Monthly Archives: November 2012

An Issue of Indoctrination

Indoctrination, the word comes up all the time in conversations between theists and non-theists but let’s actually look at it closely; what is indoctrination? Is it necessarily a bad thing? Or is it just a matter of what we indoctrinate people with that’s the problem? Well first things first let’s define the word. Merriam Webster defines indoctrination as follows:

Indoctrination: 1) To instruct especially in fundamentals or rudiments.

2) To imbue with a usually partisan or sectarian opinion, point of view, or principle.

So looking at the definitions given one can see that a case could be made, without much difficulty, that there are cases where the first definition of indoctrination is a good and necessary thing. Someone might argue, for instance, that children should be indoctrinated with proper fire safety lessons, proper respect for the dangers associated with sharp objects and the risks of crossing the street.

I disagree with this argument for the simple reason that I personally prefer education over indoctrination in all cases and situations. What is the difference? Well there is, at least to my mind, a huge amount of difference, though it can often be subtle. Indoctrination is, very simply, teaching someone WHAT to think, it is the implantation of sound bites into a person’s head, propaganda. It is “teaching” through repetition and rote without the benefit of multiple viewpoints or considered study. Education on the other hand encourages the person in question to study everything they can from every perspective they can, to take it all in and THEN judge what they’ve learned according to their own intellect, morality, sense of right and wrong and so forth in order to form a worldview.

Religion uses the indoctrination model over the education model for very specific, and quite obvious, reasons. Those reasons boil down to the simple fact that everything we actually KNOW demonstrates that their worldview is often factually wrong and always at the very least highly improbable. If theists were to send their children into schools without any previous indoctrination and allow them to study and learn and draw their own conclusions I honestly believe that the number of theists in the world would drop off sharply, and so do they (that’s why they don’t do it more often). Would they endanger the existence of their various theologies doing so? Sadly, no probably not, because for every person who is freed by study and considered rational thought there are two more who are more than willing to suborn their reason in favor of a collection of comforting promises that no fellow human is actually qualified to give them.

If you look at the growth in atheism and non-theism in the last century there is, I am certain, a correlation between it’s rise and the enhancement of global education systems. It becomes harder and harder to insulate and isolate oneself from the proofs of science and the considerations of reason. Oh it can be done, and as a matter of fact it is done regularly by a great many people but in order to accomplish it you have to do one of two things A) Actively segregate yourself from any topic or content that might challenge or infringe upon your faith (as my wife’s creationist friend who I’ve previously mentioned does) or B) To compartmentalize yourself in such a way that you can accept all of the gifts and truths of science, history, and the other secular disciplines with one part of yourself and with another still fully embrace whatever your particular set of ancient myths, precepts, and strictures are.

This second kind of person is by far the most prevalent form of theist on the planet. This is the personality type of the “religious moderate” who is, in every other facet of their life, a perfectly rational, reasonable, capable and intelligent human being. If you were to insist to this type of person that the local river had spontaneously turned to tomato sauce they would not believe without some sort of evidence, and would tell you so in no uncertain terms and yet at the same time they will admit unapologetically that they subscribe to a system of belief based on nothing more than a two thousand year old collection of writings and an ill-defined personal feeling.

These moderates are as much a product of indoctrination as the less frequent fundamentalist. In the case of the fundamentalist the indoctrination is total, becoming not just the core of their worldview but the entirety of it. There is nothing but the indoctrination. The bible says god hates fags (and it does) and so it is the simple unvarnished truth and, as in the case of the Westboro Baptist Church, the people who believe and spout this ignorant, hateful rubbish will tell you quite unashamedly that they are doing so for your benefit, and even out of their love for you, that you may come to see the truth. As terrible, sad and shocking as this outlook is it’s the moderate group that shocks me more however. Their indoctrination is a more subtle, quiet, and insidious kind. They don’t present the loud mouthed, wild-eyed frenzy of their fundamentalist cousins, they don’t spout the ill-considered rhetoric or shoulder the garish and offensive signage, or even dismiss the benefits of modern technology and medicine yet somewhere inside them there exists an invisible but impermeable wall that no amount of fact, or reason or evidence can penetrate.

Coming back to the question I started with: Is indoctrination necessarily a bad thing? Or is it just a matter of what we indoctrinate people with? For myself, I do think it is always inferior to education for making intelligent, thoughtful, considering people, but then again that’s not really the aim of indoctrination is it? So yes indoctrination is always a bad thing. Encouraging mindless following of any precept or principle regardless of any altruistic or well-meaning intent is, in my opinion, wrong. Indoctrination robs people of the ability to truly learn, it kills the impulse to question, and shrivels the drive to discover. These abilities impulses and drives are the most fundamental right and responsibility we have as human beings and should be treated with more respect.

