Christian? Jewish? Who Cares?

Michael Luo. “Reform Jews Hope to Unmix Mixed Marriages.The New York Times, February 12, 2006.

In this age of potpourri spirituality, Anique Olivier-Mason, 25, classifies herself generally as a Christian: she grew up Catholic and often attends a Presbyterian church near her home. But on a recent Friday night, she was attending Sabbath services at Larchmont Temple.

This article from the New York Times concerns the efforts of some Reform Judaism congregations to convert the non-Jewish spouses of congregation members, stemming from a fear that the religion is dying out due to extensive intermarriage. The principal targets of these efforts are people like the woman described above, who regularly attends synagogue with her Jewish husband.

However, it was not the shift toward proselytizing I found noteworthy – every religion must eventually drift into evangelism, or else die out. Rather, what drew my attention was the apparent indifference with which the targets of these efforts responded to them:

“We intend to instill in our children a feeling of spirituality in the sense that they can feel comfortable both in a Christian church and in a Jewish synagogue,” Mrs. Olivier-Mason said.

…When I go to a Jewish service, I feel like, “This is really great; this is a very entertaining and spiritual experience,” she said. “But do I feel comfortable enough to call it my own? I don’t.”

If making your children comfortable with Christianity and Judaism means that they will be tolerant of both, that is fine, and I have no objection. But this couple seems to have something more fundamental in mind; as the article put it, they intend to raise their future children “steeped in both religions”. Does this mean that they intend to teach their children that both Christianity and Judaism are equally true in some way, or that they should identify equally with both groups?

The core absurdity of this is that at least one of these faiths must be wrong about the fundamental tenets of its belief. If Christianity is true and Jesus was divine, this conflicts with the Jewish beliefs that God is one and not a human being, and if Judaism is true, this implies that Jesus was not the messiah as Christians believe he was. The notion of being equally comfortable with both faiths implies that one is also equally comfortable with truth and falsehood, or at least that one does not care which is which. This mushy relativism is naive at best, and dangerous at worst.

If one end of the religious spectrum is fundamentalism, the stance that each and every statement in the individual believer’s scripture or tradition is literally true, then the other end must be this attitude of cafeteria spirituality, where beliefs and traditions from many religions are freely mixed based on what the individual finds appealing. I realize that this approach has certain things to recommend it – for instance, it does not share the militant intolerance of fundamentalism – but it owes little to common sense. This is all the more true when the mingled beliefs directly contradict each other, as in this case.

I have said elsewhere that one of the reasons I oppose religion is that it drives apart people who could otherwise be happy together. In that sense, I think it is a good thing that these interfaith couples are able to live together peacefully. But they are doing it in a very strained and convoluted way – by adopting beliefs that are fundamentally at odds and then disregarding the implications of those beliefs. Would it not be far simpler and more rational to simply discard these beliefs altogether and live as happily married human beings, with no invisible supernatural wedges between you and your partner?

Of course, this does assume that people choose their religious beliefs based on the facts, and I am well aware that this assumption is largely false. Indeed, I have never met a religious person who carefully investigated several faiths and then made their choice based on which one they believed most likely to be true. Instead, people almost always choose their religion based on which one they grew up with, or which one is most prevalent in the area where they live, or which congregation makes them feel most welcomed. Evidence is rarely more than an afterthought, if it is presented at all. In such an atmosphere, when decisions are made primarily for emotional rather than rational reasons, the occurrence of syncretism should be expected – even syncretism among blatantly incompatible faiths.

Both fundamentalism and cafeteria theism thrive because most people elevate faith over reason as a basis for decision-making. If this method leads us to the truth, it can only do so by accident. And when it freely combines elements of incompatible belief systems, it cannot hope to do even that. Our society is searching for emotional comfort and belonging at the expense of the truth; but we have largely forgotten that the truth is itself valuable, and deserves to be sought, both for its own sake and for the more enduring comfort it brings us. Until our society stops choosing its religions based on whether they make us feel good, and regains the Enlightenment focus on what is true and real, we can never hope to find a solid and lasting happiness that is not the happiness of illusion.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • BlackWizardMagus

    You are correct in your analysis, however…when a person does a thing, it is always for one purpose; the satisfaction of one’s spirit. While it may be best for society if people did things as a whole, it is really not our choice. There is nothing really wrong with being religious in such a way as this; it doesn’t hurt anyone but themselves, and that “hurt” is a few hours a week at religious services. Everyone wastes time doing something just as bad, just about; whether it’s church or making model airplanes or watching their favorite sitcom, we all have at least a few hours a week of completely useless activities we enjoy doing. So I don’t think you’re wrong, I just think that’s it’s not really an important thing to focus upon.

  • andrea

    I think it can be more hurtful that you think, Magus. A friend had a Catholic mother and a Jewish father. She was taking matzoh sandwiches for lunch over Passover and going to mass. Then her parents got divorced. Not fun, especially when religion became a weapon, who’s going to get her soul, so to speak. There are absolutes in religion, there have be, someone has to be “right”. And I think this attempt to try to reconcile things that haven’t been able to reconciled for centuries within a family and on the head of kids is a bad idea.

