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Raising Children in Religious Traditions

Olivier Rouleau responded to my post on Ethics of Metaphysics with such a clearly expressed counterpoint that I thought it would be worth sharing it. I don't agree with all his points, but I feel our sails are tacking in the same direction, just from opposite sides of the ocean.

There is a certain sense in which raising children is forcing them to do stuff they would prefer not to do. In my case, I know for a fact that I was forced to go to church and if I had had freedom of choice on the matter, I wouldn't have gone (because I was young and would rather have played then attended church). I think few children would have any interest in religious education (or education at all!) if they were free. So we have to acknowledge that these are choices we are making and imposing on them. I'm also ready to go as far as to say that we usually do so for all the right reasons. These choices are numerous and far reaching : how to interact with others, what to eat, how to care for oneself, values system, respect of the law (or not) etc. Making these choices and getting the child ready to make them for himself when he's old enough is the essence of what raising a child is.

This being said, the fact that we, as parents, have the right and often the duty to make these choices for our children doesn't, by itself, imply that choice of religion is one we should and much less need to make for them. I think there is a huge difference between saying, "in my opinion, parents should raise their children in a strictly secular way" and saying "Lets make a law to invalidate the declaration of human right and force people to do this and not that".

While I certainly don't fully endorse Dawkins' vision, I do think he is entitled to advocate secularism, if only as a counter for religious extremism that is, and has historically been,a potent and consistent source of conflict and problems (and yes, maybe also of solutions) for the human race.

You say in your earlier comment:

If my parents were not allowed to raise me in a religious tradition until I was 18, who has freedom of religion in this scenario? Not me, I have to wait until 18 to be granted this right (whilst in the meantime being forcibly excluded from my own family in certain contexts!) and not my parents who are forced to exclude me from their religious practices against their wishes.

I think that it's possible, as a Christian, to raise children in a fairly secular way without it being the horrible disruption of family life that you describe.

It's not about raising them in a different culture than your own, it's simply not emphasising certain aspects of yourself or your beliefs. It's accepting difference and letting them explore that and make their own mind. To a large extent, this is already being done on various aspects of life. For example, it is generally considered healthy not to choose hobbies for a child, or what he should study, what career to pursue, and so forth. Over the past few decades, in the most educated portion of the population at least, this freedom of the child has also been extended to sexual orientation. It doesn't prevent you from guiding your child through life and even though these are important and integral parts of who you are, you understand that your child doesn't have to be like you on these matters to be a complete and decent person.

Also, it's not imperative (and I would posit not even desirable) that a choice on that even be made at all before later in life. We don't stress if our children don't know what they want to be at 12 years of age. We also don't fret if they haven't decided who they want to marry at 18 years of age. Embracing a metaphysical explanation to the world and which God (if any) to worship strikes me as something eminently more complex, fundamental and personal than that. Yet, this is a commitment we systematically and ritually ask 8 year old children to make when they undergo their first Communion.

I was raised Christian, became agnostic around 14 and, sadly, am leaning more and more towards atheism as the years pass. My parents meant well of course... But today, I can definitely say, very personally, that I know my Christian upbringing has been an obstacle for me to overcome on my quest for identity and happiness. To this day, this is something that I sometimes end up fighting when thinking about ethical issues.

I'm also confident that raising me an atheist wouldn't have been any better. Today, when a child asks me about death, instead of giving my personal theory, I use this answer: "Nobody knows for sure, this is something you will have to find out for yourself as you grow up..." This is how I understand Dawkins' secularism (as opposed to Dawkins' materialistic atheism).

We give our children freedom to choose tons of stuff for themselves already. Maybe, just maybe, we don't have to choose what arbitrary dogma they should follow or what the meaning of the universe has to be for them.

Edited very slightly by me.

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Maybe, just maybe, we don't have to choose what arbitrary dogma they should follow or what the meaning of the universe has to be for them.

Unless, of course, there is an actual, objective, discoverable, meaning of the universe - in which case we would be negligent to not share this information with them...

True, this stance only really works if you hold the metaphysical belief that Metaphysics Don't Matter, which is not a consistent belief with a good number of Metaphysical sets.

I'd disagree that this only really works if you hold the belief that metaphysics don't matter. For me, it works if you merely agree that there is no surefire way of proving (so far anyway) the accuracy of your own or any metaphysical set.

For me, a child developping a thought and metaphysical theory is extremely important, and I indeed feel that it is my responsability that he does. I also think it's my duty to make sure the values and principle which guides this vision are sound and humane. What is not important, is that he develops the same metaphysical theory as me, especially when it comes to aestetics and rituals...

