Saturday, April 19, 2014

Indoctrination and Child Abuse

Today's Podcast

It is not terribly uncommon to see atheists make the claim that raising someone with religion is tantamount to child abuse. Recently (say, over the past year or so) this has really irked me when I hear it. I wish atheists would stop using the argument as it seems quite hyperbolic to me. Statements like this have huge potential to alienate exactly the types of Christians that I would like to engage with. On the other hand, I have to admit that when I was going through the early stages of my atheism this type of statement resonated with me big time. In this post I am going to explore these two conflicting thoughts on this common statement.

Why does this stuff resonate so well with many atheists?

I first heard the "religion is child abuse" meme when I was new to atheism. At the time I was very angry at religion, I see it as responsible for a lot of the pain I experienced as a child. The fear of hell and thought-crimes were the biggest offenders, but there were a great many things about the religion that affected my childhood in a negative way. I was terrified of hell a lot during my childhood, there were plenty of nights where I was unable to sleep as I had these fears running through my head. I was afraid to try new things unless I was certain it was acceptable from the church's perspective. I was afraid to ask questions as the answers might lead me to losing my faith. Being mired in fear is a really shitty way to grow up.

The fear was instilled so deeply that there was even a couple of years when I didn't believe in any of it anymore and yet I was still afraid of hell. I definitely wasn't a Christian and I was pretty sure I didn't believe in God anymore, and yet I just assumed this meant I was going to hell. I had some pretty serious struggles with depression during this time. I have heard similar things from quite a few atheists, it really shows how strong indoctrination can be. Many atheists say that the reason this kind of fear is instilled in people is so the church can keep members, although I would guess that the causation is the other way around, the church still exists because it instills this kind of fear but they don't subject people to fear for that reason.
Source

But details aside, the point is that I look back at my childhood and I see that the indoctrination I experienced as a child definitely caused me years of unnecessary anguish. In this state I heard people say that religion is child abuse and it really resonated. Furthermore, pictures like this will pop up from time to time and I find them creepy as hell. I feel really sorry for those kids, it seems to me that they will either be Christians for life or they will experience the kind of pain I did when they leave the church. I really wish there was something I could do to make that not happen.

But is it appropriate to call this child abuse?

What makes something abuse? Is it simply that it causes someone distress? Imagine my son is playing in our front yard and I scream at him, which makes him stop what he's doing, sit down, and cry. If I'm doing this just to fuck with him I'm a horrible father and we might want to call it abuse (especially if it is a regular occurrence). If I just stopped him from running in front of a car then perhaps I just saved his life.

So where does indoctrination fall? Let's focus on the doctrine of hell for a moment, is it abuse or not? I think many atheists see it as causing pain for no good reason. Hell doesn't exist and yet they were tormented for years because of the thought of going there after they die. Being tortured for eternity is terrifying, and the made up threat is designed to keep them in line. From this perspective it definitely feels like abuse.

But what if hell were real? Whether or not it scares them is beside the point, you must warn your children about hell and in so doing help them avoid it. If hell were real it would be your duty to tell your children about it, a little fear is a small price to pay compared to an eternity of torture. If my son was running in front of a moving car and I sat back and did nothing I would be a negligent father, if hell were real and I said nothing the same logic would apply.

So what is the real situation? Does hell exist and the Christian parents are doing their due diligence by telling their children about it, or is hell made up nonsense and they are causing their children undue pain? This is the disconnect, Christians think we are in the first situation and atheists think we are in the second. Many atheists see the unnecessary pain and call it child abuse, but the Christian parents think they are saving their children's souls. Even if we are right, I think child abuse is an unfair charge.

Return to my analogy with my son running out in front of a car. Suppose that after I scare him I realize that the car was parked. He was never in any danger, it turns out I scared him for no good reason. Does this make me a bad father? Does it make my actions child abuse? Hell no! I should probably pay more attention to my surroundings and those of my son, but an abuser I am not.