  • Quath

    I feel sorry for the kids. I am split on teaching religion to kids. I feel it is indoctrinations similar to what cults do, but at the same time, I think parents should raise their kids as they wish to. There are areas where the state restricts parents like in child abuse, but places where it ignores child wellfare like no immunzations for religious reasons.

  • Archi Medez

    Well said, Adam. I will just add my opinions on the teaching of religion to children. The principle of informed consent is most critical here. Informed consent implies that certain conditions are met (as applied to acceptance of a religion):

    1. (a) The child has sufficient knowledge. The child knows what religions are, and how they differ from other kinds of belief systems. The child has thoroughly familiarized himself/herself with the religion, and preferably with at least one other religion that is independent of the first), before forming a definite belief in that religion.
    (b) The child has the ability to reason, question, and criticize at a fairly high level of mastery.
    (c) The child is not discouraged or punished for using reasoning, questioning, criticism, and seeking alternative opinions. Indeed, such pursuits should be encouraged.
    2. There should be no deception in the adults’ attempt to persuade the child to adopt the religion.
    3. There is not undue coercion or inappropriate influence. This rules out not just threat of punishment or aversive conditions if there is non-compliance, but also rules out the use of the promise of reward in cases where the participant is in a difficult condition (e.g., economically disadvantaged person is given an incentive that, if not given, the person would).
    4. The child is free to leave the religion at any time, without penalty or prejudice (i.e., without significant loss, e.g., of the parents’ affection).
    5. The child is free to raise frank objections to the religion, without penalty or prejudice.

    Now, I may be missing some points here…but I think the issue boils down to this: For all practical purposes, children below a certain age generally do not have the capacity to form a belief in a religion, in a fair and responsible manner, under the conditions of informed consent. It is difficult to establish what that age limit should be, but certainly 13 or 14 is still too young. Let’s say the minimum age at which a “child” should be exposed to a religion is 16, in order to meet condition #1a,b,c. (Note, this assumes that conditions 1a,b, and c have actually been met).

    As we go through the other conditions, and keeping in mind the conditions under which religious belief is actually instilled, it becomes clear that joining a religion (in practice, in the real world) almost never truly meets the conditions of informed consent. Even in relatively free western societies with secular education systems, practically all of the above conditions are compromised in some important way.

    Knowledge relativists would no doubt attempt to counter my above claims by arguing that “Children are exposed to other belief systems, why not religion?” Actually, I have no problem with children being presented with religion, but the problem is that children are presented with religion as to be believed; not as mere stories (e.g., Peter Pan), but as absolute belief systems containing certainties and commands. This is not the same as science, which is provisional and subject to argument and evidence (i.e., any scientific belief can be rejected if evidence later shows it false). Religions such as Christianity and Judaism, inherently, do not have this feature. Science practiced properly meets all of the conditions of informed consent. Proper practice of certain religions cannot meet the conditions of informed consent; there must be substantial compromise to the religion to meet the conditions of informed consent.

    In fact, the substance of the belief systems themselves often violate the conditions of informed consent. For example, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all offer promise of a reward for belief and maximum punishment for disbelief–a pair of metaphysical propositions (see Adam’s “Carrot and the Stick” essay) that often have very real correlates socially and psychologically. This violates condition 3. These religions also violate condition 4, because people are not free to leave the religion without some kind of penalty or prejudice against them (today this is more true of Islam than the others). These religions brazenly violate all aspects of condition 1, discouraging skepticism and rationality and the use of other knowledge in evaluating to the religion itself. Any religions that violate one or more of the basic conditions of free and informed consent should not be taught as to be believed, but rather should be taught as clear examples of moral and intellectual failures.

    I don’t mean to suggest that one rejects everything in the religion willy-nilly. It means the religion itself is not the standard by which we make such judgements concerning the religion’s contents and whether or not they should be believed. It is necessary to use a separate moral standard, for example, to judge the morality/immorality of certain parts of the religion.

    Bottom line: Children should not be taught religion in terms of being indoctrinated, but can learn about religions provided the above conditions of informed consent are ensured by parents/guardians/teachers. Children/young people themselves may not have the capacity for informed consent in adopting a religious belief until they are about 16.

  • Archi Medez

    “3… (e.g., economically disadvantaged person is given an incentive that, if not given, the person would).”

    Pardon me, that should continue “the person would not profess to accept the religion).