I suppose that's a very personnal stance, but I wouldn't dare declare that my personnal metaphysical belief system to be right and others to be wrong, mostly because I don't think others are entitled to. So if I'm open to the fact that I'm not the owner of Truth, I *think* my counterpoint stands on his own.

This being said, if you are convinced that you have found the definite meaning of life or merely that your truth is truer than anything your child could discover / understand for himself, then sure, not raising him strictly in your own religion is negligent. For me personnally however, I just have the gut feeling that such a position is simply undefendable.

Cheers.

Btw, thx Chris for making this into a topic and taking the time to proofread the whole thing. Ultimatly, I also feel that we're headed towards the same destination...

In the end, it's all about tolerance and acceptance of difference. How you get there is interesting but of significanly lesser importance =)

Olivier:

As you say in your postscript here, the important theme is tolerance and the acceptance of diversity, and on these matters we accord. Where we differ is in the methods we approach such matters.

Let me begin by saying that I believe that your position is valid, and I will certainly defend your right to pursue it - in fact, I think for a secularist it is quite applaudible, especially when considered next to the obvious comparison with Dawkins.

Nonetheless, I believe that it is acceptable for parents to raise their children in their own traditions, religious or otherwise, that doing so is not de facto "mental abuse" as Dawkins claims, and that the converse may actually be the case - that to be prevented from raising a child in one's own traditions could be reasonably construed as an abuse.

Fortunately, I don't think we substantially disagree on these points - the issues at task are far more subtle, and we will come to them shortly.

However, I want to explicitly rule out any suggestion of State interference in a parent's right to raise their children (implied by Dawkins' rhetoric), and equally rule out the idea that it can be construed as "consciousness raising" to suggest that children be denied access to religion.

The elimination of childhood religion implies the nullification of the worth of every person whose identity and life rests upon this experience. I did not have an easy time being raised a Christian, and spent almost twenty years in a spiritual wilderness before eventually making it back a place where it was meaningful to identify Christianity as one of my religions. These experiences are part of who I am, and I cannot wish them any other way.

Dawkins attack on childhood religion as “mental abuse” trivialises the actual physical and mental abuse I suffered as a Christian child not from my family or my childhood religion, but at the hands of atheist bullies who tormented me because I was different. And non-Christian children raised in Christian communities suffer similarly. These problems result from a lack of tolerance and acceptance of diversity, and it is this which is the crisis, not the practice of religion.

If we do not agree on these opening points, further discussion in this regard may be required!

Next we must consider your actual points, first of which is the idea that secularism can be advanced as a counter for religious extremism. This is actually a difficult claim to validate. Is it really the case that the advancement of secularism reduces religious tensions, or is it rather that the reduction of religious tensions permits a more secular society? This is an open question, beyond our capacity to decisively resolve.

If in the context of raising children, ‘secularism’ means not teaching religion, then this is beyond secularism, per se. That you would raise your children to choose their own religion is far easier for you because you are a refugee from religion. But why should someone whose religion is a source of strength and identity not teach that religion to their children? To deny them access to an experience that one values so deeply seems somehow negligent, without any need to invoke absolutes.

Similarly, if one is a baker, it is not abusive to share your skills as a baker with your children. But when they are an adult, it must be their choice if they wish to follow in your footsteps or travel another path. As it is with such crafts, so it must be with religious traditions, which are also a kind of craft, albeit of a metaphysical kind. Few children lament the skills their parents’ teach them; far more lament what they did not learn from their parents when they had the chance.

I wholeheartedly agree that it is up to the individual to develop their own meaning of the universe – where we differ is in the idea that raising children in a religious children is a barrier to this. My view is that, when responsibly handled, a parent can give a child a great step towards finding their own meaning by teaching them religious skills. My first steps in spirituality were learned from my parents. I am so glad that they shared this with me and did not presume to exclude me from this experience.

Note also that this is categorically not the same as inculcating a child in mindless dogma. I oppose this, as much in religion as in politics and science. I am greatly disappointed (although not wholly surprised) that those who chose which books would constitute the Bible cut the Gospel of Mary so we lost the line (3:9) where Jesus says: “Anyone with a mind should use it to think!”

My wife and I often discuss how we would raise our children, and in what tradition – since my wife and I have common values but no expressly common religious tradition. I am not at all sure in this circumstance that waiting for them to find their own religion is a wise course of action; I think we must share with them our traditions, our experiences, and let them find their own way from this admittedly chaotic start. This means exposing them to many religions, not excluding them from any.

