Re: Religion and evidence

From: Kate Distin (
Date: Wed 18 Jan 2006 - 21:39:42 GMT

  • Next message: Dace: "Re: Religion and evidence"

    Ben Dawson wrote:

    > A man believes he's the reincarnation of Elvis Presley. He's utterly
    > convinced of it. He brings his two young children up to believe he's
    > Elvis too, and demands that they address him as "The King". Every
    > Sunday, he takes them to the local music hall and subjects them to a
    > horrendous karaoke rendition of his favourite Elvis classics. He then
    > offers them each a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich, in
    > commemoration of his past incarnation. He tells them that as long as
    > they stay true and believe in the Power Of The Quiff, they'll all go
    > to Elvis-land when they die and make some great rock-and-roll music
    > together.
    > It's a relatively harmless belief, just like Christianity, and just
    > like your faith in Christianity, it's a belief that is based on the
    > man's subjective personal experience.
    > OK, it's a hypothetical situation (I hope), but do you think this
    > man's behaviour is ethical?

    Not really harmless - it's going to cost them an arm and a leg in therapy when they're older . . .

    What you're really asking, though, is whether it is ok to impose false beliefs upon your children. It may not be ok but it is unavoidable. We're all wrong about something, and so long as we don't know what it is
    (or, let's face it, what the vast range of things are) we shall continue to behave as though we are right, and pass it on to our children. We can't help it.

    I have a cousin who has never eaten meat in her life, as her parents were vegetarians long before she was born. My children eat meat and always have done, because we're omnivores. Ethically, either my husband and I, or my aunt and uncle, have got something wrong. Two of us are imposing a false set of values on our offspring. C'est la vie.

    BUT what we can do is let them know that there are alternatives out there; people who believe different things. If your Elvisian secluded his children and pretended, somehow, that everyone else believed in him too, then we'd have moved into a different realm I feel.

    > I'm not convinced that this is a very realistic view of the world, and
    > I'm inclined to agree with Ilfryn that there is certainly some element
    > of "programming".
    > Again, this is going back to the assertion that people with a
    > religious belief continually weigh up their beliefs against
    > contradictory evidence. OK, we've heard examples of how members of
    > this list did just that and started to question their own beliefs at a
    > younger age, but I just don't think it is representative of the
    > general population at all. Some people do shake off their beliefs when
    > they hit adulthood, in light of contradictory evidence, but *many*
    > don't.

    No, but many don't shake of any aspect of their upbringing at all. Not only their religion.

    > Rather, I believe that people who do follow a religion are more
    > inclined to attempt to reconcile their experiences in the World with
    > their religion than to drop their beliefs altogether. For example, I
    > have heard people brought up as fundamentalists saying that hurricane
    > Katrina was sent by God as a punishment to the people of New Orleans.
    > They are so desperate to fit their existing beliefs with what they see
    > here on Earth.
    > As another example, a Jehovah's witness once came to our door when I
    > was younger. He had a conversation with my Dad and informed him that
    > the Earth was only a few thousand years old. When my Dad disputed this
    > by pointing out the evidence of fossil records, he remarked that God
    > had put them there in order to fool us!
    > This all goes back to the point that you made yourself in a previous
    > message - that people are scared of embracing reality because they
    > fear it may disprove their existing views. But I think it also shows
    > that infants are more programmable than you think. A child's mind is
    > incredibly sticky. The more garbage you throw at it, the more
    > difficult it is for the child to dispose of it later in life.

    But again you are (because it's what we're talking about) giving examples that are purely religion-related.

    Here's one far more ubiquitous, and in its modern form nothing to do with religion: Father Christmas. (He may have been Saint Nicholas once upon a time but now he's just the big guy with the goodies.) Also, though less perniciously: the tooth fairy. I could rant about this at some length, but will take a deep breath and not. All I'll say is that this is the most bizarre cultural practice that I can think of. It's not like adults themselves believe in Santa. They know they're lying. But "my parents did it for us", so they do it for their children.

    Ok. Enough. The point is that children's minds are sticky, yes; but they grow up into less-sticky adult minds; and the things that stick to them most tenaciously are not all religious.


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