Brainwashing children to love death

by Luke Muehlhauser on July 11, 2009 in Christian Theology,Islam,Video

These two young girls have been taught to love death. They want to become shahids (Islamic martyrs). I suppose this is the kind of thing that prompts Richard Dawkins to say we should start calling religious indoctrination “child abuse.”

Sadly, this is not much different from some things I was taught as a Christian child. And apparently it is not unique to my Christian experience, either.

I was told I had an invisible friend, Jesus, who lived inside me. He loved me very much and wanted me to be good to other people. But also, he would torture everyone who didn’t believe in him, so he wanted me to tell as many people about him as I could.

I was told that no matter what, I should not renounce my faith in him. That was the most important thing. If I was captured by people who wanted me to disown my invisible friend, if I was tortured, if my family was tortured, if my captors threatened to kill everyone I knew – I should not renounce Jesus.

In fact, dying for my invisible friend was held up as a glorious thing. I was told stories about saints who died for their faith in Jesus, and how good and noble they were. They were heroes. I was told I should be like them, if ever I found myself in similar circumstances.

I’m not exaggerating. This really is what many forms of Christianity teach to children. Should parents have the right to do this to their children?

I suppose this is a minor point when some Christian parents are even suing for the religious right to kill their children.

Lastly, here’s a kids song on Palestinian TV encouraging kids to kill themselves to further the cause of Islam:

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{ 52 comments… read them below or add one }

drj July 11, 2009 at 11:39 am

There were very similar overtones in my upbringing, though I can’t say it was emphasized so rigorously…. but the seeds were planted.  I can even remember as a child hoping that, should I die, I could die as a martyr so that I would go straight to heaven.

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danielg July 11, 2009 at 5:38 pm

Luke, this is what makes discussion with anti-theists so frustrating.  To not clearly elucidate the *differences*  between muslims brainwashing their kids to die and kill and Christians teaching their kids that there is more to life than just this life is irresponsible, if not polluting intelligent discussion with low brow guilt by association.
While many Christians do brainwash their kids in some unhealthy ways (guilt manipulation), there is nothing wrong with healthy means of passing on your values AND belief systems, such as memorization, service, and discussion.
As a pastor, I am very concerned that my kids are not only taught my values (what to think, in a good sense), but HOW to think and decide for themselves.  If my kids wants to be a buddhist, or an unbeliever, I will of course, let them make up their own minds.  Having left the faith and returned to it, I am no stranger to allowing people to find their own way.
But I agree with you, filling people with the fear of losing their salvation can be cruel.  I guess that’s why I find Calvinism appealing ;).
I think real faith remains, even under threat of death.  If you do or don’t recant, I’m not sure that would make a difference, despite the scriptures that talk about ‘denying him before men.’  What say you?

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Hylomorphic July 11, 2009 at 7:30 pm

One need not be an atheist or anti-theist to see something like an equivalence between the attitude shown by these children and Christianity or Judaism. One need only familiarity with the history of the monotheistic faiths.
 
This sort of attitude was adopted by the Jewish people against Greek and later Roman oppressors, resulting in first the Maccabean Revolt and eventually the destruction of the Temple. In early Christianity, the zeal for martyrdom on the part of a number of Christians had to be restrained by the cooler heads of their bishops;  it was at times necessary to stipulate that those who attacked temples or otherwise sought to bring martyrdom on their own heads did not actually qualify as martyrs.
 
Circumstances are such that relatively few Christians today find themselves in situations where martyrdom is even an option, let alone a desirable one. Circumstances do not seem to be such in America or Europe that martyrdom is anything more than something that happened once long ago.
 
However, should circumstances change–should Christians be put in a situation like that of the Palestinians, say–I would expect that the old texts and the old attitudes would be pulled out of the dustbin of history and put back to use.

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lukeprog July 11, 2009 at 11:08 pm

danielg,

Christians are always upset because something I say does not perfectly reflect THEIR brand of Christianity, what they think is “true” Christianity. But the kind of Christianity I am criticizing is always a version of Christianity that is practiced by TENS of MILLIONS of people! So I think it’s totally legitimate.

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danielg July 11, 2009 at 11:27 pm

>>HYLO: Circumstances are such that relatively few Christians today find themselves in situations where martyrdom is even an option, let alone a desirable one. Circumstances do not seem to be such in America or Europe that martyrdom is anything more than something that happened once long ago.
While this is true of the western church, esp. mainstream Protestant denominations whose members are CHINOs, modern Christianity knows much of martyrdom, esp. in China.  For a taste, see persecution.com, or the recent publication of Chinese martyrs, http://www.amazon.com/Chinas-Book-Martyrs-Fire-Blood/dp/1903689406.
>> HYLO: In early Christianity, the zeal for martyrdom on the part of a number of Christians had to be restrained by the cooler heads of their bishops;
You miss my point.  This post is about modern day Christianity, not the dimly lit, anti-cathiolic enlightenment-spun tales of the ‘Dark Ages.’
While martyrdom is something lauded as honorable among Christians, it is not implemented in the death-wish style of Islamic homocide bombers and the like.  The lack of such a distcintion is part guilt by association, part deceit, and part self-righteous judgment of teaching anyone that something might be worth dying for.
Taking a global negative attitude towards dying for a cause is stupidity or cowardice – why should we not teach that it is an honor to die for one’s country, values, or faith?  Admittedly, teaching that there is a reward from God for such a death adds an extra component, but even that does not have to be taught in a manner in which people might DESIRE death or feel manipulated into pretending to believe.
Giving someone hope that, even in the most dire of situations (loss of life), God will not let such a sacrifice go unrewarded, is a tremendously positive and just position, even if some can’t believe such, and therefore fail to gain any benefit from such a view.
Teaching about something as serious as martyrdom must be done in an age appropriate manner, however, just like one might teach sex.  These muslim crazies are not teaching this doctrine appropriately, and are abusing what can be seen as a noble and mature attitude – in fact, to die for someone else is the essence of the gospel.
To equate modern Christian teaching with Islamic ones without clarification is just like the schlock journalism we often see in the MSM.  It’s political sloganeering at best, if not deceitful misrepresentation.
I think Luke had a good point buried under the guilt by association verbiage he carelessly slung out, though.  Teaching an Arminian view of salvation that makes it conditional upon one’s confession or recantation under duress is abusive, and why many who hold the Reformed position (as I now do, though I was once Arminian due to my Charismatic roots) sometimes call such applications of Arminianism heretical.

