Some Questions for my Fellow Nonbelievers

I was having a discussion with a friend of mine the other day, and it started me on a certain train of thought about two topics in particular. I think they’re often points of misunderstanding between those who are religious and those who aren’t. I have my own thoughts about these two issues, but I’d really like to hear from the other nonbelievers who read this blog. As always, Christian commentary is welcome too.

  1. If the Bible’s claims about God, Jesus, miracles, etc are untrue, what were the motives of the people who wrote it?
  2. Many nonbelievers view Christians’ efforts at teaching their children and others as indoctrination. Is that a fair term? Why do we view it as indoctrination? And if that’s what it is, what is the point of it? Furthermore, are we indoctrinating our own children against religion? If we’re striving for open-mindedness, should we try to teach our children about religious perspectives as well?

Again, I have my own thoughts regarding these questions. I think they’re often asked (or unasked) in a way that carries some assumptions, and I’ve tried to leave those intact. So if you feel that the questions aren’t phrased correctly, feel free to address that in your response as well.

I almost never directly ask for comments, yet my posts usually get quite a few. It will be just my luck that no one comments now that I’m asking. 🙂

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164 thoughts on “Some Questions for my Fellow Nonbelievers”

  1. As a Christian, I find your second question most interesting (The first question seems more directed to those who don’t believe). My father wanted me to believe in Christ as he did, exactly as he did. However, he also told me repeatedly that he did not want me to believe just because he did. He challenged me to examine other perspectives, to consider the validity of their arguments. I did, and while I still believe, I understand why some struggle to do so. Thank you for asking the questions.

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  2. Thanks for your comment, Michael! Your father’s perspective sounds similar to the way I was raised. My parents are not happy with my current beliefs, but they did always teach me (and my siblings) to think for ourselves and ask questions. I’ve always really appreciated that about my upbringing.

    Feel free to comment here any time! Thanks again. 🙂

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  3. Hey Nate – I’ll give these my best shot.

    1. If the Bible’s claims about God, Jesus, miracles, etc are untrue, what were the motives of the people who wrote it?

    I think their motives were the same as the motives of the writers of all sacred texts of all religions. My guess is they truly believed in a lot of the things they wrote about, but much of it was likely stories that were passed along with exaggerations added along the way. I’ve read that exaggerations in the ancient world were considered perfectly fine especially if the person had an underlying belief that the core of their message was true – a kind of “end justifies the means” thing. I think the overall spiritual message that they believed was what they wanted to convey and objective facts was not the main focus for most of them. It’s obviously more complicated than that, but that’s the gist of my thoughts.

    2. Many nonbelievers view Christians’ efforts at teaching their children and others as indoctrination. Is that a fair term? Why do we view it as indoctrination? And if that’s what it is, what is the point of it? Furthermore, are we indoctrinating our own children against religion? If we’re striving for open-mindedness, should we try to teach our children about religious perspectives as well?

    I may be a bit conflicted on this one. I personally think that every parent needs to figure out on their own how they want to teach their children. I’m not saying anything goes of course – anything causing harm (e.g. like not bringing very sick kids to the doctor) should be out of the question for everyone in society no matter what the beliefs of the person. But in general worldview education should be up to the parent.

    My wife and I personally want our children to be able to think about and explore things on their own, but our focus is always on being kind to others no matter what worldview they may take – that is simply a strong value that my wife and I both happily share. We talk very little to them about deep and profound metaphysical or “religious” questions unless they ask. Our daughter was first introduced to the God concept by a girl in her 1st grade class 2 years ago. The girl was quite evangelistic for a 1st grader! When our daughter asked us what we thought we basically asked her what she thought of the idea. Probably since we had never mentioned gods to her she immediately said that she didn’t think there was a God. It’s also hard to not have some kind of “subconscious” effect on children even if you don’t bring up the subject, so that may be a factor in her view as well. Who knows how many conversations she has “spied” on when my wife and I talk about these kinds of things.

    Interestingly our son who is now 5 is quite different – his cousin introduced him to the idea and our son has since taught my wife and I where God is, how his arms and legs were created by himself, and many other very interesting ideas about God and the universe. 🙂 We mainly ask questions of course. At his very young age when he asks what we think we usually say we aren’t sure and ask him what he thinks and what his friends think.

    Again, the focus for me is kindness and living a life of contentment and learning to appreciate and make time for family, friendships and the so many other great things in life.

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  4. 1. Hope and freedom. A large percentage of the Old Testament seems to be about Israel wanting to break free from the grip of other nations. A large percentage of the New Testament seems to be about man wanting to break free from the conflicts and limitations conferred by his evolutionary heritage. Neither seemed attainable without supernatural assistance.
    2. I would define indoctrination as the expressed teaching of dogma. Dogma comes in many forms, so this would apply to the teaching of any view which deems itself unassailable.

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  5. 1. If the Bible’s claims about God, Jesus, miracles, etc are untrue, what were the motives of the people who wrote it?

    It’s always hard to determine motives. My guess is that the writers believed what they wrote. Of course, the story might have been corrupted and embellished as it was passed on.

    I see more of a problem in theology. In my opinion, theologians are reading more into the text than is actually there.

    2. Many nonbelievers view Christians’ efforts at teaching their children and others as indoctrination. Is that a fair term?

    I think that depends on how it is taught. If the child is taught to question, and to read the Bible for himself, then it probably isn’t indoctrination. If the child is taught to just believe, and never ask questions, then that is more of a problem. What commenter Michael describes sounds reasonable.

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  6. I believe the Priestly Source of Torah fame, exiled in Babylon, were truly bent on indoctrination. Much like the society in George Orwell’s 1984, these priests through out entire parts of the JE Source, and drastically rewrote others, believing that theirs would be the only one to survive – the Redactor, in 400 BCE, threw them both in, just to cover his butt with the big boy. I believe the writer of the Deuteronomic Source, who, writing in about 622 BCE, wrote almost all of the book of Deuteronomy, as well as Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings, was a Levitical priest, possibly Jeremiah himself, and that he, at least in Deuteronomy, had indoctrination in mind.

    As for parents, I believe they sincerely believe they are guiding their children on the right path, their own – what bothers me most about them, is how many are willing to turn their backs on those children who choose not to believe.

    For myself, as a teenager in High School, I studied a plethora of religions, looking for the “right” one, before deciding, as Will Rogers once stated upon first seeing a giraffe, “there ain’t no such animal.”

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  7. Thanks for all the great responses so far!

    Howie, I particularly like the way you and your wife are handling these issues with your kids. My two oldest kids still remember when we went to church, so we’ve had to discuss this stuff with them a bit more. But with my son, we’ve taken the same approach that you’ve been using. He currently doesn’t know who/what God is. He’ll be starting kindergarten in the fall, so we’ll see what happens then…

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  8. Rather than answer these questions here, would you mind if I passed these questions on to my fellow writers at Atheist Enquiry? We can link back to your blog in the post(s)…

    Just thought it would be worthwhile to give an extended answer is all. Let me know.

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  9. Two big question — maybe best for two separate post.
    (1) “The Bible” is an anthology and not one book. Thus different author had different intents for their stories. And each part of each story may have different intents. So I think we should focus rather than big general answers which invite inaccuracies. Treat the Bible as a whole is a common mistake of atheists — buying into false theist assumptions.

    (2) “Indoctrination” is a rhetorical word for saying I don’t like what you teach your children. There is precious little objective teaching of children. Teaching something is one thing. Threatening them with hell, punishment and such for disbelieving is another.

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  10. Interesting questions.
    1. I think we have bear in mind how long it takes a culture or religion to develop. Oral traditions get built on over the centuries, eventually get written down and rituals formalised. The Jews were waiting anxiously for a ‘chosen one’ to come and we know there were lots of contenders. Jesus was just he most convincing. And like what someone says above, the tales just get exaggerated. We’ve had stories of miracles all down through history and people still trundle to Lourdes and other places looking for magic. We may just as well ponder the appeal of miracles today. Looking at someone today like John of God in Brazil gives it modern day perspective – people flock there to be cured.
    2. Oooh indoctrination. I had a similar experience to you in that I was essentially indoctrinated with Christianity but also in a less harmful way than many others I see out there. I was encouraged to read and question and come to my own understanding, which hasn’t quite been what my parents had had in mind. I think as long as our children are exposed to a wide variety of influences (homeschooling seems foolish) we’re preparing them to understand that everyone has different beliefs. I didn’t want to get into the Santa Claus nonsense with my daughter but she came home from nursery with a full belief in it. I’ll just have to leave her to work it all out for herself, but make sure she understands what evidence and logic are.

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  11. 1. Motivation?
    Look no further than Constantine. Or anyone with a political agenda who wishes to control.
    Nate, you are out of it now. But tell me, in all honesty, what does religion offer that is truly beneficial? that cannot be gained from secular humanism?
    Religion and god belief promises everything but delivers nothing.

    2. Indocrtrination
    Michael’s take is interesting, though it must be noted that what child (initially) would not want to be like their dad or mum?
    Thus a parent saying, be objective, when the child’s ‘idol’ is stating that as far as they are concerned Jesus is God or ”Yes , Ishmael, The Koran is the literal word of God, but don’t take my word for it. And don’t worry, they hardly ever kill apostates these days.” is on a hiding to nothing.

    Indoctrination happens, if only because of the need/desire to “fit in”.

    To expect a child to exercise critical thought while the worldview of all his or her peers is diametrically opposed to critical thought is asking way too much of a kid.

    A child is looking for some guidance and when the inevitable questions regarding religion arise what must parents say if they are true believers but want to remain objective?

    “Oh, God exists, but Ken Ham is a bloody idiot, son, take no notice of him. But William Lane Craig is alright. Just try to be open minded that’s all, okay?”

    Not likely going to happen.

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  12. Q1: Motivations? I think their motivations were perfectly honest and well-intentioned. I’m of the opinion that they were simply mistaken as to the historicity. I did a post giving a contemporary example of how this could have happened.

    http://thesuperstitiousnakedape.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/how-jesus-became-real/

    Q2: I think comparative religious study is vital. The accusations of indoctrination pertain to the more extreme cases of YEC doctrine which should really be considered child abuse. It’s cruel to mislead children so terribly.

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  13. As for the first question, I guess I never really thought about it. There’s been some interesting answers here so far.

    Indoctrination was something that was very important to us. We wanted the kids to have the REAL (trademark) gospel so that they wouldn’t go to Hell. Of course we really wanted them to have the real deal, not just believe what we believed because we believed it, but to be part of the “elect” was a big responsibility and we truly believed that God had chosen us and given us these children. The issue of why we aren’t going to church anymore (it’s been about six months) or pray together has not been directly addressed yet by us.

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  14. “It’s cruel to mislead children so terribly.”

    My first year of Junior High, at 13, my Biology teacher asked how many ribs humans have – my hand shot up! “24! Except men have only 23, because god took one to make Eve!” I was so proud of myself. My teacher just looked at me with a sad smile, a look I know all too well now, and explained that we all have 12 pairs.

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  15. “in all honesty, what does religion offer that is truly beneficial? “

    — potential community with the safety that provides
    — a sense of identity
    — a means of instilling morals using community
    — hope, to make it through another day
    — opportunity to serve others and reach out beyond yourself

    Sure, secular humanism can offer much of that, not as well, often, because of the nature of the human mind. Tis much easier to get in traditional methods.

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  16. @ Sabio.

    Sometimes I really wonder about you and think to myself whether you are not marginally schizophrenic, purposefully bloody minded or simply not up to date on you subscription to the Village Idiot Club.

    Nate, you are out of it now. But tell me, in all honesty, what does religion offer that is truly beneficial? that cannot be gained from secular humanism?

    The full quote in context. For the benefit of others.

    And when one considers the downside of the supposed gains that you consider are somewhat lacking in secular humanism then where is the payoff?
    Are you pining for something lost, Sabio?

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  17. @ Ark,
    Ignoring the attempted personal attacks, as I must always do with you. Here is my reply to your last question paragraph.

    Let’s take baby steps:
    Do you agree that the list I made are indeed potential benefits of religion? (even if there are downsides — but we’ll get to that later).

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  18. 1.) When a sports team is getting the crap beat out of them and it’s half-time, a good coach will try and assure his team there’s still a half left and things can get better if we make certain changes in our play. He will even use motivational examples which may or may not be true.