The Christians see a car aimed at their children and they are trying to keep them from getting run over. It is up to us to convince them that the car is parked. We need to work to convince them that hell is not real. We should tell them that we think they are wrong and more importantly tell them why. But we should not call them monsters for doing what logically makes sense based on the beliefs that they hold. All that does is make us look like dicks and gives them a reason to dismiss us.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Getting Baptized Today

I'm sure my regular readers have noticed my lack of posts this past year. As I have mentioned quite a few times, having a baby has kept me quite busy and blogging always winds up pretty low on the list of things to do. But in addition to this, I have been on an extraordinary spiritual journey that is culminating today. I'm getting baptized!
An evangelical Protestant Baptism by submersio...
An evangelical Protestant Baptism by submersion in a river (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I know this might seem crazy, but trust me, having a child changes your perspective on everything. It's one thing to risk my soul ending up in an eternal state of torment and torture, but how can I risk my son's? What if he winds up in hell and it's my fault? I'll feel pretty bad then! I just couldn't let that happen.

burn in hell
burn in hell (Photo credit: tacit requiem (joanneQEscober ))
But it's not just wishful thinking, or fire insurance, I have very good reasons for this. The reasons have been there all along, somewhere deep down in my soul I knew it, I just knew, but some part of me was holding back. My atheists readers know this feeling, God is real, you know it, you just don't want it to be true and you suppress it. But God has single-handedly reached into my heart and taken this block away. I can now really see the truth (which again, on some level I saw it all the time). God is real, and he loves me, and all he wants in return is for me to acknowledge this love so he won't be forced to let me be tortured for all eternity.

So what are these reasons? How do I know for certain that God is real? It's such and easy question that I could go on and on for days about it. I have so many good answers that it's hard to even know where to start. In fact, putting it in writing doesn't seem to be the right medium as it really downplays the magnitude of what I am saying. I have decided that I will instead summarize my thoughts in a youtube video. Please go watch this video and you will be convinced! It's unimaginable that someone could see this amazing evidence and not become a Christian. If you are an atheist and you are afraid of changing your position, then by all means avoid my video, but if you have the slightest bit of courage go have a look.
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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Exodus 13: A Pillar of Fire? Cool!

today's podcast

Previously:

After a swath of plagues from God, the Egyptians finally kicked the Israelites out of Egypt.

Consecration of the Firstborn (v. 1-2)

God says to consecrate the first born (among men and beasts) to him.

I'll be honest, I didn't know what the hell "consecrate" means. I had to look it up. Apparently it is just declaring something sacred. So in this case we are saying the firstborn is the most sacred and they belong to God, or they are to be used for a holy purpose...or something like that I guess. We saw this before with Esau and Jacob, it appears that the social convention was that the older one was preferred, but in Genesis 25 God demonstrated a willingness to go against the convention and favor the younger at times. That appears to be over now, God wants to consecrate the firstborn which seems to say that the preference to the younger won't happen again. (BTW, if anyone thinks I'm way off base here let me know, I am sorta shooting from the hip on this one).

From Guzik:
Consecrate to Me: The idea is that the firstborn was to be set apart to God, whether of man or beast - the firstborn belonged to God.
I still don't really understand what that means. So the firstborn son "belongs to God", does that mean he has work for the church? or serve the spiritual leaders? Or what? Perhaps this is obvious and I'm just being thick, but I really don't understand what is being said here. 

Also, I don't understand the preferential treatment for the firstborn at all. Sure, it is understandable that the first kid would be seen differently from any subsequent children (especially if the first kid was a medical marvel), the first is always going to be different and I could imagine the average parent would treat them a bit differently. But why cement that with a declaration from God? Shouldn't the ideal be to treat all of your children equally? To put everyone on equal footing? I assume the answer to that will typically be that it was a different time back then, but if that is the answer then why is it a good idea to use this book as a guide for how to live our lives in the modern world?

The Feast of the Unleavened Bread (v. 3-16)

They get instructions about not eating leaven for a week every year.

Didn't we just cover that material last chapter?

All of the firstborn will be for God, all firstborn male animals will be sacrificed to God and all firstborn male children must be redeemed.

I'm not 100% sure what it means to say the firstborn sons must be redeemed, but verse 13 says that firstborn donkeys either need to be redeemed with a lamb or have their necks broken. Presumably the redemption of the donkey is sacrificing the lamb. So my guess is when it comes to firstborn children being redeemed, there is also a sacrifice of an animal involved.

From Guzik:
But every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb … And all the firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem: If the firstborn was unacceptable to sacrifice (an unclean animal or a human) a substitute was offered to redeem the firstborn from God. If the firstborn was an animal the substitute was a clean animal. If the firstborn was a human, the substitute was money.
So you are supposed to sacrifice the donkey, but you can use a lamb instead. You are supposed to sacrifice the first child, but you can pay money instead? I still find myself confused. What exactly are they being redeemed from? Why does only the firstborn need redemption? Who gets the money?

Pillars of Cloud and Fire (v. 17-22)

When the people left Egypt, God didn't send them via the most direct route (through the land of the Philistines) because they might see war and return to Egypt.

