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Go to: Guidance in turning my children to reason

Ted Foureagles's Avatar Jump to comment 4 by Ted Foureagles

I have never been religious, and so can't understand the depth to which it can affect a person. However, my Father was an atheist and my mother a Christian. I was almost 4 when I rebelled against going to church with Mom -- it seemed that the adults there were acting crazy, and it scared me (I had just figured out the Santa Claus scam and that adults could and would lie to me). Mom, who always valued freedom of conscience over dogma, posed a compromise: In return for not attending church, I was to read the Bible first word to last, and be prepared to discuss it with her each night. Her reasoning was, "You needn't be pious but you shouldn't be ignorant". It took me two solid years to get through that strange damned book, and I was a convinced atheist by age 6. Mom accepted this and never tried to convert me. We remained close throughout her life, and I think that our almost nightly Bible discussions helped that while they moved me away from her faith.

I relate this because I imagine that your wife, whatever her beliefs about her children’s ‘salvation’, may fear alienation from them if they leave her faith. That she is supportive of your atheism speaks well of her and of your relationship, but no one wants to feel alone in their own family. I suspect that you are sensitive to not wanting your children to have to choose between Dad’s way and Mom’s. Perhaps there is some non-combative way to include her and her faith in your attempt to teach your children values of reason. I doubt that it would be easy, but the potential outcome could be much better than a house divided. Best wishes! I, for one, would be interested in hearing how it goes. By the way, my wife was Mormon and it was, well, difficult.

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Mon, 06 Aug 2012 19:22:58 UTC | #950454

Go to: The first time I spoke out in defense of atheism in public.

Ted Foureagles's Avatar Jump to comment 3 by Ted Foureagles

Standing up for reason is important, and I applaud you for handling this situation as you did. However, in the context of grief counseling, quiet discretion is usually best. My wife and I ran a hospice in our home some years back, and so we frequently dealt with the grief of those who were dying and their loved ones. Then was not the time to challenge beliefs that may have been their main comfort, but instead a chance to provide support. I would never outright lie to someone looking to me for spiritual confirmation, but neither would I confront them with my view of their belief.

Perhaps the most difficult of my challenges during that time came when a lovely old lady I'd come to know during her time with us was minutes from death. She clenched my hand and asked, "Is that you Jesus?" (some physical resemblance to the popular western image, at least back then). I could have more honestly said, "No, it's just me, Ted". Instead, I held her hand and said, "I'm here". Her (agnostic) daughter was with us when the old lady died, and she later said, "I can't tell you how glad I am that when Mother passed she thought that Jesus had her hand".

Was what I did a lie? Well, yes. But at the time it was not about me. These scenarios in more or lesser shades of drama play out in everyday life. I live in Upstate South Carolina, where almost everyone is deeply religious, and very often frightened of those who don't share their particular beliefs. For me to hold forth on a rant about how ridiculous those beliefs are while at their table would just be uncivil. At a bar, or in my backyard -- different matter.

One of my dearest friends, and posessor of one of the finest minds I've yet known, inexplicably became a fundamentalist Christian in middle age. We do challenge one another regularly but, sadly, those discussions seldom go far. His religiosity and my atheism form a wall between us that seems unbreachable, and it makes us both sad, We can still befriend one another in superficial ways, but the depth is gone. When he posts something gratuitous on facebook about the power of prayer, I'll jump all over his ass, but when he recently lost his home to foreclosure I certainly didn't pipe up to add to his distress.

We're profoundly social critters, and the road we follow in common is anything but straight. And I wouldn't want it straightened. I'd love to see our species mature toward reason, but do not want to be reason's Prophet. They nail ya' to boards for that!

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Mon, 04 Jun 2012 01:04:28 UTC | #945378

Go to: UPDATED: Why I want all our children to read the King James Bible

Ted Foureagles's Avatar Jump to comment 21 by Ted Foureagles

I agree with Prof. Dawkins on this point. I think that familiarity with sacred texts is important for a child, or anyone, to understand how cultures came to be what they are. I’d stretch a bit and posit that a grasp of the King James Bible is almost as important to making sense of Euro/American culture as understanding Darwin is to doing biology.