    When the outcome does not change and defeat has been handed to them, that same coach will go into the locker room afterwards to reassure his team they are good and better results are in their future. And when this does not materialize either, that same coach will tell them “Wait til next year !”

    This could also be the story of Judaism and Christianity……….

    2.) Indoctrination reminds me of a scripture attributed to Paul, Romans 3:7
    New Living Translation (NLT)
    7 “But,” someone might still argue, “how can God condemn me as a sinner if my dishonesty highlights his truthfulness and brings him more glory?”

    This justification is troubling to me. If peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are wonderful, you don’t have to lie to a child to get them to believe this. The evidence speaks for itself. 🙂

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  19. @ Sabio.
    No. Please do not ignore the personal remarks. This was no idle ”attempt”, I assure you, as I regard your bloody mindedness a major component of your comment style.

    So take to heart what I write unless I add a smiley or some such.

    I believe you are probably a serious anal retentive personality that would argue the toss over the colour of a blue sky. In fact you might be capable of carrying on such an argument on your own.
    I’d wager it would be touch and go who would come out tops.

    No I do not agree with your loaded statement at all and if you wish to wallow in semantics and pseudo intellectual philosophy may I suggest you visit blogs hosted by folk like, Prayson Danial, Debillis, unklee?

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  20. 1. If the Bible’s claims about God, Jesus, miracles, etc are untrue, what were the motives of the people who wrote it?

    My personal opinion is that there were several motives behind it.

    • Some people, I think, were simply trying to explain things that they didn’t know the answer to. These stories or explanations were likely passed down from generation to generation and added to and refined as it went along. I suspect they didn’t view it as adding or changing, but more as “figuring out” a better explanation after serious contemplation.
    • Some people may have wanted some type of personal glory – sort of like Jim Jones.
    • Some people may have mistook their own strong convictions as subtle voices from god.
    • Some people may have simply been trying to “guide” people, thinking that the end justifies the means.

    2. Many nonbelievers view Christians’ efforts at teaching their children and others asindoctrination. Is that a fair term? Why do we view it as indoctrination? And if that’s what it is, what is the point of it? Furthermore, are we indoctrinating our own children against religion? If we’re striving for open-mindedness, should we try to teach our children about religious perspectives as well?

    Having been a fervent believer in the past, this one doesn’t bother me. People should teach their children what they think is right and I think should be allowed to express their views to other freely. But this is a two edged sword, if they’re free to express their views, then others are free to question those views and to express their own views; but I do think it is indoctrination. It’s not based on logic or reason, but on a set of rules and consequences that have no origin in rational thought, but originate only from an arbitrarily selected religious text.

    I think that more concrete things should be taught in our schools. Only what is demonstrated to be testable, logical, and rational – avoiding myths and stories that only suppose something happened because some old guys wrote a story book a long time ago. Some positions should be built on sterner stuff.

    I would like to believe that reason, evidence and logic rule, and would sway anyone to a position of more sense when it is revealed to them – but I can see that this is not the case. I don’t know how to correct this, but I do think that freedom is also paramount, even if there are those who do not know how to handle it.

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  21. 1. If the Bible’s claims about God, Jesus, miracles, etc are untrue, what were the motives of the people who wrote it?

    I speculate that the motives were to

    1) To unify the tribe of Israel.

    2) To control the tribe of Israel.

    3) To galvanize the tribe of Israel.

    Looking at it objectively non of what’s written in the OT is meant for so-called Gentiles except as a warning.

    2. Many nonbelievers view Christians’ efforts at teaching their children and others as indoctrination. Is that a fair term? Why do we view it as indoctrination? And if that’s what it is, what is the point of it? Furthermore, are we indoctrinating our own children against religion? If we’re striving for open-mindedness, should we try to teach our children about religious perspectives as well?

    Why do we view it as indoctrination? Because it is indoctrination. Many fundamentalist sects would assent to this proudly proclaiming that ‘if we don’t indoctrinate our children the world surely will’. The point of indoctrination would be to inoculate a child against a worldview with which one disagrees. Religious people tend not to want their children to make these decisions for themselves for fear that they might actually choose to believe something blasphemous. If you believe in heaven and hell you can scarce afford to leave it up to them, can you?

    Some non-believers indoctrinate and some don’t. Having been on both sides of this (as a believer and now a non-believer) I probably would teach my children about various religious perspectives with the caveat of why I don’t believe that. I would want to be the one who introduces them to these ideas instead of them encountering it as a “surprise”. Maybe that, too, is indoctrination.

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  22. “To expect a child to exercise critical thought while the worldview of all his or her peers is diametrically opposed to critical thought is asking way too much of a kid….A child is looking for some guidance and when the inevitable questions regarding religion arise what must parents say if they are true believers but want to remain objective?”

    Love that quote from Ark. Great point. The influence of the “Worldview” is one that never goes away with age/maturity, unfortunately.

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  23. Of course, if in time, his prophecies didn’t come true, he would eventually be summarily fired.

    “If religion were true, its followers would not try to bludgeon their young into an artificial conformity; but would merely insist on their unbending quest for truth, irrespective of artificial backgrounds or practical consequences.”
    — H. P. Lovecraft —

    “It is an interesting and demonstrable fact, that all children are atheists, and if religion were not inculcated into their minds, they would remain so.”
    — Ernestine Rose —

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  24. I haven’t read all the other comments so sorry for any repetition but here’s my 2 cents.

    1) This is a major reason I continue to be a Christian. It’s not the only reason, but it is compelling I think.

    2) I’ve thought quite a lot about this, having two young children who pretty much believe whatever I say without question (for now ha). Certainly many parents do indoctrinate their kids wittingly or not. But isn’t this true of all belief systems and not just Christians? To me the difference in indoctrination and guidance is this – the encouragement of critical thinking and asking questions. I teach my kids about God and take them to church, but I would never shame them for asking questions and I want them to examine their beliefs as they grow and determine what they believe for themselves.

