Friday, June 29, 2007

Taking Action against Religion

I am approaching the end of a series on the wrongness of teaching religion to a child and what to do about it.

I have argued that it is inaccurate to say that it is abuse (“Religion as Child Abuse”). However, it is still a bad thing to do to teach children false beliefs (“Teaching Religion”) and bad desires (“Religion and Bad Desires”) , and a great deal of this goes on in the vast majority of religious teaching. In order to combat these evils, we are morally limited to words and private actions (“The Wrongness and Freedom of Religion”). However, there has been far less use of words and private actions used against this evil than it deserves (“Condemning the Teaching of Religion”). This is particularly true when it comes to the condemnation of those who claim to be ‘experts’ and who have studied the subject matter when they use such poor arguments that a charge of epistemic negligence is justified (“Epistemic Negligence and Teaching Religion”).

In the last two days, I have spoken of the legitimacy of condemning those who teach religion to children and of speaking to the harmfulness of these actions. However, the legitimacy extends beyond words to private actions.

Private actions are those actions that a person may permissibly perform without having to explain to others why they do them. They include decisions as to where to shop, what to buy, what to watch in terms of television, movies, or plays, who to invite over to one’s house, where to donate time and money, who to vote for, and the like.

Just as there have been far too few words criticizing the teaching false beliefs and bad desires to children, there has also been far too little private action taken against teaching false beliefs and bad desires to children. One recent exception that exemplifies the type of action I am talking about was the “Rally for Reason” held at the opening of the Creation Museum. This was more than just words. This was people giving time out of their day to act.

Often, agents of change are condemned even by those who would be their allies. I remember the harsh words that Michael Newdow received for challenging the Pledge of Allegiance in court. Here is somebody who committed himself to more than words, but to actions. His actions were peaceful and totally legitimate – since his actions consisted in filing a court case to enforce the laws as written, and not in any type of violent rebellion against the status quo.

So, in addition to advocating that more words be devoted to true beliefs and good desires – to promoting organizations trying to teach true beliefs and good desires, particularly to children, and in condemning the intellectually reckless who promote false beliefs and bad desires.

We need more rallies for reason, and more public demonstrations of discontent targeting those who teach false beliefs and bad desires to children.

Separation of Church and State

In making this claim that more private action should be directed towards the teaching of true beliefs and good desires, and against the teaching of false beliefs and bad desires, I suspect that many will immediately think about contributing to the separation of church and state. However, I would argue that the campaign to separate church and state has some important weaknesses.

The most important weakness is that it is fought in the courts, and not among the people. Even when they take their case to the people, they assert that the separation of church and state is a good idea, and they assert that the founding fathers would have supported it, without explaining why it is a good idea, and why we, like the founding fathers, should support it.

Judges receive and read the arguments for saying that church ought to be separate from state, and typically the judges are convinced. However, the people seldom see those arguments (at least in a context that they can understand), so they are not convinced. The result is that every decision for separation of church and state undermines public approval of the courts, to the degree that they insist that the courts eliminate this separation of church and state.

At least in a country like the United States, a political movement cannot avoid the necessity of taking its case to the people, one way or another, if it hopes to obtain a sustained victory. So, if somebody wants to support stronger separation between church and state, I would recommend supporting organizations who take their case to the people over organizations that take their case to the courts. This will, however, ultimately strengthen those organizations that take their case to the courts by creating a public that supports those decisions.


One specific action that I have in mind is the funding of organizations that promote true beliefs and good desires – and the defunding of those that promote false beliefs and bad desires. This means, keeping track of where your money goes, and making sure to direct a little more of it to those who are making the world better than it would have otherwise been, and making sure that less of it ends up in the hands of those who are making the world a worse place.

There are those I read about who watch Fox News “for the entertainment value”. However, doing so puts money (and power) in the hands of those who are making the world a worse place. Putting eyeballs on advertisement is what Fox News does for a living, and putting one’s own eyeballs on its advertising tells it to keep doing what it is doing. It would be better, I would argue, if a person found their entertainment in something that was more useful and less destructive. In this, I am not advocating shutting one’s mind to ideas that one does not disagree with. I am advocating, instead, giving one’s attention to those who defend alternative ideas intelligently, responsibly, and knowledgably.

Today, I have a specific action that I would like to recommend. I am disturbed by the fact that the enemies of truth and good desires seem to be so well funded, compared to the defenders of truth and knowledge. So, today, I want to make a direct request to my readers to make a cash contribution to whatever organization they feel is best promoting truth over fiction, and good desires over bad desires – and, in particular, organizations that teach true beliefs and good desires to children.

I am a firm believer in leading by example. A person should never ask others to do what he is not willing to do himself, if he is able. So, I made a $250 contribution to Camp Quest this morning. Camp quest is an organization devoted to giving a summer camp experience to children of parents who wish to raise their children without religion. So, where the objective is to act so as to promote true beliefs and good desires, in contrast to those organizations promoting false beliefs and bad desires, Camp Quest certainly qualifies.

Yet, I want to make it clear that it is not the only organization that would qualify, and I would like readers to make up their own minds as to which organizations could best benefit from some additional support.

Labor Contributions

Also, this support need not take the form of a cash contribution. I have more money than time (particularly given the time that I devote to Atheist Ethicist, Atheist Ethicist Journal, The Scrapbook Wiki on Desire Utilitarianism, and other special projects. Others, I recognize, have more time than money. For them, I would recommend a commitment of time – a commitment of a weekly contribution in labor hours where one thinks that it can be useful. With today’s technology, in many cases, it need not even be a local organization. One can contribute labor over the Internet.

For this type of contribution, I would suggest allocating a regular block of time – say, three hours on a Sunday morning to working for an organization dedicated to promoting true beliefs and good desires, particularly to children. Simply write to the organization and say, “This block of time is yours. Here are my skills. What can I help you with?”

What to Do?

In an earlier post, I addressed the question, “What should I do?” I mentioned that a person with good desires gets a very pleasant answer to this question. “Do whatever you want to do?” A person with good desires wants to do things that tend to fulfill the desires of others.

This speaks to the question of whether a person is being asked to sacrifice to engage in private actions that support the teaching of true beliefs and good desires to children, and to inhibit practices that teach false beliefs and bad desires. A person with good desires wants to do good, and gets pleasure from the good that he does. There is no sacrifice. And, if it appears to be a sacrifice, one way to get over this hurdle is through practice. An activity that starts off being work can become something that a person does for its own sake, if he sticks to it long enough, and realizes the good that is being done.

More importantly, the children who are raised with true beliefs and good desires grow up to be people who may do whatever they want. Because, to the degree we are successful, what they will grow up to want to do are those things that fulfill the desires of others, and what others will grow up to want to do are those things that fulfill the desires of our children, nieces, and nephews.


digitalzen said...

Sounds like another case of a religion (Atheism) attempting to suppress other folks' ideas.

Oh, yes it is.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Only those ideas that spread death, disease, and inflict other harms on other people.

I can imagine Bin Laden sitting in his cave thinking, "There goes those Americans, trying to suppress other folks' ideas."

Ian said...

Hi Z and Alonzo Fyfe.....Atheism is not a "something" like religion, or schizophrenia, or a is a "null" represents "No belief" is a manifestation of Logical and coherent thinking.....from both your statements it is obvious that your parents and teachers did not understand this....Which is very sad.