122. exoteric

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exotericadjective1. Suitable for or communicated to the general public; 2. Not belonging, limited, or pertaining to the inner or select circle, as of disciples or intimates; 3. Popular; simple; commonplace; 4. Pertaining to the outside; exterior; external.


Asian children prayingThis morning I posted the following on Twitter: “If children aren’t allowed in an R-rated movie, children shouldn’t be allowed into churches where they read from an X-rated book.”

Having read the bible cover-to-cover many times (and in different translations!), I feel I can speak with authority on this subject. My parents were shocked when they found out that I’d read Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles as an eight-year-old. That actually began my long love affair with banned books, although I hadn’t known that it had been banned at the time. In places it’s pretty sexually explicit, so why my parents—as Evangelical Christians—had that book I’ll never know.

However, if you bother to look closely at the bible you’ll find x-rated material throughout, yet this was a book my parents encouraged my sisters and me to spend as much time reading as possible (which is partly why they objected to me reading Martian Chronicles, because it wasn’t the bible)! Here are a few sexually explicit examples (parents—you’ll want to send your children out of the room now):

  • Lot’s daughters get him drunk and rape him multiple times after they flee Sodom. (Genesis 19:30-36)
  • David commits adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, one of his soldiers, and then has Uriah killed when he finds out that Bathsheba is pregnant with his [David’s] child. (2 Samuel 11:3-5)
  • Amnon, one of David’s sons, becomes infatuated with his half-sister Tamar (different Tamar) and rapes her after pretending to be sick and asking to have her bring him food. Tamar’s brother Absolom finds out about this two years later and kills Amnon. (2 Samuel 13)

That’s not to mention all of the other instances of rape, incest, mass slaughter, genocide, infant and child sacrifice, and horrific mutilations that are scattered throughout the “holy scriptures.” Eli Roth, James Wan and Wes Crave shouldn’t bother making torture porn—they could just adapt the bible.

Today I got into a discussion with a friend of a friend on Facebook who posted the above picture along with this caption:

Then Jesus prayed this prayer: “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding the truth from those who think themselves so wise and clever, and for revealing it to the childlike. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way!”
— Matthew 11:25-26

As a rule, I try not to go after people I don’t know unless they try to start something with me. However, as much as I dislike children, that picture really disturbed me, and I shared that sentiment with him: “This makes me extremely nervous, seeing children who are not yet able to cognitively grasp what or who it is that they’re worshiping, or what they’re doing, and are basically parroting their elders.”

He responded: “I can see where your concern is coming from. On the flip side, I look forward to fathering my children in such a way some day, that they “parrot” my worship. If their parents are godly men and women whose lives produce fruit to go along with those postures of worship, these kids are on a very healthy pathway towards understanding worship in a way most adults do not.”

I look at that picture and see myself as a child, eager to please my parents and adults and to fit in. As children we’re genetically conditioned to imitate our elders. It’s how we learn.

But how, exactly, is this not brainwashing? When you raise a child in a vacuum, tell it that there’s a benevolent god up there who loves us, listens to our prayers and takes care of all our needs (even though its parents work hard to put food on the table and clothes on everyone’s backs); but will nevertheless throw us into a fiery pit for all eternity if we fail to properly worship the son he slaughtered because of his failed experiment on humanity—how can you expect that child to ask questions? To grow as a human being?

And when you tell that child that the earth is 6,000 years old, and that dinosaurs and humans co-existed (even though most of the dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous period, and modern humans appeared on the scene c.60,000 years ago), how can you expect that child to think freely when you’ve taught it from birth that the bible is the authoritative, infallible word of god, and that every word is absolutely, unquestionably true?

It’s ironic that Christians believe that every fetus has a right to life, yet when that child is born they immediately want to take away its right to think to “save its soul.”

Religious freedom is a hallmark of American society. However, in preserving parents’ freedom to express their religious beliefs, I fear that we place children in intellectual (as well as physical) peril. Many religious groups refuse life-saving medical treatment on the grounds that it interferes with god’s prerogative over life—notably, Christian Scientists. Last year a couple in Oregon was jailed for six years after their premature newborn son died of staph pneumonia when they refused medical intervention. In 2010, a 15-year-old Jehovah’s Witness in the U.K. refused a blood transfusion and died as a result.

Religious parents claim the right to raise their children as they see fit. To be fair, most children raised in religious homes grow up healthy and well-adjusted. And I acknowledge that these parents are concerned for the spiritual well-being of their offspring. But how many of those children will:

  • … grow up thinking the earth is 6,000 years old?
  • … vote against same-sex marriage and believe that homosexuals are evil?
  • … go to school board meetings and demand that Creationism or Intelligent Design be taught?