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  25. I found THIS interesting:

    President Hollande of France was raised Catholic but is now identifies an agnostic. The French version of separation of church and state is called laïcité. This model protects the religious institutions from state interference, but with public religious expression also to some extent limited. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy preferred a ‘positive laicite‘ that allows for faith in the public discourse and for government subsidies for faith-based groups. During his visit with the Pope in December 2007, he publicly emphasized France’s Christian roots and advocated that faith should come back into the public sphere. Current President Hollande takes a different approach. During the 2012 presidential election, he promised to insert the concept of laïcité into the constitution.

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  26. @ bburleson

    To me the difference in indoctrination and guidance is this – the encouragement of critical thinking and asking questions. I teach my kids about God and take them to church, but I would never shame them for asking questions and I want them to examine their beliefs as they grow and determine what they believe for themselves.

    This is almost an oxymoron. What can you possibly teach them about ‘god’, and which god are you referring to?

    By the time your children are old enough to utilize serious critical thought much of their worldview will have already been stamped on their subconscious, thus influencing their actual outlook on life, that will now include a belief that your god is not only real but the only god that counts.
    As will every other ‘faith’ based doctrine.
    You are living proof of this indoctrination and blatant lack of critical thought and yet struggle to recognise it.
    There is little or no objectivity where religious belief is concerned, especially when children are involved.

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  27. Interesting questions.
    As have already been said above, as to motives, it has to give a blanket motive. I for one like the book of Ecclesiastes and in it, the author could be said to have been writing a philosophical discourse on how he saw life. Many books I think had a political bent.

    On question 2; I think most parents do not know better. If they did, I think they would expose their children to as many religious opinions as they have time for and at a time when they could make this decision on their own.

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  28. I think it’s safe to say that all children, everywhere, are to some extent victims of Stockholme Syndrome.

    I agree. It’s somewhat unavoidable, unfortunately.

    That said, there are parents who stress the importance of asking questions, being open-minded, thinking for oneself, etc. There are religious parents who fit into this group, though I think the group is more usually populated with those who either aren’t religious or are only moderately religious. As Ruth said, if Heaven and Hell are on the line, how can you take the chance that your child might end up on the broad path that leads to destruction? It’s no wonder so many religious people teach their children these beliefs before they can be questioned.

    So while it is indoctrination, and it is detrimental to the child, I also know that people do it with the best of intentions. It’s a sad situation.

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  29. You may have just opened the floodgates, Ruth. Are you okay with people going there and commenting? I found this portion especially chilling:

    Brainwashing is about being intentional; especially when your children are little–when their hearts are still so tender and open. Fill them with what you want them to be filled with. You get to decide. It’s your unique and honored privilege as a parent. It’s your high and holy calling.

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  30. A very Christian member of my family posted this to her facebook page with the comment : I try to brainwash my children every. single. day.

    So. Scary.

    The scary thing is I know people like this too. Although I’ve never heard them use the word brainwash with pride like that, wow…

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  31. Brainwashing is about being intentional; especially when your children are little–when their hearts are still so tender and open. Fill them with what you want them to be filled with. You get to decide. It’s your unique and honored privilege as a parent. It’s your high and holy calling.

    This hits on one of Ark’s main points in a lot of his posts which I agree with – what if the parents decide to fill their children with the idea that there is valor to strapping bombs on themselves and setting them off in public areas. That’s just one example of the scary things that children can be led into. Whether it is objectively immoral or not is irrelevant, it is scary and painful and I don’t want stuff like that in our world and luckily many other people don’t want it either.

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  32. I couldn’t agree more. My comment over there is awaiting moderation, so it may never see the light of day. Here’s what I said:

    If you have to “brainwash” your children, the strong implication is that what you’re telling them isn’t true. Do you believe your religious beliefs are objectively true? If so, then any honest individual will come to share the same beliefs. So why not teach your children to be honest, open-minded truth-seekers? That way, in the off-chance that you’re wrong your children will still have a much higher probability of finding the truth.

    When you resort to brainwashing, you are short-circuiting their ability to make good, informed decisions. Look at it this way: wouldn’t you say that the reason more Muslims don’t become Christians has a lot to do with the brainwashing they received as children?

    You know, tell your children they’re beautiful; tell them they can do anything; tell them they’re lucky to have a brother, etc (as the author advocated). It’s true that the rest of the world will tell them they’re not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough. They need to be built up at home. But when it comes to things that are objectively true and things as important as reality, it doesn’t do them any favors to “brainwash” them.

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  33. I try very hard to brainwash my children to not be a bully, to be thoughtful, to be polite, to not be a sucker, to listen to their mother and more.
    I could say, “Look, when you get older, you decide if being mean or not is OK. What whatever TV you like, hange with whatever which friends you like so you can hear the various voices. I won’t choose for you.”

    Ugly truth #1: We treat children like children.
    Ugly truth #2: There are no universal morals.

    Drawing the line is tough but there is no fixed line — no universal moral about where the line of freedoms we should grant out children. Sure, I draw the line at not threatening my children with violence if they disobey, but I do threaten them with limitations (is that violent — to some of my ‘unschool’ acquaintances).

    It is these ugly truths that make conversation on this issue difficult. We all hate when people teach kids things we wouldn’t and use methods we wouldn’t.

    I wish commentors on these policies would declare if they have kids — I have only two. Nate has three, right?

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  34. I suspected that the comments over there would be moderated.

    The post, itself, is littered with the specific Bible verses that relate to the reasons she “brainwashes”. Anyone who believes in the infallibility of the Bible, of course, is going to brainwash their children with it’s teachings because that same Bible explicitly teaches them to do so. I highly doubt your comment will have much affect on that with her because she is indoctrinated as well.

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  35. @Ruth

    Truly scary, but at least she’s using the right word for it instead of the verse/cliche “train up a child”.

    My Pentecostal parents were such fanatics that any story about witches was evil, crystal balls were evil, horoscopes were evil, homosexuality, fornication, smoking, drinking and all drugs were evil. My parents rarely ever gave us kids any medicine, even after accidents, dental work, menstrual issues and bouts with the flu. We prayed, dammit! All the while abusing us was okay and my dad would watch gory horror films right in front of us, regardless of the nature of the film or our ages.

    I was taught that if it is anything outside of the Bible it was evil, period. That was the end of the matter.

