – that God has inspired many great men through the ages, that there is much truth in many, many sources, and that the LDS church is just another one of these sources. In this viewpoint, I would assume that a great many of the 99.9% of people on this earth are good people and will ultimately get a full reward anyway, regardless of whether they were ever LDS.

    Have I been carrying around all these feelings of unease unnecessarily, as Dawkins might claim?

    Any comments…?

  90. Addendum to #98 – should have proofread:

    In part b), I would also include many great women as well. They are equally inspired

  91. Mike,

    I can relate. I was a super active member my whole life who absolutely believed the church was the only true church on earth. I have felt feelings that others would say was god confiming the truth of the church. But what does that mean? I guess I’m saying even if you did “feel” whatever you hoped to feel, even then, you can’t be sure if it was god or if it was some feeling caused by some internal trigger in your brain. But I digress.

    I would make decisions based on the practical pros and cons. If staying in the church will make you happier bc of your family situation, I would suggest you stay. If leaving would make you happier, I would leave. I guess I’m just saying decide what is best based on your best judgment, not based on what you think god wants. And any thing you decide will be very gradual. If you are unhappy, I would definitely make some kind of change, even if small, and go from there.

    My new perspective on life and my place in the universe is so much healthier for me now that I do not cling to my religious beliefs. But that’s just me. Do what makes you happy.

  92. #93: “However, to use a personal example, I try very hard when teaching my children or answering their questions about morality, etc., to make sure they understand that a) what I’m telling them is usually just my opinion; b) there are many other good people who feel completely differently than I, and it doesn’t make them bad people or even wrong (and I try to give concrete examples of family members, etc., with differing viewpoints); and c) that every person eventually has to decide for him or herself what they believe. Often when making the last point, I will explain to my children that mommies and daddies have the responsibility for raising and teaching and making decisions for their children when they are small, so for right now we’re doing the things that mommy and daddy believe are best, but at some point they’ll have to decide for themselves, and whatever they decide is find with us.”

    That approach has much to commend it. In the heat of battle, I am myself more liable to tell Older Son not to smack Younger Son because it’s a law of the freakin’ universe, and then fill in the “reasonable people can disagree and you will need to make your own choices” fine print (“In case of a moral conviction lasting longer than four hours, consult a physician”) at the proper time.

  93. Luckily when you are a parent, your law is the law of the universe.

    Your comment raises a serious point, though, which is that there are some things that are close to absolute, if not objectively absolute, when it comes to morals/ethics/right and wrong, etc. Not doing things that hurt other people is as close to universal and innate to human morality as anything. So there is a danger, I think, of being such a relativist that you give your kids the impression that anything they feel or think or do is ok. I don’t believe that to be an acceptable scenario, and I don’t think the methods I described above have to lead to that. I just think you have to be careful to make sure you’re not lazily presenting a viewpoint that suggests that to be ok. For me, this method of parenting has been much more interactive than when we were just raising our kids by the LDS handbook of parenting. That’s not to criticize every LDS parent out there. It’s just that for me, more often than not, the answers to the questions and the responses to the behaviors were already provided, so it didn’t take much thought to determine how to react or respond. Answering a question from my uber-inquisitive 6-year old about god or death didn’t take an ounce of thought (or even worse, any real connection) because I could just give pat gospel answers. Now I really have to think when answering questions like that and it usually leads to a much more interactive and uplifting conversation. Part of the consideration over what kind of answers to give comes from self-analysis, asking myself what I really do think about something, and part of it comes from trying to determine how much detail I want to get into at a given time.

  94. I think we’ve really gotten to something here. The “abuse” is when parents abdicate their responsibility to raise self-reliant adults capable of their own reasoning and instead resort to controlling children through fear and irrational threats (or promises). I still hesitate to call it abuse, but I do agree it’s bad parenting to fork over all your decision-making power to someone else, be it God or “follow the prophet” or the Bible or whatever. “Because the prophet said” or “it’s God’s law” or “if you don’t, you won’t go to Heaven” just don’t seem like good parenting to me. Good parents need to instill decision-making and thinking skills in their children. By the same token, as with other empty threats and promises (e.g. “wait ’til your father gets home”), I believe kids eventually figure out that it’s a limited thought process and come up with their own.

  95. re 93:

    Thomas, if the average 6-year-old is incapable of grasping Kant and the notion of things beyond experience, then it seems TRIVIALLY TRUE that his contemplation is limited to things understood by experience alone. This isn’t something that *I* would do. This is something that is a biological or psychological constraint. There is no shame, for example, in the fact that we don’t try to teach 6-year-olds calculus…

    re 94:

    Also, you keep on bringing up this quote from the Catholic church as if that has REALLY changed anything. But the quote that you have doesn’t seem to be helping, and actually exemplifies the kind of thinking of which I’m speaking. For example, the quote — not even for a second — contemplates on whether God perhaps does not exist. So the focus is ALWAYS (and this is something that traditional religions are BOUND to do) on accounting in a kind of PITY for people who do not see or experience or relate to God. It talks in terms of those who HAVE NOT YET RECEIVED THE GOSPEL.

    And what about those who do not know God or his Gospel? How can they be saved? Again, it is through “sincerely seeking God” and being moved by grace and striving by their deeds to do his will.

    And this REALLY relates to my conversation with Hawkgrrrl…Again, the conscience is deemed to be a “beacon” to God’s will. How do people live a good life? “With God’s grace.”

    Seriously, are you not seeing what I’m saying? Even an appearance of ecumenism has stark nonnegotiable terms (for even I understand that the Catholic church cannot seriously speak in an atheological without drawing great ire.) So, even when they are speaking nicely, they ALWAYS must be confined to this idea that nonbelievers are pitiably deluded from what is objectively true. They may say it is from no fault of their own, but still, they must have the harming position that everyone else is still Wrong.

    The same is true for Mormonism. The same is true in most religions. When it ceases to be true in religions, you get strange, liberal, wishy-washy religions that people wonder if they even fit the bill.

  96. Well, Andrew, God either is or he isn’t. You wager no, and seem to find it offensive that believers say “yes” — even in the most generous possible terms, bending over absolutely backward to avoid ascribing blame to decent non-believers for their unbelief. They cannot go any further without abandoning their faith altogether and agreeing with you. And if it is “harming” to take the position that the answer to whether God exists is objectively Yes, then why is it not equally “harming” to take the position that the answer is objectively “No,” and it is the believers who are “pitiably deluded from what is objectively true”?

  97. #106 – If I might, I don’t think Andrew (sorry to speak for you, Andrew) is offended that a believer thinks the answer to the question of god is yes. I think the problem is when believers paint themselves as those who truly relate to the subjective view of secularists, when in fact they are completely convinced that god exists and those who doubt it are, however innocently, missing the truth. Furthermore, I would be stunned to hear Andrew, or most any other atheists, say they are sure there is no god. Even Dawkins refuses to go so far. This is a significant difference. The secularist is willing to say “I doubt it, but you may be right about god” while the believer generally refuses to make any such concession. Again, this is fine; people can believe anything they want. But starting the discussion from the open position that the believer thinks the secularist is absolutely and objectively wrong is helpful. This is what makes Jared so easy to deal with in many ways. He is completely open with his belief that anyone who doesn’t believe in god is simply wrong.

    That said, Thomas, I find your and Hawk’s attitudes very conciliatory and non-condescending. I don’t see any cause for offense or hurt feelings in anything that’s been said.

  98. re 106:

    Thomas,

    God either exists or he does not exist. Correct. But the question of his empirical existence is shadowy. It is a confusion, for the tools we have are insufficient to answer it.

    So, instead, what we are doing is either believing or not believing that he does (and some people happen to believe that he does not.) If we recognize THIS, then we recognize the true nature of the subjectivity of our beliefs — we aren’t talking at all about God existing or not existing, but whether we personally are persuaded to BELIEVE that he does. This is an important distinction…because although it is true that someone who believes God exist will believe that the claim, “God exists” represents a true statement, he also is opened up to the possibility — if he recognizes his subjectivity — that he is inclined to that proposition because of the way *he* is.

    I am not *offended* that believers wager yes, then. I simply recognize the crass damage caused instead because of the misunderstanding of the role of *subjectivity* in that wager, and I challenge your assertion that BELIEVERS, over secularists, understand the role of that subjectivity. It seems now that instead of defending this assertion (as you have over the discussion) that you implicitly agree with me that this ultimately *cannot* be the case because you think it would represent “abandoning faith.”

    I really hope you don’t think faith is that brittle. It would make faith a really anemic thing indeed.

    Here’s what I think. I don’t think people have to agree with me as to the content of their belief. In other words, people who believe in God can still believe in God…and as a result of this belief, they will believe that “God exists” represents a true proposition. However, I should certainly HOPE that they can do this while recognizing that their belief doesn’t necessitate God’s existence, but really says more about *themselves*. Insofar as they find value in accommodating *their own selves* in their beliefs, they should allow others the same right without muddying the playing field with condescending statements about their presuppositions of the universe.