  • BlackWizardMagus

    I do not like those standards. Not because it hurts religion, but because it is applicable to many things. A child cannot understand religion, politics, science, history, money…so do we just not teach them any of this? We can see the difference between religion and science, but a child can’t, and that’s the point that matters. I have very strong political beliefs; can I not teach these to any kid I may one day have until a certain age? Furthermore, even though I prefer this, still, the school system for most kids is not so careful. Are we to tell parent’s that they can’t teach their own kids what they will, but schools are free to teach them what they consider to be lies and fallacies as they wish? I think such restrictions are the flip side of the same coin as fundamentalists; they want it so that religion MUST be taught to kids, and this proposal SEEMS (excuse me if it’s not) to say that religion is not ALLOWED to be taught. Both of these ideas are trying ot use the power of the state to push their agendas. I have a cousin who is alot younger than I am, and right now, I am watching his religion and his mother’s tear the family apart. I hate it. But I certainly would feel that it’s completely wrong to punish my aunt because she has certain religious beliefs and that she says that certain rules must be followed as long as he lives off of her paycheck.

    andrea; there is a certain logic there, but then, there are always problematic examples of things. The family of a family friend is in the same position; the friend herself is a Catholic, but married a Jewish guy and now has a Jewish step-daughter. But the daughter is cool with it; they celebrate Christmas and the Jewish holiday whose name I can’t properly spell, every year, and it’s no problem for her. She’s grown up with two religions, and she’s alright with that. To be quite honest, it helps induce tolerance and acceptance; it’s very difficult for a child who grew up with two different religions to be intolerant of other religions.

  • Archi Medez

    BlackWizard,

    Those other areas of knowledge (non-religious) generally don’t violate the principles of informed consent, unless we are talking about some kind of totalitarian or tyrannical system. In practice, my proposal would not generally restrict the learning of other areas of knowledge, and would not restrict the learning of religions as subject matter. The restriction is on the requirement for belief in and membership in any ideology which itself violates informed consent (not to mention other basic principles of morality, e.g, every major crime known to humanity is recommended, commanded, treatened, or committed by the Judeo-Christian God and by Allah-Mohammad–it is not acceptable to be teaching children this hate and atrocity and divine command absurdity). From a purely ethical standpoint (not a legalistic one), I believe the proposal is sound. Deciding to be a member of a religion is often a very serious matter with long-lasting (perhaps life-long) implications. Therefore it should not be entered into lightly; it should be a free choice, an informed choice, and not an unduly influenced choice. Psychologically, a child simply does not have the capacity or the ability to make such a decision soundly.

    Unfortunately, those who are eager to instill religious belief target children at a young age precisely because they are more susceptible to religious belief. In other words, children are targetted for indoctrination precisely because the conditions for informed consent are not met–there’s less chance they’ll reject the religion and more chance it will “stick”. Children can be easily coerced and influenced. As children get older and learn more, gain more knowledge, master critical thinking skills, and gain increasing autonomy and take on increasing responsibility, they become increasingly less prone to religious belief. My 7-year-old nephew asked his mother “who made God?” (Of course, I was thrilled with this!). But his mother, my sister, does not push the God belief, even though she believes in God (very casual Christian, does not go to church). My proposal is not directed at removing all talk of God; rather, it is directed toward ensuring that the conditions of informed consent are met when the topic is raised. Note that the conditions of informed consent are met in any other area of knowledge. It is only in certain religions and certain totalitarian/dictatorial ideologies that the conditions are so thoroughly violated (i.e., by the “believe it or else” proposition).

    Bottom line: I believe membership in a religion should be arrived at through free choice, not by birth, geography, coercion, fear, ignorance, etc.

  • BlackWizardMagus

    But can we say that a child is any more capable of determining a political ideology? Can democrats not teach their children? Can republicans be fined for daring to teach their kids their views? And are you not supporting non-religion over religion with this requirement? I think we agree that a child is no more capable of rejecting taoism for jainism (sp?) than he is for rejecting theism as a whole, yet you are saying that we must raise all kids atheist until a given age? Morally, I think atheism is generally better than theism, but neither is inherently good or evil, and neither side has the right to demand of the other. And I do not believe that all the requirements are met for almost any other learning. Probably none. Do you know what a triangle is? How long have you known? Probably since a teacher said “This is a triangle”. Ipso facto, three sided shapes are triangles from then on. You did not know of the mathmatical definition of a triangle. That all angles total up to 180 degrees was not part of kindergarten. Now, yes, religion is USUALLY different (talk to a militant Marxist before you say it’s the sole exception to the rule), but that doesn’t change the fact that children have NO critical thinking skills or ability to judge almost ANYTHING. And we can’t insulate children from everything but solid fact in life. Example; when a 5-year-old sees the tabloids at the Kroger check-out and asks about them, what do we say? Do we, for fear of biasing their views, not tell them that the tabloids make up stories for fun (I’d be more harsh, but this is from children)? Do we treat the Washington Post the same as…I can’t even think of a name for one now? There is not a clear-cut line between facts of life and advanced and deep ideas, like religion or politics, etc. One final example before I go to sleep; I do not accept currently accepted history. Whether you agree with me on these things or not, I do not believe that Pearl Harbor or 9-11 were complete accidents. I don’t think the fact that we support the USSR’s existence for 50 years was unintentional (with direct aid). I don’t think the fact that we withheld almost all possible support from Jiang Jieshi during the Second World War was an oversight. So what do I teach my kids? To evaluate such claims requires critical thinking skills and a sound knowledge base. I refuse to sit back and let the world feed my kid what I see to be white-washed lies until he’s sixteen, then present my side as an “equal option”. Is it really equal when one side get’s 16 years of support and one side gets none? Of course not! To be equal, then, public schools would have to be banned from teaching history, so that when it’s time for him to learn, my books and my studies are presented alongside the mainstream. Of course, this is ridiculous in practice. So, in reality, I will teach him or her, whenever I have a kid, my view and my study while they learn the commonly accepted version at school. He or she will certainly not be capable of evaluating these views fairly, but given time and the knowledge base he has, he will eventually be able to. It is not for the state, or my neighbor, to decide these things.

