Keep Your Heritage Close, But Your Rationality Even Closer

One of the many misconceptions about atheists is that they’re immoral people raised in a culture of childhood trauma and psychological knee-jerk hatred of religion. Their lives are empty and devoid of meaning.

I hardly need to point out the errors in this argument. Of course there are atheists who, after being sexually abused by a priest have come to feel physically sick at the mention of their previous religion. This is hardly surprising. Then there are religious people, who after being sexually abused by a priest will not or cannot find the chance to escape.

We can all portray each other in whatever ways we want, that game is endless. There are a couple of important points to draw, however, from past experiences.

Your heritage and knowledge is probably the most important thing that defines you as a person. ‘They’ can take away your home, your belongings, your life but if there is one thing ‘they’ cannot take away it’s who you are. And you heritage plays an important part in this.

For better or for worse, religion is for some an important part of their heritage. I, for example, cannot feel anything other than warm, family related memories and sensations whenever I think about the Serbian Orthodox Church. There’s a very small Greek Orthodox one here in Madrid, and it’s a very cute affair, with the immigrants from all over Eastern Europe gathering en masse to chat and mix. I only really go on Christmas (7th of December) just to hear the choir sing, to smell the incense and so on.

I celebrate St. Nicholas (Sveti Nikola) on the 19th of December as my slava, or patron saint (in a way). The particularity of the Orthodox tradition is that you inherit your parent’s slava. Since my father was not Orthodox, I could not inherit his, so I’ve taken on my grandfather’s (on my mother’s side) one. It’s something very small, but it’s a connection to him, a homage of his memory. The actual celebration involves fasting (no eating meat nor dairies) but the food is wonderful and the whole family gathers to have a nice time. St. Nicholas himself plays a very small part, if any, in making it feel nice and warm and fuzzy.

Your heritage is crucial. If I ever have kids, I have every intention of teaching them my useless language (Serbian is only spoken by ~18 million people worldwide and it’s a sadistically cruel language, taking the worst of Russian, German and Turkish into one linguistic package) and of teaching them the traditions of celebration of Orthodox fiestas. It’s what defines my family and it’s a part of me.

There is no way in hell, however, that my (alleged) kids will ever be indoctrinated in any way. I will not force them into memorising prayers, believing in the Trinity or in the deification of Jesus. My primary concern will be to teach them to question, to engage and to think. If by the age of 18 they were to choose to adhere strictly to the tenets of the Orthodox Church, I will be powerless to stop them – nor will I want to, since they will be legally adults. But at least it will be an informed decision. This is a luxury children in religious education institutions do not have.

I do not believe in God because of the statistical impossibility for his existence, given the total lack of evidence. I do not see why Allah should be the one true God and not Ganesh or the Holy Spirit (insert x god at the beginning), if any. I cannot believe in the tenets of the Serbian Orthodox Church because most, if not all of it revolves around superstition, like in any other religion.

But I will keep true to part of what makes me who I am. Perhaps it is, as I have said before, the feeling of heritage out of hardship the Serbians have been through. Much of my heritage anyway is secular, and dependent on the characteristics of the Serbian people rather than on their Church. Yet the Church celebrations play a part in it.

There’s no reason why a prosperous American who came out of a Baptist tradition cannot call on his family for Christmas. Indeed, not wanting to call celebrations Christmas and Easter is a ridiculous form of historic revisionism which belittles the ancestry of the culture in question. Besides, people shouldn’t be concerned about Christmas being a religious affair – in this day and age, consumerism has already done the commendable job of taking religion out of Christmas already.

Don’t, however, make the fatal mistake of confusing faith with respect for heritage. You do not have to engage in the process of non-thinking that is faith in order to keep true to your roots. Keep your heritage close, but your rationality even closer.

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21 Responses

  1. You do not have to engage in the process of non-thinking that is faith in order to keep true to your roots.

    Yet another bigot. Well you’ve had your moment in the spot light, time to move on-line to a more rational blog than one which spews bigoted irrational crap like yours.