You cannot be raised in a religious home and be a freethinker. I’m sorry, it’s not possible.

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14 thoughts on “122. exoteric

    • David

      Fair question. Answer: I was a bad Christian. I asked questions that exasperated my parents, adults, Sunday school teachers and pastors. There are many of us who spend years trying to fit in but inevitably give up religion and belief in god.

      • So you’re capable of free thought because you ultimately rejected the beliefs of your environment and people who don’t aren’t? Isn’t that just a bit too easy? What about people who question belief and ultimately don’t reject it? I don’t mean to be rude but just because one person rejects others it doesn’t make them better or brighter or more special than those he rejects. By your own words, you gave up. Is giving up the sign of intellectual rigour? Are we not all, of whatever faith, belief or philosophy or mix thereof or none, capable of free thought? Isn’t it a tad arrogant to suggest otherwise?

      • David

        Arrogant? Why is it arrogant to consider and accept tangible, palpable evidence? I’m not “better, brighter or more special” than anyone else for doing so, any more than I am for accepting that the earth is not flat, or that disease is caused by bacteria and viruses rather than demons (who apparently have nothing better to do). This is precisely what C.S. Lewis described in Screwtape Proposes a Toast of those who say, “I’m as good as you”:

        The claim to equality, outside the strictly political field, is made only by those who feel themselves to be in some way inferior. What it expresses is precisely the itching, smarting, writhing awareness of an inferiority which the patient refuses to accept… Presently he suspects every mere difference of being a claim to superiority. No one must be different from himself in voice, clothes, manners, recreations, choice of food: “Here is someone who speaks English rather more clearly and euphoniously than I — it must be a vile, upstage, la-di-da affectation. Here’s a fellow who says he doesn’t like hot dogs — thinks himself too good for them, no doubt. Here’s a man who hasn’t turned on the jukebox — he’s one of those goddamn highbrows and is doing it to show off. If they were honest-to-God all-right Joes they’d be like me. They’ve no business to be different. It’s undemocratic.”

        It’s not “giving up” to recognize when you’re wrestling with a ghost, or mist, or [insert metaphor here]. But you cannot be a true freethinker or claim to be one when you submit or suspend your critical faculties to the whims of a 2,000-year-old book.

  1. Rebekah

    It is absolutely true (and frightening) that those children who question their parent’s faith, point out inconsistencies, or struggle to fully accept their parents’ religion at face value are labeled “bad Christians”. The exercize of free will and the ability to question and analyze our world, is somehow viewed as a failing. 

    Now, I would argue that there are different denominations and experiences, and not all practices of Christianity condemn the intellectual pursuit of God. For example, C.S. Lewis constantly questioned God and the tenants of faith. He published papers, books, gave lectures, taught philosophy courses, all questioning and challenging our idea of God and Christianity. 

    Catholicism, though it definitely emphasizes “do as we say because we say it”, has its foundation, not only in the Scriptures, but also in tradition and prayerful study over 2000 years. St. Thomas Acquinas was a scholar and an intellectual who turned his keen and probing mind to the question of God and faith. His writings influenced other intellectual Catholics, such as Thomas Merton.

    Any faith that asks you to follow it solely out of fear of condemnation and forces you to stunt your natural inclination to question your environment, is completely backwards and, yes, very dangerous. One reason I appreciate Cathocism, is that they have the history of dissent, criticism, and apologetics so that if you have a question, they probably have an answer. This has not been everyone’s experience with Catholocism, unfortunately. My parents were raised in the pre-Vatican era of head-coverings, Latin Mass, and nuns whacking students with rulers for not memorizing the catechism. Times have changed, but the Church moves at a much slower pace and has lost much of its flock to shiny, new, feel-good churches. I have a theory about this, and it’s probably not a popular one. 

    My theory is that people, in general, don’t want to have to think for themselves. Anthropologically speaking, humans fare better as a collective, and in order to be accepted by that collective, you need to become homogenized, productive, and support the mission of the whole. (The Borg come to mind, as does the Natzi Party.) Thinking for ourselves is difficult, can make us unpopular, and we can become cut off from the society as a result. Yet, every innovation and advance to our species has been a result of someone stepping outside of the culturally accepted box and taking a chance. We’ve evolved as a result. In theory, each new generation should branch out a little more, each year we should have a deeper understanding of ourselves and our universe, each era we should become closer to an “ideal” or “salvation” or “nirvana”. So why don’t we? Because for every person willing to embrace their nature and challenge the status quo, there are tens of thousands of people who are comfortable with the niche they’ve created and they have power in numbers. So people join a new church, and find themselves embracing radical ideas because it feels good to fit in, and before they know it, they are standing outside a courthouse with a sign proclaiming “God Hates Fags”. 

