Monday, August 16, 2010

"Phone call from God"? I like it!

Via comes an article about Bible campers who each received a "phone call from God" as part of their camp experience. The comments on the article have many atheists chiming in with the kind of outrage you might predict: "...lie to children in order to brainwash them...", "...despicable when adults are so deceitful and manipulate little children this way", "title of this article should be 'still lying for jesus'", etc. Oh, they're not wrong. But I had a different reaction, one that might surprise you:

Right on!

Why do I say that? Because this is putting Jeebus firmly in the same camp as Santa Claus. Which sounds great to me.

The only reason it's cute when we have kids sit on Santa's lap or pretend to mail their letters to the North Pole is because we assume that as they start to grow up, they'll start to realize the absurdity of the whole charade. Even young children can smell bullshit when you have to explain to them that, "Oh, yes you're right that Santa can't possibly be at every mall at the same time. See, that's just Santa's helper!" Ironically, the charade itself becomes the first frayed threads that start to unravel the entire mythology. If there were no Santa-at-the-mall, there would be no corresponding realization of the implausibility of Santa-at-the-mall, and the myth of Santa might last just a little bit longer in these young minds.

These kids getting the "phone calls from God" are seven, eight years old according to the article. It won't be more than another year or two on the outside that they realize it wasn't actually a phone call from God, I would think.... and maybe that will be their first inkling that something doesn't smell quite right.

It's probably beyond the average ten-year-old to identify the flaws in Pascal's Wager, or to recognize the arbitrariness of their own beliefs in relation to the beliefs of children in another part of the world, or to spot the problems with the Cosmological Argument (most ten-year-olds in fact are quite swayed by the much more simplistic Teleological Argument). But your average ten-year-old knows that "phone calls from God" are fake. Your average ten-year-old may even go on to think, "Hmmm, now why did the adults at the camp bother to fake that phone call from God, if they knew I could just pray about it? I wonder..."

So I say, go for it. This kind of absurd shenanigans demystifies and deromanticizes God, and potentially invites some rather "inconvenient" questions -- and in my book, that's a good thing.

(Side note: This reminds me of my vision of a distant post-Christian future where there are kiosks at the mall where once a year you can take your kids to get First Communion pictures, complete with a comically dressed Pope -- or Pope's Helper, as the case may be -- wafers shaped like Dinosaur Jeebus, a variety of optional photo packages, etc...)


  1. there's no Santa Claus?...noooooooo, the next thing you'll say is there's no tooth fairy. There is more to the world then empirical logic. The unseen, the unknown magical mysteries make the world fascinating, without them there would be no art or hopeless love.

  2. "Mommy, god called me at camp today"
    "Wow sweety! Neat! What did god say?"
    "God said to follow him and love him and tell others about him and I need to love and follow him"
    "Thats right honey! God loves you! Now get out of the kitchen and go outside"

    Not only do they make their god into something like Santa Claus, they make him fucking lame. "He didn't say a lot, he just told me to follow him". Some kids might get the idea god has self-esteem issues, calling up them and asking for help like that.

    "Keeping the kids involved in faith through the summer" -- yes, by spraying a fine mist of religion over everything. It sounds like they could drop the religion part of camp entirely (shock, horror!) and not a single kid would complain, or even notice really. Like kids care why they are doing arts and crafts.

    "... The thing I learned the most was I learned to follow God." -- that kid got it. Repeat the stuff the adults tell you, then you get to go swimming or whatever.

  3. There is more to the world then empirical logic.

    I would agree to a slight revision: There is more to the human experience than empirical logic. Framed thusly, I more or less agree with the sentence that followed the original, as well.

    Spinning it on its head, if you had said, "There is more to reality than empirical logic," I would respond that "reality" doesn't give one whit about empirical logic. Science and reason are abstractions that happen to be very good at describing reality under most circumstances -- but they are not "part of reality" so to speak, at least no more so than words or ideas are fundamental to the fabric of reality.

    And that brings me to my point: Part of the human experience is applying logic and reason; and another part of the human experience is art, and "hopeless love" as you call it, and blissing out on feelings of transcendence. The problem comes in when we start misapplying these feelings.

    Proper application is key: If we want to get an understanding of reality, it's science and reason all the way. If we want to decide what our favorite flavor of ice cream is, science and reason not so much, eh?

    Now what if you want to decide whether to vaccinate your child? Science and reason says yes, but for unfortunately for many people, their "magical mystery" circuits are freaking out on fear and paranoia. They just know it was the vaccine that caused their child's autism, the science be damned. And then you get pertussis outbreaks that kill seven infants and counting. If only those people who had chosen to forgo vaccination had used those tools at their disposal which were better at determining reality, eh?

    Moreover, I see little to no applicability for religious belief. Science and reason may not tell me what flavor of ice cream is my favorite, but neither does religion. Religion has comforting (for some people) lies, which I think adults would be well served to discard. It does inspire love and charity in some, but I think there are equally good secular inspirations for love and charity -- and moreover, religious dogma inspires a whole heapin' helpin' of bigotry, intolerance, and hatred in quite a few people.

    In any case, my biggest concern right now is for religion to get the fuck out of public policy. We can debate whether religion is useful to some people, but I do not think there is any debate over whether it is useful in determining public policy. Science and reason are what determines good public policy.

  4. OK Jay, but remember adults with children need to get whooping cough vaccine boosters

  5. heh. Not sure who that is, but it's gotta be a friend of mine. Or my wife.

    Yeah, so I didn't know that until like two days ago. That would be "ignorance" on my part. Whoops. Please do not think that I am condoning "ignorance" as an alternative "way of knowing"!! :D