  2. It was a marvelous post that captured how I feel about religion. I was raised a Catholic and the last few years in university had made me re-think a lot about what Christianity preaches and how I can live a good moral life without any religious belief. I told my parents this year that I have lost faith in religion, because I disagree with its hypocrisy and the irrationality of it, but that I’ve really treasured the weekly church experience because it’s always nice to go as a family (even though the priest’s homily always infuriates me a little). They took such offense in my proclamation as if I have suddenly become a bad person and have given up on God’s grace to reject a gift to be exposed to Christianity that it saddens me to see them judging me based on my (lack of) religious practice. The most annoying thing is that I still go to church weekly, because I’m not strong enough to tell my parents I really don’t care anymore, and them thinking that by me going to church I’ll regain my faith. So ironically I’m a practicing-but-non-believing Catholic now. But I understand that my attachment to the church lies in the warm feelings I get from its atmosphere (christmas carols are always nice) and the scrumptious Christmas and Easter meals we have.

    I definitely agree with you on how you plan to raise your kids, it’s how I would’ve chose to do with my (future) ones. Religious practice should be by choice, not something to adhere to because the rules say so. “My primary concern will be to teach them to question, to engage and to think.” is exactly the type of mentality that I hope on to pass to the next generation. I think these practice are discouraged in society (ie in school) not because of its invalidity, but because of the fear that if the children are taught to reason rationally, religion would never stand a chance.

    Anyway, I babbled too much, usually my comments are short haha. I’m new to this kind of secular thoughts/discussion, but I really enjoy your blog because of the warmth you bring to the intellectual arguments you pose. Hope you don’t mind, I’m adding you to the blogroll.

  3. Hey kiki, thanks for the interesting insight! It certainly brings a little humanity to the comment thread after William Tell’s tremendous ouverture.
    I’m sorry about your family’s reaction. Hopefully they’ll come to terms with how little religion actually has to do with the unity of the family and embrace your decision like whichever way you were to choose to lead your life.
    William: I don’t expect you to elucidate on what part of that sentence was ‘bigoted’? Faith, as per the definition in Oxford’s or Websters is belief in the absence of evidence, or even belief in the face of contrary evidence. It is by definition a process of non-thought, only acceptance. Although I fully respect if you have a beef with reality, many people do. At any rate, you certainly don’t need faith to respect and homage your heritage.

  4. Well put. My boyfriend is very Orthodox, which is about a million miles away from my upbringing in a non-religious family in the middle of Alabama. When I go to visit him, we always go to church and I am surprised by how much I enjoy it- not because of the religious aspect, but because of the cutural aspect.

    In one of our big, scary, what-if discussions about the future, he, knowing I’m an athiest, asked if we would raise our (potential) kids in the church, and I think he was surprised when I told him “of course!”

    There is a part of me that regrets I didn’t have that aspect of community and heritage when I was growing up, and I would certainly want that for my children, as long as it was presented to them as a choice, and something to be thoughtfully considered and not taken as truth on blind faith. It always upsets me when people think that just because they don’t believe in God, they have to reject every single connection with that in their lives. Religion is so much more than, well, religion.

  5. I wouldn’t have nearly the problem with religion that I do if people didn’t let it blind them to logic.

    I’m all for having an external moral compass by which to calibrate the internal one, and I can certainly appreciate the cultural, and community/heritage-related aspects of organized religion, but when your religion even tries to deny the most basic science, it’s time to back away: http://travel.nytimes.com/2007/05/24/arts/24crea.html

    What the hell do dinosaurs and Jesus have to do with one another anyway? Why oh why, Creation Museum does dinosaurs being vegetarians have anything to do with how you want to live your life? http://loljesus.wordpress.com/2007/06/14/ur-irreduciblee-complecks-uh-huz-uh-huz-wugga-wuggaz/

    I just don’t get it. I know enough about humans a species to understand why religion persists in existing, but what I can’t understand is how you can try to deny basic science and be anything other than technology-shunning Amish.

