The Luck and Misfortune of Indoctrination

There are times when I see documentaries like HBO's, Hard as Nails that I think how fortunate I was to grow up in a household with no religion. I was, and am free to form my own opinions, to explore the nature of my environment as I choose. Sure, I had my fair share of political indoctrinations, but never religious ones.

Choice and will are amazingly powerful ideas, phenomenon that seem unique to human beings - though it seems the people that utilize their freedom of choice and will are the most susceptible to more extreme forms of madness and sadness.

It's then that I feel unfortunate (or maybe just scared) to be an atheist. That as Dan Gilbert attests (see TED lecture below), too many choices can cause misery. One is constantly weighing the what-if scenarios until whatever choice is made can never be perceived as the right one. More on that later...

Given my frustration and anger over the practice of religious indoctrination, like the atheist biologist, PZ Myers, and his vitriolic minions, I figured I'd find comfort in reading his blog. He practically lead the fight to smear Ben Stein's awful "documentary," Expelled, which peddles the virtues and breakthroughs of intelligent design, and defends itself against the evil tyranny of evolution proponents.

But sadly, after reading PZ's blog a while, and even commenting on a few posts, followed by being summarily ravaged by his readers for my views (and I'm an atheist), I found that instead of finding allies in this group, I found an angry mob that I couldn't relate to at all. Many of the people that find the time to comment on his blog appear to have become what they speak out against - dogmatic, pack-like, group thinkers. Their ideas are grossly simple and obnoxious - religious people are stupid, and atheists are enlightened. On top of that I find PZ to be a goading, narcissist, blowhard.

He actually commands his regular readers to vote on internet polls to skew the answers to silly religious questions. Don't get me wrong, I love the idea, and it appeals to the anarchist atheist in me, but it's the blind faith of his atheist congregation who adhere to his commandments like zombies that I find disconcerting. Of course, I'm not saying he's responsible for the comments of his readers, but he certainly seems to enjoy whipping his fanbase into a frenzy. It's reminiscent of the space monkeys in Fight Club. Though it might be part of a good cause on the surface, it breeds the same kind of indoctrination religion does.

On the flip side, the good fortune of indoctrination through religion is a confidence in life, a track. A feeling that there is a guide and/or reason, which removes the fear to take steps forward - one needn't worry, it's Meant To Be. Many of the theists I know are confident, intelligent people - their religious views relatively quiet. I only know the specifics of their beliefs because I tend to press the issue. And as I listen to their responses, I find myself envying their life as they seem to enjoy the quiet comfort that everything is in its right place. As opposed to more militant atheists (and I used to be one), I see no point in attacking people for their religious beliefs. Nine times out of ten, it just tends to polarize the issue.

We're born to believe. We're bred not just to listen to our parents, but to follow their rules with the fear of death. "If you cross that street without mommy, you'll get hit by that car." You better damn well listen. We are born with our temperaments, but otherwise, we're a sponge for the habits of our parents and culture. This ability ensures our survival - for most species, to question is to die.

But as we're learning, our biology doesn't correspond to our environment anymore. Many humans don't live in constant survival mode as opposed to the rest of the animals (excluding the ones we've domesticated). Civilization allows us to be freer to pursue other endeavors. Despite having all this extra time, the ability or inclination to question our personal indoctrinations is still fairly rare. Yes, it's still beneficial for a child to be obedient, but the side effect is that every child receives the superfluous religious and political beliefs of their parents, which carves patterns into their pliable but ultimately stubborn brains. It's pretty difficult to unlearn the wrong lessons of our parents while maintaining the good ones. Indoctrination is a double edge sword.

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