    Summary; your guidelines would be nice, there is no doubt, but it’s not fair to parent’s who really, truly believe in one God or another to be forbidden by the threat of losing their kids or something form teaching their faith, even if I too think that religion is generally negative.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Andrea’s comment about using religion as a weapon is a very good point. It may well be that, over time, the cheerful syncretism adopted by these couples will begin to fade, and each parent will become concerned that their children follow only their religion and not their spouse’s. That was something I hadn’t even thought about when I wrote this post.

    That said, I don’t think the alternative is to require that parents teach their kids atheism (I’m not saying anyone has voiced that opinion here). If I want to teach my children as I see fit, then I feel I must respect your right to do the same, regardless of how odious I may find your beliefs (with, as usual, the exceptions for encouraging violence or criminality). It’s tragic that some children will end up brainwashed into militant fundamentalist cults, but that’s the price we pay for living in a free society. The alternative is totalitarian control of child-rearing by the state, which I believe on any rational reading is a far worse evil. I do, however, think it is morally incumbent upon parents to teach their children about all types of beliefs and how to reason logically about them, and those who neglect this duty have committed an ethical, if not necessarily a legal, wrong.

    To be quite honest, it helps induce tolerance and acceptance; it’s very difficult for a child who grew up with two different religions to be intolerant of other religions.

    That’s very true, and I do believe intolerance is a bad thing and should be wiped out. However, there is an opposite error that is just as bad, which is teaching children that all beliefs are equally true and should be treated as such. That was my primary point of concern when reading the article that inspired this post. I worry that people raised “steeped in both traditions” may be the ones who will, for example, support creationists’ attempts to get equal time in classrooms because after all, that would only be fair, and who’s to say which one is really true, anyway? We want people who are tolerant, but we also want people who are willing to draw a line between truth and falsehood.

  • WhiteMare

    “It’s tragic that some children will end up brainwashed into militant fundamentalist cults, but that’s the price we pay for living in a free society… I do, however, think it is morally incumbent upon parents to teach their children about all types of beliefs and how to reason logically about them, and those who neglect this duty have committed an ethical, if not necessarily a legal, wrong.”

    I believe it is morally incumbent upon everyone — all of us — to do something about children who have been, as you say, legally brainwashed into militant fundamentalist cults. Free speech must be LEGAL after all, but we’re a community. Our founding fathers allowed free speech, but they expected a moral populace to make sure this country didn’t fall into a cesspool of murderous riots, or free speech means nothing. It’s our job, not the government’s. Separation of church and state. A tiny little village with a single man who plots to blow up Faneuil Hall should have everyone in his community going to his house offering him love, support, casseroles, and sound moral advice. For this reason I feel like anyone belonging to a peaceful, loving religion which they truly believe is correct should be encouraged to share their beliefs with everyone they can. For this reason I also applaud your website, which is clearly an effort to bring reason and goodness to those who need it most. We all do the best we can with what we have.

    While I completely agree that teaching two contradictory religions as equally true borders on madness, and I personally have no solution for couples of two religions (don’t I wish I did), which was the original point of this page it seems, I do have a problem with the related idea that any religion a child ultimately accepts must be based on sound logical reasoning. I personally think that if that child really wants to determine whether, say, Judaism or Christianity is the true faith by “familiarization, questioning, and criticism,” they’ll be reading books and leading archaeological digs in the Middle East until they’re too old to think about it anymore. One simply can’t PROVE a religion true, however much many of us would like to.

    You’ve said that because children have not yet mastered the reasoning skills to critically evaluate a religion (read: reject it based on the admittadly logical arguments any college student can come up with if he looks around for ten or fifteen seconds), they should not be exposed to it. I would like to argue that they should be exposed to it for precisely the same reason: not that they are too dumb to argue and will spout it blindly for the rest of their vaguely-mentally-troubled lives, but because they haven’t become cynical and jaded enough to think that they understand everything in the universe better than whatever created it. Children can still grasp the concept of true faith without seeing, they can still be instilled with the deeply comforting idea that whatever did all this deeply loves them, they are still humble enough to reach out whole-heartedly for divine comfort and possibly receive it… thus the old Jesus quote “I tell you the truth, unless you can change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” I just feel like it’s ok for people to understand and feel all those things before they are too old for doubt to make it darn near impossible. If, later in life, they realize that communing with God — which, truly, is the only thing that will ever make someone accept religion, not logic — does not happen, they’ll probably drop the whole idea. However, maybe it is true, and they’ll be able to accept it through a heart-set they remember from back when such faith was still possible.

