Saturday, June 16, 2007

Killing the mind of a child

I think that in the discussion of natural problems we ought to begin not with the Scriptures, but with experiments, and demonstrations.

Galileo Galilei 1564-1642

There is a film that recently came out on DVD called Jesus Camp. It is about a bible camp run by a evangelical group in the United States that is even extreme by the standards of American fundamentalism.

Children at this camp are taught, according to the woman who runs it, to be "holy warriors" willing to die in the name of their god i
n the same way that Jihadists die for theirs. Indeed, Becky Fischer who runs the camp finds this admirable. Virtuous. To die for Jesus is an honour. (

I've not watched the full film yet, but most of it is on Youtube, where I have watched it in horror and disgust.

I could go on at length about the extent of the abuse the minds and emotions of these kids take at this camp - watch the scene of the little boy who has to stand in front of the other children and say he tries, desperately to believe in god, but he can't. ( poor kid just wants a friend, and instead of consoling a confused child, the adults present let him twist in the breeze, clearly getting more upset by the moment. The kid needed a friend, not to be judged by the glaring eyes of his peers.

But what I want to focus on here is the segment on home schooling.( ) A little boy, maybe 12 or so, after watching a bizarre creationist video on evolution that has no resemblance to real science, gets a history and science lesson from mom. First he is told that climate change isn't really a probl
em. And then told that the only truth he will ever need is in the bible. Standard creationist stuff so far. But at the end of the of segment the boy tells his mother, "I'm think Galileo made the right choice giving up science for grace."

If you have even a glancing knowledge of history, you probably need to take a deep breath now. That's right. The little kid has been taught that Galileo "gave up" science to embrace Jesus!

The facts, in short, are these. Galileo, thanks to his improvements to the telescope, had seen things no one else had before. Including moons in orbit of Jupiter. This helped prove the at the time radical idea that the earth orbited around the sun. The church however, had hitched its theological pony to an, ironically, pre-Christian Greek notion of the universe. The Greeks got a lot things right, but not this. This was genocentric solar system as Aristotle thought it up...with t
he earth at the centre:
Galileo's observations blew this out of the water. But the church had decided this was a biblically supported truth. Which indeed, if you are a biblical literalist reading Pslam 93:1, Psalm 96:10, Chronicles 16:30 Ecclesiastes 1:5, it is! And in those days of the 16th century, questioning the authority of the church meant getting a visit from the Inquisition.

Galileo, being a stubborn cus, went and wrote book called
Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. In it, he compares the earth centred vs. the sun centred solar systems. And the earth centred system, as you might guess, loses out. But Galileo went one step more. He placed the words of the Pope, who defended the whole the earth is the centre of the universe thing, into the mouth of a character called Simplicius...his name tells you all you need to know about him.

Needless to say the Pope flew off the handle and the Inquisition was set into action. Galileo, under the threat of torture by the Inquisition, recants the whole sun centred deal, and is placed under house arrest for the rest of his life. If he had not, he would have faced a ghastly end indeed.

Now, these being the facts, either that kid in Jesus Camp has been taught an outright, bald faced, fantasy or he has been taught that conversion by threat of the thumb screws is a perfectly fine thing to do! Either way, this kid's mind has been damaged.

He has been told a utter and demonstrable lie about history, one with a nice happy ending for our man Galileo because he accepts the grace of the Jesus...the whole deal with the Inquisition is just shoved aside.

This is nothing but an educational disgrace of the same order of magnitude as those insipid creationist museums - really fundamentalist theme parks featuring humans living with large meat eating dinosaurs - that are popping up in the US and Canada - that's right, Canada. We have one in Red Deer, Alberta. Kids are taught a line of falsehoods and fantasy, told its real history and science. These kids are going to grow up without any real knowledge of the world around them.

If you read the headlines, you'd read about the Islamist group Hamas changing the school system in Palestine to include more Islam lessons and less of, well, less of everything else. Less science, literature, art, history and math. More religious dogma. The results of this are predictable - children who grow up to believe the Koran is all there is to know and find themselves utterly incapable of coping with the world of the 21st century. It does not bode well for the future of the Muslim world in the middle east.

