A Parent’s Worst Nightmare

One of my best friends, who shall remain nameless for the present, a scientist, an atheist, a heavily decorated soldier in the war on Christmas, raised two wonderful, brilliant children, on of which being a devote catholic now in training to be a very devote catholic. Like a priest or something.

I am a committed and fairly activist atheist, but I find it astounding that both my wife and daughter are much more militant than I am… I come from a long line of priests and nuns, and have a lot of exposure to religious stuff, I was an alter boy planning to be a priest when I grew up … in other words, the whole nine yards.

For this reason when annoying religious things happen but are below a certain level I don’t even notice them. My daughter, in contrast, keeps lists of what the teachers at her public school do that has even the slightest possibility of religious connotation. Some day, she’ll have quite a law suit!

But I worry that her vehemence is like my own when I was young (younger than her, actually) and was destine, or thought I was destine, to become a monk or a missionary. I didn’t become a monk or a missionary, as it turns out. So, will she remain in this mode or will she switch?

Like my friend’s daughter, sutdying to be a priest in a religion that in the end won’t let her be a priest?

How to Raise an Ideological Warrior is a blog post over on Jewcy is an edgy and interesting look at this problem. Recommended reading.

Comments

  1. #1 Tony P
    November 29, 2007

    I was never religious. By the age of 8 I knew that the God of the Bible was a fairy tale.

    Oh I went through the motions. Went to Catholic schools for twelve years, made my confirmation even though I told the priest directing the program that I didn’t believe a bit of it.

    I found out later where my streak of atheism came from. It was my mother. I wish she were around today to see her proud atheist son.

  2. #2 Son of Priam
    November 30, 2007

    Greg, once again you show your horribly misplaced priorities. You titled your post “A Parent’s Worst Nightmare.” For most parents, I imagine that means having their child abducted and killed, kidnapped and raped, or become terminally ill and die. For you, it means that your Catholic friend has a child becoming a priest. Your worst nightmare as a parent is having a child become a priest or nun or rabbi or imam. If your daughter were ever to meet a tragic end, I will look for a Hallmark card that says: “Look on the brightside! At least she didn’t become a nun!” You and I might not ascribe to their faith, but I’d suggest that, on average, a faithful clergy member does more good in this world than, say, a blogger who makes fun of them.

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    November 30, 2007

    Son of Priam:

    Normally I would ignore such ignorant dribble but I’ll give you the benefit of doubt. A great deal of doubt, indeed.

    When I wrote that title, I said to myself “Is this going to bother or offend anyone … obviously (I’m talking to myself here) a parent’s worse nightmare is the death or abduction of their child. That is so obvious, that it is abundantly clear I’m being sardonic with this title. Yet, it may be misunderstood.”

    “Self” I replied, “Don’t worry about it. What you are doing is totally obvious. Only some kind of idiot or fanatic would miss that point. And there are no fanatics or idiots on the Internet.”

    “Well, OK” I said (to myself). “We’ll see how that goes….”

  4. #4 Son of Priam
    November 30, 2007

    Fine, you say that you were exaggerating. That still leaves raising your daughter to be Little Miss McCarthy. Rather than making lists of public servants doing something that could be considered communist in the slightest, she is doing it for public servants doing something that could be considered religious in the slightest. You’ve either passed along your anti-religious bigotry or your OCD — hopefully it is merely the latter.

  5. #5 JimC
    November 30, 2007

    Son of Priam,

    You sir are missing the point. His daughter makes lists of items that violate the law. McCarthyism is not exactly the same idea and for you to conflate the two shows your bias and dishonesty on this subject.

    The title was obviously sardonic. However if ones child chooses to hump superstition all over the place instead of rationality it may be difficult to accept.

  6. #6 Calladus
    November 30, 2007

    “but I’d suggest that, on average, a faithful clergy member does more good in this world than, say, a blogger who makes fun of them.”

    Not even close. The hypothetical blogger is obviously not propagating mythology as truth to the next generation – the clergy is.

  7. #7 Son of Priam
    November 30, 2007

    JimC, I’m talking about the spirit of McCarthyism in the sense of an obsessive witch hunt in which everyone is either with you or against you. I definitely don’t want schools or teachers advocating religion. I don’t want teachers leading prayers, having students color pictures of Jesus, saying Muslims and Jews are wrong, etc. But I’m not going to insist that teachers, say, can’t be seen saying a private prayer before lunch or can’t have a small cross or Star of David on a necklace. Religion is a part of life in the world, even if it isn’t part of my life, your life, or Greg’s life. Insisting that everyone must hide their religion in front of you is moronic and, basically, bigotry, like saying, “I have no problem with blacks so long as they don’t live in my neighborhood.” It is also two-faced for Greg to say that he espouses cultural relativisim (as an anthropologist) but then turns around and attacks those who believe differently than him.