    I don’t get into the Talmud, Bible or Koran with my little boys. I don’t really sit down and discuss religion with them too much. Grant it, in my Jesus days I led them both in a salvation prayer at two to three years old. We also went to Church often, prayed and read the Bible out loud together as a family quite a bit. When I look back at all of that, I clearly see the indoctrination. As mild as it all seemed to be in comparison with other Christian parents we knew over the years, we were still horribly brain washing them.

    There are a few times when my husband and I will discuss religion with our kids (they’re five and eight BTW). It’s usually around Easter or Christmas when we do so. Sometimes we’ll talk about religion because we hear something about God or Jesus at their public school or on the local news. We’ve made it a point to not attend my oldest’s gifted program’s fall meeting at school because we went once and it reminded me of a Wednesday night Church service. My youngest one still refuses to let go of a Veggie Tales book and will not let me give away a small set of Precious Moments books. He’s also a fan of Toby Mac and will request to listen to his CD as he sleeps at night. Once in a while he asks me to play the Newsboys “God’s not dead (roaring like a lion)” video on Youtube for him.

    I still have my boys’ dedication and little kid Bibles. I also have different versions of the Bible, The Pentateuch, Vine’s, Strong’s and maybe a couple of other Biblical/Christian reference books on our shelves, but they’re right next to our Dr. Seuss and JK Rowling sets.

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  36. That’s true, Ruth.

    @Sabio — Yes, I have 3 kids. Also, for what it’s worth, I thought your earlier points about possible benefits of religion were valid. I’m undecided on whether or not those same benefits can always be filled with secular things. I think one of the potential benefits of religion is that it keeps you in close contact with the other people in your congregation. My wife and I always went to small congregations (50-60 people, usually), and we went 3 times a week. You can’t help but get to know people when you see them that often. And if you’re sick, or you have a family emergency, there’s a strong support network there to help.

    My wife and I have started doing some things with a secular group in our area, but we usually only see them once or twice a month. I’m sure they would offer to help us if we had something come up, but they aren’t as present in our lives yet as our old congregation used to be.

    Anyway, I think all religions are false, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that nothing good can come from them. I think most contain a mixture of good and bad, but the bad often far outweighs the good (as illustrated in CHope’s comment).

    Like

  37. When I was a Christian I followed her philosophy pretty much. I started praying for my step-daughter’s(might as well have been my daughter since she lived with us) husband when she was probably about ten. I also prayed for her to have wisdom and discernment in choosing a mate. We went to church when the doors were open. We encouraged morning quiet times and any questions she had were answered with “biblical wisdom”. In my hayday I was so heavenly minded I was no earthly good.

    When she went to college she went through a phase where she questioned the teachings, but never the faith. We debated abortion rights and legislated morality at length . She was liberal and I was a right-wing nut.

    It is my step-daughter, now 30 with three kids, who posted that to her facebook page. Now I’m considered a liberal and she’s turning into a right-wing nut. My how things change.

    Like

  38. @ Nate,
    Thanx for agreeing with my “benefits of religions” comment. When a blog owner does not jump in on personal attacks, it almost feels like they are agreeing. I don’t allow personal attacks on my blog, nor in my home.

    For secular things, my wife and I try to build local friends (Christian, Hindu and atheist) and try to meet regularly and intentionally help each other regularly. Not ideal. So we can see how religious communities are a better solution at times. But in the end, family is the best (if possible), of course. However, we don’t live near our nuclear families — as don’t most of our friends.

    Since I think of “religions” as social/psychological functions and not “truth machines” or “philosophical systems”, saying “I think all religions are false” would make no sense for me, nor be useful in any meaningful way. Religions are agglutinations of complexities both in functions and in types of believers best understood socially, I think. Now, of course, arguing against those who approach religion doctrinally is a pleasure of mine too. But then, arguing about vehement political folks, sports fanatics, politically correct folks and more is fun too. When someone tries to pass off their practices as rational, reasonable and better, while not seeing through the mechanics of their own silliness, I jump in.

    Funny, yesterday in our clinic I mentioned how Professional Football (USA) players are simply mercenaries and it offended almost everyone.

    Concerning good or bad balance. All my Christian friends only use it to the good and their harm is minimal, whereas the way I see most Atheists arguing, well ….

    Like

  39. I commented, Ruth, but as you might expect:

    “archaeopteryx1 on February 13, 2014 at 1:39 pm said:
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    That is so sad. I taught my children to think for themselves, to explore all possibilities, yet to insist on the preponderance of evidence regarding claims, whether commercial, political, or religious, and to base their decisions accordingly. They’ve all grown to go into fields like education and medicine, which help others. You are narrowing your children’s vision to a tunnel, and I feel sorry for all they will miss in their lives.”

    Like

  40. I also meant to add that I have friends who threw out anything that was remotely linked to witches, witchcraft, magic, crystal balls, etc. They even threw out Fantasia: Mickey Mouse The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

    Like

  41. Before you grow old and gray – well, old – waiting for those floodgates to creak Nate, word to the wise, she moderates. I doubt that any contrary comment will ever see the light of day. There’s only one there now, and it’s singing her praises.

    Like

  42. Yeah, the post is from October and the only thing there is one comment and two pingbacks so I feel certain she’s probably gotten other feedback she’s chosen to censor.

    Like

  43. You know what I find relief in? She only has one comment. If she had more positive comments surely she would have approved them.

    Though a lot of people don’t want to fill in the little box giving out their names, email addresses, and such, and instead probably chose to “share” it on their favorite medium.

    Like

  44. I know you were talking to Sabio, here, but if I may:

    My husband is from England and, while there are many Christians there (really people from all sorts of religions), they have a very ‘live and let live’ attitude towards it all. He is baffled here, having moved to the South in the U.S., by the open religious undertones in, well, just about everything. Upon first meeting people, complete strangers, often ask, “Where do you go to church?” It’s as though it’s a given that everybody goes to church. If you answer that you don’t attend regularly somewhere the next thing on the agenda is, “You really ought to come on out to ‘the really good church I go to’.”

    One of the things I lost in becoming agnostic towards a god and atheist in practical living was a sense of community. I think that’s one of those things that might be regional. There isn’t a secular humanist organization in the city I currently live in and it’s considered a metropolis. A sense of community is the thing I miss the most about not going to church. Honestly, in this area, church people don’t associate much with not-church-people. And if they do it’s mostly to try to turn them into church people.