And indeed, this is what I would propose as the solution to the problems of intolerance and religious extremism: greater exposure to different traditions, both religious and cultural, that we might better come to value our diversity, and see strength in our differences as well as our commonalities. I contend that interfaith dialogue has more power to prevent religious extremism than the retreat into secularism.

Once again, I thank you for your time in discussing this with me. It is within this willingness of those with opposing positions to engage in dialogue that our best hope for the future rests.

My dad was raised implicitedly secular, you could say, perhaps explicitedly. His father killed himself in 1955, when my dad was two, and his mother was kind of a flaky bitch. He was the youngest of 8 children. They lived on welfare, to a large degree, and moral permissiveness was sort of the family M.O. He ended up thrusting himself into Catholicism with a passion, giving him the fastidiousness to pay his way through Puerto Rican medical school, during which time he nearly married a local Catholic girl, and went on to raise a family in as strict a Catholic frame as possible. So I'm getting the rosary inflicted on me in the mornings while going to 7th grade, which was a tough time, recently discovering Marilyn Manson and Nirvana, and I went through the whole catechism, and the whole gauntlet of political-religious indoctrination and recitation, and uh, probably a few types of repression. By the time I had graduated high-school I had become extremely skeptical, and by the time I had completed a year of college, I was done. No more church. In other words - fuck that dopey shit.

But now, I have not resentment, or anger, I'm far too interested in being a better person and thoughtfully considering things. So for my dad religion was something he grew into, an intense goal-orientation brought by rejection of a free-form amoral upbringing. For me, religion was something you grow out of, something you get over and then consider a more open view of the world.

I think we should put at premium psychological solidity in our children, with honesty being secondary and an encouragement of self-critique, which feeds into a self-motivated desire to learn, filling out the parenthood process. Despite what we believe is objectively meaningful, we shouldn't risk our children's happiness and growth potential based on our proud assumptions of certainty.

Patrick: Thanks for sharing this story with us... I know a lot of people have experienced personal problems as a result of a Catholic upbringing, and I have certainly had negative views of the Catholic education system on many accounts. But may I ask: if you had not "grown out" of your Catholicism, who would you be? Can we even know?

There are certainly problems to be fixed in the practice of many religions, as with any tradition, but to solve problems we must identify them clearly. Trying to scapegoat the whole of religion avoids the issues in my opinion. Your suggestions as to what should be important in parenting is a more positive step.

For me, the 'psychological solidity' you value came from my parents' boundless love, which did not end at the family but brimmed out over into the community. I aspire to a love that generous, a love whose wellspring was their religion, and in that sense I aspire to their religion.

But I am not naive enough to think that my parents' religion represents all religions, of course. I want to fix what is broken in the practice of religion wherever we can clearly identify it, and not discard the indescribably beautiful thing I glimpsed in the lives of my parents.

If we don't talk about these things, nothing changes... And if we do, we have to be sure we know what we are doing before we take action. Thank you for getting involved.

"it works if you merely agree that there is no surefire way of proving (so far anyway) the accuracy of your own or any metaphysical set."

Yes. But the people with (say) direct religious experiences would not be inclined to agree with that, as they [believe they] have directly experienced something different, something divine. And those who talk to [their] god on a regular basis would, I think, be even less inclined to agree, as they have direct proof for them that their god exists. It's my problem that I haven't opened my mind/heart/spleen/veins* to this god and heard his/he/its/xir* message; for them, it is real.

Dumb question: Is that position any more or less defensible than the one you (and I, to a large extent) hold? Why?

- Peter

* [delete as appropriate]

[Brace up, I got carried away again :P]

Chris:

The more I read what you are saying the more I realize that our viewpoints are truly and deeply a product of where we are comming from.

Indeed, the idea of "atheist bullies who tormented me because I was different [as a child]" is so totally alien to what I lived and continue seeing around me that I simply have a hard time even imagining it (and here I was thinking that canada was a relativly secular country =). Had such a thing even been hinted at around me, I have no difficulty imagining my stance would have been substantially different, which is very interesting...

I won't go into the minutia of what you describe when treating of the more subtle details because I think that given the context you describe, you are absolutly right (passing on of skills, etc.). Given this, what becomes very interesting to me is to look at bit more in those contexts and what it means to rise your child as a Christian. But before I do, a few comments on specific points...

"The elimination of childhood religion implies the nullification of the worth of every person whose identity and life rests upon this experience."

On this specific sentence, I think I already covered this but let me state I simply doesn't think that's true. People making different choices, or making the same without my help, doesn't nullify the value of my own choices. But I'm willing to simply agree to disagree =) I don't think this makes our views incompatible per se, although this admitedly make any form of secularism in a child's upbringing extremely 'costly' for the parent on a personnal level.