  8. #8 Samantha Vimes
    November 30, 2007

    Also, I would say by the tone of it, he thinks his daughter could show a little restraint in how seriously she’s taking this, and is wondering whether she will stay militant, mellow but remain committed to atheism, or if extreme devotion to an ideal of one kind will end in a backlash against it, like his loss of his Catholic beliefs.

  9. #9 giscindy
    November 30, 2007

    Being an atheist I was bewildered when my 8 yr old wanted to join the local church. I bit my tongue and made sure he got to church whenever he wanted to go which was quite often. After about 3 yrs of almost perfect attendance the new pastor started asking him questions about why the rest of his family failed to attend services. When told we were nonbelievers my son received a personal sermon about what awful people we were and we were going to hell etc, etc. My son was shocked at his ranting and started really asking questions about morality, ethics and what makes a good person. Over the next 6 months his attendence fell off as his critical thinking skills developed and I’m happy to announce that he’s now religion free. Sometimes you just have to let them find out for themselves. Be supportive, set a good example and hope for the best.

  10. #10 Son of Priam
    November 30, 2007

    Calladus said: “The hypothetical blogger is obviously not propagating mythology as truth to the next generation – the clergy is.”

    Because neither I nor you nor Greg can prove that God (or Zeus or Shiva or the Mother Goddess) does or doesn’t exist, atheism also requires a belief not founded science. But more importantly, mythology isn’t a problem — it is what people do with it that matters. Some people will use mythology to go to war or kill: bad. Some people will use mythology to help the poor or those otherwise in need: good. Of the religious people I’ve met (yes, a convenience sample), more of them have followed the latter, especially those in the clergy.

  11. #11 pedant
    November 30, 2007

    “devote” –> “devout” (twice) (“devoted” might also work)

    (also “on of which” –> “one of which” and “sutdying” –> “studying” though those don’t hurt as much)

  12. #12 JY
    November 30, 2007

    Because neither I nor you nor Greg can prove that God (or Zeus or Shiva or the Mother Goddess) does or doesn’t exist, atheism also requires a belief not founded science.

    you’re kidding with this crap, right?

  13. #13 stogoe
    November 30, 2007

    Because neither I nor you nor Greg can prove that God (or Zeus or Shiva or the Mother Goddess) does or doesn’t exist, atheism also requires a belief not founded science.

    Where’d you pick that one, up, Answers in Genesis? Sheesh, what a stinker.

  14. #14 Son of Priam
    November 30, 2007

    JY: “you’re kidding with this crap, right?”

    Okay, smarty, prove it.

    You can’t prove the non-existence of leprechauns. Sure, there isn’t good evidence that they *do* exist, but that’s not the same as proof they don’t exist. Science does not allow for scientists to invoke supernatural explanations, just natural ones. Again, that’s not the same as proof against the supernatural. Now, you can use “reason” to explain why you think magic doesn’t exist, but Greg should be honest as an anthropologist and tell you that any concept like “reason” is culturally specific. “Reason” to you isn’t necessarily the same as “reason” to, say, San bushmen because it is a cultural phenomenon, not some “universal truth” that exists above culture.

    Any “scientist” who tells you that they can prove God doesn’t exist is either a moron or just as evangelical as those he/she protests against.

  15. #15 Son of Priam
    November 30, 2007

    Stogoe said: “Where’d you pick that one, up, Answers in Genesis? Sheesh, what a stinker.”

    No, I’m not a Christian nor a believer in creationism nor a religious zealot nor anything like that… I believe in evolution, big bangs, and all that good stuff. Science, yay!

    But that doesn’t meet I can disprove God. Can’t be done. Science involves the natural world, meaning we can’t use supernatural explanations — nor disprove them. How are you going to test the existence of gods? A lot of physicists say that string theory, as it is now, isn’t science because it can’t even remotely be tested now nor make any testable predictions. But that means string theory can’t be disproved either. That will always be true for religion.

    Sorry if you don’t like it. That is just the nature of science.

  16. #16 JY
    November 30, 2007

    Son of Priam,

    I see you weren’t kidding. Too bad for you, I suppose. Science entails, generally, not believing things without evidence. Atheists, generally, don’t believe God exists for the simple reason that there’s no evidence that he does. This is NOT the same as saying that atheists believe that God has been proven not to exist. Most atheists don’t take that position. God might exist, but there’s no reason to think so. Being an atheist is entirely consistent with science in this way.