    Notice that *I* have never said, “Although theists are deluded about the objective state of the universe, let’s give them a bone and allow them to live their conscience.” I have never said anything like this first part. Because the objective state — that is, the ultimate fact of whether God exists or does not — is not my focus. At all. So, honestly, I don’t take a position like the Catholic church or the LDS church, but in reverse. Instead, I wholly focus on the subjective nature of belief and recognize that believers generally tend to have a personally persuasive reason to believe that doesn’t need to be “thrown a bone” in pity. I recognize the tension between my wishes and what is realistic or expectable to happen based on the implications of theistic belief.

    And have you noted that I have said that I am not a total fan of Dawkins? Why do you think that is? Did you not ever consider it is BECAUSE I think that he *does* represent a position like a bizarro Catholic church…where the rhetoric is similar, but opposite? Did you not ever consider it is because I think the implication of his position, “Believers are deluded from what is objectively true” is just as distasteful? But even Dawkins’s position isn’t so clearcut as brjones goes to present in the next comment.

    re 107:

    brjones, I think this is pretty excellent, although I’d have some minor tweaks. It would really break down into semantics though, so I guess that’s not for here. For example, even though Dawkins does not go into a level of gnostic atheism (I know without a doubt God does not exist), I think his arguments *also* show himself to be like the believers who paint themselves as if they truly relate to the subjective view of secularists, when they don’t. Except, in this case, Dawkins seems to be a secularist who paints himself as if he truly relates to the subjective view of believers, and yet he doesn’t, and he misunderstands in such a way that makes people think he has no idea what religion is about in the first place (evidence: this topic.) I don’t think he realizes that people truly have things that are to them spiritual experiences. There is a lot more “soul” in religion than Dawkins’s analysis seems to concede.

  99. ‘I would be horrified if someone believed in Santa past the age of 16, but I am not sure I could go so far as to say it is a form of child abuse’

    If the parents of a 16 year old actively encouraged their child to believe in Santa and dismissed or refuted the child’s questions (“But Dad all the other kids at school say he isn’t real”) then yes to me this is a form of child abuse. Not only because of the negative social effects but also because of the abuse of the parent/child relationship . Young children of course look to their parents as a major authority to find out what is real and what is not. If the parents are maintaining a knowingly false claim then this is abuse of trust. Yes i know, Bah humbug but really I love christmas and santa story.

  100. #108 – I think this is a fair criticism of Dawkins, Andrew. While he goes out of his way in The God Delusion to point out that he’s not 100% positive that god does not exist, there’s definitely a sense that his motivation is to show how reasonable he is as compared to religious believers. That said, I do maintain that as a rule, even the most fervent secularists or atheists stop short of the level of confidence in the correctness of their position that the vast majority of religious believers regularly demonstrate (Dexter’s declarative statements notwithstanding).

  101. “There is no shame, for example, in the fact that we don’t try to teach 6-year-olds calculus…”

    This is a complete threadjack, but when my wife and I were trying to get our kid to sleep through the night, I asked her, ‘will anything in parenting be easy?’ To which the answer was no. But then I said, ‘You know what will be easy? Teaching our daughter calculus. I can do that.’

    Teaching her how to sleep, speak quietly, not run in the house, ask for things, share, say please… That’s hard.
    Calculus is easy by comparison!

  102. Telling a kid to be quiet is 100 times easier than teaching one calculus. Reminds me of a funny story, a BYU Econ Professor tried to teach his son calculus (the son told me the story). The conversations always ended with the professor saying “How do you not understand this, I just explained it,” followed by the son thinking, “I’m never asking my dad for help again.”

  103. Regarding Dawkins’ tone, sometimes he does come off a little too strong. But I find this more frustrating with Hitchens. I love Hitchens’ work but I feel he would have more credibility if he were less condescending with his tone. But considering the content of letters they receive from religious fanatics, I can see why they sometimes annoyed.

  104. This conversation seems to miss Dawkins’ entire point, which is that belief in God very often preculdes an understanding of the modern world around them. For example, with reference to Biology, is evolution both a fact and a theory, or should it be suppressed at every turn? This is Dawkins’ real beef, as far as I can tell. He’s a biolgist, and after a certain huge number of run-ins with new-earth creationists he’s had enough. Similarly, is the scientific method wrong? Dawkins feels strongly that children should be taught how to understand the world using, say, repeatable results, rather than listening to some guy who wants 105 of their income (this may be an approximation) and will encourage their parents to toss them out of the house should the child prefer the repeatable experimental method. The choice is the Dark Ages or the Modern world.

