“Years of Religious Instruction”

A recent response to one of my blog entries was very thoughtful and filled with a number of good ideas worth discussing. Wanting my comment in return to be brief, I responded only to parts of what the writer said. I’d like to add more now (but, computer genius that I am, I can’t seem to figure out how to offer a second response directly to David K.).

The idea of my first blog entry was that there are some atheists (e.g., Dawkins) who are actually stuck with believing in God but are angry at themselves about it and pretend to be angry at God. These are the opening lines of David K’s thoughtful response:

I started out as a Christian and after years of religious instructions, I just did not find it credible. I have spent years researching the backgrounds of religion and history of world religions. I am not angry at any “god”, I just understand that there are a multitude of religious beliefs, different people believe in different things, all claim their belief is the true belief – just as I am free to believe whatever it is I want.

As I read that paragraph, I find my mind continually drawn to the phrase “years of religious instructions.” I cannot tell you how grateful I am that I was not raised in a church c0ntext and never had “years of religious instruction.” I did have several years of seminary as I earned two graduate degrees but it would never have occurred to me that anyone would call this “religious instruction.” The very phrase makes me shudder.

I became a Christian just as I was turning 20 and, by the grace of God, became part of a collegiate Christian group called InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. We studied the Bible, seeking the questions it raised just as much — or more — than the answers some people find in it. All the skills of critical reading which we were learning in literature and history classes, we brought to our study of Scripture. No one ever gave us anything at all like what might be called “religious instruction.”

I was very happy to be part of a group of people who were just as stubborn and bull-headed as I was. None of us would have accepted “instruction” in the Right Answers.

The year before entrusting my life to the Lord, I studied the New Testament on my own very diligently. One of my strongest impressions was that Jesus was amazing in his ability to get along with a great variety of people, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, educated and not. There was only one kind of person with whom Jesus could not get along: Religious people!

I’ve never forgotten that. Religious people and God are just not on the same wavelength.And that’s why the phrase “religious instruction” seems so repulsive to me. . .

So, David K, I’m glad to see you are in such good agreement with Jesus on the matter of religion.


About mthayes42

I am a retired pastor, interested in the Bible, cross-cultural ministries, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the current and past history of western civilization.
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9 Responses to “Years of Religious Instruction”

  1. Travis says:

    I was raised Catholic, went to Catholic school in early childhood, and was taken to church on Sundays up until I left for college. Not sure if this counts as “religious instruction,” but it certainly made me an atheist.

    When I was exposed to some man in a dress telling me what to believe without facts, I didn’t believe in God. When I was told that a 500 year old man built a boat to survive a great flood of which there is no evidence, I didn’t believe in God. It made me upset that these beliefs were forced on me. Religion is child abuse. Let your children come to whatever belief system they arrive at on their own. I believe Christianity for the most part sustains itself based on forced belief at an early age.

    • mthayes42 says:

      hanks for the note, Travis. Your story is pretty familiar, isn’t it? I wonder how many people have had the same experience. . .It is stories like yours that keep reminding me of that first great impression I had of Jesus: He couldn’t get along with religious people. They tend to have answers and are threatened by questions. As for letting children arrive at their own ideas, is there any other area in life that is so important and that you wouldn’t want to help someone grow up to a mature position? Surely somewhere between “religious instruction” (which you and I don’t like) and spiritual laissez-faire, there must be a responsible healthy balance. For me, it is in helping people, children and adults alike, to value character, relationships, and critical thinking. We have to avoid the modern substitute for critical thinking, which is simply finding what’s wrong with an idea but not appreciating what is right. That is sophomoric, very immature. I have known hundreds of very healthy, loving, thoughtful Christians over my years in campus ministry and church ministry. some were raised in a church and some, like me, became Christians later. Healthy Christians don’t seem to attract the attention of journalists, do they? Can you not distinguish between God and religion? Jesus clearly could. Read the Gospels, not with religion in mind, just to see what kind of character he was.

      • Travis says:

        I certainly believe that Jesus had some fine lessons about living your life, and he was a great philosopher. I just can’t get behind believing in all the miracles or just about anything in the Old Testament without evidence. I also have difficulty accepting the Gospel as fact when historically these documents are shady at best in terms of valid reference points.

        Really though, what bothers me is when people try to force values and lifestyles around these doctrines. It’s not just that I don’t believe in God, but it’s the anti-gay rhetoric, or the thinly veiled misogyny. You can’t force your kids into this sort of lifestyle.

        As for your question about guidance, if it’s an area truly based around faith, or the belief in something without proof, then that’s something for them to deal with on their own. Who am I to try and shape a child into an individual who believes in a magical being? It’s their decision. We have no right to force a child into that life.

        I mean no disrespect of course, and I appreciate your input!