    I can’t recall any scientist, or atheist for that matter, claiming that they can, in your words “prove that God doesn’t exist”. Not believing in God, or leprechauns, or N-Rays, or the effectiveness of homeopathy, etc., is not a matter of proof, it is a matter of evidence. Lack of evidence, despite searching, is strong reason to discount the existence of these phenomena. You incorrectly claim that “atheism also requires a belief not founded in science”. Evidently you think being an atheist means believing that God has been proven to not exist, which it does not.

  17. #17 Calladus
    November 30, 2007

    Because neither I nor you nor Greg can prove that God (or Zeus or Shiva or the Mother Goddess) does or doesn’t exist, atheism also requires a belief not founded science.”

    That’s BS too. The burden of proof is on the claimant. I don’t require “belief” in order to not believe in Russell’s Teapot.

    Your burden is to prove God exists, it is not my burden to prove he doesn’t exist. It’s a common logical mistake that believers often make.

  18. #18 Calladus
    November 30, 2007

    Sorry if you don’t like it. That is just the nature of science.

    Hmm… when I was doing lab experiments in Physics class, I never had to assume that any experiment might be subjected to divine intervention.

    THAT is the nature of science.

    Science doesn’t accept the existence of anything without evidence. The default position of science is a null, a waiting for evidence. If no evidence is forthcoming, then scientists will proceed as if there is no need to assume that some thing or some property actually exists.

    This is true for Atheism. Not a DISbelief (although there are plenty of Atheists who do DIS believe). Atheism is, at its core, the agreement that there is no evidence for Theism, and that there is no need to act as if any hypothetically assumed supernatural god does exist.

  19. #19 Son of Priam
    November 30, 2007

    JY said: “Evidently you think being an atheist means believing that God has been proven to not exist, which it does not.”

    No, I think, of course, that an atheist is someone who disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods. You could probably could me in that category. You’re all laboring under the assumption that I believe in God. I don’t — or more accurately, I don’t know or care.

    But I’m not going to be a dick to someone who does believe in God or gods.

    And I’m not going to evoke science as the opposite of religion. I’m certain that I read a post by Greg on his old blog that he believed he could disprove the existence of God, thus my comments on that particular topic.

  20. #20 JY
    November 30, 2007

    No, I think, of course, that an atheist is someone who disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods. You could probably could me in that category. You’re all laboring under the assumption that I believe in God. I don’t — or more accurately, I don’t know or care.

    I’m not laboring under any assumptions about your personal beliefs. I don’t know nor do I care. I do know, however, that you said “atheism also requires a belief that is not founded on science”. What belief is that? Not the belief that God has been proven to not exist, since atheists, usually, don’t say that. What then? Again, science generally implies not believing things to be true without evidence. Scientists don’t believe homeopathy to be effective. Why? Because there’s no evidence that it is.

    You don’t have to be an atheist to be a scientist, of course. But when a scientists are religious, they are clearly going ‘beyond science’ when they choose to believe something without evidence. The atheist clearly is NOT doing that (at least in the arena of religion). So while it is possible that ALL of the atheist’s beliefs are backed up by science* (assuming the atheist doesn’t believe in some other form of woo — being an atheist doesn’t imply never believing silly things), it’s clear that NOT ALL of a religious person’s beliefs are supported by science. This is why your statement, “atheism also requires a belief that is not founded on science” is wrong: religion requires beliefs that are not founded on science, but atheism does not.

    * – or, at least, by evidence. I for example, believe that there’s a Coke can on my desk, near my left hand. The process by which I came to that conclusion isn’t really science, but it does involve evidence.

  21. #21 Greg Laden
    November 30, 2007

    I don’t think I can disprove the existence of god any more than I can disprove the existence of bigfoot. But neither one exists, as they are merely conjectures for which there is no evidence.

    Hey, I just thought of something; I think there is a city of teddy bears living on venus.

    Now that I’ve said that, do we have to assume it is possible until proven otherwise?

  22. #22 Cassandra
    December 1, 2007

    I’m a scientist who opposes efforts to teach creationist beliefs in science classrooms.

    That said, I don’t understand the logic behind the strong anti-religion movement among my colleagues. For one thing, it seems to simply be a bad idea to actively offend and alienate so many of the same constituents that will be casting ballots at the upcoming elections.

    I also think it is very narrow-minded to decide that at this point in time we have uncovered all of the evidence that is pertinent in the religion v. atheist debate…given that there is so much that we are aware of NOT understanding.

    Imagine that, 300 years in the future, the fruits of our careful empirical studies and advanced, highly sensitive instruments indicate overwhelmingly that our universe is simply the by-product of the bursting of a gas bubble (the big bang) in the digestive tract of some creature of currently unfathomable size and longevity, living in an even larger world that also conforms to the basic scientific laws that we are familiar with.