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The Ghosts of Theists’ Future?

                 How we think is, I believe, much more important than what we actually think. The most important aspect of the change in thinking that needs to occur in our society is how we arrive at truth. The importance of critical thinking, of reasoned study, and of rationality cannot be overstated. Superstition, mysticism, and religious thinking are not really the disease; they are merely a symptom of a more serious problem. The human condition seems to consist, at least in part, of an all-consuming desire for easy answers, a need to simplify the complex and deny the unpleasant aspects of our reality at all costs. It is these aspects of the human personality that are the real enemy of progress and true understanding. If these problems are not addressed even the complete abolition of all existing theological systems wouldn’t be a solution. We’d simply find new myths to replace the old.

Imagine a distant future where humanity has forgotten us and our civilization. Where our great cities exist only as ruins and our history is only vaguely and partially recalled. Without an evolution in our thinking it’s all too easy for me to imagine the effects.

Consider what would happen if future archaeologists unearthed ancient documents that depicted an account of a being who descended from the heavens, was raised by human parents, displayed superhuman powers and abilities,  used those abilities to combat evil and protect the innocent, died to protect his people and returned from the dead to continue his struggle.

                     

              Would this story be likely to become the basis of a religion?  Would people be likely to believe these documents even if no other historical source gave them any validity or even mentioned the events in question? I think it is quite likely. What if other digs around the globe turned up more accounts of this being and artifacts related to these tales? Would apologists claim that the sheer amount of things that mention this being serves as proof of its reality regardless of the fact that science and history show no evidence for such a thing?

       

                   Is it likely that people would devote their lives to the idea of this savior and his exploits building massive monuments and congregations in his honor? Could a concept with no objective basis in reality really become so important to people, so pervasive that it would become the basis of entire communities?

           

                Could other finds from history lead the followers of this new religion to have their beliefs tested by others with a different belief system? Would these various groups of followers feel strongly enough about their beliefs to argue and even fight over them?

   VS  

What would be the result of all of this struggling between groups of people who each hold beliefs that have no basis in anything but the interpretation of partial accounts of events that science and reason tell us never actually occurred?

           

                  How do we avoid such a fate? We teach critical thinking, and live according to the principles of logic and reason. Require a rational basis for the things you believe. Find out about the realities of existence, find out why things are the way they are rather than just accepting someone else’s interpretation of fragmentary source material. Judge your beliefs not according to whether they’re comforting but according to their validity in the face of the reality around you. In a nutshell, question, study, explore and always challenge your conclusions.

Honour The Price.

“Arm yourselves, and be ye men of valour, and be in readiness for the conflict; for it is better for us to perish in battle than to look upon the outrage of our nation…” – Winston Churchill

Today is the day we pause to remember, the day we dedicate to those who have fought and struggled and died on our behalf. We, those of us who live under the shield of freedom and safety that these men and women provide, owe them so much more than this one day, but at the least today we can pause and honour those who make our lives, our ideals, and even our disagreements possible. We can recognize the cost of our comforts and our peace and be thankful.

“I think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom.” – Bob Dylan

Ever since mankind first began to group together into communities there have been those who took up rock and spear, or sword and shield, or helmet and rifle and marched out in defence of their homes or in support of some great cause. Whether the cause was just or evil, whether their leaders were great or terrible still one has to appreciate the courage, the sacrifice, and the strength of the soldier. These men and women seek out the hardest and most unpleasant of situations, and go knowingly into horror and danger the likes of which most of us cannot imagine. They do so because WE ask it of them, because our society, our civilization cannot exist without them. These ordinary people who take up the duty of safeguarding our lives and our freedoms are the heart and soul of all human endeavour. Our freedoms do not come from the heavens, our freedoms were born in bloody mud churned fields where our grandfathers and their grandfathers struggled tooth and nail against others who would have had us be something else, something less, something a little less free. Our morality comes not from some ancient book or tablet but from those who stand up prepared to defend the weak from the strong.

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” Ambrose Redmoon

Today remember that our freedoms, our ideals, our nations themselves were not granted to us from on high. They were not given to us by the pretty, well-meant words of politicians and statesmen, the sermons of priests or the writings of scholars. At it’s base and foundation all that was, is, or ever will be exists because a brave few stand forward to claim it, to secure it, and to defend it. Face this truth with humility and grace and be grateful. You think war is evil? It is, that’s true, but never forget for a second that all the world would be war and evil if it weren’t for those men and women who hold the darkness back with their effort and sweat and their very blood. Hate the deed if you will, hate the necessity of its existence but be grateful of the fact that there are those who will stand forward. It is an often quoted but rarely considered truth that freedom is not free. Take the time today to honour the price paid by those who have given you so much and who receive in return so little.