    Like

  45. @ Ruth,
    And I”d wager that those secular humanist groups are very poor at forming the type of communities that many churches do. They certainly don’t have all the cognitive manipulations tools in their baskets that religions have. Sports and Politics are probably the closest secular bonding mechanisms among seculars. I contend that building family is key and then friends. Community is precious. I’d love to see seculars build health networks and counter mechanisms and so weaken religions downsides where they exist.

    Like

  46. I had joined a meetup group that only had about three members in it about two years ago. The administrator disbanded it shortly after I joined. I just(and I do mean just now this very minute) re-checked the meetup website and lo and behold a new group has been started and it has 34 members! I just rejoined.

    In answer to you suggestion: yes, there are but you wouldn’t believe the amount of religious proselytizing that goes on even within those. Since I’m not ‘out’ yet I haven’t figured out a way to avoid this without ‘outing’ myself.

    “Mind your own business” seems kind of counter intuitive when you’re trying to make friends.

    Like

  47. @ archaeo,
    The social groups based on hobbies are usually fair weather groups and not committed bonds of community — mainly in that such a thing is not their goal.

    With my friends, I try to nurture our friendship by sharing activity instead of just dinner parties.

    Like

  48. I think she scoped things out over here first. But I don’t blame her. I’d think she’d want to know the people commenting were calm dissenters or hostiles.

    Like

  49. @ Sabio.

    The crux of the issue is the word ‘benefit’ and anything with an underlying negative dogma is not beneficial no matter what the superficial appearances may seem.

    Such community bonding is insular and ultimately divisive, even among Christian congregations which regard other Christian churches as “not the right type of Christianity”.

    The recent nonsense with ken Ham is the perfect example.

    Similar scenarios are played out all the time in the more religious communities, the likes of which are found in the Southern States of USA ( traditional Bible Belt country).

    In other religions too; and we are all aware of the devastating effects of the more militant Islamic sects that will not quibble when it comes to blowing to smithereens rival Islam sects.
    What benefits are gleaned form morals such as these?

    I strongly suggest you rethink your position and broaden your outlook, Sabio.

    I stand by my original comment. All of it.

    Like

  50. The way I see it, it doesn’t mean that religion has no positive qualities, it’s that they’re often overshadowed by the negative ones. Just like meth makes you feel good, but its side effects obliterate any possible good it could bring.

    Like

  51. Just like meth makes you feel good, but its side effects obliterate any possible good it could bring.

    Are you sure you don’t want to rethink this metaphor, Nate?
    In context of your post it is ripe to be torn to shreds, but because I like you so much maybe you want to delete it or use something else? 🙂

    Lol! Just asking.

    To respond. The premise of religion is bad, thus it will ultimately be bad.

    Like

  52. Ah, I’ll stick with it. But thanks for the offer 😉

    I actually agree that it’s ultimately bad — I just think that Sabio was saying if we break it down into all its separate components, there are some elements in there that are good. I agree with that. Maybe a better analogy is this: there’s nothing wrong with metal. It can be used to make a car, a piece of medical equipment, or a bomb. Generally speaking, bombs are bad, but if you were to break it down into its components, no one would claim that metal is bad.

    Like

  53. I just think that Sabio was saying if we break it down into all its separate components, there are some elements in there that are good.

    There are still many people who believe Hitler did a good job in revitalizing Germany.
    He established a…

    potential community with the safety that provides
    – a sense of identity
    – a means of instilling morals using community
    – hope, to make it through another day
    – opportunity to serve others and reach out beyond yourself.

    I hardly think these are good reasons to become a Nazi?

    It is unrealistic to isolate individual components of religion and say these are benefits, as this is does not take in the true object of religion . One church may hand out food parcels , which is definitely beneficial to those who are hungry, but this is not a benefit of religion, per se and there are several organisations that do similar community work without the religious baggage.

    You might have met your wife at church, and I suppose you could suggest that this was a benefit of religion.

    There are good people within such communities, but this does not mean that the organisation is basically rotten.

    Like

  54. The science I see used in medicine has lots of bad consequences and many good. To attempt to say, it is obvious the bad outweighs the good without narrowing down groups, types of believers and aspects of religions, just shows a desperation to have a flag –> the anti-religion flag. It is sloppy thinking, unbefitting of people that supposedly pride themselves in superior logic and clearer thinking. But it is prevalent. We all want to fly our banners, to hell with reason.

    Like

  55. @ Nate,
    The goal to make religion “ultimately” bad is less about science and more about rhetoric and agendas. Ironically, something I see more commonly with religionists and patriots.

    With something as complex as religion (itself a recent term) and to dry to distill it down to one number (minus or plus) for ALL people, for ALL types of religions, is totally bizarre and very unscientific. Any sociologist or anthropologist would laugh at such generalizations.

    Like

  56. 1. Motives?
    I’m with the crowd that suggests the writers likely believed in what they were writing. I can’t imagine magic shows were a common thing those days, so Jesus’ performance left a lasting impression!

    2. Indoctrination?
    Parents should be careful about teaching non-finite realms. Instead, they should focus more on encouraging learning. Unfortunately, many see their beliefs as finite – and that is where we have our indoctrination problem.

    Like

  57. “The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality.”
    — George Bernard Shaw —

    Like

  58. 1.If the Bible’s claims about God, Jesus, miracles, etc are untrue, what were the motives of the people who wrote it?

    >> I’d say that their motives were largely genuine. That is, they – like nearly every member of cult groups – do not think they are mistaken. It propose that it is genuine but misguided belief – delusion, not deception – that I suspect is found at the bottom of most of our texts (though there are exceptions).

    2.Many nonbelievers view Christians’ efforts at teaching their children and others as indoctrination. Is that a fair term? Why do we view it as indoctrination? And if that’s what it is, what is the point of it? Furthermore, are we indoctrinating our own children against religion? If we’re striving for open-mindedness, should we try to teach our children about religious perspectives as well?

    >> I think it is probably naïve to think we can give our children a neutral outlook. We could call any parenting “indoctrination” to a point, since we necessarily infuse biases. And I think we should. But I do think, having been in cult and fundamentalist movements, that these groups tend to be different in a few distinct ways.