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Chuck July 12, 2009 at 2:39 am

I think Nicholas Humphrey has the right idea.
“I want to propose a general test for deciding when and whether the teaching of a belief system to children is morally defensible. As follows. If it is ever the case that teaching this system to children will mean that later in life they come to hold beliefs that, were they in fact to have had access to alternatives, they would most likely not have chosen for themselves, then it is morally wrong of whoever presumes to impose this system. No one has the right to choose badly for anyone else.”

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Rick July 12, 2009 at 2:41 am

I did a quick Google search for ‘Christian Suicide Bomber’ and came up with some interesting instances of both christian suicide bombings and calls for such:
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/821425/posts
http://www.theglobalist.com/StoryId.aspx?StoryId=4223
 
You’re free to google your own search, of course. But as long as we’re talking about martyrdom, I’d say MIT’s Center for International Studies’ report on the origins of suicide bombers offers a more probable explanation. Martyrdom in the modern world is motivated an emotional reaction to events that require reaction – but reaction through peaceful channels is ineffective or not available. The religious and ideological groups are the means through which potential martyrs acquire their training and materiel needed to defend the group.
 
It just so happens that there are relatively few Christian nations today are under such stress, but quite a few Islamic nations are. Hence the prevalent belief that Islam is a violent religion. This claim would not have resonated so widely in the 90s, when political conditions were different.
 
From my own personal experience, I’d say that Calvinism does not exempt believers from the fear of losing their faith. It just places it one step removed from the believer, such that a potential or recent apostate has the fear that one will never recover her faith and will be damned to hell forever. Such fear is just as bad or worse than were the faith to be of the believer’s own accord. This fear lasts until the apostate finally comes to terms with the fallacy Calvinism offers, that of the No True Scotsman.
 
In my case, it took years to overcome this damaging doctrine.

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Haukur July 12, 2009 at 3:24 am

Why do you call it brainwashing? Is there coercive persuasion? Is there reeducation of people where they are indoctrinated with beliefs in opposition to previously held beliefs?
Or do you just mean “raising children within a belief system I find repugnant” even if the methods employed are only those used in normal child-raising?
The children in these videos seem articulate and confident, the second girl in the first video appears to mildly contradict the adult when he starts asking about death. I can’t help but feeling that “Brainwashing children to love death” is an odd title for this post.
Would it be abusive to teach a child that Socrates was an exemplary person and a martyr? That he was right to drink the poison?

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IbnAbuTalib July 12, 2009 at 4:40 am

I’m surprised no has made any references to Islam’s primary sources, the Quran and Hadith.
Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said, “Do not wish for death, for the terror of the place whence one looks down is severe. It is part of a man’s happiness that his life should be long and Allah Who is Great and Glorious, should supply him with repentance.”
Ahmad transmitted it.
 
 

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lukeprog July 12, 2009 at 5:11 am

Chuck,

That’s an interesting problem – what it is right or wrong to teach to children as truth or dogma.

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lukeprog July 12, 2009 at 5:19 am

Haukur,

‘Brainwashing’ is, of course, a squishy term. But I think it is very common for religions to use “intensive, forced indoctrination.” That certainly describes my upbringing, and also the common upbringing of children in Muslim countries.

I don’t think we need to teach children that Socrates was a martyr, and I’ve never even read anything which claimed unequivocally that he was right to drink the poison. But we can teach children how to think, and teach them some basic facts, and give them a zeal for learning and truth.

But I really don’t know. This is an area in applied ethics that I have not studied, except for skim-reading Stephen Law’s The War for Children’s Minds.

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lukeprog July 12, 2009 at 5:27 am

IbnAbuTalib,

Like the Bible, the Quran and Hadith say so many things that you can pick and choose whichever you like. Certainly, the original Islamic writings encouraged violent conflict against unbelievers, and this is how early Muslims interpreted these texts.

See, for example, Muhammad Jarir al-Tabari, The History of al-Tabari (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987-1988), vols. 7 and 8; Alfred Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad: Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1955), part 3; Muhammad Ibn Sa‘d, Kitab at-Tabaqat al-Kabir (New Delhi: Kitab Bahavan, 1981), vol. 2, which details all Muhammad’s military expeditions; Abd al-Rahman Ibn Khaldun, Al-Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967), vol. 1, p. 309, vol. 2, pp. 65-79, 220-1; Muhammad Ibn Isma’il al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari (Lahore: Kazi, 1979), partly vol. 1, but mainly vol. 2; Ibn al-Hajjaj Muslim, Sahih Muslim (Cairo: Dar al-Kitab al-Misri, n.d.), includes many hadith, partly the same as those cited by Bukhari. For scholarly interpretation based on these exegetes, see Reuven Firestone, Jihad: The Origin of Holy War in Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

“All four schools of Sunni Islam as well as mainstream Shi‘ism consider idolatry (shirk), apostasy (irtidad), and hypocrisy (nifiq, munafaqah, or riya’) to be capital offenses. In each case, jihad is a means to counter such threats and assert the predominance of Islam.”

Also see here

Quran 8:66:”if there are a 100 of you, patient and persevering, they will vanquish 2,00, and if a 1,000 , they will vanquish 2,000 with the leave of Allah.” [This fabulous verse was written in the diary of Muhammad Ata, the leader of 9/11 terrorists]

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IbnAbuTalib July 12, 2009 at 6:13 am

Luke, why do I get the feeling that you haven’t read the sources yourself?