Wait, what!?! They were slaves in Egypt, they would return to that voluntarily because they see war? Do they have to fight in this war if they pass through this land? I looked through other translations, and some indicate that they would have to fight to get through the land. Even still, fighting to get through a country would be different than actually taking a direct part in the war right? Especially with 600,000 men, you would think they can pass through without getting too terrible involved with the fighting.

But that's irrelevant anyway, they were cast out of Egypt so fast they had to take their bread without finishing it, and they didn't have other provisions ready. They wouldn't be allowed to return if they wanted to. It just doesn't make sense.

From Guzik:
It would have been easy for the Israelites to think that the Via Maris was the way to go; it had good, easy roads, the shortest distance, it was a trade route so food and water could be bought. But the dangers of the way were too great, even though they could not see them. The same is true of our walk with God; a way that seems right to us may turn out to be full of danger we can't even think of.
This is an interesting way to use this passage as a connection to our lives I suppose. I remember hearing this kind of thing in church all the time. It still doesn't solve the problem of the inherent ridiculousness of the passage itself. Even Guzik points out that if they go that way the people would see war and might return to Egypt. That makes no sense. 

God instead led them through wilderness toward the red sea equipped for battle.

They are avoiding the war, why are they equipped for battle? I feel like I'm missing something substantial here.

Moses brought the bones of Joseph along as was promised back when Joseph died.

I didn't remember this, but as we can see it did happen in Genesis 50, I didn't make a note of it at the time, apparently I missed this strange detail.
English: Lag BaOmer bonfire
English: Lag BaOmer bonfire
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

God led the way in the form of a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night so they could travel day and night.

That's kinda cool I guess. 

One final thing from Guzik:
He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people: We often think that such miraculous assurance would make us never doubt the LORD again, but Israel certainly did - and so would we
This also reminds me of things I would hear in church all the time. They like to make these bold declarations about what everyone would do in the same situation. The huge number of people around today who don't doubt God with nowhere near this kind of evidence would seem to blow a hole in this idea. This kind of thing drives me crazy, and seems to me that it is just an attempt to explain away the illogical reaction that the Israelites will have later on. 

Moral of the Story:
Trust in God, he can see dangers that we can't.
This is right from Guzik's commentary up above, furthermore, it is something I remember hearing in church and that I hear from Christians all the time. Trusting in God and letting him guide your life is a pretty common thread in a lot of Christianity as far as I can see. And honestly, it seems like it works pretty well for a lot of people, the question is how it works. 

If you ask them, they would probably say that they pray and God tells them what they should do. In my opinion, they hear messages in church that generally focus on being a good person, helping their fellow man and such. They know what being a good person generally entails, and they apply those qualities to their God. Then when they do something that doesn't live up to that ideal, they think of it as God being disappointed in them or something, and use that as motivation to stop doing the bad thing. Not too different from what an atheist does, except we would just say it is our conscience or something.


Verses of Note:

--Short Memory--

Exodus 13:17 They might return to Egypt? Really?

"When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, "Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt."
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Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Children's Book About Evolution

I happened to stumble upon Great Adaptations - a children's book about evolution on kickstarter and I thought it might be the kind of thing my readers would enjoy. I'm looking forward to teaching my son about all of the science stuff that I love, and this is exactly the kind of thing that will help me make it fun. It of course also reminded me of The Magic of Reality, which I am also looking forward to reading to my son (once he's moved beyond board books).

In addition to letting you guys know about this super cool upcoming book, I would like to ask you guys if you know of other books along these same lines. Please add any other suggestions to the comments and I'll edit the post.

(Also, I want to let you guys know that I have my Exodus 13 post written, I just need to record the podcast for it, but I'm sick right now and my voice is ruined. Hopefully I will be able to get it done within the week)

Edit: Additional suggestions from the comments

Steve pointed us toward a slate article which suggests Bone by BoneWhy Don't Your Eyelashes Grow?: Curious Questions Kids Ask About the Human Body, and The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

I'm looking forward to getting all of these books, please keep the suggestions coming :)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Jesus Came to Fulfill the Law

St German's glass
Shield of Faith
(Photo credit: crunklygill)
As my longtime readers know, I have been reading the Old Testament (very slowly) for the last year and have been surprised with how terrible much of it seems. I have brought many of these points up in various places, and one of the most common defenses I hear is from Matthew 5:17, that Jesus came to fulfill the law and therefore the Old Testament doesn't apply. Most of the time, it seems that Christians I talk to use this verse as a shield against difficult passages from the Old Testament, they simply want to be able to ignore what is inconvenient. Often I will then get into a conversation about what fulfilling the law really means (I honestly am not sure) and why God would give a law that would only be valid for some people and not for others (certainly seems to contradict objective morality which many Christians assert is very important). But ultimately, these arguments spin out and feel very unproductive.