    Religion teaches, nay, requires, that children never learn critical thinking.

    Oh, and Thomas way back at comment #43 about who was responsible for the anti-slavery movement in the US? You suggested Unitarians. I won’t disagree, but Unitarians don’t believe in an interventionist God, and didn’t back then either, so they count on Dawkins’ side. The history here is revalent; basically there are a bucketload of pro-slavery verses in the Bible that any old Christian can quote. It took someone who saw them as other than literal to make the paradigm shift that our black brothers were, fer reals, our black brothers.

    So, for Dawkins, raising your child religious = enforcing that the child not LEARN, rather that she simply regurgitate (and pay) to the “higher power.”

    Since I’m in a bad mood, I’ll give an example:

    “The marriage union of a man and a woman has been the teaching of the Judeo-Christian scriptures and the core legal definition and practice of marriage in Western culture for thousands of years. Those who seek to change the foundation of marriage should not be allowed to pretend that those who defend the ancient order are trampling on civil rights. The supporters of Proposition 8 were exercising their constitutional right to defend the institution of marriage — an institution of transcendent importance that they, along with countless others of many persuasions, feel conscientiously obliged to protect.” Dallin Oaks at BYU Idaho in a formal talk about why he gets to hate his favorite hated minority. Religion. Dawkins’ point.

  105. For those of you that don’t get it, the Old Testament is rife with polygamous marriages (godd, in a Mormon sense), Concubinage (sleeping with the slave girls they weren’t actually married to0, Incest (Lot’s daughters sleeping with him), rape (that whole Dan thingie, and on the list goes. Plus David and Jonathan’s extra special relationship. It doesn’t toake a bible scholar to see that Dallin Oaks is assuming — actually requiring– some sort of wide, uh, misunderstanding? simple ignorance? on the part of the sweet Ricks students to make sense of his arguments. Dack to Dawkins. A religious figure said it, must be true, no reason to, say, cross reference Genesis to check as to the truth of the statements. win one for the forces of, uh, patriarchy; lose a big one for learning, studying, thinking for onesself. Over and out.

    ON, and don’t forget how Oaks thinks one should treat less worthy children (for mormon values of “less worthy” as not full members of the family.

    The entire Dawkins argument in one nice 9the word, since the 14th century has had this dual meaning) package.

  106. Same argument with slightly fewer typos. Deep breaths, djinn.

    For those that don’t get it, the Old Testament is rife with hook-ups we would consider somewhat outre, perhaps even worse than multiple ear piercings. For example there’s that whole concubinage thingie. As an example, think of Abraham having his son Ishmael by his handmaid Hagar. They weren’t married. Hagar wad a bondmaiden, or as we say in harsh 21st century English, a slave–and don’t forget she and Ishmael were unceremoniously tossed out at Sarah’s reques. She didn’t have much choice in the matter. Somehow Oaks doesn’t invoke sleeping with the choiceless help as a “an institution of transcendent importance that they, along with countless others of many persuasions, feel conscientiously obliged to protect”, but yet, there it is. More examples? Jacob had four souns from his wives slaves; David and Johathan were VERY GOOD FRIENDS, and the list goes on. I’m not even getting into Leviatical marriage here.

    Now, If I may invoke Dawkins. I’d use a critical skill or two and perhaps wonder about the sppropriateness of sleeping with my wife’s servant. From Oak’s poit of view, though, what would he say? What does he say? If I mah paraphrase: “Marriage, which i call that ‘institution of transcendent importance’, should not be examined at all. At all, at all. Just believe what i say and keep those bibles firmly shut. (Which reminds me–do you supponse tha wide ignorance concerning such issuses amongst the rank and file is simply because they can’t understand the archaic english? Whatever.

  107. “So is believing in God a form of child abuse, assuming God is not real?”

    Above the original thesis that was posted by Rico. Stated like this I think that the thesis itself is somewhat awkwardly put yet very intriguing. At first sight it seems oxymoronic or at least it is not immediately clear HOW the different subjects are related. For instance, if God is not real, then how does one’s own belief in God result in child abuse? He’s not real anyway! Of course a partial answer to this question is given in Rico’s post. However, to make it easier for me to solve Rico’s interesting statement I broke this sentence down in pieces.