    I’d love to say that things like Christianity are good for people even if they aren’t true, but that’s probably at least partially erroneous, due to things like “relationship barriers for all time with people of any other faith.” My point is simply that if any religion is true, if there is any God, childhood is a desirable time to explore it. Reasoning and logic are extremely important things later on, but we’re never again quite so free to learn through feeling.

  • BlackWizardMagus

    While I do have my feelings as to what people should do, I am generally not one to dwell on them if they are apolitical. I’d prefer this or this or that, but as long as I was wrong and Archi was not attempting to suggest a legal solution to the problem, I really don’t feel overly concerned about it. There will always be certain things, certain biases, certain evils, but we can never fix a mind as we feel, we can only limit the harm any person can do. If a man is evil to himself, cest la vie.

    I do want to chime and say that I do not think religion is always a bad thing. It’s not the best way, but it is a good enough way to teach kids morality in a very basic model. I was raised that way, as I suspect many here were; that God said this and that is wrong, but this is right, and so you should do what God says was right. And it is a source of comfort for kids. So, theistic parents shouldn’t feel bad about spreading their faith, because most Christians, at least in the US I know, are open-minded and supportive regardless of faith, so if a child later leaves, no big deal. It IS good for kids, if not the only good option.

  • Archi Medez

    BlackWizard,

    One thing that I want to clear up right away is that I am not proposing legislation. I already made that point. These are informal guidelines which people generally respect and adhere to in everyday life in free democratic societies. The problem is that the teaching of religion (and certain non-religious rigid ideologies) often violates these guidelines.

    You start out saying you don’t like the guidelines for informed consent, then conclude by saying the guidelines “would be nice,” and in between you accuse me of making all kinds of claims that I did not make. I don’t like to depart too much from Adam’s initial thread, but I find I must respond to correct a number of claims you’ve made about my posts.

    “A child cannot understand religion, politics, science, history, money…so do we just not teach them any of this?”

    You are attacking a claim that I did not make. I did talk about an age limit (my aopologies if that led to any confusion), but if you read the whole post, you’ll see at the “bottom line” part that I was referring to an age limit on the request for membership in the religion (i.e., indoctrination; accepting the religion as to be believed and followed). I have no problem with children learning about religion, but they need parental guidance, and hopefully responsible parental guidance that respects some reasonable version of informed consent. I was talking about how religion should be taught to children. (If you know the Old Testament, and the Koran, you’ll know why I recommend parental guidance—-some of it truly should not be exposed to a young child—-and in accordance with informed consent). My point was simply that teaching of religion should meet the basic requirements of informed consent, standards which are usually met when children are taught any other subject. This ensures that a choice to be a member of a religion is an informed and free one.
    As for criticism of a religion, like Richard Dawkins, I believe religion should be open to the same scrutiny and be subject to the same standard of criticism as other areas of knowledge such as politics, sports, etc…no sacred cows.

    “I have very strong political beliefs; can I not teach these to any kid I may one day have until a certain age?”

    This isn’t what I said. I said teach, but responsibly (or my conception of what is responsible, which fits with standard definitions of informed consent), respecting that a child is a developing person who must ultimately make up his/her own mind about what to believe and should not be unduly influenced. The child must be taught the tools of reasoning. These are not subjective but are based on common sense, science, and logic.

    The more accurate analogy between politics and religion in this case, in terms of what I was talking about, would be voting, or party membership. Would you let a 10-year-old child vote for a political party? A 12-year-old? Do you see what I’m getting at?

    “Furthermore, even though I prefer this, still, the school system for most kids is not so careful. Are we to tell parent’s that they can’t teach their own kids what they will, but schools are free to teach them what they consider to be lies and fallacies as they wish? I think such restrictions are the flip side of the same coin as fundamentalists; they want it so that religion MUST be taught to kids, and this proposal SEEMS (excuse me if it’s not) to say that religion is not ALLOWED to be taught.”

    That isn’t what I said.

    “Both of these ideas are trying ot use the power of the state to push their agendas.”

    I’m not; what I said doesn’t.

    “I have a cousin who is alot younger than I am, and right now, I am watching his religion and his mother’s tear the family apart. I hate it. But I certainly would feel that it’s completely wrong to punish my aunt because she has certain religious beliefs and that she says that certain rules must be followed as long as he lives off of her paycheck.”

    Punish? Who said punish? Are her rules fair? If you think something’s wrong, step in and tell her (your aunt) what you think, if you believe you have a moral responsibility to do so.

    “But can we say that a child is any more capable of determining a political ideology? Can democrats not teach their children? Can republicans be fined for daring to teach their kids their views?”