  6. Definitely, I completely agree.

    All I’m saying is that you can keep true to your heritage without undergoing the brain drain of actually believing.

  7. Your problem is that you have no idea what faith is, and unfortunately though you profess your blog to be a “Gospel of Reason”, you don’t understand reason or rational thought. I know this sounds a bit like a flame, so let me explain.

    First off, let us consider your recent post on the “Pi = 3.0” issue. Your arguments lack reason or rational thought, though the point you are attempting to prove is correct. Instead of applying reason to the task of proving that biblical inerrancy is wrong, you instead approached the topic with nothing but bigotry and blind faith that you must be correct.

    The passage you chose does not rationally imply that PI must be 3.14159(etc). All it does is give a human description of a man made object which it professess is circular. Rationally, one cannot divine from this passage that God thinks Pi=3.1459(etc). Rationally what one can pull from this is that a circular object had a ratio of 3:1 for circumferance to diameter.

    So why mention the ratio if it is “wrong” for a circle? Do an experiment with me, take some measuring tape and find some circular objects, do the same measurements and calculations. In my office I find objects with ratios of between 3.5, and 4.3. Does this mean the engineers who made these objects think PI=3.5 or 4.3? Of course not, it means that even with precision equipment today, a perfect circle is really hard. In fact looking back at the biblical item in question, compared to our finely machined modern circles… 3.0 is pretty damned good.

    Applying rational thought and reason to this, we don’t come to the absurd notion that PI=3.0, but that this basin, if it did have a ratio of 3.0, was of masterful craftmanship, because 3.0 is remarkably close to 3.14159(etc), and a fair bit closer than any modern object I can find.

    Note that my problem with your argument isn’t that your presumption is wrong. The bible indeed has glaring errors, it is just that what you have suggested isn’t an error, your blind bigotry has kept you from applying rational thought to discover this, however.

    Ironically the same passage can be used to show an error. Take the description of this basin in 1 Kings 7:23-26, as you have it, and compare it to the description of the same basin in 2 Chronicles 4:2-5:

    He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits to measure around it. 3 Below the rim, figures of bulls encircled it­ten to a cubit. The bulls were cast in two rows in one piece with the Sea. The Sea stood on twelve bulls, three facing north, three facing west, three facing south and three facing east. The Sea rested on top of them, and their hindquarters were toward the center. 5 It was a handbreadth in thickness, and its rim was like the rim of a cup, like a lily blossom. It held three thousand baths.

    Notice that in the first description (Kings), it has a volume of 2,000 baths, while in Chronicles the volume is 3,000 baths.

    This obviously proves the Bible indeed has errors, but not for the reason you posit. If you had applied reason and rational thought, you would have had a substantial argument, instead of bigoted diatribe.

    This is also why your statement about “the process of non-thinking that is faith” is nothing but bigotry. True faith applies rational thinking and reason to the process of faith. Faith is about constant reexamination, rational thought, and challinging your faith. Blind faith is worthless and causes problems (much as your blind faith caused problems in your arguments). Faith backed by rational inquiry is strengthened.

    Yes, it does force the faithful to reject some ideas, such as biblical inerrancy, but such is the process of reexamination. True faith would never be contradicted by science, because science is a tool God has provided us with to discover our world. Thus if science contradicts your faith, you need to reexamine your faith and think about whether you may have been mistaken.

  8. Your use of the word faith is perhaps a little too open to new ideas. The way you describe it could be very well almost interchangeable with simple ‘belief’ and this is not the case in reality.

    Faith is very much like an onion to those who profess it. Science can peel away one layer by presenting scientific models for how things work. But the next layer will be more arduous to remove even if the evidence is just as compelling as before.

