A kindly old man

I heard from several correspondents that they thought my attitude to religion (Christmas vs Holidays) was unusual.

One had been brought up in a religious environment and now rejects the whole shebang – she can’t understand why I am interested in Christian mythology at all. She wouldn’t even let me buy a children’s bible for our daughter because she still has bad memories of the nuns who ran her school. Another reported that their family, having walked away from their childhood beliefs wanted to get as far from them as possible. Still another suggested that I had fabricated my whole attitude just to be controversial.

For me growing up, the Church of England was like the kindly but eccentric old man who lived down the road. He had a whole bunch of fascinating stories and some of them may even have been true. Everyone knew him and liked him but no one took him very seriously. I have nothing but fond memories of him.

Perhaps, for people who were brought up with a more strict form of religion, a part of their identity is tied up in their religious beliefs? Maybe religion is like a strict aunt who tried to control their lives? When they finally break free from her controlling ways in adulthood, they have to let go completely and discard everything that might remind them of her.

I have often thought that these differences in attitude towards religion between Americans and Europeans (Malta doesn’t count as it’s pretty much a theocracy) can be attributed to the lack of religious education in schools in America. My son will never play the innkeeper in the school nativity play. My daughter will never sing Little Donkey in the Christmas pageant. They will never get to tease the RE teacher about some of the more way out stories from the bible.

The only way my kids will get a religious education is if we sign them up for the whole package and that requires actually believing that the stories in the bible are true. That can’t be right.

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Ragged Clown

Based in San Jose, California

18 thoughts on “A kindly old man”

  1. I never had RE in school. Well, when they decided to introduce RE, I was 12 or something, and got a note from my parents saying I didn’t have to go, so *I* never had to go to loony class.

    No RE, never went to church other than for weddings, funerals and tourism (Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris is very pretty), never read the bible. Somehow the lack of RE didn’t make a religious fanatic out of me.

  2. I personally have a hard time saying “Merry Christmas” but it is not because of some traumatic childhood incident. It is a reaction to the way religion is now. I am afraid of how it worms its way into our government policies and effects our human rights in certain ways. I am afraid of becoming a theocracy because if we do, it would be the fundamentalists who have the power and every fundie I have met scares the crap out of me. I guess I am distancing myself from the association and subconsciously trying to discourage religion as a whole, though I know in the end the “Happy Holidays” thing only serves to enrage the fundies into more chaotic and destructive gambits.

  3. I am trying to describe a formula for well-balanced children who have a sceptical appreciation for, but not a slavish devotion to, a culture that has been the backbone of western civilisation for the last two thousand years.

    > Somehow the lack of RE didn’t make a religious fanatic out of me

    A complete absence of exposure to RE is unlikely to capture the ‘appreciation’ part of of the formula. I did not suggest that the lack of RE turns people into religious fanatics.

    > Or you could always provide the sort of religious education you wish at home.

    There is something special about the ability of a gang of 13 year old boys that generates just the right amount of scepticism especially when they confront the aged Reverend Green relating legends from the bronze age. I think you’d lose some of that in a one-on-one setting in the home.

  4. Aaron’s post and mine crossed in the ether but I will take the world that Aaron describes – a world in which there is only strict atheism and strict Christianity – as further incentive to encourage a sceptical appreciation for the culture which Christianity has handed down to us.

  5. On a mostly related note, Dawkins said the the bible should be required reading because much of it is very beautiful, and to understand the references made elsewhere in western culture etc.

    Required in the “recommended” rather than “compulsory” sense.

    Not sure why I keep quoting him.

  6. > required reading

    cite? anyway, maybe Dawkins agrees with Asimov and has an agenda:

    “Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.” – Asimov

  7. >cite?

    Why do you ask?

    Twas in his interview on Forum. WRT Asimov, that wasn’t the point he was making, it was the two reasons I mentioned. As literature. He went on to say there’s some BBC radio show “With Great Pleasure” where people come on and read passages of their favorite works: Byron, Keats etc. He went on the show and read from Ecclesiastes, from the King James Bible (as well as some Carl Sagan, Shakespeare, etc.) Though he probably did love the part he read, I gotta believe he was trying to optimize some for irony and controversy.

    That said, in supporting a different thought, he did say that there are a few passages in the old testament that describe the xtian god as a monster, if read literally, which, as he is frequent to point out, many people do – particularly in the US.

  8. > Why do you ask?

    Don’t get defensive, just curious to see in what context it was said 🙂 For example, did he also advocate the odyssey/Iliad? The Koran?

    I rarely read fiction, so I haven’t read those either, but I understand they’re beautiful too. The way you said, it almost sounds like Dawkins was saying “if you only read one book, read the bible”, which I doubt he would ever say.

    I’m sure that’s not what you meant, hence the “cite?” so I can see the context.

  9. > I gotta believe he was trying to optimize some for irony and controversy

    That mis-perception often occurs when atheists claim to appreciate religious literature and imagery,

  10. >cite?

    “The King James Bible of 1611 includes passages of outstanding literary merit in its own right, for example Song of Songs, and the sublime Ecclesiastes. But the main reason the English Bible needs to be part of our education is that it is a major source book for literary culture. The same applies to the legends of the Greek and Roman gods, and we learn about them without being asked to believe in them.”

    The God Delusion p.341 [Dawkins, 2006]

  11. > did he also advocate the odyssey/Iliad

    The Odyssey is outstanding. The Iliad is interesting in a this-is-one-of-the-earliest-stories-ever-written kind of way but the Odyssey is a great adventure. Better than the bible.

    Never read the Koran. Read lots about it.

  12. J: Wasn’t sure if you wre skeptical that he’d said it – I don’t know him as well as you so dunno if it’s crazy out-of-character. or just more details (which you’ve answered). In what I heard from him, the fiction/nonfiction bit was orthogonal to the beautiful language. I understand that in other conversations, he takes the content more seriously 🙂

    K: You seem to be saying the Odyssey is a better adventure than the bible, but wasn’t sure you’re limiting it’s betterness to the adventure angle.

    I found Beowulf interesting only in a this-is-one-of-the-earliest-stories-ever-written kind of way. Maybe I was too young at the time to appreciate the adventure.

    I got distracted by the extra text to facilitate rhyme, etc. with the Illiad. They could refactor out “by the long ships”.

  13. > The God Delusion p.341 [Dawkins, 2006]

    Yes, I read the book too. But like you pointed out, RD says “…a major source…” and one would have to be blind to not appreciate that, so no mystery there.

    My request for a cite, was because I had the impression that now RD was saying that the Bible was “…THE major source..” and I wanted to see it with my own eyes.

    It’s all clear now though.

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