Monday, July 20, 2009

the limits of freedom of thought... for agnostics

A short while back the topic of the limits religion places on freedom of thought came up in the comments section with respect to the prohibition of studying idolatry or heretical works. What happens when the shoe is on the other foot? An article (link) in the New Humanist explores raising children in a "mixed marriage" between a religious Christian and a free thinking agnostic. When the agnostic parent discovers his child reading the Bible and taking the idea of G-d's existence at face value, he wonders what to do about it.
The dilemma remained: what if all the science and fantasy and comparative metaphysics fail to do the trick, and Christian literalism, despite my efforts, works its magic on my children's minds? Call me intolerant, but I'll admit it: I don't want to tell my children what to believe or not to believe, but I would be displeased and disappointed if they were to embrace conventional religious views. I just would be. Isn't there a more direct way, I thought, to militate against that outcome?
Heavens to Betsy! (though "heaven" is maybe the wrong word in the context of an agnostic's surprise) -- a child may actually take advantage of "freedom" of thought and turn towards religion, much to the chagrin of his parent(s), and we would not want to let that happen. In fact, we must take steps to ensure that it does not happen.

So who is the overprotective parent: the religious father or mother who does not want a child reading certain books or watching certain programs because of their negative influence, or the agnostic father or mother who fears his child actually believing in old time religion and therefore does their utmost to prevent that from happening? Narrowmindedness is really all in the eyes of the beholder, is it not?


  1. Once you think you know the real truth about something, being "open-minded" to what you consider falsehoods is just a sign of weakness about your convictions.

    Open-mindedness is only for those whom the truth is still uncertain, or not really important.

  2. I haven't finished it yet, and it's a little repetitive in the beginning, but there's a lecture titled "Defense of Religious Exclusivism" from one Alvin Plantinga available at

  3. "Open-mindedness is only for those whom the truth is still uncertain, or not really important." With all due respect, that is an absolutely absurd statement. As Voltaire declared, "I may disagree with your statement, but I would fight for your right to say it." That is what freedom of speech is all about. If one truly is convinced that he is right, he has nothing to fear by hearing the opposing point of view. Only those who already harbor doubts may find the view they espouse seriously threatened.
    That is not to say that you let your 5 year old choose between reading Bereishis and a child's guide to evolution. But if your child has truly absorbed and grown with Torah, being exposed to the theory of evolution should not bring on a crisis of faith. On the other hand, deliberately isolating your child from theories that you feel are contradictory to your faith sets up a Pandora's box situation that may be opened once s/he leaves your confines and begins an independent investigation into what is said out in the world.

  4. R'n Ariella and Maniac-- in theory, I agree with you. But there are enough examples of great talmidei chachamim who, exposed to kfira, went over to the dark side. What happened to Reb Itzaelh Ponivezher's talmidim? Ahl ta'amin be'atzmicha ahd yom moscha.
    Some families have the knack of raising well-grounded children who can stand up to exposure to apikorsus, and some don't, and even within each type, some children just are forever at risk. In our human frailty, what we think we're convinced of might be nothing more than a veneer. I know this doesn't speak well of what we call our convictions, and there are those that are moser nefesh for their beliefs. But I think it's easier to die ahl kiddush Hashem than to stand up to a well presented kefirah.

  5. I think agnosticism as a belief is different than any religion or even atheism. This is because agnosticism is the state of being unsure. So for that type of person, you have to be open minded otherwise what are you thinking. So for that person to be anti anyone believing in G-D is just ridiculous.

  6. "If one truly is convinced that he is right, he has nothing to fear by hearing the opposing point of view. Only those who already harbor doubts may find the view they espouse seriously threatened."

    So you're all in favor of giving publicity and speaking forums at colleges to holocaust-deniers?
    And that anyone who is against it really harbors doubts about the holocaust happening?

  7. I tend to think of "open-mindedness" as nonsense. It's an ad hominem appeal and ad populum argument rolled into one nice little holier-than-though term. :)