      • mthayes42 says:

        Hmm, you keep mentioning force. Surely you don’t believe all parental guidance is force, do you? And you talk about proof and evidence. If you believe that only science provide proof and evidence for reality, that pretty much rules out all the important things in life, such as love, respect, hope, integrity, joy. Personally, I’m always puzzled when people talk as if I have no evidence for my faith. Those who define proof in such a way that spiritual and personal realities are excluded, then they have pulled a dirty trick. To be truly scientific, we have to think/study in a way that includes all reality, not just a pre-chosen segment of relaity. No?

      • Travis says:

        I believe the way we are conditioned at a young age to obey our parents without much resistance (something that is important, because on an evolutionary level it keeps us alive), then yes this is force. Presenting God as real to the same degree that you present eating healthy as a good idea is just misleading and wrong in my opinion.

        Also, we can measure love, respect, hope, etc. through the study of the brain and psychology. These things are important parts of human life that have resulted from a more complex human mind as a result of evolution. Also, we can point to them. I can point to jealousy, but I can’t point to God. I also believe that there is plenty of evidence for your faith; there’s just no evidence for God.

        Also, I apologize but I’m unsure what your last statement means. Reality suggests things we can observe. We can’t observe God. By pre-chosen segment of reality, are you referring to the physical world as opposed to the supernatural? If so, I’m suggesting it’s the only thing we have evidence of so its the only thing we can choose to accept.

      • mthayes42 says:

        So as you grow in love for a young woman who seems to return your love, at what point do you suggest to her that you both go to a lab to undergo tests to see whether your love is “real”?
        You suggest the physical world is “the only thing we have evidence for so it’s the only thing we can choose to accept.” Is that not an absolutely perfect example of what I said. You determine what counts as evidence by first believing that physicality is the only reality, then your “evidence” supports your position. How is that more honest than my position? I believe that the most important things in life — spirituality, love, etc — are more than amply evidenced. The material dimension is simply not important enough to build a life on.

      • Travis says:

        In terms of agreeing upon something, the burden of proof is upon the religious person to prove it. I could feel that an invisible dragon watches over me, but what if my child doesn’t feel that? Do I force it on him? Do I suggest that he should probably believe in the invisible dragon or he burns forever? If so, my child might start feeling like there’s an invisible dragon.

        Not trying to sound like a jerk about this, but this is how religions originate. Popular consensus, religious instruction, and fear tactics are used to give people the idea that some religion is true.

        Why is Zeus not real? Because we’ve gone up to Mount Olympus and he wasn’t there? What about Ra or Odin? Lots of people felt that they were real. Over 3000 gods have existed at some point that people felt were real. I believe your God is just one more down the line.

        To your point about a young woman, yes we can feel things but it’s an exaggeration to suggest we have to go to a lab to conform them. I feel dopamine released in my brain, she releases dopamine, and bow chicka wow we’re in love. It’s a chemical reaction that compels mammals to breed on a Darwinian level. This doesn’t make it any less beautiful or fun, but it’s true.

      • mthayes42 says:

        Pardon me for stating the obvious but if you as a parent believe a dragon is about to consume3 your child, yet you do nothing about it, you are being grossly irresponsible. In the long run, you ought to mature enough to recognize that there could not have been such a dragon but in the immediate situation, you must act on the best knowledge you have.
        Concerning the idea that religion thrives solely — or almost so — I’d just have to say you are not even coming close to sticking to the facts. yours is an emotional over-reaction based, I suppose, on your own experience but it does not speak to the experiences of most Christians. I cannot imagine any part of my experience that, even with your bias, you could label as me being forced. And about love: I hope you don’t whisper in the ear of your young lady, “You release my dopamine.” And even more, I hope you never marry (or never did marry) on the basis of feeling the effects of a dopamine rush. That would be incredibly irresponsible. . . even if you think things like responsibility are scientifically provable. Oh, come to think of it, you do in fact believe in holding people responsible for their choices. If not, you wouldn’t be so bothered by Christians encouraging others. Right?

      • Travis says:

        I never said the dragon would eat the child. There’s no immediate danger here. He’s invisible, and he doesn’t do anything, but I’m encouraging my child to believe in him because I believe in him and am worried about a hell that I’ve never seen as a consequence of not believing. Doesn’t seem right. There’s no dragon.

        Also, why isn’t my dragon real? Or Zeus or those other 3000+ gods I mentioned? Do you really think it’s right for me to tell my child that I’m certain any of them are real? Why is your God the right one?

        I never said people shouldn’t be held responsible for their choices.

        And you’d be surprised how many ladies love a little dopamine talk in their ear. 😉 Seriously though, love is real. It’s just all in the brain. It’s nice and fun to be in love and all that, but it’s only in place on an evolutionary level so we breed. I feel love just as a religious person feels love, but here’s the difference. I can point to it. I can point to two people in love. I can point to myself in love. You don’t have to measure activity in people’s brains to prove it, but you CAN and it’s been done. That’s the difference. I can’t point to God.

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