"I want to explicitly rule out any suggestion of State interference in a parent's right to raise their children..."

I generally support state non-interference in general, and I explicitly and whole heartedly agree on this.

"...it is acceptable for parents to raise their children in their own traditions, religious or otherwise, that doing so is not de facto "mental abuse" as Dawkins claims"...

Yes, that's overboard and I agree with the whole what you said on that. This being said, Dawkins would surely say that the situation warrants it =) I don't endorse his methods, but I agree with what he's fighting, which touch on context again. More on this below.

"That you would raise your children to choose their own religion is far easier for you because you are a refugee from religion."

I just want to agree with that and say it is most definatly a facilitator to secularism, inverse of the "nullification of the worth" point. By itself, this explains a lot for sure.

"where we differ is in the idea that raising children in a religious [tradition?] is a barrier to this."

Yes, and I think this is where context comes into play. Lets look a the Christian education vs secularism theme. Lets start with this:

"And indeed, this is what I would propose as the solution to the problems of intolerance and religious extremism: greater exposure to different traditions, both religious and cultural, that we might better come to value our diversity, and see strength in our differences as well as our commonalities."

To me, this is secular by itself. I won't start quoting the bible but it is an integral part of the Christian gospel that there is one true God and that you should worship no other. If you choose to skip on that and not teach that part to your child, exposing him to other religions, you are opening the possibility that they are right and you are wrong. If you don't then you are not really not exposing them to other metaphysical options, merely to some antropological curiosity entertained by deluded people. If you are opening that door, then you are being secular to a degree. Finally, if you posit that no one if wrong and everyone is right at the same time, even tho their theories are largely incompatible, well, this is all good and rosy, but that's a rationnal limbo I can't work with =)

So this comes down to what being Christian really means and of course, I think each step taken away from the hardcore gospel is one step towards agnostism and secularism (in the sense that you are not teaching everything your religion dictate is true).

Now, if you argue that being a good Christian involves taking the core values of the religion and what you think is good and throwing away what is outdated or inconvenient, well ok, but that's not the type of Christian which makes me inclined to secularism =) Obviously, somewhere in between, there is a middle ground that any reasonable person is bound to accept as an healthy and viable option. And to be fair, for me personnally, what you describe isn't very far from such a middle ground, but it's very far from what I see around me.

Which bring us to context...

"I contend that interfaith dialogue has more power to prevent religious extremism than the retreat into secularism."

I completly agree and this is where it gets fascinating, because for me, you don't 'retreat' into secularism... you break free from religious dogma into secularism.

For me, an amounth of agnostism/secularism is necessary for interfaith dialogue (as explained above), for you, secularism seems opposed to open mindedness. This, by itself, is really amazing to me. If you were talking about atheism I would totally see what you are saying but this isn't what's being said right?

For me, religion & dogma is a direct obstacle to dialogue, for you it visibly isn't. I think that's where the crux of the matter is.

And at this point I will stop 'thinking' and will plainly expose my very personnal, subjective, biased and likely unfair perception of the current world context. All I can say in my defence is that I don't pretend I'm right and I fully recognize that these are generalization which in no way account for the very real and important experiences of many individuals. All disclamers apply, no offence intended. Really.

"These problems result from a lack of tolerance and acceptance of diversity, and it is this which is the crisis, not the practice of religion."

Absolutly. But sadly, I'm under the impression that religion is by far, (along with racial differences maybe), the most important source of intolerance that's the scourge of this world.

I see hatred and intolerance being preached to protect a set of arbitrary beliefs from 'corruption', 'dillution' or 'invasion'.

I see people giving all they have to organised religions and ending up in the streets.

I see teenage mothers ruining their life by refusing abortion, not because they believe it is morally wrong (most haven't thought about it), but simply because it is a Sin, because dogma has to be followed.

I see people being lynched for not obeying the Book and not having the prescribed sexual orientation.

I see holy wars and slaughter in the name of God.

I see people who love their dogma more than their own children! And rejoice when they commit suicide-bombing in the name of God.

This is the world I live in...

And of course atheists are people too and sure they can be mean and vindicative (like Dawkins) or abusive or whatever. But what I *don't* see are atheists killing Christians because they worship a God or for any other misguided reason...

This is the world I see around me...

So yes, maybe atheism is using a sledgehammer to kill a fly. But I live in a world where thinking has a hard time thriving and where I would be glad to achieve the lesser of two evils. A degree of 'secularism' in raising children is a sacrifice I gladly make...

