Western religions and Materialism all take a similar stance on the concept of “Truth”: they define Truth as “that which is descriptive of reality.” Moreover, these worldviews tend to adopt the Law of Noncontradiction as valid, that is, they believe that two ideas that contradict one another cannot both be true. Consequently, when people of differing religious views interact, the result is generally some kind of conflict of ideas. In recent years, Materialistic Atheism has joined the fray. Classic Atheism tended to stay out of idealistic quarrels because it was fundamentally Nihilistic. Since nothing really mattered, there was no point in arguing about it. Modern Atheism tends to be more idealistic. They believe in a standard of “right” and “wrong” and that any form of Religion falls under the category of “wrong.”
Interestingly, the New Atheist’s reasoning for why Religion is fundamentally “bad” is instructive of religious conflict in general: they believe that the pursuit of truth leads to the greater good while deception leads to bad consequences. As one of their slogans goes: “Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings,” (referring to the events of 9/11).
Because the New Atheism tends to be as dogmatic as Religions have traditionally been, it is appropriate to lump them into this discussion.
Examining one’s preconceptions is rarely an unbiased process, and frequently very emotional. Most people are raised to believe certain things. Examining those beliefs is essentially questioning the authority figures that the individual has respected their entire life.
On January 15th, 2012, CNN published an article written by a single mother about why she is raising her children without God. In this article she states:
““God has a plan for you.” Telling kids there is a big guy in the sky who has a special path for them makes children narcissistic; it makes them think the world is at their disposal and that, no matter what happens, it doesn’t really matter because God is in control.
“When we raise kids without God, we tell them the truth—we are no more special than the next creature. We are just a very, very small part of a big, big machine–whether that machine is nature or society–the influence we have is minuscule. The realization of our insignificance gives us a true sense of humbleness.”
The woman’s point is well-made. Believing something for the reason that it makes the believer feel special or feel good about themselves does little to credit the belief. This type of belief is suspicious in that it seems too convenient and appears to have an ulterior motive.
There are no end of spiritual beliefs, Christian and otherwise, that are just that. One need only watch a few episodes of Oprah or read the latest book by Joel Osteen or Deepak Chopra to encounter this narcissistic, self-focused brand of spirituality. However Biblical Christianity properly understood is far from narcissistic. Jesus blessed the meek and the poor in spirit. He said the last will be first and the first will be last. Over and over again, Christ praised humility, self-sacrifice, service to others, and the placement of God as one’s highest focus.
As this article has shown, all belief systems tend toward a bias against opposing belief systems. Clearly the brand of atheists that this single mother represents and the Biblical Jesus both value humility. In the spirit of this humility, then, it is important that any given person afford someone of an opposing viewpoint the courtesy of an open-minded hearing and fair consideration of what they have to say. One or both of them is going to be wrong, and they both expect the other to respect their powers of discernment.
Each person born into this world must re-discover all of the collected knowledge of the previous ages for themselves. The history of human discovery is riddled with errors, and presumably many of these errors are still on-going. Each child is largely dependent on their parents to guide them in their views of truth, reality, and issues of right and wrong. Many never re-evaluate the teachings of their parents once they have reached a point in cognitive development to do so. Again, this can be an emotional issue, because it is difficult to admit to the fact that one’s parents are people prone to error just like anyone else.
It is possible, however, for a person to critically examine their parent’s views and teachings without disrespecting them, just as it is possible to respect any other person that one disagrees with. Very few parent’s teachings are entirely without virtue, and the life-lessons and experience they have can be instructive, even if their overall worldview needs adjustment. The duty of a parent is to guide their child into adulthood, and an adult who never thinks for him or herself has never truly matured.