Solving the conundrum of religious upbring
There are probably many people in this discussion who have never read philosopher Daniel Dennett. In his best selling book, “Breaking the Spell” he advanced a novel approach to the conundrum of childhood religious upbringing. He is a non believer, but he advocates mandatory religious education for all children. And I would vote for demanding this of home schooled children in particular.
What we have been doing for a very long time is arguing that religion should be kept private. In this way, according to Daniel Dennett, “we should be willing to sacrifice the current and future well-being of some children-perhaps many children-in order to maintain a rather precarious restraint on the power of the state. Rather than have a (dangerous? rancorous? destabilizing?) political tug-of-war over which “Weltanschauung” will fix the constraints and principles of state intervention in cases of arguable child abuse, we should simply re-endorse the longstanding tradition that when it comes to religious upbringing parents have the right to treat their own children in ways that would send them packing off to jail in any other context. I think we must dismantle this tradition, not preserve it. I’m all for gritting our teeth and having that political tug-of-war. It can be open, not stealthy, and it has plenty of room for checks and balances to prevent the sort of creeping theocracy–or atheocracy–Nagel (a critic of Dennett) seems to be concerned about.”
“Let’s get more education about religion into our schools, not less. We should teach our children creeds and customs, prohibitions and rituals, the texts and music, and when we cover the history of religion, we should include both the positive-the role of the churches in the civil rights movement of the 1960′s, the flourishing of science and the arts in early Islam, and the role of the Black Muslims in bringing hope, honor and self-respect to the otherwise shattered lives of many inmates in our prisons, for instance-and the negative-the Inquisition, anti-Semitism over the ages, the role of the Catholic Church in spreading AIDS in Africa through its opposition to condoms.
“No religion should be favored, and none ignored. And as we discover more and more about the biological and psychological bases of religious practices and attitudes, these discoveries should be added to the curriculum, the same way we update our education about science, health, and current events. This should all be part of the mandated curriculum for both public schools and for home-schooling.
“Here’s a proposal, then: As long as parents don’t teach their children anything that is likely to close their minds — through fear or hatred or by disabling them from inquiry (by denying them an education, for instance, or keeping them entirely isolated from the world) then they may teach their children whatever religious doctrines they like.
“It’s just an idea, and perhaps there are better ones to consider, but it should appeal to freedom-lovers everywhere: the idea of insisting that the devout of all faiths should face the challenge of making sure their creed is worthy enough, attractive and plausible and meaningful enough, to withstand the temptations of its competitors. If you have to hoodwink-or blindfold-your children to insure that they confirm their faith when they are adults, your faith ought to go extinct.” (p327-8)
I expanded on this in the blog “On Faith” (Washington Post project to discuss religion)
But there are a number of objections that need to be answered.
First, people want to know how on earth the curriculum could be fixed. Who would `dictate’ which facts were required and which could be omitted? Surely, people think, this would ignite a political firestorm.
Not so, I reply. If we can devise a political process that is not only transparent and fair, but readily seen to be transparent and fair, we should be able to reach a stable consensus on what goes into the curriculum and what stays out-and this would be adjustable over time as we learn more and more about religions, since the political process would be self-maintaining and self-correcting.
All the major and minor religions would be invited to participate, as well as representatives from the non-religious minority, which outnumbers many of the major religions in the United States. There are at least 749 million atheists in the world today, twice as many atheists as Buddhists, 40 times more atheists than Jews, and more than 50 times more atheists than Mormons, according to a recent study by Phil Zuckerman (2006).
All major religious and non-religious groups would be invited to propose self-portraits, in effect, of their traditions, including all the material they would want others to know about them, within agreed-upon length limits. No religion has a majority in the world, and to a first approximation–subject to adjustment by the political process itself-time and space in the curriculum should be proportional to the number of adherents worldwide.
These self-portraits would be subject to challenge on grounds of factual inaccuracy, and other representatives (and scholars and other interested parties) would have an opportunity to propose important facts left out of the self-portraits. These disagreements about facts could then be resolved in something like a legal trial, and this process would go through several iterations, no doubt, before compromise drafts could be approved.