Cheers.

Peter:
"Yes. But the people with (say) direct religious experiences would not be inclined to agree with that, as they [believe they] have directly experienced something different, something divine."

Yes, this is what I'm saying. My stance doesn't hold if you don't agree that you cannot prove that your metaphysical beliefs are more than just that, beliefs. So yes, for someone who has direct contact with God and who puts that experience above subjectivity and doubt, any leniency in religous education of children is most understandably a grave sin.

"Dumb question: Is that position any more or less defensible than the one you (and I, to a large extent) hold? Why?"

Actually, I don't think that's a dumb question at all but since I'm not particularly bright myself, that's of little comfort =)

This being said, it is highly debatable.

I would be tempted to say that our stance is more "rationnal" and that direct experience of God cannot be scientifically reproduced, therefore making it less defendable. But that would be based on my personnal values: reason's supremacy.

Ultimatly, when you reflect at such a primal level, I think that the only evaluation of the value of an idea is to see its ability to be adopted by many. Its silly realy but when you throw science and an shared observation of reality away, a 'democratic' definition of the truth seems like the next best thing =)

So on that basis, I think that "religion as a belief" has stronger adoption than "religion as a set of facts"... From there, I think my/our position is more defendable.

I fear, however, that this is of little help/relevance, since the kind of people you are describing seem likely to discard what other thinks completely... which is the root of the problem realy...

Cheers.

"Is it really the case that the advancement of secularism reduces religious tensions, or is it rather that the reduction of religious tensions permits a more secular society?"

While redeading the whole thread, on this particular point, something just struck me. Regardless of which proposition is true, if you advocate the reduction of religious tension, you end up with a more secular society (either as a mean or a result). Sure there is a difference between "permiting" and "creating" but I think it's still fairly intuitive.

That doesn't really demontrate anything by itself, but secularism being, by definition, the absence of religion (or, at least, of religous influence), it gives the intuition that any point against intolerance somehow works against religion, which really links with my gut feeling about the whole thing.

Anyway, that's not a rigorous logical/phylosophical demonstration, but somehow I felt there was something there worth mentionning.

Regards.

So much more to chew over. :)

Peter: "Dumb question: Is that position any more or less defensible than the one you (and I, to a large extent) hold? Why?"

Certainly not a dumb question, as Olivier rightly notes. All positions are defensible that do not lead to abuse, which is considered internationally by normative standards, not by comparison of one culture to another. Individuals make these decisions for themselves, and they have the right to teach their children in whichever tradition they choose provided it does not lead to abuse, again, by normative standards (i.e. by comparison to what is normal in that person's culture).

In fact, this is the key to my position - because I don't agree with every religious person's opinion, nor with every non-religious person's opinion, but I defend to the death their right to have that opinion, except where it becomes directly abusive.


Olivier: where on Earth to start!

"People making different choices, or making the same without my help, doesn't nullify the value of my own choices."

Ah, but this wasn't my point. My point is: when Dawkins says he wants to eliminate childhood religion for his reasons, what that means to me is "who *I* am, who my family are; these are identities to be eliminated" - because without childhood religion we would not be who we are. And I celebrate who we are, and I believe who we are is worthwhile.

This is a tangential point, however. :)

"...it is an integral part of the Christian gospel that there is one true God and that you should worship no other."

Actually, the first commandment says "thou shalt have no other gods *before* me." It doesn't actually eliminate other gods; this is a more recent interpretation, and as worded is compatible with, for instance, a transtheistic paradigm, where other gods are viewed as emanations from a central God.

When Christian theology is viewed from, for instance, a Hindu perspective it takes upon a different cast - as we see in the work of Raimon Pannikar (a Catholic Priest, one of whose parents was Hindu). I do not deny that many people interpret the first commandment in an insular fashion, I simply deny that this is the only interpretation.

Interfaith dialogue can transform one's interpretation of one's own religion - one need not examine other religions as simply anthropological oddities. There's a lot of amazing things going on in the interfaith community, but it doesn't receive any coverage because it's not considered news worthy.

Again, this goes back to the difference between teaching dogma and teaching religious and spiritual skills. The former is the root of the problem, and it applies whether that dogma is religious in nature or not.

"Finally, if you posit that no one if wrong and everyone is right at the same time, even tho their theories are largely incompatible, well, this is all good and rosy, but that's a rationnal limbo I can't work with =)"

Only if you assume that everyone's paradigm is unflawed, which it never is. Surely any number of flawed paradigms can have a compatible common solution... we see it in science during scientific revolutions, why not in religion during theological revolutions? The problem is in assuming that every detail of one's paradigm is absolutely correct, which is pure arrogance.