    The particular passage I have chosen to poke fun at biblical literalists is perhaps not a compelling argument in itself. It is not meant to be. I am not intending to disprove Creationism by pointing out such a weak argument as I Kings 23-26. The point was, however, to examine the fallacy of biblical literalism by choosing a glaringly, comedic passage. Quite frankly, strong cases can be made for either “The Bible doesn’t state Pi = 3.0” and “The Bible states Pi = 3.0”.

    Your last paragraph deals with the concept of belief. I used to believe in Santa Claus. Evidence to the contrary allowed me to change my belief. I never professed ‘faith’ in his existence, else I would still believe it.

  9. Faith is open to new ideas. You are confusing with with blind faith, which is understandable as it seems to be what you have in atheism.

    Faith in a Christian sense isn’t what you describe at all, but is instead a theological virtue resting on belief in God, and God’s will.

    Science does not peel away faith. Science confirms faith. I’ve yet to see any evidence from science which contradicts what I believe, instead I find it affirming it. God is not a simple being, and science confirms His complexity by showing us that the world we live in is not a simple one, but one full of richness, order, and logic.

    While I will agree that biblical literalists are incorrect in their belief, showing that the bible contains some errors doesn’t shake the belief that people with true faith have. Those with true faith should take it as a time to expand their faith and examine their assumptions to see if they were poorly founded. It does not peel away layers of an onion, making the faith smaller, it enlarges and grows one’s understanding of God’s will, meaning, and purpose.

    I have no doubt you never had faith in Santa Claus, but you present a striking level of blind faith for your supposition that God does not exist.

  10. I chose not to raise my son to believe in a specific god, or any god for that matter. He is 7 now and we have talked and read at length about many religions and I never tell him any of them are wrong. I have made it a point to never tell him any of them are right or wrong, I think he can decide what his truth is. I’m sure that it will change as time goes by.

    He will tell you straight out that he doesn’t believe that “god” is real. We both really liked the book “what is god” that identifies “god” as being the feeling of community that people have when they attend the same church and practice the same rituals.

    People like to believe in something bigger; it’s too bad they are so quick to hate everyone who believes something different.

  11. First of all, I want you to know that I am a committed Christian and I also really enjoy your writing. I appreciate your thoughts and ideas and I think you would be surprised how often I agree with you.

    Having said that, your last paragraph made me want to comment. Please don’t make the assumption that all people of faith are non-thinking. I can see where you would get that idea, but some of us pride ourselves on thinking through our faith.

    Cheers,

    Paul

  12. I’ll just ditto the comments above as they sum up what I would have said well enough.

    The problem I have with your writing, eltower, is not that you are trying to disprove biblical inerrancy, but that you are applying blind faith and presupposition, while ignoring logic, reason, and rational thought to do so, while at the same time accusing your opponents of the same fallacy.

    You need to open up your eyes a bit and let go of your blind faith, and move to a rational reasoned faith.

    I respect many atheists, but only those who come to their beliefs through reasoned arguments, not those who like you build their belief out of straw men.

  13. William et alli:

    I appreciate your comments, and I will certainly take that into account for the future.

    I would like to point out that the train of thought that led me to atheism was purely scientific. I insist that were enough conclusive evidence to appear I would believe in a God (although most probably not worship him, but this is a political conviction more than anything else). As things stand, a naturalist hypothesis, one which dispenses of all need of God, is one which has the benefit of claiming the most conclusive evidence in its favour. Hence, although I refuse to conclusively state there is no God (this would, indeed, be a horrific fallacy), I lead my life as if it were true for all intents and purposes, since the naturalist world view is a model which explains everything without the need of the supernatural.

  14. Science does not peel away faith.

    Then I suppose it is pure coincidence that the majority of leading scientists are nonbelievers. You should also inform the anti-science shills at the Discovery Institute, whose own stated purpose is to redefine science to be “consonant with Christian and theistic convictions” and to “affirm the reality of God”. Or the YECs at AiG who are just dying to teach teach kids bunk science and lies for the sake of their dogmatically held beliefs.