    I didn’t say they couldn’t. (This is getting repetitious).

    “And are you not supporting non-religion over religion with this requirement?”

    What requirement? That teaching of religion should conform to principles of informed consent? If that’s what you mean, then I favour that which fits with informed consent. Bad and immoral ideas and practices, religious or not, will fail.

    “I think we agree that a child is no more capable of rejecting taoism for jainism (sp?) than he is for rejecting theism as a whole, yet you are saying that we must raise all kids atheist until a given age?”

    I’m not saying that. (I should become a politician. I can address the press all day saying “I didn’t say that.”)

    “Now, yes, religion is USUALLY different (talk to a militant Marxist before you say it’s the sole exception to the rule),”

    I didn’t say religion was the sole exception to the rule. See “totalitarian/dictatorial ideologies.” I’ve talked to Marxists. I was even stuck with a few as professors when I was an undergrad. I think they violate informed consent, to be frank.

    “So, in reality, I will teach him or her, whenever I have a kid, my view and my study while they learn the commonly accepted version at school. He or she will certainly not be capable of evaluating these views fairly, but given time and the knowledge base he has, he will eventually be able to. It is not for the state, or my neighbor, to decide these things.”

    The state and other people will have an influence on your child. This is a fact. Certainly, the parent must be the primary guide, but the parent must be guided by moral principles. Those informed consent guidelines are merely a small subset of guidelines that arise out of deeper moral principles.

    “Summary; your guidelines would be nice, there is no doubt, but it’s not fair to parent’s who really, truly believe in one God or another to be forbidden”

    I didn’t say they were forbidden from teaching their faith. I said it should be done in a responsible way, and the child’s vulnerability and innocence should not be exploited. There are contents of the scripture (Bible, Koran, certainly) that a child should not be exposed to (rapes, mass slaughter, decapitations, cannibalism, threats of eternal hell-fire, etc.), but that’s a slightly different issue—-one would not show a child non-religious books or movies with such content either.

    “by the threat of losing their kids or something form teaching their faith,”

    I didn’t say that.

    “even if I too think that religion is generally negative.”

    If you have a defensible position, why not say it to the child? If the Bible or Koran contains negative things, what do you say? Appeal to relativism, all beliefs and ideas are equal? Nonsense. A responsible parent has to be very careful as to how Christianity, Judaism, or Islam are presented to a child. That’s putting it mildly. Why parents would even think it’s appropriate to teach religions that divinely approve rape, mass murder, and eternal torture of innocent people is difficult to explain, but I suppose if people actually followed the principles of informed consent this wouldn’t happen.

  • Archi Medez

    WhiteHare,

    I didn’t say that children shouldn’t be exposed to religion, I said it should be taught responsibly. I do think certain parts of the doctrine should not be presented to children (see my immediately above post). I can see where the confusion might have arose, but if you read my first post in this thread completely you’ll see what I was concluding. As for exposing children to the absurdities of a religion, I’m all for it. I would certainly teach my own children to think critically.

    There are actually many childrens’ books written from an atheist/agnostic/freethinkers’ perspective that deal precisely with the issues we’re discussing. These books tend to encourage a healthy skepticism without totally trashing religion.

    My view is that neither the Bible nor the Koran should be taught to children until those who follow the religion agree to remove all the parts advocating rape, incest, pedophilia, cannibalism, mass slaughter, execution for blasphemy, execution of children for disobedience, eternal torture in hell-fire, etc., but, alas, I am realistic that the members of these religions will not excise these verses. In the meantime, there are the guidelines that I hope people would follow. It’s worth a try.

  • Archi Medez

    Regarding my above claims about the various atrocities in the Bible and Koran, check out these sites.

    http://www.evilbible.com/

    http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/

    http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/quran/index.htm

  • BlackWizardMagus

    I wasn’t intending to make this a fight. I missed the disclaimer where you said you weren’t proposing some legislation. I wish I know how to quote things on here…

    About teaching other topics; no, you did make that point. You gave requirments for informed consent, and many of these are NOT met for 99.5% of children when they are taught certain things. 1a, 1b, 3, and 4 on your list, if modified for other studies, are not met. If you refuse to recongnize “3″ as following “2″, you get an F in school. You don’t understand numbers, perhaps, and you definately lack any sort of reasoning faculty beyond the basic, but you are expected to learn this fact. Now, you were specifically applying it to religion, but giving religion different standards is, quite literally, a double standard.

    Politics and religion; no, that’s not quite right. Religion is a belief. Political persuasion is a belief. Voting is not similar to merely being a christian. Now, we hope that one’s politics is more grounded in facts and logic, but there is no rule for that.