    I have to draw a quote from the movie Men In Black (of all places) to illustrate this: “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals…” 

    If that person holding the “God Hates Fags” sign was alone, and met a homosexual person, they may have enough human instinct to recognize mutual human dignity and treat that person with respect and acceptance. But as a member of a “church”, they REGRESS and embrace the mob mentality which is to condemn that which is different. 

    One reason these fundamentalist churches are dangerous, is that they base their entire faith on a book which is incomplete, unscientific, heavily edited, out of context, and translated into the vernacular. 

    Anyway, I’m running on and am completely off topic. I enjoy reading your posts. 

    • David

      Rebekah,

      Thank you for that incredibly thoughtful response (and sorry I was so dilatory in replying). You’re spot on: Questioning is how we evolve and grow! That is what we can take from science. If your ideas are sound and valid, they will stand up to scrutiny and be proven true, not because someone was able to yell louder or long enough or was successfully able to shut out any competing ideas. That’s fascism.

      Your theory sounds as plausible as any (and I’m delighted that you drew from Men in Black for support). Nuremberg was a Nazi experiment in group think and mob mentality. But I think you’re onto something with evolution. Evolution works via imperceptible adaptations in a species over unthinkably long periods of time, and those adaptations survive by the process of natural selection. For two thousand years, faith has worked. The Church has worked. And, I suspect, for the two thousand years prior to that, polytheism worked.

      In The Selfish Gene, Dawkins suggested that perhaps religion itself works like a gene, passing itself down from generation to generation, and that instead of genes, faith works by memes. Now, you’re right, non-belief can be unpopular for an individual, and that would seem to be a poor strategy for a meme to adapt that way. There is little reward for those who question and who doubt, because you tend to find yourself shut out of community. And yet it’s growing.

      I rather imagine this is something like what happened when homo sapiens first began to appear amongst Neanderthals. We tend to give them a bad name these days, but as far as we know Neanderthals were the first humans to form complex societies, observe religious beliefs, and honor their dead. They were one of the first steps that our species took towards becoming enlightened and what we’d consider human. And no doubt they considered themselves unique in the same way we do now. But I imagine that as the modern humans began to emerge in the population that they were at first viewed with the same kind of mistrust and hostility that any minority since then has experienced. I imagine that as time went on that their presence increasingly became a non-issue, since there is evidence of interbreeding between Neanderthal and homo sapiens, and that the two races were able to co-exist as peacefully as people of racial variances today do. Eventually a stable cultural norm emerged.

      My point is not that eventually religion and belief in gods will die away. Maybe it will, who knows. But whatever is happening, it is certainly evolving, and that causes fear among those who like things the way that they are since change spells uncertainty. Historically, doubt has not been well-received in the Church. I’m still mad about what happened to Giordano Bruno and to Galileo, but also to the men and women who were accused of heresy and tortured and executed for having different ideas.

      I’ll say it again: I wish there were more Christians like you, Rebekah.

  2. Not to pick nits, but you said “raised in a religious home” – not “raised as a good Christian.” So would you therefore argue that every person, of every religion, throughout all time, who was raised by parents of a religious bent was unable to think for him-/herself? This seems a tad extreme as I know people of many faiths (and non-faith) who are quite intelligent and able to both think for themselves and defend their beliefs fairly well. It also seems to ignore those, like you, who hold different beliefs from the ones held by the parents of the household – including those raised atheist who later became religious.

    Full confession, I sometimes find myself tempted to think similarly about non-theists who parrot the Dawkins, Hitchens & Harris material; how would you see that case as different, if at all, from those who parrot, say, McDowell or Geisler in terms of Christian apologetics?

    FWIW, I deplore the JW & CS views on medicine, and I do not think homosexuals are evil. Well, any more or less evil than heterosexuals; we’re all human after all. Not that this makes me any more or less credible, and I don’t want this to sound like I’m trying to curry favor. I find you challenge my thinking quite often, and enjoy robust discussion on these types of topics. But if I ever annoy or offend, please tell me to butt out. That’s never my intent.

    • David

      Ron,

      There was a recent post on the Friendly Atheist blog about a current story blowing up in Quebec about the mandating of religion classes in public schools. This isn’t religious education so much as it is education on religion. And, naturally, Christian parents are hysterical about it. The article in the Globe and Mail said that “the decision [of the Supreme Court of Canada to let the classes stand] was a blow to a Quebec couple who wanted to pull their son from a mandatory ethics and religion program, claiming it is making him confused about the Roman Catholic belief system he is being taught at home. The mother of the Grade 4 pupil said on Friday that the mixed messages of the Quebec program and have caused her son to question his faith at an age where he should be listening to parental instruction.”