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IbnAbuTalib July 12, 2009 at 6:19 am

Regarding suicide bombing, neither the Quran nor the hadith support it. Many misguided Muslims believe blowing themselves up is a way to martyrdom without realizing that in order to be considered a martyr, the Muslim’s death must be as a result of forces external to him, such as a deadly blow by an enemy. Luke, I encourage you to directly investigate Islam’s primary sources rather than relying on dubious information from propagandistic websites.

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Lorkas July 12, 2009 at 6:31 am

IbnAbuTalib: Luke, why do I get the feeling that you haven’t read the sources yourself?

That’s what you said last time. I’m beginning to think that you don’t really care to respond to the substance, but just want to attack the qualifications of the one arguing against your position.
 
Listen: that’s not how it works here. If you just say that Luke needs to read more, and don’t respond to the claims he made, then you lose. No one cares about the opinion of a lazy whiner, so do the work and talk explicitly about why you think he’s wrong.

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lukeprog July 12, 2009 at 6:55 am

IbnAbuTalib,

Indeed not! I’m relying on the scholarly research of other people. But there are specific quotes from the Quran in both of the articles I link, quotes which explicitly advocate violence against unbelievers. (And obviously, violence against others will often result in your own death, especially in the age before guns and long-range missiles.)

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IbnAbuTalib July 12, 2009 at 6:56 am

Luke, since you are so sure that I am one who is wrong, it should be no difficult task for you to highlight the inadequacies of my argument. How exactly am I wrong with respect to my position on suicide bombing?

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IbnAbuTalib July 12, 2009 at 6:58 am

Luke:Indeed not! I’m relying on the scholarly research of other people.

Actually, you are relying on polemicists. For instance, Syed Kamran Mirza of islam-watch. What exactly are his credentials? If you don’t know, how can you be sure that his research is scholarly?

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Haukur July 12, 2009 at 7:39 am

lukeprog: ‘Brainwashing’ is, of course, a squishy term. But I think it is very common for religions to use “intensive, forced indoctrination.” That certainly describes my upbringing, and also the common upbringing of children in Muslim countries.

Are the methods used for religious indoctrination of children any different from the methods used for other indoctrination?
 
I don’t remember religious facts ( “God is everywhere”) being taught to me in a way different from mundane facts (“the dog says woof”). I don’t remember religious instructions (“say Our Father before going to sleep”) being taught to me in a way different from other instructions (“look both ways before crossing the street”). In fact, instructions on how to behave in traffic were almost certainly taught to me with more urgency and force than instructions on correct religious behavior. If I’d have told my mother, say, at the age of seven something like, “I don’t want to say Our Father every day. I don’t feel like God is listening” , I’m pretty sure she would have responded gently. If I’d have told her, “I don’t need to follow these traffic rules – I can just gauge how fast the cars around me are going and then run over the street when I figure I can make it”, she would have gone apeshit.
 
I’m reminded of the essay “Why I am Amusical“:

From the beginning of a child’s life, her parents indoctrinate her to believe in a myth called “music”. They force her to believe that certain arrangements of sounds is somehow more important than other ones. Never in the history of humankind has a more insidious waste of time and money been conspired. Start her on Baby Mozart; buy her “children’s music” (the very name betraying the unethical, Orwellian scheme); raise her on piano and jazz, and buy her a Beatles CD on her 16th birthday. The most popular songs lie to you: “All you need is love.” Others are simply nonsense: “Bye, bye Miss American Pie.” Some songs have no lyrics at all! They do not even make an attempt at meaning. The veil is lifted; the stupidity of the whole exercise is transparent before everyone, and yet they continue listening as if brainwashed.

Once you’ve decided religion is sinister then even a mild and gentle religious upbringing can look to you like sinister brainwashing.

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Lorkas July 12, 2009 at 8:02 am

Haukur: I’m reminded of the essay “Why I am Amusical“

When parents start teaching their children that they can only like one type of music, and that they’ll go to a dark fiery place where they’ll be tortured forever if they don’t listen to that music, and all of their friends who like different music will be tortured forever, and the followers of some genres think that people who like different genres should be discriminated against and killed, then I’ll accept this analogy.

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Haukur July 12, 2009 at 8:17 am

Lorkas: and that they’ll go to a dark fiery place where they’ll be tortured forever if they don’t listen to that music

I know – Christianity and Islam are hateful creeds. Good thing me and that Shii guy who wrote the essay are fluffy little neopagans :D

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lukeprog July 12, 2009 at 9:16 am

Haukur,

Actually, yes, I am opposed to indoctrination of other kinds, too. Including musical indoctrination. We are indeed taught that Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven are the best there ever was, and most people are not even aware of contemporary composers. But this is much, much less damaging to society than religious indoctrination, so I spend more time fighting religious indoctrination than fighting musical indoctrination. The cost of religious indoctrination around the world is breathtaking.

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lukeprog July 12, 2009 at 9:30 am

IbnAbuTalib,

I do not know if the Koran literally backs up the practice of suicide bombing, but that was not what I claimed, anyway. My above post showed how modern Islam is teaching children that death for one’s religion is better than peace and human rights.

In these comments I have also linked to two lists of Koranic verses that glorify religious violence. For example, Quran 9:111 promises goods in paradise to those who “slay and are slain” in the name of Allah.

Quran 4:74 says that those who fight for Allah, whether they are slain or are victorious, will be rewarded.

And there are about a DOZEN more. Just read the links I provided.

Seriously, it’s not hard for me to make this case. The verses are right there, in black and white. The only way you can avoid them is to “interpret” them to mean the opposite of what the words actually say.

And those are from the Quran, not from some marginal Hadith.

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IbnAbuTalib July 12, 2009 at 10:13 am

Luke: My above post showed how modern Islam is teaching children that death for one’s religion is better than peace and human rights.

You come to the conclusion that “modern” Islam is teaching children the superiority of dying for one’s religion based on one Palestinian TV show? Although it is understandable why Palestinian Muslims, who have been under Israeli oppression for more than 50 years, would extol violence, that doesn’t justify your generalization. A fallacy is a fallacy.
According to the Quran, dying for one’s religion is intimately tied to the removal of oppression and injustice. Therefore, martyrdom is just as good as peace and human rights.
As for the verses you quoted, please read them in context.

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lukeprog July 12, 2009 at 1:45 pm

IbnAbuTalib: As for the verses you quoted, please read them in context.

Yup, there it is. The magic word! “Context.” Always, the context. I ask the Christians under what context it was moral for Yahweh to command the Israelites to massacre various Canaanite tribes and rape their virgins, and I haven’t yet heard a good answer. I ask the Muslims what “context” makes it moral for Muslims to kill unbelievers, and I still haven’t heard a good answer.

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Haukur July 12, 2009 at 2:07 pm

lukeprog: Actually, yes, I am opposed to indoctrination of other kinds, too. Including musical indoctrination. We are indeed taught that Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven are the best there ever was, and most people are not even aware of contemporary composers.

Well, you’ve kind of dodged the point of the parable, it isn’t talking about anything we would normally call indoctrination in a negative sense. It’s just talking about a normal growing-up experience in a society that values music. ” Start her on Baby Mozart” doesn’t imply that you’re going to tell her that all composers are inferior to Mozart, it probably just means that you’re going to provide her with music you happen to enjoy and lots of people in the local cultural environment happen to enjoy.
 
What I’m getting at is that you can’t really attack people for raising their kids in a religion without attacking the religion itself on the merits. It’s wrong to raise children as Christians because Christianity isn’t true – but if it was true then it would make perfect sense to raise your children in it in the same way that it makes sense to indoctrinate your children in proper behavior in traffic.

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A Recovering Catholic July 12, 2009 at 2:33 pm

Geez, sounds like some very frightening people were involved in your Christian education.
I suppose I should be thankful that very moderate adults instructed me in the way of Christianity.
I can’t say, that even once, the horror of hell was dangled over my head.
Too bad that people use religion to scare little kids.

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lukeprog July 12, 2009 at 2:46 pm

Haukur,

I think it might be wrong to teach children that one book contains truth that should not be contradicted by any other book. It might be wrong to teach children that Christianity is the one religion that is true and that if they don’t believe that they will be tortured forever when they die. It might be wrong to teach them that blind faith in Jesus is more virtuous than critical thinking. Etc.

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Fortuna July 12, 2009 at 2:59 pm

Haukur;
 
Are the methods used for religious indoctrination of children any different from the methods used for other indoctrination?
 
Um, yes. Yes they are. I gather that by “other indoctrination” you mean other forms of education.
 
I don’t remember religious facts ( “God is everywhere”) being taught to me in a way different from mundane facts (”the dog says woof”).
 
A key difference there would be that dogs actually do say woof, and anyone with typical senses can confirm it for themselves.
 
I don’t remember religious instructions (”say Our Father before going to sleep”) being taught to me in a way different from other instructions (”look both ways before crossing the street”).
 
Well, I do. For one, I was told why I should look both ways; ’cause I might get hit by a car. For another, I could confirm for myself that that there actually were cars, and could deduce for myself that they’d hit me if I got in the way.
 
I’m reminded of the essay “Why I am Amusical“:
 
Really? Whatever for? It’s a load of gibberish.
It’s wrong right out of the gate. Parents don’t “indoctrinate” kids to “believe in” music; they can hear it for themselves. No one is “forced” to believe that certain arrangements of sounds are “more important” than others, unless you happen to have a tyrannical German parent who’s really, really into their musical heritage.
 
Well, you’ve kind of dodged the point of the parable, it isn’t talking about anything we would normally call indoctrination in a negative sense. It’s just talking about a normal growing-up experience in a society that values music. ” Start her on Baby Mozart” doesn’t imply that you’re going to tell her that all composers are inferior to Mozart, it probably just means that you’re going to provide her with music you happen to enjoy and lots of people in the local cultural environment happen to enjoy.

What I’m getting at is that you can’t really attack people for raising their kids in a religion without attacking the religion itself on the merits. It’s wrong to raise children as Christians because Christianity isn’t true – but if it was true then it would make perfect sense to raise your children in it in the same way that it makes sense to indoctrinate your children in proper behavior in traffic.
 
Your analogy falls down insofar as musical appreciation does not entail embracing a wider set of epistemological or normative claims. You may find Brahms appealing to the ear, and if you pick up a particular skill set you will find you can play his work yourself, but that’s it. You don’t have to take either of those propositions on someone else’s authority, nor by listening to the spirit guide inside yourself, and neither come with any claims attached regarding what you should do with yourself.

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Hylomorphic July 12, 2009 at 3:07 pm

danielg:

While this is true of the western church, esp. mainstream Protestant denominations whose members are CHINOs, modern Christianity knows much of martyrdom, esp. in China.  For a taste, see persecution.com, or the recent publication of Chinese martyrs, http://www.amazon.com/Chinas-Book-Martyrs-Fire-Blood/dp/1903689406.

Yes, that’s why I specified that in America and Europe persecution is little known, and doesn’t seem to have much impact on the character of the religion.
 

You miss my point.  This post is about modern day Christianity, not the dimly lit, anti-cathiolic enlightenment-spun tales of the ‘Dark Ages.’

 
In the first place, you’re wrong to think of such an account of Christianity as an “enlightenment-spun tale.” My sources for early Christian history are not Gibbon, but much more recent twentieth century historians like Robin Lane Fox and Ramsay MacMullen, lauded as one of, if not the greatest living historian of the Roman empire.
 
In the second place, the last paragraph of my post clearly points out why it is that I think such history is relevant. The glorious tales of martyrdom are remembered by Christians to this day, and attitudes that once did and could easily again lead to less salubrious attitudes toward martyrdom have continued to be propagated by Christianity. It would not take anything more than a reversal in the fortunes of Christians in the modern world for martyrdom to once again be viewed as a desirable thing by hot-headed Christians.

 
Taking a global negative attitude towards dying for a cause is stupidity or cowardice – why should we not teach that it is an honor to die for one’s country, values, or faith?

 
I do not take a globally negative attitude against dying for a cause. I’m not sure why you inferred that I do; all I’ve done is oppose the eagerness for martyrdom fostered under certain circumstances by the monotheistic religions. If indeed it is sometimes warranted to die for a cause–as I believe it sometimes is–one must nonetheless come to have a desire for such a thing.