    Please don’t make the assumption that all people of faith are non-thinking. I can see where you would get that idea, but some of us pride ourselves on thinking through our faith.

    I’m sure that justifying a belief in supernatural powers without evidence takes some intellectual effort, but that’s not the point. As much as there isn’t any evidence against your ideas of gods, there is also no evidence or even cogent arguments left in favor of them. It’s very telling that the faithful need to use a special word for believing in their deities as opposed to saying that they just know. It’s just a cop-out from being asked tough questions, like how can you tell that Odin or Allah is not real or true, but Trinity is.

    You need to open up your eyes a bit and let go of your blind faith, and move to a rational reasoned faith.

    Boy, you sure pummeled that straw man. And then you wonder why so many people come to dislike god-botherers. Remind me, where did Jesus say that you have to write angry, vapid screeds when someone says that your religious faith is unjustified? I thought it was all about turning the other cheek, loving thy enemy, never judging others, and not being a hypocritical twit.

  15. Basically dude faith keeps men going in lots of difficult situations, in most cases where logical reasoning or factual approach does little to alleviate your pain, its faith that keeps you from cracking. If something like this helps you be normal, then i do not see any problem in being irrational

  16. Not being very adept regarding praises I’ve decided to give it try though. It is a long time ago that I’ve read such an emotionally touching yet highly intelligent and thought through text and I have the distinct feeling that taking the time to inject a dose of emotion and also one of respect towards ones ancetors and ones heritage into (as I would term it) the rational furor of our lives is a potent antidote to the raising level of insanity which is more and more an attribute of discurse regarding religion. The feeling of sincerity of your post has really moved me and this is more than I could say for any other text I’ve read inh 2007 so far. I feel deep respect for anybody, even if I’d disagree (which is not the case), who has the courage to post something deeply personal like this to a public blog.

  17. Wow! Thanks, sardonic.smile! You’ve definitely pushed me to think it’s worth it to carry on writing! I mean, wow! Thanks!

    I’ve got exams tomorrow and the day after that but I’m home free after that.

  18. digirak: Morphine is just as comforting. Think about it.

  19. I’ve never thought of my original questioning of my former religion as scientific. I’m also not especially interested in science, which I suppose makes me sort of rare for an atheist these days.

    I was raised Baptist, a fairly literal Bible interpreting and fundamental type. I have one brother of six that actually knows I’m an atheist from having run across my blog, but I’m certainly not out to the rest of my family. He’s the cool brother that won’t rat on me or preach at me.

    I don’t see any heritage in my being raised baptist. There’s a certain southernness I suppose, and I remember fondly certain songs of sacrifice from my childhood, songs any self respecting baptist should recognize and grow misty over. I had the added bonus of attending school where we went to church, yeah, one of those kids.

    As mentioned, my atheism never grew from a science and scientific reasoning sort of thing, at least not in the beginning. Perhaps many of us approach it in recognizing the horror of such an entity as god would have to be. I soon found it easier to replace references to god with interstellar entity, a more accurate definition that took away the all powerful part and gave some distance to view the whole of the whole idea.

    At some point, you realize that maybe you’re stuck in the pagan cult worshiping the bad god/deity/entity. And why YWHW instead of Odin, as has been mentioned. Some gods absolutely roll in blood and killing the not-like-us.

    And then I discovered Eris, all hail Discordia. I knew then that I’d found the only truth I’d ever need. Seek and you shall find, or so says the Bible. And if you truly seek, you will recognize Eris where she is, and you will soon come to know the wholly chao and understand what it’s like to truly live.

    Praise Eris, All hail Discordia

  20. very interesting, but I don’t agree with you
    Idetrorce

  21. You are completely entitled to your opinion, and I will defend to the death your right to say it.

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