We know how to do this. There are plenty of checks and balances available to prevent religions from censoring shameful but undeniable truths on the one hand, and to prevent religions from ganging up to vilify minority religions on the other hand. It will take political will to make it happen, but who today does not see the importance of shining the light of rational inquiry on these issues?
(Notice that the truth or falsity of any religious doctrines would not be included in the curriculum, since not a single point of religious doctrine is agreed upon as straightforward fact by the world community.)
Another oft-expressed objection supposes that it is highly unrealistic to expect private school teachers and home-schoolers to do a good job teaching this curriculum, since many of them could be expected to find it deeply antithetical to their worldviews.
I agree, and no doubt a significant proportion of public school teachers would be unsympathetic purveyors of this curriculum as well, but I don’t think it matters. I am content to let teachers say to their students: “This compulsory curriculum is garbage, the work of Satan, a miserable political compromise rammed down our throats by an unsympathetic state.” But they had better add: “Still, you’re going to be tested on it, and if you don’t pass the test, your school credentials are in jeopardy.”
Mere exposure, however biased, to the assertion that most people in the world believe these to be the facts should succeed in inoculating many children against the toxic viruses of some religions. The credibility of the teachers will also be in jeopardy if they rail against the curriculum, and the better we make the curriculum, the harder it will be to sustain such an opinion. A few major television series on the new curriculum, and ample web sites, would also be there to balance the effects of those who would try to discredit it.
Perhaps the most serious challenge I have heard is that the curriculum in schools is already packed. What would I remove to make room for this? That is another tough, political question, but those of us who believe that the widespread ignorance about religion-especially given the emotional power of this ignorance-is a dangerous condition if it persists will just have to help educators decide how to prioritize the issues and shoehorn this material in. We already have the three Rs. Does anybody think this fourth R is less important in the 21st century?
Finally, I have been amused to see some opponents of this proposal call it “fascistic” or “totalitarian,” when in fact it is refreshingly libertarian: you may teach your children whatever you want about religion without any interference from the state, as long as you teach them these facts as well.
“How much more freedom could one want? The freedom to lie to your children? The freedom to keep them ignorant? You don’t own your children, like slaves, and you have no right to disable them with ignorance. You do have an obligation to let them have the mutual knowledge that is available to every other child, as a normal part of growing up in a free society.
Besides, this knowledge will enrich their minds in uncountable ways, since it will acquaint them with some of the greatest music, art and literature that the world has to offer, and give them the sort of perspective on their own lives that you can only get from comparing your life with the lives of others.
Let me add one further observation. Note that my proposal does nothing to dilute the principle of religious freedom: you may teach your children whatever you want, as long as you also teach them the 4th R. You may oblige them to engage in rituals and observe prohibitions ad lib, as long as you also keep them informed in the prescribed way.
This mandatory curriculum would surely not succeed in wiping out all the objectionable practices that religions are currently permitted to engage in under the good blanket protection of religious freedom, but it would surely make it harder for elders to maintain these traditions when the children knew about the lives of others. For a striking testimonial to the power of this knowledge of other lives, other mores, read Infidel, Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s heartbreaking tale of growing up in Muslim Somalia, and the liberating effect, on her, of reading the Nancy Drew stories of all things! If we insist on opening the floodgates of information to all children, toxic religions will have a hard time surviving, while religions that deserve our respect flourish–and it can all be done without abrogating the principle of religious freedom.
God Is on Our Side. Does That Mean War?
New Research Shows How Religion Is Used to Justify Violence
March 27, 2007
Does believing that “God is on our side” make it easier for us to inflict pain and suffering on those perceived to be our enemies? If we think God sanctions violence, are we more likely to engage in violent acts?
The answer to both those questions, according to new research, is a resounding “yes,” even among those who do not consider themselves believers.