    I’m kind of confused as to your responses from this point on. I didn’t meant to make you angry, but you seem overly defensive at me trying to use your logic in other areas. If I am incorrect, please feel free to correct me, but “That’s not what I said” over and over is not correcting anything. Of course it’s not what you said, but I am questioning your logic BECAUSE of it’s applications to other areas than religion, even though you only SPOKE of them in relation to religion. Informed consent is impossible with a child, according to the outline you gave. It appears to me that you have altered them since you posted them; you speak of parent’s presenting it morally and responsibly as the main requirement, but that’s not what you said before. If I am making mistakes because you changed your requirements, please do not blame me. Let me restate your requirements in short again;

    1a) The child has sufficient knowledge (which is impossible for almost ANY subject at very young ages)
    1b) The child has ability to reason (they can’t at a young age)
    1c) The child is not punished for questioning (this is understandable and I agree)
    2) No deception (okay, that is somewhat subjective, but I can agree)
    3) Coercion ot undue influence (to a degree, this works. But, not really; if you refuse to accept that the earth is round, you fail geography. This is coercion, so can we not teach that the earth is round?)
    4) The child can freely change their mind (this works in some things)
    5) Basically 1c again

    So, for an adult, this is acceptable. But not a child. NO child can reason at a young age. NO child has a knowledge base at a young age. There are things that we have to merely dictate to our children, period, and there are other things that might be best if we could wait to tell them, but since politics pervades our world today, as does religion, it is only rational to begin teaching them at a very young age, younger than the point at which they can question, because if we don’t, someone else will.

    Again, this whole “it’s okay if parent’s are responsible” is something that was not in your original guidelines, which were what I was critisizing. I merely think that children at young ages are indeed sponges and the world is filled with information; ALL children who live normal lives are going to develop beliefs that were not submitted to criticism. Thus, parent’s have the duty to tell their kids what THEY believe is true (as we all would) and to disprove what the kids hear that is false, to try and keep the kid in the right. I agree that alot of religion is not good, but to the adherents it is, and even if we are talking legislation, it’s a double standard to freely teach our children tolerance and our views of the world and expect other families, because of their religion, to abstain from it.

  • Archi Medez

    BlackWizard,

    Again, you are claiming I said things that I didn’t say. Again, you accuse me of saying religion should not be taught, whereas my proposal was about how religion should be taught. The proposed age restriction refers to indoctrination and membership, not to exposure to the ideas of the religion. To give you a concrete example, I know someone, who was raised by fundamentalist Christian parents, who as a child was obligated to go to church. The parents were of the attitude that he should be exposed to the Christian religion (Sunday school, Bible reading), but on their understanding of Christianity the choice to become a Christian must be made freely. So they let him decide. By about 14 or 15 years of age the father asked the boy/youth about his decision, the youth said he did not believe in Christianity and was not going to be a Christian. (In this case, consent to membership would have been indicated by something along the lines of “I accept Christ into my heart as the Lord and saviour,” etc.). In response to the son’s decision not to be a Christian, the father said “You’ve made the wrong choice.” And that was that. They did not have any further argument over it, the parents did not pressure him further, and he did not have to go to church. They weren’t happy about it, but they got past it and went on with life. And that is about as good as it can be. And as far as I’m concerned, that fits pretty well with my initial proposal.

    In my own case, I was heavily indoctrinated at the age of 11 at an intensive 2-week “Bible camp”. I came out firmly believing all the horror stories that were emphasized over and over about the book of Revelation were going to come true very soon. The “counsellors” were fervent believers and were convinced that the second coming was going to happen “within the next couple of years.” (That was decades ago). Looking back, I’m embarrassed to admit how easily I’d been indoctrinated (and as an 11-year-old scared out of his mind I had consented to membership, without having the requirements of informed consent even remotely met). I had gone in as a mild believer, assuming God existed but not really thinking much about it, and came out a paranoid fundamentalist convinced the world was going to end soon. Fortunately, the indoctrination wore off within about 2 months of being back in my regular environment. Obviously, in my own case, the conditions of informed consent were violated. Cult indoctrination of children is unacceptable.

    As for failing a child who does not demonstrate the necessary understanding of geography or other subject, I don’t think that’s undue coercion. How you could have arrived at that conclusion based on my initial post, I do not know. But wouldn’t it be better to ask me what I consider to be “undue coercion” before running away with such wild assumptions?

    As for other points, I’ve read your whole post, and it seems to me you are persisting in attacking views which I do not recognize as my own. I’ve made efforts to clarify my views in additional posts, because of the potential confusion that could have arose due to an incomplete reading of my initial post. As far as this discussion goes, I’m at the point where I’m thinking “What more can I say?” and “Would it make a difference if I said it?”

  • BlackWizardMagus

    Being exposed to it by a parent is the same as being a member at such an age. What you are saying seems to be quite different from before. This child you mentioned was forced to go to church; isn’t that undue influence on a mind incabable of judging? Later you say the family turned around and gave a choice, but only after 15 years of attempting to indoctrinate the kid. I do not see how that at all fits in with your point. You seemed to be indicating when a child should be brought into the system, yet now it seems that you saying that a switch is thrown at some age where they should be let loose.

