There is Nothing to Fear in Doubt

Like all Christians, there had been many times when I’d questioned or doubted my faith. In fact most of the churches I’ve been to didn’t consider it a shame to admit to doubt. One church in particular loved to quote “honest doubt leads to true faith”. While I won’t go so far as to say they encouraged doubt, they didn’t say it was a bad thing and those to admitted to having doubts were encouraged to ask the questions because if you don’t ask the question, there is no one who is going to give you an answer.

This attitude of not fearing doubt is still one that I consider worthy and honest.

I remember one group conversation where I expressed the opinion that everyone should question their own beliefs. This was met with unanimous agreement, so I am glad to say that I am not alone in holding that view.

Of course, those who wish to control others will always fear and discourage doubt, especially doubt in those they have a hold over. In those situations, doubt brings about the potential of freedom, freedom from manipulative others. I am very aware and saddened that some churches have (and even still do?) act like that. I have a suspicion that one of the churches my family attended when I was a child had a senior pastor like that. That is not ground I wish to cover though, it was many many years ago and suspicion is not proof and I don’t really have a way of confirming that suspicion. I am judging events of long ago from a cynical adult mind when the memories I am working from are those of a child not even 8, possibly younger. That’s hardly fair.

As an adult, I have not consciously been in the situation, where I have been manipulated so I am thankful of that.

Enough of that, back to the doubt.

Doubt is good, it makes one ask basic questions about their own assumptions. Sometimes it will serve to confirm and sometimes it will serve to correct. The important thing is that stuff is not being taken for granted, it is being questioned and assessed.

Fear of this process is unhealthy. If your belief (no matter what it is) can’t survive the process of honest questioning, then its not a valid belief and you are living a life with little integrity.

Even as a Christian I can honestly say that I would rather have a friend who was an atheist with integrity than one who was a Christian without. You can swap that around now that I’ve left my faith behind, I’d rather have a friend who is a Christian with integrity than an atheist without. It’s the integrity that matters, not the belief.

Someone who fears or runs away from doubt lacks that integrity.

To be, or not to be, a Dick

I thought I’d take a break from my autobiographical posts and put down some thoughts on the current big topic in the Atheistic and Sceptical arena. That is, how to behave towards those who believe in the unbelievable. That’s not just religion, though the topic does appear to centre mainly around those with religious beliefs, but any superstition and what sceptics love to call ‘woo’.

Reading some blog posts and opinion on the subject you’d be forgiven for thinking that there are only two choices; lambast anyone who dares to hold an unprovable belief with as much ridicule as possible or embrace anyone and everyone so long as you can find some common ground with them, no matter how tenuous.

Save us from the Accomodationists!

What I find most frustrating when reading various comments are the highly vocal people in the anti-accomodationist camp. These are the easiest to identify on the imaginary grey line I mentioned above, they would be clustered very close to the lambasting extreme.

To the anti-accomodationist there is nothing more pure than the utter sanctity of science proven conclusion. If you can’t back it up with the science method, then it does not belong and don’t you dare go mixing with those folks who believe without proof, or you’ll taint the purity of reason. Usually these are the same people using the label ‘Gnu Atheists’ as though they are some gnarly badge wearing, skateboard riding, baggy jeaned cool new kid. They probably have their own special handshake as well.

Accomodationist and Proud.

Yes I would be classed as an accomodationist. Yes I am proud of that. When I first saw the extremeophiles calling others accomodationists, it was as though they spat the word out, like it left a bad taste to even think the word, let along utter it. It was most definitely not meant as a compliment to the recipient.

The term ‘accomodationst’, seems to be drawn out and thrown at anyone who dares suggest anything other than utter contempt should be shown towards those who choose to believe in anything unscientific.

This is a sad thing to see and it seems that more effort is being channelled into creating a rift in the sceptical community than is being put into more productive use educating and evangelising the good news.

Ridicule never Changed Anyone’s Mind

Of course there are some people who will never abandon their belief. Even worse, there are some people who know they are wrong, but continue to promote it because it provides them with a considerable income. Of course I hope the latter are a minority.

With these people, reasoned debate will probably never be possible, but is publicly mocking really going to achieve anything other than self satisfied smugness?

But what about the casual observer?

I have seen it suggested on more than one occasion that the act of ridicule will help show a casual observer how much of a fool your target is.

This has to be the most pathetic cop out of an argument I have ever heard. Unless the casual observer is already of the same mind as you, the most likely reaction of the casual observer is to think that you are a dick and then respond accordingly.

If you want the world to share your conclusion that belief is silly and only science can lead someone to reason; then you had better prove it by acting like a reasonable person.

Be Passionate about Science

Instead of being a crabby insulting human, how about being a passionate scient advocate instead, enthuse people by being passionate about truth. Truth is tangible, truth can be handled and touched, truth is proven time and time again to be reliable. Truth is beautiful. When you talk about science speak with passion about how can you not be riveted and encouraged by the wonder of what is true and by knowing so utterly that it is true because it can be demonstrated to audiences.

This is what makes great ambassadors for scientific reasoning, don’t ruin it all by yelling at and insulting those who deny reality.

Look at how the Christians do it.