"For me, an amounth of agnostism/secularism is necessary for interfaith dialogue (as explained above), for you, secularism seems opposed to open mindedness."

Then I have misrepresented myself. I see at least two 'flavours' of secularism: one is the kind you describe, the other is the brushing under the carpet of religion; hiding it away where no-one can see. Interfaith dialogue is only possible with the former kind, and I wholeheartedly support that.

"For me, religion & dogma is a direct obstacle to dialogue, for you it visibly isn't. I think that's where the crux of the matter is."

For me, conflating religion and dogma is a mistake - because then you miss what is valuable in the religion, and you mistakenly assume that all dogma is religious - which is not the case. Consider, for instance, the terrifying volume of Patriotic dogma in the US.

If we are to oppose blind dogma together, we are in accord. I simply reject the supposition that "dogma = religion" or "religion = dogma".

"I'm under the impression that religion is by far, (along with racial differences maybe), the most important source of intolerance that's the scourge of this world."

Ah, well this is a supposition that I doubt. I strongly suspect that geographical identities (nationalities etc.) are a bigger source of intolerance. Certainly in the UK, I saw considerably more racism and hostile nationalism than I ever saw religious intolerance. In fact, in the UK, the only religious intolerance I saw were people attacking the religious people. For example, when the Iraq war began, nationalist youths attacked mosques across the UK. They also attacked Hindu temples - because they were too ignorant to know the difference. It was a hideous display of bigotry, but religion was the *target* not the cause.

"I see holy wars and slaughter in the name of God."

Almost all wars have resources, security or territory at their root, not religion. Religion is a cultural referent that can become involved, along with nationalism et al, but if you examine the wars in the world you will not find many if any where religion is the root cause - that is, where a religious cause is the chief motivation. For instance, Al Qaeda is motivated by the political desire to remove US troops from the middle east, not by a religious factors which are secondary. Removing the religion would not resolve the conflict.

"But what I *don't* see are atheists killing Christians because they worship a God or for any other misguided reason..."

Then you are not looking hard enough. Until recently, the number one source of suicide bombers in the world was the Tamil Tigers, a Marxist-Leninist group in Sri Lanka - and they are atheists. But again, the root of that conflict is political (geographical).

I forget the name of the academic who studied suicide bombing, but he concluded that suicide bombing was a response to invasion. Religious factors are largely secondary, as the atheist suicide bombers of the Tamil Tigers demonstrate. The idea that suicide bombing and religion correlate perfectly is a mistake.

In essence, the world you see around you is coloured by the media and your own presuppositions. I am telling you: the majority of religious people in the world are moderates, just as the majority of non-religious people in the world are moderates. If we judge the majority by the atrocities of the minority, we give way to prejudice.

"But that would be based on my personnal values: reason's supremacy."

And when that turns to dogma, the same problems result, as in the case of Wilhelm Reich, who died in prison as a result of "scientific persecution".

The dogmatic absolutism is the problem. It comes in many flavours.

"...it gives the intuition that any point against intolerance somehow works against religion"

Which denies the many religious figures who work against intolerance. Would you deny, as Christopher Hitchens brazenly attempts, that Martin Luther King was motivated by his religion to oppose intolerance? Or Ghandi?

The media presents a very biased view of world religion - it focusses on the negative minority and ignores the positive majority. We have to see the world with better eyes.

Best wishes,

Chris.

"If we are to oppose blind dogma together, we are in accord. I simply reject the supposition that "dogma = religion" or "religion = dogma". "

This is what it boils down to. No matter how hard I try, I have a very hard time dissociating religion and dogma. Mainly because in essence, many religions are simply just that, groups organised around a dogma, written in a book.

Sure you can argue that it's not what religion phylosophically is, that it is not how it should be taught, but that won't change how millions of people see and live their religion around the world and how it impacts the way they deal with others.

As you said, suicide-bombing is a response to invasion. The Tamil Tigers don't kill people because they are atheists... I cannot sympathize with any movement (religion, nationalism, racism, etc.) associated with a dogma that generates (within a non-negligible portion of its followers) the perception that the presence of difference is an invasion.

Don't get me wrong, I think I understand what you are refering to when you mention "the indescribably beautiful thing you glimpsed in the lives of your parents". I just cannot bring myself to accept that persuing that is worth even a single human life.

And although I wholy agree that this is a price we do not have to pay for religions, the fact is that we are paying it... every day. Humans are what they are, and I can't help but feel that our Gods are costing us more than they will ever be worth...

