Monday, October 5, 2009

Agnostic Morality?

by Philomytha

I had a lovely talk with Butterfly the other day. She's 11 and very scientific and serious-minded. It'd surprised me the week before that she commented with such astonishment on how they didn't tell her what to believe in her RE class. We talked about that some more. I told her that I don't have all the answers and I know what it's like to feel guilty about not being able to believe everything I was taught at church, and I want her to hear different points of view and be free to make up her own mind about what she believes.

She thanked me. Not with a casual "Oh, thanks, Mom," either, but enthusiastically, with sincere gratitude. Thank you for not telling me what to believe! It sounded like it was something she had already thought about. Something that was important to her.

Can that be? She's eleven.

Then on Sunday I heard some of General Conference, and this statement from Elder D. Todd Christofferson jumped out at me:

I've heard a few parents state they don't want to impose the gospel on their children. They want them to make up their own minds about what they will believe and follow. They think that in this way they are allowing their children to exercise their agency. What they forget is that the intelligent use of agency requires knowledge of the truth, of things as they really are. Without that, young people can hardly be expected to understand and evaluate the alternatives that come before them. Parents should consider how the Adversary approaches their children. He and his followers are not promoting objectivity but are vigorous multimedia advocates of sin and selfishness. Seeking to be neutral about the gospel is in reality to reject the existence of God and his authority. We must rather acknowledge him and his omniscience if we want our children to see life's choices clearly and to be able to think for themselves. They should not have to learn by sad experience that wickedness never was happiness.

Hm. It was in the context of a talk about moral discipline. Basically, it seems to be saying that you can't have or teach morality without believing in God.

When mev met with the missionaries this was a topic of the discussion where I saw the mismatch in underlying assumptions. The missionaries said that in order to do what was right, you had to know why you were doing it, which was to follow God's plan. "Why?" asked mev. Why couldn't you do good for its own sake? Why couldn't you want to make the world a better place simply so that the world would be a better place?


Point for the atheist, I thought.

I agree with Elder Christofferson on some things. I think my kids do need to be prepared to evaluate the intelligence and rightness of their possible courses of action. I don't think they should be left to be influenced purely by the world at large, although I don't believe they're being targeted by Satan. I want to raise them to be responsible and compassionate. I would like them to know about their own religious heritage and other people's too. But I don't think pretending certainty about the unknowable would help me accomplish those things. And admitting what I don't know seems to have increased my daughter's trust in me. We can talk about what we think and believe and don't believe.

I told her that they said in General Conference that I shouldn't let her make up her own mind about what to believe. She laughed.

And she said that it didn't make sense to her for there to be one correct religion, because what you believe depends on where you were born. How could she assume the religion she happened to be born into is the right one when everybody else all over the world thinks the same thing? (This was not something she heard at church. It was because of something she read in a fiction book about how you wouldn't find Hindus in the Arctic (well, you know, unless they moved there) and she thought it through.)

If I were a Calvinist I would think she was predestined to be a Universalist...


Urban Koda said...

I think I was about the same age when I told my mother that "We think we're right and everyone else is wrong, but don't they all think the same thing. What if they're right and we're wrong?".

The reaction I got was anger and contempt - should have been a clue right there!

I have a 9 year old son who I think might be lured into a similar chat with me, as you had with your daughter. Thanks

Na'me said...

I was thinking about your post on General Conference, and how you would like to raise your children with this tradition. What exactly is your game plan (or do you have one yet) on how to raise them in a way that they are familiar with their mormon heritage, while they are going to UU church on most Sundays?

I take it you have some LDS traditions that you cherish and want to pass down, while on the other hand you don't intend to raise your children stricly LDS. How is that balance going to work? Are you going to do every-other-Sunday at LDS vs UU church, for example?


Saganist said...

Wow, that's great. I hope my kids are as thoughtful as yours when they're that age. I'm afraid of attitudes like Christofferson's, but for now all I can do is keep asking my kids questions and encouraging them to think. That's all I really hope for, anyway. That they'll learn to ask questions and think.

Marcus said...

I hope my daughter arrives at similar conclusions, and thanks us for not dictating her beliefs to her. sadly my parents would agree with Christofferson.

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