Social psychologist Brad Bushman of the University of Michigan led an international research effort to find answers to these questions, and said he is very “disturbed” by the results, though he found what he had expected. Bushman has spent 20 years studying aggression and violence, especially the impact on human behavior of violence in the media, but most previous research has focused on television and movie violence, not such things as scriptures and texts held sacred by many.
He wanted to take it a step further and see if simply exposing someone to a text that implies God sanctions violence would increase their level of aggression.
Fought in the Name of God
“I think many people use God as their justification for violent and aggressive actions,” Bushman said. “Take the current conflict in Iraq as an example. Bush claims that God is on his side. Osama bin Laden claims that God, or Allah, is on his side.”
History is replete with other examples of wars fought in the name of God, involving nearly every religion on the planet.
To find his answers, Bushman assembled teams of researchers at two very different universities, Vrije University in Amsterdam, Holland, where he also holds a professorship, and Brigham Young University in Utah.
Only half of the students who participated in the study at Vrije reported that they believe in God, and only 27 percent believe in the Bible. At Brigham Young, 99 percent said they believe in God and the Bible.
Here’s the fundamental issue the researchers addressed, as stated in their study published in the current issue of Psychological Science:
“We hypothesized that exposure to a biblical description of violence would increase aggression more than a secular description of the same violence. We also predicted that aggression would be greater when the violence was sanctioned by God than when it was not sanctioned by God.”
Because violence in a classroom is a bit hard to justify, the researchers relied on a widely used tool to measure aggression. Students in the study were not initially told its true purpose. Instead, they were told they were participating in two separate studies, one on Middle Eastern literature, and one on stimulation of reaction time.
Each student competed against another student in the reaction time phase. Those who pushed a button first won the competition and could punish the loser by blasting him or her through a set of earphones with a loud noise.
The Blast of War
The volume of the noise was controlled by the winning student. Those who hit the loser with a mild blast were considered less aggressive than those who gave the loser the loudest blast — approximately the volume of a siren.
“The noise is very, very unpleasant,” Bushman said. “It’s a combination of somebody scratching their fingernails on a chalkboard and screaming and sirens.”
The idea behind the test, used widely in laboratories, is that only someone who feels very aggressive would blast someone else with the loudest screech, about 105 decibels.
Biblical? Or Not?
Before the blasting phase, the students read a description of the beating and raping and murder of a woman in ancient Israel. Half of the students read a version of the story that included an assertion that God commanded the friends of the woman to take revenge. The other half read a version that did not mention God sanctioning violence. Half of the students were told the account came from the Bible, and half were told it came from an ancient scroll.
“What we found is that people who believed the passage was from the Bible were more aggressive [than those who did not know it came from the Bible], and when God said it is OK to retaliate they were even more aggressive,” Bushman said. “We found that both at Brigham Young, which is a religious school, and at Amsterdam, where only half believe in God.
“Even among nonbelievers, if God says it’s OK to retaliate, they are more aggressive. And that’s the worry here. When God sanctions aggression, when God says it’s OK to retaliate, people use that as justification for their own violent and aggressive behavior.”
When asked why nonbelievers would become more aggressive, Bushman suggested that perhaps some nonbelievers are not all that sure that there is no God. However, nonbelievers did not show as much of an increase in aggression as believers when told violence was sanctioned by God.
At the end of the interview, I intruded into Bushman’s own religious feelings and asked if he is a believer.
“Yes, I do believe in God, and I do believe in the Bible,” he said. “In fact, I read it every day.”
So it’s a personal, as well as a professional, search for Bushman.
“What worries me is when people use God as a justification for their violence. There are scriptures that say you should not take God’s name in vain. This is the most extreme version of taking God’s name in vain,” he said.
Yet his own research shows that whether people consider themselves believers or not, they are more likely to be aggressive, perhaps even willing to start a war, if they think God is on their side.
Why people believe in evolution, *not*
Do you want to know why people believe in evolution? Read evolution denying Christian, Wayne Jackson. Here we have in one concise document all the contorted rationalizations you could possibly imagine for *not* believing in evolution.