“When you go home, Tell them of us and say, For your tomorrow, We gave our today.” – John Maxwell Edmonds

For Those That Serve, We Remember.

May We Never Forget.

Apologize for Apologetics

The following a a piece of a Facebook conversation I had recently with a theist arguing for the historicity of the bible. I got caught up in other things at the time and didn’t respond to it but some of the things in it have been gnawing at my brain for a couple of days now so I’ve decided to respond to it here.

The point is that people are evil by nature, mixing whatever they want to believe about the world good or bad. We all need to push on purpose (and I would argue divine intervention) to be decent people or by default we end up justifying our own selfishness. Next…the criteria for historicity. 1- Supporting docs. 2-Conflicting docs. 3- time after event info is recorded. The bible not only meets this standard but is the best example of the ancient world. Go look it up, I’m not writing as much as you guys. Homer, Alexander the great’s biography, Julius Caesar and so on…all considered rock solid with anywhere from 10 to 643 supporting docs and written 400 to 1000 years later. The new testament alone has over 24000 supporting docs and were written 15 to 40 years after the fact and some by eye witnesses. I’ll even give you 70 – 100 years if you want because that’s a common claim but the writings clearly talk about life in Jerusalem before the destruction in 70 AD. Either way, to doubt the historicity of the bible is to do so based on an irrational bias and not on scientific historicity (partially quoting EM Blaiklock). Historians around the world don’t seem to have the problems you’re having with the bible. In fact, it has been said by many that if the bible was considered a secular writing, this discussion would never come up. As far as extra biblical sources there are plenty. Some you have named (good job) but there are many others talking about the life, death and even the Resurrection and the expansion of Christianity as if it is common knowledge. Some were considered enemies of Christianity  You know what we don’t find are writings disputing these events though.

First off the major problem with the opening of this comment would seem to be obvious, if people are evil by nature, as this comment’s author states, and we are the creation of a god who created us in it’s image then it follows that an evil god created us as evil beings on purpose. While I’m sure this isn’t the position the author would take, it would explain quite a lot about the measurable effects of  Christian Theism on the history and sociology of the world. If you assert that god is real, and god is perfect the idea that god is evil does fill in quite a lot of the logical holes that pop up when you propose that god is real, benevolent and perfect.

That wasn’t my major problem with the comment though, that was just an interesting aside. The major problem is with the argument for historicity. The author’s criteria for historicity are correct. He’s also correct when he says there is a huge amount of extra-biblical writing regarding Jesus, the New Testament, and the spread of Christianity. Where the problem is is that he’s making this an argument for the veracity of the biblical account based on these things. The problems with these assertions are huge. First, there are no first hand accounts of the events laid out in the bible. They were all written at at least second hand years after the events in question. Second,  the extra-biblical accounts of Christ are all at least a century after the fact. Most of them are simply reporting rumors and talk, and most importantly  just because a non-biblical source mentions that there was talk of a person called Jesus who’d built a following and was credited with miracles doesn’t mean that that author is saying that the talk is true. Third, corruption by the christian church of extra-biblical accounts specifically to create the image of historicity. Almost every extra-biblical account of Christianity from Josephus on has had allegations of interpolation by later Christians. When combined with the fact that Christians spent  hundreds of years and millions of man hours hunting down and destroying “heretical” documents is it any surprise that there are no period documents “disputing these events”?

Finally, comparing the historicity  of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar to that of the bible is just madness. Both Alexander and Julius Caesar were well documented humans who (and this is the important part) are credited with completely human and probable (if extraordinary) accomplishments. Comparing the terrestrial accomplishments of  exceptional human beings with the catalogue  of magic myth and superstition laid out in the bible is insanity. If there were an account of Julius Caesar taking a spear in the chest, pulling it free and then summoning lightning to destroy his enemies I would require a great deal more evidence than I do to accept the history as it is laid out. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The amount and quality of evidence needed to be convincing is directly related to the extraordinary nature of the claim. If I read a single account of Queen Elizabeth travelling from London to  Cairo in an airplane I’d be willing to accept it. If I read the same account but the airplane was replaced by a flying horse I’d be less likely to accept the story, regardless of how many authors mentioned the fact that the original account existed or talked about the growing masses of people who’d accepted the account.

This comment embodies, to me, the very worst aspects of Christian Apologetics. It combines a touch of factual statement and understanding of reality with the usual religious supposition, distortion and faith to create an argument that on it’s surface seems rational, well considered and probable.

I appreciate the fact that this isn’t my best post to date, I apologize to the reader but I just had to get this out of my head. Thank you so much for your patience. I promise better in the future.