The same is true of the children Christian fundamentalists who home school their kids in the way that boy on Jesus Camp was. Facts don't matter. Reality does not matter. History does not matter. All that matters is making sure that child never dares try to think for himself, to ever try to learn something that isn't written in a 2,000 year old book by people who thought the earth had four corners and diseases were caused by demons.

It's wrong. It's disgusting. And it borders, to be totally frank, on a form of child abuse. One wonders what will become of the west should a large enough generation of children grow up in that kind of belief system.

Friday, June 1, 2007

A question of morality .

Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you'd have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion. ~ Steven Weinberg, Nobel Laureate in physics

A few years ago, I covered a murder trail for the newspaper I work for. A father had stabbed his infant child to death.

It was, even by the standards of a full time crime reporter, a particularly nasty event. The man, Lawrence Mends,
was hopelessly mentally ill. He heard voices in his head.

During his trial he told the court the voice told him to take a butcher knife and stab his baby, which he had placed on the kitchen floor. He stabbed the child so hard and so many times, the blade wasdented on the kitchen floor after passing through the child's body.

Most people would recognize that a man, mentally ill or otherwise, killing his own child has something very seriously wrong with him indeed. At best, he is a person to be pitied because of his illness. Most often, however, we feel an instinctive sense of horror and revulsion - as we should. No one in their right mind would say it was a good thing he listened to the voices in his head.

But we don't always. At least, not when the discussion turns to morality and the supposed role that religion plays in it. Followers of the three great monotheisms - Judaism, Islam and Christianity - often claim that our morals come FROM religion. Without religion we have no morality, and therefore we can do whatever we want with no resistant. "Why be good without god," they often say. Indeed, why not just kill your own child without the objective rules of right and wrong presented in the common stories of all three of these religions?

Yet, a closer look at the morality of the Old Testament in particular - from which all three faiths find their religious foundations - reveals a morality that would, at best, make us feel the same way we feel about Mr. Mends.

Take the story of Abraham and Issac. It is a foundational story of all three faiths, and regarded as a story that shows the proper devotion to the almighty that all followers should strive for. God, because in the scriptures he is forever meddling with individual human lives in a way that would make even Zeus blush, decides its time to test Abraham's faith. God evidently needs the constant reassurance that his creation will do his bidding, no matter how insane - and this test is just about as insane as it gets. (One could also probably write a paper on the Divine's constant need to be worshiped.) Abraham is told that he is has to kill his own son Issac as a sacrifice to god. And Abraham, virtually without question, obeys. He hog-ties the kid, and pulls out a knife. And just as he is about to plunge the blade into the body of the boy, god sends one of his angels down to stop it.

"Just kidding," Abraham is told. "God just wanted to see if you would do it. Sorry about that old chum!"

Find for me, please, the great morality of this story. What makes Abraham any different than Lawrence Mends, other than that in the fictional case, the son isn't murdered?

The faithful of course, present several arguments, often taking the form of the old "god works in mysterious ways," argument. Essentially, god has a plan, we pitiful human don't know it. So if god tells you to kill your kid, you kill your kid because obedience to god is what is important. So its "thou shalt not kill...unless god says it's ok."

The test of faith is more like the test of loyalty used by criminal gangs. Go forth and kill to prove you are really going to be loyal to the family. And of course, the only way to really prove that loyalty is to murder someone you care about. God is little more than a sadistic mafia don here.

And then there is Abraham himself. You know, the guy hearing voices in his head? Had he an ounce of real morality in his body, he would have told god where to stick the whole idea of killing Issac. But he doesn't. He goes through with it because he was "following orders". ( Curiously enough, that was the excuse used by Nazi soldiers after World War Two. We didn't buy it then, and shouldn't buy it just because it is written down in the Bible or Koran. )

The point is, there is nothing admirable about a man willing to murder his own child. There is nothing worthy of worship in a god that would order such a terrible action as a "test".

If Abraham was in that court room a few years ago, he would have been as guilty as Lawrence Mends. And rightly so.

And this isn't the only story of this kind of dubious morality. For instance, this break down on the story of the bible's sorriest bastard, Job: