The focus of my last post, I weep for the children who are victimized by their spiritual leaders, was about various ways that churches manipulate, and sometimes even abuse, children. The second of my two examples, the Nigerian Witch Hunts, was a clearcut case in which thousands of children are being horrifically abused by not only their pastors, but also their parents, who themselves have been browbeaten into believing that their children are witches.
The first example I cited, the one to which I devoted the bulk of that post, was the story of the confirmation service of a seven-year old girl into an evangelical Christian church. As I observed the ceremony, a comment by the officiating pastor made me ponder the moral implications of what the girl may have been taught in preparation for the ceremony, which includes the following “promise”:
Having asked God for forgiveness, I will trust him to keep me good. Because Jesus is my Savior from sin, I will be his loving and obedient child and will try to help others to follow him. I promise not to use intoxicating drink, harmful drugs or tobacco. I promise to pray, to read my Bible and, by His help, to lead a life that is clean in thought, word and deed…
Earlier this month, one of the elements of the church service I attended was the confirmation of Chloe, a seven-year-old girl, as a junior member of the congregation. This is the first of two confirmations that my denomination typically holds: the first for youngsters, the second for adolescents no younger than fourteen.
The guest pastor who was conducting the ceremony noted that, prior to the service, the girl’s mother had asked, several times, “Are you sure that you’ve repented of your sins and asked Jesus to forgive you?” The child answered affirmatively, and her mother and the pastor were satisfied that she was indeed ready to be confirmed.
As the pastor recounted that story, I had to suppress a shudder. I could not help thinking, “The child is seven years old! What sins could she possibly have committed that would require repentance and divine forgiveness?” I also realized, to my horror, that in order to have learned something about the doctrines of repentance, forgiveness and salvation, Chloe may also have learned something about the corollary doctrines of human depravity and hell…
In my previous post on this subject, Independence in Thought, I discussed a point made by Phillychief in his post entitled Insularity?, where he stated that atheists, by and large, are critical thinkers.
Another point that Phillychief made, with which I agree, is that atheists are not as prone to hero worship and personality cults as theists appear to be. He cites the examples of Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennet, et al, and notes that their positions are scrutinized incessantly. What he implied but didn’t say outright, which I will say, is that much of this scrutiny comes from people who generally accept these writers’ ideas. The critics criticize because they want to sharpen their own thinking skills and also because they want to challenge these writers, and others like them, to put forward the strongest possible arguments for their positions and to articulate those arguments clearly, succinctly and coherently.
I, for example, like Richard Dawkins, and I enjoyed reading The God Delusion. That doesn’t blind me to the fact that the book has some substantive flaws. My atheism does not depend on Dawkins being infallible. Ditto for all the recent flap about Antony Flew – the fact that he shifted from atheism to a deist position doesn’t undermine my atheist position at all. My atheistic view does not depend upon the Gospels according to St. Antony and St. Richard…
In Phillychief’s post entitled, Insularity?, one of his points was that atheists, by and large, are critical thinkers. I agree with this view. Even those atheists who are born into atheist families and have never held religious beliefs often, at some point in their lives, weigh their non-belief against the theistic and other religious alternatives to which they are inevitably exposed, and choose atheism as the most rational choice. For many, this process occurs in their childhood or teen years.
The other set of atheists, those who have de-converted from a particular religion, usually do so after a period of critically scrutinizing their beliefs. My cruises around the blogosphere, plus nearly 5 decades of living and interacting with evangelical theists, have shown me that many theists refuse to believe that de-conversion is a rational decision. Instead, they typically ascribe de-conversion to a multitude of other causes, such as (this list is selective and representative, not anywhere close to exhaustive):
- anger or disappointment at being hurt by another believer
- a desire to embrace a wanton lifestyle free of the moral constraints religion imposes
- having been a false convert rather than a real Christian
- failure to practice such spiritual disciplines as daily prayer and Bible reading
- having a flawed understanding of Christian doctrine
- harboring a secret sin that is getting between oneself and God…
“Thinking outside the box” is a current buzz phrase in North America. Common Wisdom has it that people who succeed in business are those who can think beyond their usual boundaries and imagine possibilities that their peers don’t conceive. Thinking “inside the box,” in contrast, is considered stale and uninventive, a sure recipe for fiscal disaster. In this post, I want to consider the notions of thinking inside the box, outside the box, and finally, about the box itself.
I first learned to think outside the box about ten years ago, when I taught an undergraduate course in Human Relations, which typically covered such issues as racial, ethnic and gender discrimination. I was an evangelical Christian at the time, snuggled cozily inside my spiritual and intellectual box. I was comfortable with my worldview and, until that point, had experienced little difficulty in fitting new ideas into my old box without changing much about the box itself. My mission in the Human Relations course, as a graduate assistant I had little choice but to accept it, was to teach undergraduate teacher education students to think outside their boxes. This entailed, of course, that I could learn to think that way myself. Fortunately, my faculty supervisor and fellow graduate students taught me how to think outside of my conservative, evangelical Christian box…
I had, over a period of many years, thought about a number of questions regarding faith, life, etc., but I usually stopped short of taking my thoughts to their logical conclusions. At some point last year, however, I realized that I had drifted from standard Christian theism to pretty much of a deist position.
Last summer, I was asked to write a book review of Parenting Beyond Belief, which endorses explicitly atheistic points of view with regard to child-rearing. When I initially got the request, I jokingly said to myself, “I’d better be careful or I’ll be a full-fledged atheist by the time I finish the book.” In fact, I almost declined the review because I didn’t want to risk endangering my faith. Then I realized that, if my faith was that flimsy, then it wasn’t worth keeping. Sure enough, as I read the book, I kept pausing and thinking, “that idea makes an awful lot more sense than Christian idea X.” After I wrote the review, I realized that the book had pushed me into systematically thinking through many of the questions I had shelved over the years. This was the catalyst that prompted my de-conversion process.
At that point, I went through an intense period of searching for answers. This was the denial phase of grief over my impending loss of faith. I did not want to lose or give up my faith and I fought to keep it…
This book, written from an explicitly atheistic perspective, is unlike many other books about parenting that are available throughout the USA. The editor states that “There are scores of books on religious parenting. Now there’s one for the rest of us” (p. x). In spite of its clearly non-religious posture, this book is not intended to denigrate religion and its practitioners. In fact, McGowan observes at the outset that “religion has much to offer parents: an established community, a predefined set of values. . .comforting answers to big questions, and consoling explanations to ease experiences of hardship and loss” (p. x). Nevertheless, McGowan and many others believe that there are compelling benefits to raising children outside of religious traditions. This book is intended to assist such parents.
The book is divided into nine chapters, each of which is comprised of an introduction by the editor and writings from various authors, many of whom identify themselves as freethinkers. These authors include philosophers, scientists, two Unitarian Universalist ministers, a former Pentecostal minister, a comedian and several others. The chapters address such issues as religious literacy, parenting in a mixed secular/religious marriage, good and bad reasons for belief, celebrating religion-free holidays, developing moral values, coping with death and consolation, developing critical thinking skills and habits, and building secular communities…