    There is the guru-worship dimension, which is always heightened in religion because religion actually is, at bottom, an authority-based epistemology. Evidential epistemologies are necessarily self-limiting in how far hero-worship and appeal to authority can lead. That stymies true cult leader/follower dynamics. This same root gives rise to three further quite important phenomena: dogma, loyalty, and subservience. Most groups that we call cults or tyrannies feature these earmarks. They are unlikely to arise from evidential epistemologies, but are always likely to arise wherever authority-based epistemologies are approached with greater and greater seriousness; i.e., fervor. Indoctrination, in normal use, tends to imply traits like dogma, subservience, and extremis.

    My hope is that training my own kids in a worldview that shuns dogma and authority-based epistemology will inoculate them as well as possible from vulnerability to cult figures and the corresponding blind adherence to various propositions.

    But then, I may be wrong. 🙂

    Like

  59. 🙂 I’ll give it a try. I can only imagine the conversation that will ensue. I feel certain they won’t take that as a rhetorical question. They’ll likely view it as an invitation to actually answer.

    Like

  60. Ah, but you create yet another question out of their answer to your first, and another from the answer to that. Before you’re finished, if you play it right, they’ve totally forgotten what they asked you in the first place!

    Like

  61. Yes. the #@$%^ comment formats. I blame the blog host.
    He taught me how to do these things and now he’s just too damn lazy to fix them.
    These perishing ex-Crispyans. Can’t live with ’em, can’t shoot ’em!

    Like

  62. @Sabio

    The science I see used in medicine has lots of bad consequences and many good. To attempt to say, it is obvious the bad outweighs the good without narrowing down groups, types of believers and aspects of religions, just shows a desperation to have a flag –> the anti-religion flag. It is sloppy thinking, unbefitting of people that supposedly pride themselves in superior logic and clearer thinking. But it is prevalent. We all want to fly our banners, to hell with reason.

    The underlying motives and premises for medicine are good. Maybe you have heard of the Hippocratic Oath?

    The underlying motives and premise for religion are all false.

    Thus to equate the two is disingenuous.

    But you got one thing right: this is an example sloppy thinking, unbefitting of one who considers he uses superior logic and clearer thinking.

    Like

  63. I believe this example from Pinkagenist illustrates the point, perfectly.

    http://pinkagendist.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/calling-all-atheists-what-are-the-principle-religious-tactics-in-psychological-manipulation/

    I am sure he wont mind if I ‘nick’ this.

    The vilification of disbelief:

    This is one of the oldest and most successful psychological tactics of religionists. It’s the primitive, animal, you’re in vs. you’re out. The implication is that if one fails to submit/adhere to an ideology, they’ll be excluded from their social group. Once the fear of social isolation sets in the next logical step is to embrace whatever you’re told.

    To try and wangle an argument for the benefits of religion out of this shows ”sloppy thinking,”, indeed.

    Like

  64. I decided that religion was ultimately bad. I liked the aspects of community, service and support that Sabio mentioned. I’d still go to church if they wouldn’t insist on talking about their bloody God and how great he is.

    Like

  65. Ark, you commit so many fallacies in this thread, I don’t know where to begin.
    Loved the Hitler Card, and then the Hippocratic Oath move — as if some “origin” issue speaks for everyone doing medicine or religion — both very complex phenomena.
    You want a simple loud banner to run around with — I get it.
    Scream away

    Like

  66. I’d still go to church if they wouldn’t insist on talking about their bloody God and how great he is.

    What, to admire the architecture?

    It’s like saying, “I’d still visit the zoo if there were no animals”.
    or
    ”I’d go to Old Trafford as long as Manchester United aren’t there.”

    Religion is what church is for

    or, Church is specifically for religion.

    Like

  67. @ Sabio.
    Smile.
    You still wont address the underlying issue merely offer up a derogatory rejoinder without qualification.
    You are sounding more like an apologist with every comment.
    But that’s okay. I understand. You want a loud intellectual banner – I get it. Pontificate away.

    Like

  68. @ Ark
    Oh yes, your Tu quoque fallacies are hilarious.
    Look Ark, you and I talking is a waste of time — we’ve established that again and again.
    I will let you have your last attack, I am off this thread.

    Like

  69. will let you have your last attack, I am off this thread.

    Thank you. I shall oblige. You are gracious as always.

    And I wonder how many threads you have left with this passing shot? Can you recall, Sabio?
    lol.

    What a truly silly person you are.

    Like

  70. Sheesh, if you are going to moan at me in Yiddish at least spell the damn word correctly!

    kvetch
    k(ə)veCH,kfeCH/Submit
    informal
    noun
    1.
    a person who complains a great deal.
    verb
    1.
    complain.

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  71. Foist of all, I took the spelling straight off of Wikipedia, and If you can’t believe Wiki, who can you believe? Secondly, if you don’t quit picking on me, I’ll sic Sabio on you, and he knows how to spell “Tu quoque” – so there!

    Like

  72. Religion is what church is for

    or, Church is specifically for religion.

    Agreed. I forgot to turn on my sarcasm emoticon. 😀

    Were it not for religion it wouldn’t be called church, would it? It would only people socializing, providing support, helping each other out with no ulterior motive or agenda. I like people.

    Like

  73. @Ruth
    Sarcasm emoticons are a must….especially if dealing with Manchester United Supporters.

    I would like anyone to explain to me the benefits of joining Ken Ham’s organisation.

    Like

  74. Sigh…..Sometimes my (meagre) typing skills are best exercised in more profitable pursuits, like helping you with your spelling..

    If ever Microsoft or someone comes out with a keyboard that types in ”Crayon Font” I will gladly chat with Sabio all day.
    How is it ‘Up North” today?

    Like

  75. Ah, monolinguistic! He got the two of us thrown off another site, you know, and after the site hostess said I was the GOOD one! I’m sure he’s been thrown out of much nicer places than that, but I haven’t.

    Like

  76. They certainly don’t have all the cognitive manipulations tools in their baskets that religions have.

    No, because it isn’t their goal to manipulate. I think that, in and of itself, puts religious organizations in the “bad” category.