Wayne Jackson, is an expert propagandist. What he churns out are classic pieces built around the strategy of “turnspeak”. Turnspeak is a technique of deliberately confusing issues by turning the truth upside down. Jackson attacks Darwinians, but then the claim is weirdly made that the Darwinians are actually the attackers. Black becomes white and white becomes black. Joseph Goebbels, the NAZI propaganda genius is credited with inventing the technique. A variation of turnspeak is the use of disingenuous descriptions that seem to conflate opposing positions into advocacy. It’s easier to persuade others to agree with an argument for something rather than against something. For example “pro marriage” and “protection of marriage” really mean anti-same-sex marriage. Pro life really means anti-abortion. Paranoid propagandists like Jackson seek to create their own version of reality so they can ward off the unwelcome truth of actual reality. Jackson’s Christian Courier web site is a monument to his delirium.
A facebook member, Prince St. Cyr follows the Christian zealots and is an expert in analyzing propaganda of practitioners like Wayne Jackson that are part of the assault on reason. St Cyr informs us:
“One of the impressive things about paranoid literature is the contrast between its fantasied conclusions and the almost touching concern with factuality it invariably shows. It produces heroic strivings for evidence to prove that the unbelievable is the only thing that can be believed. … Respectable paranoid literature not only starts from certain moral commitments that can indeed be justified but also carefully and all-but-obsessively accumulates “evidence.” The difference between this “evidence” and that commonly employed by others is that it seems less a means of entering into normal political controversy than a means of warding off the profane intrusion of the secular political world. The paranoid seems to have little expectation of actually convincing a hostile world, but he can accumulate evidence in order to protect his cherished convictions from it.”
Why should anyone care about Wayne Jackson and his writing? Isn’t he too far off the wall? Jackson matters because he has so many followers and they represent a dangerous segment of our population. The enemies of reason, which is what we are talking about here, are passionate about spreading their propaganda and they enjoy political power and have money funneled to them by wealthy patrons. They represent a malignancy in our collective body politic and they have succeeded in making ignorance fashionable and desirable. Recall Joe the plumber? Sarah Palin‘s preposterous candidacy for vice president revealed exactly how virulent the malignancy grew in the waning days of the Bush administration. We may have gone into remission, but the cancer is still there. Just tune to the Fox network or the many Christian zealots on radio and television.
We should care because as Charles Darwin said: “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.” We care because the lies and half truths of Jackson’s propaganda are easily believed by people who have been systematically turned away from rationality and reason. They have been methodically robbed of the training they need to see through the lies. Worse yet, they can be influenced to vote and to support the systematic assault on reason. They disrupt public meetings, and divert public money into court battles such as the Dover case and the countless challenges that arise around Christian holidays that involve Christians openly challenging the separation of church and state.
In Texas, the State Board of Education is chaired by a radical literalist Christian who constantly seeks to introduce his flavor of religion into the science curriculum and now into the social studies curriculum.
The Texas Board of Education will vote this week on a new science curriculum designed to challenge the guiding principle of evolution, a step that could influence what is taught in biology classes across the nation.
The proposed curriculum change would prompt teachers to raise doubts that all life on Earth is descended from common ancestry. Texas is such a huge textbook market that many publishers write to the state’s standards, then market those books nationwide.
“This is the most specific assault I’ve seen against evolution and modern science,” said Steven Newton, a project director at the National Center for Science Education, which promotes teaching of evolution.
Christians are angered or distressed when anyone states the obvious: that they are deluded. But as a final example of turnspeak, here is Wayne Jackson concluding his article:
“People do not believe in evolution because they have been led there by solid evidence. They are stampeded into the Darwinian community by superficial, emotional, and personal factors. They only delude themselves when they think otherwise.” A golden nugget of turnspeak.
People believe evolution because it is based on solid evidence. They cannot be stampeded into the Darwinian community by superficial emotion and personal factors in the manner that Christians are stampeded into Christianity. Darwinians do not delude themselves like Christians delude themselves.