      This is incredibly revealing statement: “Listening to parental instruction.” She seems to be saying that it’s acceptable for her to intellectually blind her own child, but it’s not okay for him to have ideas of his own. And it’s even more revealing that she’s saying that he’s too young to question the faith they’re trying to inculcate him with, yet is afraid that he might be able to.

      As to your comments, yes, I was raised in a religious home. I don’t know that I was necessarily raised to be a “good Christian” as much as I was raised to be a “conforming Christian.” But I don’t know why that of the three children that my parents had, only one rejected the ideology while the other two embraced it. Perhaps had I been born straight I might have been content to remain. But there are many straight people who leave the Church as well. I met many of them this weekend at a gather of former fundamentalists, so I don’t have an answer. Perhaps there is a neurological reason why some of us are less prone to belief in deities. Perhaps there are formative experiences in our early childhoods that lead some of to become atheists. Perhaps it is something as intrinsic as our sexual orientation, that some of us as “belief” oriented while others aren’t. But I don’t think any of it’s as simple as an explanation.

    • David

      Gina,

      How adorable! “The peace of Jesus Christ,” you say? Sometimes I forget that people like you actually exist in the world. It must be so nice to go through life without a care for tomorrow (if you take Matthew 6:34 seriously). The problem with you Christians is that you think that Jesus is a panacea. You throw your hands and a prayer up when something goes wrong, whereas those of us who live in the real world get down to the business of actually fixing those problems. If I’m angry, it’s because Christians stole 27 years of my life from me. I’m angry in the way that someone is who has just had their entire life savings embezzled away by a con artist who is so good that he actually believes his scheme. If you can’t understand that, then kindly shut the fuck up and leave the people that you and your entire religion have wronged alone.

  3. Patricia

    Why are those “inappropriate” or “sinful” things written in the Holy Scripture? Because It shows how sinful we are and how sinful we can be, but at the same times it shows God forgives us and redeemed for us, and it reminds us to repent from these practice like adultery or just simply not to do them because we want to follow God’s way. Those stories, when people made mistakes for they are also human, are lessons to us, not for us to follow their mistakes. So I think you get it wrong about what Bible really aim for. You have to really know what’s the purpose for those stories. I know some people misinterpret Bible that you just have to follow everything ppl do there in the Biblical stories, but it’s not. The truth is Bible gives us stories of ppl who make mistake like we all do, but it shows how God will deliver us from all these sinful world.

    • David

      I have one question for you, Patricia: out of millions of gods that have ever existed and thousands of holy books that have been written over the last few millennia, why are you so sure that this one is right? And whose interpretation of this particular version of your particular holy book are you trusting in? John Piper? John Calvin? John MacArthur? Albert Mohler? Mark Driscoll? Thomas Aquinas? The Pope? And who among them can actually prove that we and this world are “sinful”? I grew up hearing all of the theories and explanations, and all of them ultimately came up short.

      • Patricia

        I have a lot of experience that I have encounter God and experience God. I understand why you find all these idea suspected. I grew up in a Buddhist and Daoist family. I started searching for truth when I grew older, and I have been studying many other religion and Christianity. I pray to God and I experienced God. I studied many thing about Christianity and Biblical evidence. There are too many and too long to tell you all the detail, yet I know there is no 100% visual proof for anyone, but there is no 100% proof for all the religion and even science such as big bang theory. Believe in Christianity is not only by experience, Bible prophecy evidence, and also faith and decision to believe. It’s including many components to have this faith in Christianity. It’s okay if you don’t believe, but I am appreciated your family are a Christian family. I respect your decision, but I do believe in God. My pastor told me that a group of archeologist actually found a Bible script and dated it was around 4th century something like that. It has Bible from Genesis to Revelation exactly close to the bible we have the today, it’s only missing the book of Esther. And Bible never dies away since it was written.

      • David

        Your experience of God and your faith is your own. I too studied Christianity and the supposed evidence for its claims, and my experience is that of having searched for God and ultimately found nothing. I’m sure that life would be much happier and more peaceful if I could ignore my doubts and skepticism, but I’m the sort of person who needs hard evidence and facts in order to believe in something. But it doesn’t feel that I’ve lost very much. If anything, I’ve gained a sense of gratitude and wonder that wasn’t there before I became an atheist. I now value human life and experience more highly than I did as a Christian after realizing how rare and precious all life in the universe is. I am a stronger proponent now of human rights for all people than I was before. I live in a constant state of amazement that any of this is here at all; that we’re here at all! In short, my life is so much richer as an atheist and I wouldn’t change a thing about that. Best of luck in your own journey.

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