Signing off.
Olivier

P.s.: Thanks for the whole exchange. Although our views will probably never be identical (that's not the point anyway), if ideas such as those presented here gain ground, we can hope to meet somewhere in the middle someday, in the land of tolerance. Cheers.

Chris: I would be just what I am now, a phantasm of electronic particles skipping across valleys of fatty acid - but I would be less aware of this material fact.

My husband (a rational atheist) passed me the bit above about the first commandment, and asked for my comment (as a committed christian). I thought about it for a bit and came up with the following.

Looking solely at the interpretation of the first commandment. I agree that the word used is god (elohim), i.e. there may be other gods, but you have to worship YHWH first. However, there are a number of other parts of the bible which state that God is the only God. (2 Kings 19:15; Psalm 86:10; Isaiah 45:14, 22; 46:9) It is interesting to note what could be considered a 'god'. If we take a more loose translation of god and refer it to human beings (Psalm 82:6 states "You are 'gods'" then there is the question of what happens if we, for example, put another human being before God. Examples of other human beings include spouses, parents/children, or even famous person (spending time and money following a personality around).

Going back to the word translated as 'god', elohim. It can also mean ruler/judge/divine one/angel/godlike one. Thus it could be said to be God saying he was the only ruler Israel should accept. The fact that God was to be the only ruler of Israel is also stated in 1 Samuel 10:19 "Yu ave rejected you God ... and have sais 'no, set a king over us'".

Looking at the culture of the various places in the bible where God reveals himself to man. When he calls Abraham, it is about the same time as the culture where people had individual gods or household gods. This is shown when Rachael steals the household gods of her father (Genesis 31:34).

Looking at the time of Moses, there was a pantheon of gods in Egypt. Each one had command over different things. YHWH said "you shall have no other god before me", namely you had to put him above the other gods of the pantheon. You have to realise that the people to whom this was given as a command were not only Jews. There were a number of Egyptians and others who joined the Jews when they left Egypt (Ex 12:38).

Further on in time you get to the times of the judges and kings. Here the gods are gods of a particular place, such as shown in 1 Kings 20:23. In this case God reveals himself to be the God of the whole world, rather than a god limited to a particular area.

By the time we get into the New Testament the revelation is a single god, with no other gods at all. 1 Cor 8:4 says "We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one.". Again the background culture had a pantheon, but now God had given a complete revelation of himself as the only god.

Last words, I promise ;)

"without childhood religion we would not be who we are. And I celebrate who we are"

That probably makes me jaded/cinical, but I think there as many reasons to cry over what we are as there are reasons to celebrate it =)

More seriously tho, that doesn't strike me as a very strong point. Simply because it is your actual state doesn't make who you are strictly better than who you would be under a different upbringing. Who's to say that a non religous upbringing won't create better (and yes, maybe worse) individuals? If we never change anything, nothing will ever change. But anyway, we agree that changes need to operate to work towards a better world, so let's move on.

"I am telling you: the majority of religious people in the world are moderates, just as the majority of non-religious people in the world are moderates. If we judge the majority by the atrocities of the minority, we give way to prejudice."

That is an undisputable fact. I might have been too constrated the picture I painted of the world if you felt that you needed to point that out.

This being said, we cannot discard the minority as non-significant. Despite their small numbers, extremists have an extremely significant effect on our lives and societies.

I agree that this probably also is a problem but that still the case. A dumbass with a "Aids is God's wrath on homosexuals!" sign carries more weight in our society than a whole room full of the quiet majority.

As a parent of 3 very young children I read this post with enthusiasm. Although I wasn't raised a Christian, I went to a Church of England school and my best friends family were practicing Christians and as such I made the decision to go to Church with them on occassional Sundays, my mother, thankfully had never stopped me 'discovering' things for myself. Later I went to a multicultural girls school and really the religious issue was never addressed formally. I, however never really got over a wierd sense of loss. I missed going to Church with the school or my friends family, who moved out of the area. Going with my mother was never an option. But there was something more than that that I couldnt put my finger on. I think you hit the nail on the head for me when you said

"But why should someone whose religion is a source of strength and identity not teach that religion to their children? To deny them access to an experience that one values so deeply seems somehow negligent, without any need to invoke absolutes. "

I think I'm still searching for this.

My husband's family weren't Catholic but he went to a Catholic Boys school and says he had a 'wobble' during his mid teens as he tried to work himself out but now is definately, absolutely, maybe even passionately an Atheist. I'm not, I still 'wobble'.