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Haukur July 12, 2009 at 3:55 pm

Fortuna: A key difference there would be that dogs actually do say woof, and anyone with typical senses can confirm it for themselves.

Really? The sound they make has never sounded at all like ‘woof’ to me, yet I accepted this “dogs say woof” idea as a fact all my childhood. But, even ignoring that, I don’t think this is really such a key difference – children are taught lots of mundane facts they can’t verify with their own senses. Say, “there is a country called France and a great city there called Paris”. They’re even taught things that seem directly contradictory to their senses. Say, “the Earth is a sphere”. I don’t think that’s any less esoteric than “there is an invisible being called God who is everywhere”.
 

Fortuna: Well, I do. For one, I was told why I should look both ways; ’cause I might get hit by a car. For another, I could confirm for myself that that there actually were cars, and could deduce for myself that they’d hit me if I got in the way.

Oh, it’s easy enough to pick an example of instructions the child can’t verify on her own. How about, “you should eat this carrot – it’s good for you, no you can’t have more ice-cream, that would be bad for you”.
 

Fortuna: Really? Whatever for? It’s a load of gibberish. It’s wrong right out of the gate. Parents don’t “indoctrinate” kids to “believe in” music; they can hear it for themselves.

Could they hear it so clearly if they weren’t raised on a steady diet of it? My daughter is five weeks old and we sing to her for hours every day (she has baby colic). In any case, Christian parents won’t tell you that they are forcing their children to pray or that they are indoctrinating them to believe in something they can’t feel for themselves. They will tell you that they are gently sharing their faith, which they feel is a valuable part of their lives, with their children. And they will tell you that they hope the child will feel for herself the transformative power of prayer and the loving presence of Jesus etc. And if the child has anything like an average imagination she’ll have an easier time confirming the loving presence of Jesus than the Earth being a sphere.
 

Fortuna: Your analogy falls down insofar as musical appreciation does not entail embracing a wider set of epistemological or normative claims. You may find Brahms appealing to the ear, and if you pick up a particular skill set you will find you can play his work yourself, but that’s it. You don’t have to take either of those propositions on someone else’s authority, nor by listening to the spirit guide inside yourself, and neither come with any claims attached regarding what you should do with yourself.

Those are excellent points you make. Religions that require you to, in your words, “embrac[e] a wider set of epistemological or normative claims” can get deeply problematic quickly. If you’re taught that feeling the loving presence of Jesus is inextricably linked with rejecting certain well established scientific facts then you’re probably in trouble. But not all religion is like that.

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Chuck July 12, 2009 at 5:01 pm

 

Haukur:  you can’t really attack people for raising their kids in a religion without attacking the religion itself on the merits. It’s wrong to raise children as Christians because Christianity isn’t true

There is a difference between saying, “Some people believe in a place called Hell” and “Hell is a real place.” The former is religious literacy. The later is indoctrination. Humphrey argues that all forms of religious indoctrination are morally reprehensible. I tend to agree.
 

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Chuck July 12, 2009 at 5:04 pm

I should add … this result follows whether or not the claims of the particular religion are false or true.

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Fortuna July 12, 2009 at 8:57 pm

Haukur;


Really? The sound they make has never sounded at all like ‘woof’ to me, yet I accepted this “dogs say woof” idea as a fact all my childhood.
 
Ok, fine, your mileage may vary. Nevertheless, we tell children that dogs bark, and whaddya know? They can perceive that dogs do, in fact, bark.
 
But, even ignoring that, I don’t think this is really such a key difference – children are taught lots of mundane facts they can’t verify with their own senses. Say, “there is a country called France and a great city there called Paris”. They’re even taught things that seem directly contradictory to their senses. Say, “the Earth is a sphere”. I don’t think that’s any less esoteric than “there is an invisible being called God who is everywhere”.
 
I still think it’s a key difference. We have no reliable, intersubjective way to distinguish putative religious facts from make-believe. The providence of mundane facts, on the other hand, can be explained to a reasonably bright child. I could tell one how I can claim to know that France exists. Furthermore, I don’t think your examples are so great; one’s children can, in principle, go to France personally, or see the curvature of the Earth from the right standpoint. I myself have seen the curvature of the Earth’s surface after a brisk day’s hike up a mountain trail as a child.
 
Could they hear it so clearly if they weren’t raised on a steady diet of it?
 
I don’t know with certainty, but I suspect the answer is yes. I’ve read that neurologists are coming to suspect that musical capacity is hardwired into the human brain to some extent, as a result of the particulars of our evolution. Certainly my own experience suggests that kids just start liking music at some point in their development, without needing to be told to or even exposed to it much.
 
In any case, Christian parents won’t tell you that they are forcing their children to pray or that they are indoctrinating them to believe in something they can’t feel for themselves. They will tell you that they are gently sharing their faith, which they feel is a valuable part of their lives, with their children. And they will tell you that they hope the child will feel for herself the transformative power of prayer and the loving presence of Jesus etc.
 
Even granting for the sake of argument that this gentle scenario is how Christians pass on their faith (and certainly this would not describe the experience of a great many people), that doesn’t answer the nature of the skeptics’ objection to religious indoctrination. We are saying that it is not desirable for kids to be taught to believe in the truth of religious propositions simply because it gives them warm fuzzies inside. We are saying that inculcating this capacity in the formative years of a human beings’ mind is a formula for indulging in a lifelong habit of wishful thinking, which we think is not a good way to avoid being misled.


And if the child has anything like an average imagination she’ll have an easier time confirming the loving presence of Jesus than the Earth being a sphere.
 
Please take a moment to consider what this statement sounds like to someone with no religion. For that matter, as a thought experiment, try replacing the word “Jesus” with Xenu, or C’thulhu, or Amun’Ra, or Mr. Magoo, or any figure that your (religious?) framework would hold to be imaginary. Children can imagine a whole lot. Their imaginations don’t, by themselves, confirm things.
 