    Like

  77. Well,I was born in England and grew up in the City of Chester.
    I was deported for trying to blow up the Houses of Parliament with some bloke called Gay Forks

    Like

  78. Ark – Was Gay any relationship to Guido (Guy) Fawkes? You were lucky to be deported in one piece rather than drawn and quartered and sent to the four corners of the realm. I suspect you have been involved in a lot of mischief over the centuries.

    Like

  79. <blockquote.Like here, we just happened to be in the same place, at the same time – it’s not like we were together! Besides, I was the GOOD one, she said so –

    And you believed her? Oh dear oh dear….

    When it comes to their ”faith” you just cant trust ’em.

    Look at the way they mess with the bible…..

    Like

  80. Like here, we just happened to be in the same place, at the same time – it’s not like we were together!

    Well….just look at the way you two feed off of each other. I can see how one might get the impression that you were together; tying to play good atheist – bad atheist kind of thing.

    Like

  81. No. I never wonder. Besides, I am fully paid up with Nate. No problems. Until I began sending visitors the most comments Nate ever had was 12 and a half.

    BTW Have you been invited to join whatshername’s blog? I sent four requests. She didn’t even answer!

    Like

  82. This began as another of Nate’s rather excellent posts. It was quite serious in a sensible, academic way and just look how you, with your 12 gauge and hill-billy antics have lowered the tone of the whole thread!

    Like

  83. I had to go to the loo. I am house-trained you know?

    Shall we call it a day and move on to annoy the natives on another fine post? 😉

    You can bring your 12 gauge…

    Like

  84. Clearly, that’s your story and you’re sticking to it – can’t say I blame you, as a defense, it’s nearly unassailable.

    Sure, why not? Being a multi-tasker, I’m already over on Mak’s thread, but there’s really no one to argue with over there, but I will agree, we’ve had enough fun here at Nate’s expense. I’d say, we’ll have to do this again sometime, but I suspect that goes without saying.

    Like

  85. If the Bible’s claims about God, Jesus, miracles, etc are untrue, what were the motives of the people who wrote it?

    As for the specific reasons why…I don’t know, but what we do know is that there are countless examples of people forging, imitating, interposing religion in one way or another. Just look at the bible as one example. There are more false and agnostic gospels written than there are book in the bible. Maybe the people who wrote the false gospels did it for political influence, maybe social influence, or perhaps culture influence. Maybe they did for power or money. Maybe when the people who wrote the false gospel did it because they actually believe they were lying on behalf of god. (Eusebius did)They wouldn’t be the first nor the last to do something like that. Maybe they were crazy. (Just look at the countless cases of a people impersonating Jesus.) Maybe they simply had a message they believed in and wanted others to believe the same message. (They who wrote III Corinthians did.) There are countless reasons and past examples for why the writers of the bible did and wrote what they did.

    But this part is true, all the examples of above are ten times more plausible then God wrote the bible.

    Many nonbelievers view Christians’ efforts at teaching their children and others as indoctrination. Is that a fair term? Why do we view it as indoctrination? And if that’s what it is, what is the point of it? Furthermore, are we indoctrinating our own children against religion? If we’re striving for open-mindedness, should we try to teach our children about religious perspectives as well?

    I agree…..”Teach a child one religion, and you indoctrinate them. Teach them many, and you inoculate them.”— Unknown

    Like

  86. The reason Rev. Weems invented the lie about little George Washington chopping down his father’s cherry tree with his little hatchet, was to teach his Sunday School class of little children, the value of being honest.

    Like

  87. @Michael Summers: February 12, 2014 at 11:46 pm
    “He (your father) challenged me to examine other perspectives, to consider the validity of their arguments.”

    So you accepted his advice and you studied other perspectives.
    Under what criteria did you make your comparative study of others as well as yours? Did you give them equal chance for reasoning?

    Thanks

    Like

  88. @Nate : February 12, 2014 at 11:53 pm

    I appreciate your parents being firm on their belief yet open minded for you and your children.

    Regards

    Like

  89. @ Sabio Lantz:February 13, 2014 at 4:51 am

    “The Bible” is an anthology and not one book. Thus different author had different intents for their stories. And each part of each story may have different intents.”

    I think I agree with you.

    Regards

    Like

  90. @john zande : February 13, 2014 at 6:59 am

    “I think comparative religious study is vital.”

    Under what criteria should one make the comparative study of religions, non-religions also included?

    Regards

    Like

  91. @archaeopteryx1: February 13, 2014 at 8:50 am

    “…what does religion offer that is truly beneficial?”

    The truthful religion offers fulfillment of purpose of life.

    Regards

    Like

  92. Ah, Paarsurrey, you never did, despite my repeated requests on Mak’s site, give me any evidence that there is no other god but allah — there’s still time to do that!

    Like

  93. Oh, Paarsurrey, Paarsurrey, Paarsurrey – I HAVE no religion, and my life is FULL of meaning and purpose! Your biggest problem, is that you KNOW no other way, than the one with which you were raised – you’ve never dared to question, to doubt. I couldn’t live in that kind of fear, it wouldn’t be living, merely existing til death, when, in your mind, your real life begins! Guess what? The joke’s on you. SUCH a tragic waste.

    Like

  94. @archaeopteryx1 :March 22, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    Do you exist?

    I don’t think you exist.

    If you think you exist; please provide to me the proofs and give evidences.

    Regards

    Like

  95. This began a month ago, on Mak’s site, and I’m still waiting for an answer – allah would be SO disappointed in him. “No virgins for you, Paarsurrey!”

    Like

  96. The obvious difference, of course, is that archaeopteryx is arguing on his own behalf. So paarsurrey, even if you don’t believe “archaeopteryx” exists, you believe that someone exists that is using his name and typing for him. Is there a book that God has written? I only know of books that claim to speak for him. And while I don’t believe in the God they claim to speak for, I definitely believe that there were men who wrote down all those words. When God starts interacting with me directly, as he supposedly did with Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, then I’ll no longer question his existence.

    Like

  97. I asked, because on Mak’s site, Random Thoughts, he came on, trying to throw the burden of proof on us to show that there is no god. I turned it around on him, knowing that the Muslim belief is that, “There is no god but allah!” and therefore asked him to provide evidence that there is, in fact, no other god but allah – this, he has failed to do, repeatedly.

    Like

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