    If that’s not entirely implausible then what is to say that, instead of a gastronomic bubble, our universe instead exists in a giant petri dish, as the product of a phenomenal biological lab experiment by the same unfathomably-sized individual, who has astutely hypothesized about how each of the chemicals and climate controls involved in the experiment would impact the microenvironments and evolution of the organisms in the petri dish. Would this titanic scientist qualify to be called God, or god, or simply Homo pater familias?

    When it comes to the origins of life, at this point anyone’s guess is good as the next. If we want to fight the introduction of “intelligent design” into science classes then let’s focus on that. Being smug and judgmental is never the best way to negotiate a truce.

  23. #23 Son of Priam
    December 1, 2007

    Greg said: “…Hey, I just thought of something; I think there is a city of teddy bears living on venus. Now that I’ve said that, do we have to assume it is possible until proven otherwise?”

    Not necessarily, but (1) we can prove teddy bears exist, (2) we can prove Venus exists, and (3) we can send space probes to Venus and show that teddy bear cities aren’t there and that conditions on Venus aren’t conductive to teddy bear life.

    JY said: “…you said ‘atheism also requires a belief that is not founded on science’. What belief is that?”

    That God (or whatever deity you prefer) doesn’t exist. Science can’t prove or disprove God. Therefore, belief or disbelief (or lack of belief or whatever) in God cannot involve science. Any statement about God is not founded on science. That leaves the use of logic, reason, and skepticism — but those are all cultural constructs.

    Calladus said: “… when I was doing lab experiments in Physics class, I never had to assume that any experiment might be subjected to divine intervention. THAT is the nature of science.”

    I’m baffled why you think we disagree on this point. How many times can I say that science is exclusive the natural world and has nothing to do with supernatural beliefs? Science doesn’t allow for divine intervention. Just don’t expect to disprove divine intervention using science. It works both ways.

  24. #24 Greg Laden
    December 1, 2007

    Son of Priam: Did I not mention that the Venutian Teddy Bears are invisible?

  25. #25 Son of Priam
    December 1, 2007

    Greg said: “Did I not mention that the Venutian Teddy Bears are invisible?”

    Well, invisible creatures (not because their microscopic, but because they are see-through) would be supernatural (because there is no scientific mechanism for their invisibility, just like there is no scientific mechanism for other supernatural things, like telepathy). So you can’t prove or disprove invisible Venutian Teddy Bears because they’re supernatural. Feel free to add them to your odd worldview, Greg.

    JY said: “…Scientists don’t believe homeopathy to be effective. Why? Because there’s no evidence that it is…”

    First of all, homeopathy is testable scientifically and is usually not claimed to have supernatural effects. Second, not *all* homeopathy is ineffective. Scientific studies have tested homeopathy. Some of it is utter garbage, like, say, magnet therapy. Other claims, like smelling grapefruit reduces appetite, have been scientifically substantiated without having to resort to magical explanation. So comparing belief in homeopathy to belief in God is completely specious reasoning.

  26. #26 Calladus
    December 1, 2007

    If the supernatural affects the natural world, then it is testable. If it does not, then it is irrelevant, and it is illogical to continue to hold out for it.

    If someday, some test uncovers evidence of the supernatural, then science will work to understand it and explain it. In doing so, it will be noted as part of the natural world.

    We seem to be disagreeing because of a basic default stance. Yours seems to me that you by default assume the supernatural exists. Mine is the default position that the supernatural does not exist.

    I can’t prove your position to be wrong… ever. There is no test whatsoever that would overturn your position. There is no way for me to know for sure that your position is incorrect.

    Therefore your position is untestable, and therefor it is not scientific.

    My position is testable, and can easily be shown to be false. It would require an unusually good piece of evidence, but it could be done is the supernatural is true. This is a scientific position.

    “Sorry if you don’t like it. That is just the nature of science.”

  27. #27 Calladus
    December 1, 2007

    Correction:
    Should read, “…but it could be done if the supernatural is true.”

  28. #28 Son of Priam
    December 1, 2007

    Calladus said: “We seem to be disagreeing because of a basic default stance. Yours seems to me that you by default assume the supernatural exists. Mine is the default position that the supernatural does not exist.”

    No, we have the same position. We both hold that the supernatural does not exist, and we both seem to agree that we can’t disprove the existence of the supernatural (unless we are testing specific claims that are supposed to have natural-world effects, like telekinesis or if prayer helps people heal faster). But I can’t make a statement like “God doesn’t exist” and claim that is a scientific statement (because it’s not).

  29. #29 Crimson Wife
    December 14, 2007

    Would it bother you more if your DD grew up to be a religious believer or a Republican? :-p