If you’re taught that feeling the loving presence of Jesus is inextricably linked with rejecting certain well established scientific facts then you’re probably in trouble. But not all religion is like that.
 
Enough of it is to be worth our approbrium. But once again, that’s not really the nature of our objection to claims that one can feel the loving presence of Jesus.You may not have to reject certain well established scientific facts, but you do have to suspend the same sort of rational evaluation one uses in one’s day to day existence, and that the scientific method uses an especially rigorous, formalized version of.

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Haukur July 13, 2009 at 3:30 am

Fortuna: I still think it’s a key difference. We have no reliable, intersubjective way to distinguish putative religious facts from make-believe. The providence of mundane facts, on the other hand, can be explained to a reasonably bright child.

Your bright kid can very easily verify that there’s something going on with all this God stuff that’s not going on with Mr Magoo. There are all these church buildings here and there, there are respectable people gainfully employed in jobs which have to do with God. There are theology sections at the library. Etc. Even a curious child who’d directly ask what evidence we have for God could be provided with sophisticated, reasonable-sounding answers.
 

Fortuna: I’ve read that neurologists are coming to suspect that musical capacity is hardwired into the human brain to some extent, as a result of the particulars of our evolution.

And capacity for religious experience isn’t?
 

Fortuna: Please take a moment to consider what this statement sounds like to someone with no religion. For that matter, as a thought experiment, try replacing the word “Jesus” with Xenu, or C’thulhu, or Amun’Ra, or Mr. Magoo, or any figure that your (religious?) framework would hold to be imaginary.

Yes, children can be raised as Egyptian pagans (lots of children used to be raised that way!) or C’thulhu cultists or whatever and they too will be able to feel the presence of their deities. What’s your point?
 

lukeprog: I think it might be wrong to teach children that one book contains truth that should not be contradicted by any other book. It might be wrong to teach children that Christianity is the one religion that is true and that if they don’t believe that they will be tortured forever when they die. It might be wrong to teach them that blind faith in Jesus is more virtuous than critical thinking. Etc.

Exactly, I agree with all that. And it’s wrong to teach children these things because they are not true. And it’s wrong to teach children these things whether you do it gently or forcefully. It’s the ideas, not the methods of teaching them, which are objectionable. Not to say that objectionable methods can’t be used to teach these ideas or that they aren’t sometimes used to teach them – but there’s no inextricable link between objectionable ideas and objectionable methods for teaching ideas.
 
I think the question of what sort of religious upbringing to give your children is very difficult. And it’s not just an interesting theoretical problem for me, in a couple of years it will be a very practical question. But it can’t be solved by saying that we shouldn’t “indoctrinate” our children – that doesn’t really answer anything.

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Haukur July 13, 2009 at 3:34 am

And another Shii essay, if anyone found the first interesting: Freedom from Atheism This explains a bit where he’s coming from. I don’t agree with everything he says but, hey, he has Pacman illustrations.

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Ajay July 13, 2009 at 4:47 am

Questions to Christians / Muslims…

I dont believe in Christianity or Islam Jesus or Allah or any God but i believe i am a moral person and havent hurt anyone intentionally. Am i ruled out from going to Heaven because i am an atheist even though i know of Christianity / Islam?

My grandmom who is a Hindu died without ever hearing of Jesus or Christianity or Bible Or Islam Or Quran.  Is she ruled out from going to Heaven just because she never heard of Christianity / Islam?

My cousin’s daughter died an infant death within 2 days of her birth. Will she go to Heaven or Hell? If she goes to Heaven directly, then according to Christians / Muslims, wouldnt it be valid for all new born babies to be put to death so that they can all go to Heaven directly without having to go through the life on Earth? What is the point of them having to live a life here if we can send them to Heaven directly? What is the problem with abortion if that is the case? How are we harming the baby?

Please some one enlighten me.

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Fortuna July 13, 2009 at 2:41 pm

Haukur;


Your bright kid can very easily verify that there’s something going on with all this God stuff that’s not going on with Mr Magoo.
 
Right, adults take their fantasy characters seriously.
 
There are all these church buildings here and there, there are respectable people gainfully employed in jobs which have to do with God. There are theology sections at the library. Etc.
 
Unless you can provide some kind of rational reason for this sort of behaviour, this would be an argument from authority or popularity, both of which are logical fallacies.



Even a curious child who’d directly ask what evidence we have for God could be provided with sophisticated, reasonable-sounding answers.
 
Fantastic! Pony them up.
 
And capacity for religious experience isn’t (hardwired)?
 
Obviously not. Did I claim it wasn’t?
 
Yes, children can be raised as Egyptian pagans (lots of children used to be raised that way!) or C’thulhu cultists or whatever and they too will be able to feel the presence of their deities. What’s your point?
 
My point was right there in my previous comment. To reiterate, feeling the presence of a deity doesn’t, by itself, establish that it exists anywhere beyond your own mind.
 
 
 

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Haukur July 13, 2009 at 3:27 pm

Fortuna: Fantastic! Pony them up.

You seem to have lost track of the subject. I’m not trying to convince you of the reality of the Christian Godhead (I don’t believe in it myself!) – we were talking about raising children to believe in Christian ideas (my example was “God is everywhere”) and to follow Christian religious instructions (“say Our Father before going to sleep”). My thesis is that there is nothing about these ideas and instructions that necessitates them being taught differently than other ideas and instructions (“the Earth is a sphere”, “you should brush your teeth before going to sleep to fend off invisible beings called bacteria”). My thesis is also that these ideas are usually taught in ways that are not objectionable – certainly I don’t recall anything like “brainwashing” or “intensive, forceful indoctrination” in my own Christian upbringing – at least not unless you also want to call the typical ways used to teach children about being nice to each other, eating right and behaving right in traffic brainwashing or intensive, forceful indoctrination.
 
If Christian ideas were true there’d be nothing wrong with teaching them to children with the same urgency we teach children to behave cautiously in traffic. There is no way you can convince people that think Christianity is true that they shouldn’t raise their children as Christians.
 
