Agnosticism, Atheism, Christianity, Faith, God, Religion, Truth

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. 🙂

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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