One final thought, Christians have known for many years that the most effective way of converting people to Christianity is to go to them and meet them on their terms. Find out what a person needs most and attend to that need. Christians convert other people by making the effort to get to know other people and letting them see that Christian are not some do-gooder perfect human, but they do care and they do want to try as hard as possible to make life better.

If sceptics really want to show that science leads to reason and truth and that truth has something genuine to offer, then they should show it by doing things other than ridiculing the ridiculous.

 


 

* My thoughts on this matter are still evolving, so its possible (probable even) that I will revisit this subject in the future. It will be interesting to see if my stance changes between now and then.

Where does a Child’s Theology Come From?

The most obvious answer would be, from the parents, but who else could have such an impact on a child in those early year that they shape the child’s beliefs for so long?

As part of the process of moving from Christian to Atheist, I spent much time pondering on where my firmest beliefs came from and what triggers, if any, there were in seeding them.

Since my entire school life was spent at boarding school, many of the beliefs I formed and were influenced, not by my parents, but by my teachers and the other children I went to school with.

Sowing Seeds

I have already mentioned that the first seeds of creationism were planted when we were told to cross out a paragraph referencing evolution in our text books (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2010/10/21/let%E2%80%99s-start-at-the-very-beginning/). This event aside, I can remember no other moment when either creationism or evolution was specifically spoken about by a teacher, either at missionary school in Zambia or at secondary school in the UK. Conversations with fellow pupils I can remember, but no specific teaching on either subject.

One specific conversation I can remember was as a young teen at school in the UK and asking a friend to try and explain where we came from and where our ancestors came from etc.. we ended up at fish in the sea, at which point I burst out laughing. So its clear that by this point I was utterly sold on creationism. What puzzles me is that I am fairly sure that evolution should have come up in science classes at some point in the UK curriculum of the 1980s. Yet I can not remember any references. This could be because the school in question was a Church of England Secondary school. However, I doubt very much that any curriculum specification would have been ignored. So I wonder if any evolution references were too mild to cause my creationist values any problem and so they were simply forgotten.

Certainly I never had any discussion with my parents on the matter, in fact school work of any description very rarely came up with my parents due to the boarding school life.

What about other theological points?

Given that I went to two boarding schools which had a major emphasis on Christian teaching. What other things in my life come from those roots?

It would be too much to try and list Christian theological points and try and find the source for each on in my upbringing.

I recall very few specific theological points being taught as a young child away at school. Though, there was a very real Christian ethos everywhere, story time was often in a parable style, with the story and then how it referenced Christian teaching. There was a weekly walk to the local church. Daily assembly had prayers, songs and other Christian anecdotes. All this extra curricular Christian teaching was done by the school teachers, with occasional guests from the local area, or another students parent. When at home, I would of course go to the Sunday School, while my parents remained in church. So again basic Christian teaching and theology was being planted in my young mind by people other than my parents. The only decision my parents made was who was doing it, due to their decision on where they sent me to school or where we went to church.

All these lessons would form the background to my later beliefs. By the time I was old enough to be able to pay attention to a sermon, many of my Christian values were already in place. A sermon would either reinforce those early opinions, where they matched or cause some confusion, where they didn’t. Confusing messages would be ditched and that usually meant the longer held belief won over.

This is something I would see in later life when I spent time as a youth volunteer working with teenagers and giving them information that conflicted with their already held views.

Cause for concern?

When put in this context and looking back, its concerning, that my early and impressionable mind was fed important information that led to me forming incorrect opinions that would take years to undo. Objections about the truth of Christianity aside, should people, untrained in Christian theology and teaching, be left to tell young children the stories that lead to them forming their opinions, before they get the chance to hear the authoritative versions in a sermon?

I think specifically about my own child, going to Sunday School while my wife and I sit in Church. I am an adult and can make my own decisions; I can choose to filter out what I hear from the pulpit. My child does not have that same ability and is too young to be able to determine the questionable from the acceptable. The Sunday School teachers are enthusiastic church volunteers with no training other than the mandatory child protection training that the government has mandated. Even if I were still a Christian, how do I know that my child is learning what I want them to? Do I even know when questionable theology is being fed to my child?

Throw out the Baby with the Bath Water?

One thing I certainly am thankful to my early teachers for is the respect and consideration for others that has been so ingrained into me. This is something that my parents certainly backed up and something I would want my child to have as well. Okay, good behaviour does not require Christian teaching to enforce and encourage, but it does come as part of the package.

Now I need to be careful what I say here so as not to be misunderstood, ‘Christian behaviour’, as an ethos is a very desirable thing in people. The ‘doing onto others as you would have done unto you’ way of behaving is something I still strongly hold as an attitude that people should adhere to they interact with others. This specific policy, though, is only something I have encountered in Christian circles. Now I am not saying that non-Christians have lower standards of behaviour or poor morals, just that this specific message of behaviour is succinctly put and one I think Christians do a good job of promoting.

Yet despite those good points, the sad fact remains that in our Churches (and in my case schools too) young children are getting a basic grounding in Christian theology by people who could be unwittingly seeding ideas that in the future could become platforms for incorrect belief that could prove hard to correct. This is not just because I now reject the Bible and the concept of God, but also because I have a lot of friends who are Christians and I see their children going to Sunday School and I wonder, do they actually know what their child is getting told in there? I know I don’t