Now, it’s possible to use inherently wrong methods to teach anything. You could go really over the top in teaching your child about the dangers of traffic to the point of creating a phobia. You could scream and shout at your child when it doesn’t want to eat its peas. That would be wrong, even though eating peas really is a good thing to do. Similarly, if you whip your child with your belt for failure to adhere to Christian religious instructions, that would be wrong. And no doubt there are Christians who do that sort of thing – but I don’t know any. If anything, many Christians are surprisingly lax when it comes to the religion of their children – as Luke has covered in a previous post – considering that they believe so much rides on it.

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Fortuna July 13, 2009 at 4:30 pm

Haukur;


You seem to have lost track of the subject.

 
Oh really? Silly me, here I thought I could keep track of more than one topic simultaneously. My mistake. All these different points you keep raising just give me the vapours!
 
I’m not trying to convince you of the reality of the Christian Godhead (I don’t believe in it myself!)
 
Um, ok? So when you said that people could provide reasonable sounding reasons for believing in a god, you meant that you assumed other people could?
we were talking about raising children to believe in Christian ideas (my example was “God is everywhere”) and to follow Christian religious instructions (”say Our Father before going to sleep”).
 
It may come as a surprise to you, but yes, I do remember that quite clearly.
 
My thesis is that there is nothing about these ideas and instructions that necessitates them being taught differently than other ideas and instructions (”the Earth is a sphere”, “you should brush your teeth before going to sleep to fend off invisible beings called bacteria”).
 
Uh huh, I still disagree. I’m aware that they are both spoken aloud, and that your typical child will likely as not accept what you tell them. Children are hardwired (again, from my limited understanding of neuroscience and evolution) to trust their parents unless given a compelling reason not to. But there is still a key difference between religious propositions and mundane ones, which is that I can clearly explain the methods that underly how we can claim to know the latter, and can even prove many of them beyond any reasonable doubt. Once again, in the case of bacteria, those are not invisible. They can be observed under microscopes that are not terribly uncommon, and bacterial colonies can be seen with the naked eye. It’s like you keep picking examples from my childhood; I grew some impressively disgusting colonies on agar as a kid.
 
My thesis is also that these ideas are usually taught in ways that are not objectionable – certainly I don’t recall anything like “brainwashing” or “intensive, forceful indoctrination” in my own Christian upbringing – at least not unless you also want to call the typical ways used to teach children about being nice to each other, eating right and behaving right in traffic brainwashing or intensive, forceful indoctrination.
 
We just differ about when it’s appropriate to use the words brainwashing and/or indoctrination, I think. If you want to call it something milder, like “encouraging children who don’t know any better to engage in wishful thinking”, then that’s fine by me. I might want to call it brainwashing or indoctrination for rhetorical effect, but not because I think of a religious upbringing as identical in every way to being sequestered against your will by the Moonies for a few months. I may simply want to highlight some of the commonalities, and one of the quickest ways to do that in a discussion sometimes is to use hyperbole (although that being said, plenty of kids are exposed to forceful indoctrination growing up, and I’m not going to softpedal that reality if it comes up).
 
If Christian ideas were true there’d be nothing wrong with teaching them to children with the same urgency we teach children to behave cautiously in traffic.
 
But no one can justifiably claim to know that they are true. Our whole problem is that kids are being told to accept dogma with a whole lot of “take it on my authority” with just a sprinkling of “look to your feelings…you shall know it to be true!” That isn’t, in our opinion, an effective way to think.

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Haukur July 13, 2009 at 5:30 pm

Fortuna: Um, ok? So when you said that people could provide reasonable sounding reasons for believing in a god, you meant that you assumed other people could?

Oh, I could. I could for example give you a reasonable summary of William Lane Craig’s argument for the truth of Christianity. Those are certainly sophisticated and reasonable-sounding arguments. But I don’t see why you’d be interested in that.
 
I congratulate you on what sounds like an exciting childhood.
 
I don’t need to respond to most of the rest of the post, our opinions have converged enough already. Just one more point: I think Plantinga is right that if Christianity were true, then Christians would probably be justified to believe in it (Luke and Cartesian covered this in earlier posts).

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Lorkas July 13, 2009 at 6:32 pm

Haukur: I think Plantinga is right that if Christianity were true, then Christians would probably be justified to believe in it (Luke and Cartesian covered this in earlier posts).

Personally, I don’t buy this. No one is justified in thinking that there are intelligent aliens living on the 2nd moon of the fourth planet of Betelgeuse, even if it happens to be true. There just isn’t evidence for that proposition at this time. You have to have good evidence for a belief for it to be a justified belief.

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Fortuna July 13, 2009 at 8:57 pm

Haukur;


Oh, I could. I could for example give you a reasonable summary of William Lane Craig’s argument for the truth of Christianity. Those are certainly sophisticated and reasonable-sounding arguments. But I don’t see why you’d be interested in that.
 
Unnh…stop it. You’re making my brain hurt, man. Upthread, I said;
 
“We have no reliable, intersubjective way to distinguish putative religious facts from make-believe. The providence of mundane facts, on the other hand, can be explained to a reasonably bright child.”
 
To which you responded, if I may paraphrase, that there are a lot of adults that take religion very seriously and do lots of religionish-related stuff, often with a very serious demeanour.  It was right around this point that you used the phrase “sophisticated, reasonable-sounding answers” to refer to things that adults could provide to children to back up religious beliefs. I really shouldn’t have let that stand, I’m getting sloppy in my old age. Reasonable-sounding answers do not quite cut it if they can’t be distinguished from stuff that you, or someone else, made up. Religious apologetics fall into that category.



I congratulate you on what sounds like an exciting childhood.
 
Yeah…thanks. I only bring it up because you keep bringing up examples that, I take it, are supposed to sit me back on my rhetorical ass. But so far, they’ve just been fairly mundane things that your average shmoe may well have experienced, which just so happened to have been the case for me.

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Haukur July 14, 2009 at 1:17 am

Lorkas: No one is justified in thinking that there are intelligent aliens living on the 2nd moon of the fourth planet of Betelgeuse, even if it happens to be true. There just isn’t evidence for that proposition at this time.