According to Gallup only about 12% of Americans accept the scientific arguments and mounds of data as proof that natural forces are sufficient to explain evolution. No supernatural intervention is required. The widespread acceptance that a supernatural force has to be behind evolution can only be regarded as a national disgrace because it exemplifies how willing people are to embrace the wild rationalizations of propagandists like Wayne Jackson. Charles Darwin gave humanity one of the most elegant and brilliant intellectual achievements ever created by a human and his theory is routinely and stupidly dragged through the mud and mire of Christian and Muslim propaganda.
American understanding of science and the scientific method is woefully lacking and the proximate cause is a deliberate program of propaganda directed towards intellectuals, the public schools, and in particular the appreciation of science and reason. The propaganda merchants are literalistic evangelicals that clearly understand the relationship between education level attained and the acceptance of fanciful supernatural beliefs. The more education you have, the less apt you are to accept dogma and superstition as guides to living. The problem is that people opposed to education and rationality indoctrinate their hapless children with their backward outlook and beliefs. You do not see such ignorance in Japan, Canada, or the secular democracies of the world. Unfortunately, the Muslims are just as adamantly opposed to evolution as our hillbilly theologists.
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Johann Hari: Dear God, stop brainwashing children
Let us now put our hands together and pray. O God, we gather here today to ask you to free our schoolchildren from being forced to go through this charade every day. As you know, O Lord, because You see all, British law requires every schoolchild to participate in “an act of collective worship” every 24 hours. Irrespective of what the child thinks or believes, they are shepherded into a hall, silenced, and forced to pray – or pretend to.
If they refuse to bow their heads to You, they are punished. This happened to me, because I protested that there is no evidence whatsoever that You exist, and plenty of proof that shows the texts describing You are filled with falsehoods. When I pointed this out, I was told to stop being “blasphemous” and threatened with detention. “Shut up and pray,” a teacher told me on one occasion. Are you proud, O Lord?
Forcing children to take part in religious worship every day is a law worthy of a theocracy, not a liberal democracy where 70 per cent of adults never attend a religious ceremony. That’s why the Association of Teachers and Lecturers – one of the teachers’ unions – has recently moved to ask the Government to stop forcing its members to take part in this practice.
I can understand why the unelected, faltering religious institutions cling to this law so tightly. When it comes to “faith”, if you don’t get people young, you probably won’t ever get them. Very few people are, as adults, persuaded of the idea that (say) a Messiah was born to a virgin and managed to bend the laws of physics, or that we should revere a man who at the age of 53 had sex with a nine-year-old girl. You can usually only persuade people of this when they are very young – a time when their critical and rational faculties have not yet been developed – and hope it becomes a rock in their psychological make-up they dare not pull out.
But why do the rest of us allow this fervent 5 per cent of the population to force the rest of our kids to follow their superstitions? Parents can withdraw their children if they choose – but that often means separating the child in an embarrassing way from her friends and exposing them to criticisms from the school, so only 1 per cent do it. Most don’t even know it is an option.
More importantly still, why is worship forced on 99 per cent of children without their own consent or even asking what they think? As the author Richard Dawkins has pointed out many times, there are no “Christian children” or “Muslim children”. I was classed as “Christian” because my mother is vaguely culturally Christian, although at every opportunity I protested that I didn’t believe any of it. Children are not born with these beliefs, as they are born with a particular pigmentation or height or eye colour. Indeed, if you watch children being taught about religion, you will see most of them instinctively laugh and ask perfectly sensible sceptical questions that are swatted away – or punished – by religious instructors.
I am genuinely surprised that no moderate religious people have, to my knowledge, joined the campaign to stop this compelled prayer. What pleasure or pride can you possibly feel in knowing that children are compelled to worship your God? Why are you silent?
Why does this anachronism persist in this blessedly irreligious country? For all their whining that they are “persecuted”, the religious minority in Britain are in fact accorded remarkable privileges. They are given a bench-full of unelected positions in the legislature, protection from criticism in the law, and vast amounts of public money to indoctrinate children into their belief systems in every school in the land.
For the rest of the article go here.
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