    Well, what more can you say? For one, as I already informed you, a response would be nice. You consistently tell me that I am responding to things you never said, but you have rarely actually corrected me on it. This is a very basic debating technique; you take the logic of the opponent and you apply to other, similar situations to show why it’s incorrect. That is what I am doing; I am taking your logic (your original logic, not your constant revisions) about consent and religion and applying it to other studies in life. If I have done so incorrectly, it would be most beneficial to actually explain that, instead of giving a list of “That’s not what I said”. Bill Clinton never once said “I did not have sex with that woman”, but if I were to claim he did in reference to when he said “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”, would you tell me “No no, that’s not what he said”, as if it was completely different? I’d hope not. It would be meaningless if I only repeated what you said, as I attempting to show flawed logic, not flawed statements.

    Of course, now that you are telling me that just a few short years before a child is free to do as he please anyway, that he should be given a choice, perhaps this is nothing left to say. As you just explicitely stated, forcing a kid to go to church and be indoctrinated (you say they can’t be, but the child in your first paragraph IS being indoctrinated by definition; he is being forced to go through the rituals and learn the beliefs) up to a certain age, then should be given a choice. I agree. However, at 16, you only have 1 more year to go before you can be legally emancipated, so it’s not much of a proposal. It’s correct, but it’s like taking a 5 mile short-cut on a cross-country road trip.

  • BlackWizardMagus

    Eh, don’t worry about it. We’ve obviously run the course of this discussion. No need to continue further, I think, and risk animosity for the gain of nothing. Good to meetcha Archie, hope to keep talking to you as time goes by.

  • Archi Medez

    BlackWizard,

    To make logical extensions of someone else’s claims, you have to have a firm handle on what that person’s claim are. You don’t have a firm handle on what my views are. That’s the key problem here. You assume to much, and when I’ve tried to clarify the intended meaning of my original post, you just say I’m moving the goal posts. In other words, you are trying to tell me what my views are, and you refuse to accept my clarifications as to what my views are, classifying them as “revisions” (i.e., anything different from your assumptions about my views is a “revision”). This is just silly.

    The issue over how to teach children religion is a very important one. I’m sure this will come up again. Informed consent is a central consideration. My definition of “moral and responsible” presentation of religion to a child is that which at least approximates those informed consent conditions (recognizing that no real situation will be perfect–I think it’s fair to say any such proposal does not demand a template match between real circumstances and ideals, guidelines, but some reasonable approximation).

    You are also confusing exposure with indoctrination, even though I distinguished between indoctrination and teaching about religions in my original post. You even go so far as to state “Being exposed to it by a parent is the same as being a member at such an age.” No it doesn’t. Children can be exposed to it without believing a word of it. It depends on which parts are presented, and how the religion is presented and framed. Is the religion mythology or is it to be believed as real, factually true? Is it to be followed or not? What are the consequences of declaring belief, indifference, or certain rejection of the religion? Parents should ensure they meet the requirements of informed consent; that’s my opinion. Also, as an atheist, I’ve exposed myself to the complete Bible and complete Koran, to a considerable extent beyond that of most believers. It would be ludicrous to say I am indoctrinated. It would also be ludicrous to say those who leave the religion in disgust (as a result of reading more of the text (e.g., Bible, Koran) and finding out what’s in there) are indoctrinated. More exposure, less indoctrination.

    You also claim that I have a double-standard viz religion versus other types of belief systems and disciplines. Not so. The problem is that the religions in question are such egregiously immoral and absurd examples. As I said, totalitarian/tyrannical systems would generally not pass the (or at least, my) conditions of informed consent. To the extent that these systems demand unquestioning obedience, they run afoul of my conditions. I don’t have any problem with a religion that can generally meet my conditions. Rather, what I’ve proposed is a stringent set of conditions that would put restrictions on the coercive impulses of those who attempt to impose acceptance of unfounded and immoral ideologies on vulnerable children. I don’t oppose religion per se. My original post focussed on religion because that was the topic of this thread.

    You also claimed that my proposal involved state-imposed conditions. That was news to me, because I did not make such a claim. What I’m proposing are essentially guidelines for parents.

    You also make a number of unfounded assumptions and assertions about childrens’ reasoning capabilities. I think you are overstating matters in claiming “NO child can reason at a young age.” (You made a similar statement about childrens’ knowledge base). A large body of developmental psychological research shows that young children do use reasoning. For example, 4-year-olds can at least do simple syllogistic reasoning. Reasoning develops; it’s not simply a matter of having it or not. I am referring to the level of mastery attained; I’m not asking for it to be perfect. Even college students and adults often make various errors in reasoning. Religion must be presented in a manner that is appropriate to the child’s developmental moral and intellectual age (chonological age is simply a convenient proxy for that; I do not think 16 is a magic number, it is just an approximation–see my phrasing “about 16″).

  • BlackWizardMagus

    Like I said, I don’t want to continue. Nothing left to gain but frustration. I don’t mean to up and leave a conversation, but as you pointed out, what’s left to say? I’ll talk to you another time.


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