I agree. Plantinga would too.

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Haukur July 14, 2009 at 1:49 am

 

Fortuna: Reasonable-sounding answers do not quite cut it if they can’t be distinguished from stuff that you, or someone else, made up. Religious apologetics fall into that category.

Again: I’m not trying to convince you of the truth of Christianity (I’m an apostate!). I’m trying to defend the thesis that bringing a child up to believe in Christian ideas doesn’t have to happen in a way different from bringing a child up to believe in mundane ideas. You’ve already pointed out that a child will typically just accept whatever its parents tell it – these comments about sophisticated arguments for Christianity pertain to the case of a skeptical child who would question the truth of Christianity. Such a child could be provided with arguments for Christianity that you and I don’t believe ultimately pan out but that it would be a tall order to expect a child to see through.
 
 
In your previous post you say that it is hyperbolic to say that a typical religious upbringing involves brainwashing or forceful indoctrination. You instead suggest the wording “encouraging children who don’t know any better to engage in wishful thinking”. I wouldn’t have accepted that wording at the start of our conversation but upon reflection I think there’s probably a lot to it. I think that wraps up the Hegelian dialectic nicely so I’m not sure if we have much left to argue about here.

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Lorkas July 14, 2009 at 5:51 am

Haukur: I agree. Plantinga would too.

Then someone isn’t justified believing something if there is no evidence for it, regardless of its actual truth-value. “Christianity is true” does not imply “Christianity is a justified belief”, because, even if Christianity is true, there is still not enough evidence to conclude that it is so.

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Haukur July 14, 2009 at 6:15 am

Lorkas: “Christianity is true” does not imply “Christianity is a justified belief”

It doesn’t directly imply that, no, but that’s also not Plantinga’s claim. I’m not trying to be coy and I’m not an expert on Plantinga’s argument – but it seems at least superficially convincing to me. This can easily get confusing because in the world which you and I think we actually inhabit, the one in which Christianity is false, Christians do not have a justified belief in Christianity. But in the counterfactual world where Christianity was true, the world Christians think they inhabit, it is very likely that those beliefs would be justified.
 
And this is not just meaningless sophistry – it means that you can’t convince Christians who accept Plantinga’s argument (and my amateur opinion is that they are justfied in accepting it) that they don’t have a justified belief in Christianity without first convincing them that Christianity is false. It’s kind of like what we’ve been discussing here – you can’t convince devout Christians not to raise their children as Christians without first convincing them that Christianity is false.

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Chuck July 14, 2009 at 9:35 am

It doesn’t matter that we can’t convince them. All we are saying is that its morally reprehensible to do so.

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Fortuna July 14, 2009 at 12:20 pm

Haukur;


Again: I’m not trying to convince you of the truth of Christianity (I’m an apostate!)
 
I guess I haven’t made it clear that I understand and accept this. So, uh…I understand and accept this. Good on you.
 
I’m trying to defend the thesis that bringing a child up to believe in Christian ideas doesn’t have to happen in a way different from bringing a child up to believe in mundane ideas.
 
Right, I’m just criticising that thesis as it’s presented to me. I agree with you to the extent that they are superficially similar, but disagree in that their epistemic bases are different. I think a reasonably inquisitive child can even discover this for themselves, just by persistently asking “how do you know that?”
 
Such a child could be provided with arguments for Christianity that you and I don’t believe ultimately pan out but that it would be a tall order to expect a child to see through.
 
Depends. I think a child could see through the moral and teleological arguments for god; Hitchens evens claims to have done so during his formative years in Sunday school. The kalam cosmological argument might be a little tougher, but I think a reasonably reflective child could still see that it’s speculative, question-begging and only gets you as far as a generic “first cause” even if you accept it, thought they might not be able to word it to themselves that way. The arguments for a historical resurrection might, in my opinion, be the likeliest to bamboozle a child, for a while, but if they’re taught alongside the conventional critico-historical method, I think your typical child will notice the discrepancies eventually.
 
I think that wraps up the Hegelian dialectic nicely so I’m not sure if we have much left to argue about here.
 
Sweet.
 
 

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Haukur July 14, 2009 at 2:05 pm

What’s with all the sarcastic hostility, Fortuna?
 

Fortuna: I think a reasonably inquisitive child can even discover this for themselves, just by persistently asking “how do you know that?”

Children do actually quite often go into persistent questioning like that – over various subjects. Those that don’t have exceptionally erudite and patient parents will quickly run into a lot of dead ends – not just in religious questions.
 
But I’ve  lost track of what we supposedly disagree about.  I agree that children sometimes decide that their parents are wrong about religion, sometimes they even decide that at a fairly early age. But they can also decide that their parents are wrong on various other things. A 12 year old kid can think thoughts  like, “dad is an idiot for smoking, he listens to shitty music, he’s an idiot for voting Republican, he doesn’t understand anything about my friends and is completely wrong about those cool kids he’s telling me to stay away from etc. etc.” You say that a child who receives a religious upbringing can decide, “dad is wrong about religion – Christianity is not true”. Well, yes. Absolutely. Happens all the time. I deconverted at age 12.
 
Anyway, you’re saying that a child can figure out that Christianity has a different epistemic basis than other things she is taught. In some cases, yes, I’m sure that’s true. For one thing, some parents will downright tell something like that to their children – fideism isn’t that uncommon.

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Fortuna July 15, 2009 at 1:48 pm

That’s just how I like to argue ideas sometimes. I wouldn’t even call it hostility; I enjoy puncturing poorly thought out opinions, and having mine punctured in turn.
 
I also realize that type often doesn’t convey tone unless you make a special effort to, so, with that in mind, let me point out that I was sincere when I said “good on you” and “sweet”.

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Haukur July 15, 2009 at 5:56 pm

Yes, tone is hard to judge – no harm no foul. I was also sincere in congratulating you on your childhood – sounds like you got to explore a lot of things. I hope to give my daughter (and any other children I may have) opportunities to do that too.

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