Our childrern dont go to a religious school, this wasn't a concious decision of ours, we had considered the Church of England school (the Catholics wouldnt have us) but more and more we feel we made the right choice for them. My son as a result of his multicultural education accepts from the outset that people have different beliefs and different family structures (a number of his class mates have same sex parents) and as yet has not questioned it. He is 5, there's plenty of time.

My good friend who has children the same age as ours and who chose the Catholic school in the area has rediscovered her Catholicism since her children started school. Her children are being raised Catholic and go to Mass every Sunday, celebrate the religious holidays etc. As you say

"I think that it's possible, as a Christian, to raise children in a fairly secular way without it being the horrible disruption of family life that you describe. It's not about raising them in a different culture than your own, it's simply not emphasising certain aspects of yourself or your beliefs"

and I believe that we are doing this from opposites ends. Her as a Catholic, us as "refugees from religion". This is what we believe, you make your own mind up, but it's never that simple. Of course we can't help but impose our beliefs because as parents we do what we think is right for our children, it isnt neccessarily so, as you said, you were raised a Christian because your parents absolutely believed it was beneficial to you, you discovered later it wasn't that simple. Things rarely ever are. If you start with a good intentions as adults surely they will appreciate that?

What we shouldnt forget is that children look to their parents for their moral, spiritual wellbeing and for guidance, whether you see it as being thrust upon them is a matter of opinion.

What are your views on faith schools? I'm curious.

In a way isnt it similar to vegetarians who raise their children as vegetarians? This is purely the parents choice not the childs. The parents believe 'this' the child is told what is expected of them? Or am I oversimplifying things horribly?

I am greatly disappointed (although not wholly surprised) that those who chose which books would constitute the Bible cut the Gospel of Mary

The Gospel of Mary wasn't cut. It wasn't there in the first place.

See this article (on the Da Vinci Code) - see about halfway down, from The Nag Hammadi Documents onwards.

this is a more formal document outlining how the canon was determined.

Olivier: many thanks for the thoughtful and engaging discussion! I still feel that were it even plausible to "erase religion", it would not resolve a single one of the world's conflicts - therefore why not wish for an end to extremism or violence, instead of wishing for an end to religion? :) Take care, and thanks again!


Sarah: thank you so much for this detailed analysis! I believe this supports what I originally said - the first commandment is henotheistic, not monotheistic. The commitment to monotheism came later. Much appreciated!


RodeoClown: The Bible was still put together after the Gospel of Mary was written (and, for the record, I don't believe this gospel supports the idea that Mary Magdelene was Jesus' wife), so it *could* have been included. I just can't escape the feeling that the oral tradition behind this book has some merit, and I wish this had been put into the Bible and perhaps the Book of Revelation left out. But then, I am far from an orthodox Christian! :) Many thanks for the informative links!


LittleSqueeze: Thanks so much for sharing your perspective here! You have a viewpoint that I can't bring to bear on this, because I am not a parent, and so can only talk about children in the abstract.

"What we shouldn't forget is that children look to their parents for their moral, spiritual wellbeing and for guidance, whether you see it as being thrust upon them is a matter of opinion."

I wholeheartedly agree! This is part of the role of the parent, and one should pass on whatever wisdom one is able to impart. But wisdom is not dogma; if all one has to pass on is the dry mechanical bones of a religion, then one has nothing worth offering, because the heart and soul of religion is never in empty ritual.

As for Faith Schools - this is a good question! In brief: I support the right of parents to send their children to faith schools; parent's must have the freedom to choose their child's education. The alternative is absolute State control of education and violation of the human rights declaration. But I implore parents *not* to send their children to a single faith school. If we must have "faith schools", let them be interfaith schools, so at least children can be exposed to other cultures! If faith schools are a barrier to peaceful integration of one culture into another, then they are not desirable, but in so much as parents demand them, I must support their freedom to choose how their children are educated.

As for vegetarian parents - this is something I will have to face myself some day! :) I am happy to feed a cat meat, because the cat would die without it. But as humans, we are omnivorous, so the same does not apply. Since I have chosen not to eat meat, it seems reasonable to me that I can raise my hypothetical children as vegetarians. When they are old enough to choose, if they choose meat that's fine. But while it is my responsibility, I would like to maintain my ecological commitment to eat the most energy and water efficient foods, i.e. to avoid eating meat.

Thanks once again for sharing your perspective. I found it quite fascinating to see this issue from the perspective of a "real" parent. :)

[T]he heart and soul of religion is never in empty ritual.
Amen to that :)
If only more people would get that, the world would truly be a better place.

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