    ‘Believing in God’: I’m assuming you’re talking about one’s own belief, the belief of one individual. In this case this person would also have children or frequently communicates with children. What is unclear is how this belief is manifested unto the child? Where does the abuse start? Am I, by being a devout believer in a Christian denomination, already guilty of abusing my child? Does it start when I take my child to church? When I pray over every meal? When I tell him/ her if he/she doesn’t clean up his/ her room he/she will not be scoring any points with God and might be soliciting for a position in Hell? In short, how does believing in God become abusive? Rico’s post mentions that in the New Scientist article abuse follows from teaching something that is false (not real). Which immediately pops up another question: can a belief be false? Let’s define belief!

    ‘Belief’: according to Merriam-Webster.com belief is “a state of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing” or “the conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence”. The last part of the second definition sparks a new discussion which I’m not going to get into now (Q: what counts as evidence? etc.)
    Personally I find the definition cited on Wikipedia the best: “Belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition or premise to be true” This immediately solves a lot. It’s an INDIVIDUAL that holds a proposition or premise to be true. In short, nothing about a belief defined like this, assumes that something is to be imposed on anyone else.

    ‘God is not real’: for the sake of simplicity I’m understanding this as atheism (“The absence of belief in the existence of deities”).

    ‘a form of abuse’: for the sake of simplicity I’m changing “a” into one form of abuse, psychological abuse. Thereby, I want to deliberately leave out all the examples about sexual abuse etc. In my opinion, sexually abusing children and belief have no connection. Furthermore this was not mentioned in Rico’s original post anyway.

    So concluding, even though the definition of believing doesn’t involve anyone else. However this is not realistic. One’s belief will be one way or the other be “carried over” to a child. So, when does psychological abuse as a result of a person’s belief manifest itself? In short, according to the New Scientist article which is very succinctly cited by Rico, this happens when something is taught that is false, in this case, God is false? (on a side note: ouch, that sucks! Because the question if God exist is THE question that every single person on earth would like to have an answer to including “evidence” for his existence. I’m leaving that issue for later  ) However as I established earlier, that’s the problem or perhaps the solution that the term “belief” brings about: a belief is by definition personal and the truthfulness of a belief only bears meaning for the person concerned. So perhaps the possibility of abuse could be solved by teaching this definition of belief to the child at the same time that one is manifesting his or her own belief? I think the chance of abuse will be a lot less then.

    However, if a child is MADE to belief something that he/she once perhaps accepts as truth – but later when adult – he/she finds it not to be real or true. Then, by definition, we’re not talking about a belief anymore. That has a different name…

  108. I think you have it right Rico, it’s not the beliveing (as such, unless it eggs you on to misdeads against the disfavored group) but the threat of excommunication frmon fmaily, form friends, form your whole world that creates the damage.

  109. #113 Dexter,
    Regarding Dawkins’ tone, sometimes he does come off a little too strong. But I find this more frustrating with Hitchens. I love Hitchens’ work but I feel he would have more credibility if he were less condescending with his tone.

    Dawkins is a more than a little bit full of himself, and he doesn’t understand religious people at all, but I think he comes across as pretty reasonable most of the time. Hitchens, OTOH, just comes across as a jerk.

  110. Oh, and a person teaching a kid if they, say,fail to believe in a universal flood, humans around prior to 6000 years ago; etc. that constitutes child abuse, along with the actual abuse that shows up should said child fail to sufficiently toe the line.

  111. This is on the lighter side of the questions at hand….

    I was raised atheist and not told Santa was real. I felt I got just as much pleasure out of imagining the story as any other kid, and was spared the pain, humiliation, and fear of being lied to by people I counted on for my survival.

    If people do want to teach their children to believe in God, I especially don’t understand why they would teach their children a very similar story that is not true.

  112. Pingback: Read the Bible. Be culturally literate. « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

  113. Hi Aaron,

    The thing is that you cannot prove there is no Santa, as you can not prove there is no faries, lock ness moster, big foot, Flying Spaghetti Monster, a tea pot orbiting between Earth and Mars, aliens, a green giraffe on Pluto that dances tango…or a creator of the Universe.

    All you can do is to say it is highly improbable that that is so.

    I wrote a facebook note on that probabilistic aproach to knowledge:

    https://www.facebook.com/notes/jo%C3%A3o-carreira/probabilistic-thinking-pensamento-probabil%C3%ADstico/393670537377312

    I invite you to see also the videos on the comments of the note.

    Peace 🙂

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