I initially thought I may have posted this before, but I can't find it, so perhaps I haven't. It is likely an academic matter for me, but I have come to reject the conclusion, in vogue among certain social circles in which I once ran, that "teaching the controversy" on religion is appropriate as a first introduction to the topic for children.
I recognise that the reason some people may be inclined to teach-the-controversy is that they do not have a very solid idea about religion. This is fair - I do have a solid idea. Others may do so because they feel that it is their duty, as parents, to teach the rough societal consensus as fact and treat contentious topics differently. I only partly agree - instead of a simple binary division, I think in the later stages of raising a child it would be appropriate to talk about the reasoning/methods we reach conclusions and positions as well as how sure we are about them. Also, for me, the nonexistence of gods is almost as certain as Shoah and the Moon Landing, and more certain than the standard/academic understanding of the 9-11 attacks and the death figures for Amerindians during colonisation. All of these are subtle gradations of certainty in things that I am very certain about. I believe that trying to provide as much of the depth of my perspective as possible to a child, in combination with whatever (alas, imaginary) partner I might have in raising them, is a better goal than trying to interpret/weigh societal consensus and pass that along. In the general case, society sets a low bar for most topics (although there are some practical and theoretical areas where I am sure I am well below par), and also I would try to pass on as much understanding of human nature, care in thought, and traditions of inquiry that they would be able to revisit the topic and revise it later should they wish. Another reason people might be inclined to tread lightly on this matter with children is to avoid treading heavily in a controversial and sensitive matter. A number of atheists, particularly those that grew up in disciplined environments, would like the content of post religious society to resemble as little as possible their upbringing. I believe this approach is wrongheaded. Rooted in parental resentment, it neither offers an opportunity to develop a mature notion of parenthood nor does it allow us free range of motion in considering what postreligious society should be. Religious upbringings are not entirely negative (they may not even be mostly negative, depending on specifics) - we should learn from them and have the goal of improvement, not being an antonym. At the very least, their traits have led them to survival over long periods of time, and unless we think that what we would be has nothing to do with the survival of our movement and the society in which it resides, a tendency towards antonymic definition of who we would be is a recipe for disaster.
I think a great way to open the topic would be to, when the topic came up, arrange for a family vacation at the next opportunity to Athens and then Rome. Through it, I imagine teaching them about religion in history, the differences between religions, and how seriously people and societies take them (prop: Parthenon). The needs religions fill, their relationship to philosophies, the broad shape of culture, and the need to construct value systems and cultural content if one is to live without the religious ones would all be topics. (a less expensive alternative would be to go to the replica Parthenon in Nashville).
It might be hard to put all this into the head of a kid, but I suspect any child I would have would be constantly packed with ideas, perspectives, and the like.
At least, that's what I think I'd do, provided I had a suitable partner (to help me feel life's worth living) and they were interested in kids. I really don't think it'll happen, but it's nice to dream about.
Today is another day where the only real conversation I had was to order food (and later tea at Crazy Goat - my present location). I also tried, after reading a special on some science site about an isolated tribe of people who run everywhere, and presumably always do so barefoot, my standard jog in my neighbourhood without shoes. My feet are definitely no longer Texas-tough. Things being what they are, it's hard to have a sustained interest in anything, but a why-not-try-it-once-or-twice for something novel is doable. I may repeat this experiment sometime - it was at least different than my normal occasional jogs.
- Lawrence Lessig is retiring his blog.
- Ken MacLeod has an interesting discussion about philosophy, faith, and meaning