So in search of another angle of attack, I decided to think about what would happen if we just grant my other objections to the Christians and see what happens. Let's assume for the moment that it is reasonable for God to give different people different sets of laws. Let's further assume that Jesus fulfilling the law means that the law doesn't apply to us anymore. What does this really get them? It certainly allows them to disregard the rules God laid down for us such as kosher laws and the fact that we can't wear mixed fabrics or get tattoos. If you really want to push it, it can even invalidate the rules about it being okay to have slaves. But even taken to this extreme, it doesn't whitewash everything. Anything that God himself does must be explained in other ways. Jesus fulfilling the law doesn't explain why God had to murder all of the firstborn in the tenth plague, why he had to murder nearly everyone in the world in the flood, why he made the loved wife barren and the hated wife pregnant, or why a loving God could do pretty much any of the other horrible things he does in the Old Testament.

Next time this topic comes up about a horrible thing that God himself has done in the old testament, instead of arguing what fulfilling the law means, I will point out that this is completely irrelevant to the topic at hand. It's simply a diversionary tactic, because God isn't laying down a law, he is just being a monster. Jesus fulfilling the law can't apply to something that isn't a law.
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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Why Is Our Society So Hard On Moms?

A newborn child crying.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As my regular readers know, my wife and I had our first child last summer. The experience of raising a baby has been very eye opening in a lot of ways, I thought I was generally prepared, I was largely mistaken. I had prepared myself mentally for the lack of sleep and for the huge amount of time I would need to devote to my son. My expectations weren't even close. It's not like I thought it would be easy, but I wasn't expecting the whole thing to be so relentless, you never get a break to recharge your batteries. I've dealt with lack of sleep a lot (insomnia), I've done some things that have taken over my life for a while (dissertation). But I've always been able to take a Saturday to relax, or take a nap, or whatever. Not so easy to do that now.

My wife has the real career and I work from home and take care of our son, so my insights into raising children are more analogous to what is typically motherhood rather than fatherhood. Raising children is a ton of work, and I have recently been thinking about how motherhood gets very little respect from our society in general. A moment from an old Simpsons episode popped into my head the other day, the kids were supposed go with their parents to work (so Principal Skinner could go on vacation early) and the note sent home specifically said that being a mom isn't work, which is why you don't get paid for it. I know it's just a cheap joke, but it really does seem to be a fairly typical attitude in this country. The men go to work and earn the money. They are the bread winners, they are doing what matters. The women are just at home raising the children and keeping the household together, or whatever. They are probably just spending half the day on their asses watching TV. Maybe it is just because I grew up in a fairly fundamentalist environment, but this wasn't simply a joke, it did seem to be the general attitude I grew up around, and to a lesser extend that I still see.

Another example that came to mind recently is the whole idea of the welfare mom. My dad listened to Rush Limbaugh a lot when I was growing up and I recall hearing these welfare moms completely vilified. "They are just having kid after kid to get their check from the government". Granted, this is a fairly extreme view from an extreme source. And yet, for the idea to land at all in anyone's mind, people already have to believe that raising kids is easy. The whole point is that they are deadbeats, it makes no sense that they are doing something this difficult just to get some money from the government. If my entire motivation was to get a check in the mail, I would never have another kid, it makes no sense. It's way too much work. Seriously, how much money would it take for it to be worth it for that alone?

This post is a bit rambly, I'm mostly just working out some thoughts that have been accumulating in my brain for the last little bit. If I do have a point of some sort it is this, I have a new appreciation for mothers, especially single mothers. I honestly have no idea how they do it. My wife and I are working together and we are both run super ragged.
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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Well Said [Skepticism, Prayer, Microbiome]

Even though I don't have much time to write, I can find time to listen to podcasts and watch a few youtube videos. Here's some stuff I've liked recently.

The first one is from Steve Shives. I've really been enjoying his channel lately, in particular his "an atheist reads..." series. He recently started a new series reading The Reason for God, he started off (at about 4 minutes) with a comment about the book's subtitle "Belief in an age of skepticism".


This next one is from a podcast I have found pretty recently that I have been enjoying quite a bit, the imaginary friends show. In this episode (at about 9:30), they were talking about people praying for victims of natural disasters.


This last one is from ask an atheist in their "moment of science" segment (at about 46 minutes into the show). They were talking about the staggering number of microbes in our digestive system. I've recently been fascinated by microbiomes and this fact really jumped out at me. So cool!

background picture from wikimedia commons

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