I had an interesting (but heated) discussion with a fellow blogger named „Tildeb“ on the blog of the Christian Apologetics Alliance.
He identified himself as a New Atheist while asserting he just wants „religion“ to stay in the private sphere but not to disappear.
This is certainly strange, since Dawkins, Harris, the late Hitchen, Stenger and Coyne really want all „religious“ beliefs to be wiped out. The tolerance of private beliefs is considered by them as a form of „accommodationism“ and Dawkins even likens that to the appeasement policy of Chamberlain towards Hitler.
It is true that they don’t always express themselves clearly on that topic, but frankly speaking, if you were to ask one of them: „Is it okay if I keep believing in God while not trying to influence public life?“, what answer would you expect?
These authors further say that tolerating religious moderate groups to exist is wrong, because they give credibility to radical ones. This claim is ridiculous if ones considers the amount of time many liberal and progressive Christians spend exposing the errors, flaws and atrocities of fundamentalists.
In my contribution to the discussion, I pointed out that while it is entirely fallacious to say that atheism caused many deaths, the same cannot be said of ANTItheism (the willingness to eradicate all religions) if one considers the eastern Orthodox and Buddhist priests murdered in Russia and China during the Communist era. Tildeb didn’t go into that which could be a sign he somehow agrees that ANTItheism (as I’ve defined the term) can have dangerous consequences.
Concerning the topic of religious education as child abuse, he wrote the following:
„The key here to understanding why many New Atheists do hold exactly this position is the phrase ‘religious education‘ as if religion offers knowledge that can be passed on. It doesn’t. It contains what is more accurately described as religious indoctrination(which explains why there is such a strong correlation between geography and the predominant faith. Religious belief is not knowledge (in that it fails to to produce explanations that work in reality to describe it, fail to produce applications, therapies, and technologies based on these) but faith of the religious kind… which in any other human endeavor (asking us to believe in specific causal claims without compelling reasons based on evidence of effect from reality to do so) is considered (at best) foolish and gullible and (at worst) deluded. This is what is being taught to children… a failed methodology that does not describe reality as we know it to be nor explain causal effects and the mechanisms by which they operate in reality. In short-hand, it’s comparable in effect to ‘lying’ to children and fooling them not for their sake but for yours. As if this weren’t bad enough, the addition of everlasting and/or eternal and/or terrifying torments and abandonment and/or separation from loved ones after deathfor failing to accept some or most or all of these claims is not in way beneficial to children’s mental and emotional well-being here in this life where reality operates. This is what New Atheists are referring to when they talk about religious indoctrination of children to be a form of child abuse. „
After further reflection, I realised there are many things I agree and many things I disagree with here.
I believe that one can only call something abusive if it has detrimental consequences for the physical and/or mental health of the person undergoing this.
I agree that teaching to small kids that God will eternally torment them if they don’t believe in Him is a gruesome form of child abuse.
Actually, I also find that profoundly blasphemous, because it is impossible for a good God to do such a thing.
But I fail to see why teaching a child that God loves her unconditionally but will leave her the choice to be with Him or not is abusive.
I also fail to see why the teaching that God wants every human being to follow the golden rule and hates selfishness and injustices would be abusive.
From my own experience, I’d say quite the contrary is true: children who receive such a teaching feel unconditionally loved and really fostered to love their neighbours as themselves.
Tildeb is free to consider such beliefs delusional but they are by no means a form of abuse.
„ In short-hand, it’s comparable in effect to ‘lying‘ to children and fooling them not for their sake but for yours“
This assertion is false in almost every case, because even parents who propagate an abusive theology are truly convinced their doctrines are true, and are therefore not lying.
They don’t teach hellfire for manipulating their kids and getting absolute submission from them, but because they’re themselves deeply convinced of the reality of the flames there.
The consequences can be quite tragic for the mental health of the child, but this isn’t a form of deception.
I’ll leave the question of the truth or falsehood of religious beliefs to another post.
Finally, Tildbed wrote:
„referring to New Atheists promoting secular humanism is a sly way of trying to equate religious extremism that you know is all too common with non belief, where there is no evidence to back it up. None, or you would provide the sources for this blanket assertion. I’ve read Stenger and Grayling and Coyne and Onfray and Carroll and Pinker and Krauss and so on and so forth and I have not once ever come across anything I could honestly describe as an equivalent kind of hatred to the religious impulse to reject and condemn wholesale the pleasures and comforts of this life in preparation for the next one. This assertion by you is just another smear. Whether it is true or not doesn’t seem to be of any importance to you. You should reflect and learn from this… it’s a pretty good clue of what’s really going on in your efforts to vilify others in the name of defending your faith from legitimate criticism. Continuing to do this doesn’t reflect well on your character. „
I’ve several remarks here.
I do not consider Onfray, Carroll and Pinker as New Atheists (or Anti-theists) according to the definition I’ve given above.
I do welcome and feel challenged by arguments against the truth of theism (like the problem of evil and of religious confusion) so long as they are well grounded and any kind of aggressive rhetoric is absent.
For example, I consider the atheistic arguments of Jeffrey Jay Lowder (the founder of the Infidels website) really LEGITIMATE and interesting because he is a careful thinker who tries to always remain respectful while debating with respectful opponents.
The same cannot be said of the extremely aggressive and yes, hateful, rhetoric of Dawkins, Sam Harris and Jerry Coyne. They have a strong bias towards only considering the worst kind of „religious“ beliefs and people while ignoring or minimising the significance of the beneficial effects.
As a comparison, I believe Islam is wrong, but while criticising it, I recognise that there is a great diversity in this religion, that only a minority of Muslims advocate terrorism, and that there are clearly good and progressive parts of the Koran and Mohamed’s theology.
Finally, „ to reject and condemn wholesale the pleasures and comforts of this life in preparation for the next one“ isn’t in and of itself hatred against anyone. It is just a very bad theology.
When conservative Christians teach that premarital sex is a sin which is always wicked, they can cause emotional harm, but they’re by no means being hateful against anyone.
I’m looking forward to reading Tildeb’s response.
Thematic list of ALL posts on this blog (regularly updated)