Wednesday, May 07, 2008

An Atheist Teaches Religion

I came across this article this morning on the AOL Canada website. Interestingly, the author is from my town. It's about how an atheist is going to use Judeo-Christian mythology to provide a moral framework. Here's a sample:

Also, from a values perspective, I'm not convinced a 6-year-old can understand concepts like civitas, community or liberal ideas of freedom and personal responsibility. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," is just so
much more precise and easy to remember. The Ten Commandments make sense, mostly.

At a family magazine I once worked at, we once tried to assign a story on how to raise kids with a strong moral compass, without religion, but disappointingly, the story turned into the usual pap about teaching them to take turns, value other people's opinions, not make fun of each other etc , without much from the framework perspective. I've become convinced that inculcating my child with
values like sharing (not just her toys but our family's monetary resources),
getting along, working hard, not cheating, welcoming new people, feeling responsible towards her peer community, and of course, not stealing someone's Wii or thrill-killing (to name a couple no-nos), may best be done through use of Juedo-Christian lore.

I've addressed some of the worst aspects of this in my comments:

I find a number of things in your article interesting, including the inclusion of the golden rule into the ten commandments (it's not), and that morals without god come off as well meaning pap (at least they did in the article you mention).

Nearly half of the ten commandments (at least the version I usually see; there are several), are about how to worship properly--religious instruction, not moral instruction. Two of them are edicts against thought crime, and the other four are actual moral commandments: don't steal, don't kill, don't lie, and don't cheat on your spouse. All good rules, but hardly comprehensive.

I would think that it'd be easier to teach your six-year-old what's right and wrong, without introducing an amorphous concept like god. It'd be easier to just tell the child that Santa's always watching, rather than introdcue a new invisible father-figure.And I find it odd that you grew up without faith, but still see the value in having a childhood under the watchful eye of an omnipotent creator.

As for moral instruction being "usual pap about teaching them to take turns, value other people's opinions, not make fun of each other etc , without much from the framework perspective", I'd argue that, especially for children, that framework isn't particularly useful. And a quick look at the ten commandments includes NONE of those lessons useful for getting along with others. In fact, the Bible actively teaches AGAINST at least one, and god wasn't a big sharer, either.

Tolerance, understanding, compassion, and a sense of community are not addressed by the Old Testament (except when they are actively discouraged), and Jesus was conflicted on tolerance and compassion.Empathy, not religion, is the basis for ethical behaviour. At least it should be. If it's only the threat of supernatural punishment that keeps you honest, you're a poor example, as you should know. Ethical standards have changed in the last few thousand years, but the scripture hasn't (not much,
anyway). Believers pick and choose the bits that fit their standards, and discard the rest.

Examples? We don't own slaves, stone disobedient children, we eat pork and shellfish, we don't think mentruating women are unclean, and most of us have decided that homosexuals don't deserve a violent death.

You're introducing an unnecessary level of authority to your moral instruction. Now, instead of saying, "Don't do it because I say so," you are saying, "Don't do it because god says so." Essentially the same message. But you can actually punish the child now, which is more likely to have an effect than the treat of hell.

I say leave god out of it. By all means, teach the child about religion, but only because she will be surrounded by believers all her life, and it's useful to know what they believe.

Any thoughts?

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