An uninteresting aside: That particular King James is a direct ancestor of mine who, by marrying off a daughter, founded our family name. I’m just shamelessly name-dropping here to show that I have skin in the game, which many confuse with relevance.

I started reading the Bible around Christmas a couple of weeks before I turned 4. I had been going to Baptist church with Mom since I was an infant, and can assume that I must have been waterboarded for Christ early on. But I suddenly realized that I didn’t like church at all. I remember seeing it as a special place where adults acted crazy. That’s a heavy deal for a little kid who presumes that adults know everything and will protect us in their perfect wisdom. So church, where that wisdom seemed to break down, just scared little me shitless.

Mom, bless her heart, made a deal with me. I didn’t have to go to church as long as I read the Bible from start to finish, and was prepared to discuss it whenever she chose. She said, “You needn’t be pious but you shouldn’t be ignorant”, which I think is about the most rational thing on that subject I’ve heard. And so I read the whole painful tome from first word to last, and had nearly nightly discussions about it.

I turned 6 about at the time I finished, and have been an atheist since. I can’t take credit for changing Mom’s views with our talks, but noticed that she didn’t impose any such religious requirement on my younger siblings. I’m profoundly grateful to Mom (now several decades gone) for insisting that I see religion as important and amenable, at least in private, to rational discourse.

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Sun, 20 May 2012 02:47:53 UTC | #942341

Go to: Religion as "comfort" to people in distress: fact or myth?

Ted Foureagles's Avatar Jump to comment 16 by Ted Foureagles

@comment 15 by VrijVlinder

I agree that truth is the best comfort, but sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good. If a dying person cries ,"Take my hand Jesus" and you take their hand and then they say, "Oh, thank you Jesus", you have done them good, if not perfect. I struggled with this while dealing with old, dying people (being an old dying person myself). I wanted to think that truth is paramount, and that if there was ever a time not to lie to someone it was while they were dying. I eventually understood that if ever there was a time when truth didn't matter to someone it was while they were dying, since nothing mattered after that anyway. Telling them "the truth" was something I wanted, and the thing at hand was what they needed. I'm not at all comfortable with it, but accept it.

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Wed, 25 Apr 2012 00:40:36 UTC | #937109

Go to: Religion as "comfort" to people in distress: fact or myth?

Ted Foureagles's Avatar Jump to comment 13 by Ted Foureagles

Dear Ex and I ran a hospice in our home, and so I have been with several people as they died. Largely, but not exclusively, those who were most devout were most terrified of death if they were conscious when it came. They often did, however, seem to take comfort prior to death in the notion that something better awaited.

My dearest friend is a Christian fundamentalist (we invest quite a bit of intellectual energy and no small amount of temporary rancor in discussing this). He has recently experienced some very difficult situations (home foreclosure, etc., etc.). When times are tough for him I back off my criticism of his faith and note that he is greatly comforted by his Christian friends promising to pray for him (whether they actually do anything real or not).

Those examples describe real benefit of religion to real people. They may not advance understanding of reality, but they do sometimes provide comfort. I'd argue that the overall balance of a life lived in such delusion accounts on the negative, but that's the perspective of someone who has never believed.

Dear Nephew Case is 8 years old and is a precious to me as if he were my own child. He lives next door with Mom who is my Li'l Dear Sis, and knows nothing of his father (who was a sperm donor, is a great guy, and just a favoirte "Uncle" by his choice. They spend at least a week together each year, and the true nature of their relationship will eventually have to be broached). Sis is a thoughtful agnostic active in the Unitarian church. Case, who is strikingly brilliant, attends a private Christian school because local (South Carolina) public schools are depressingly grim and arguably more religiously dogmatic.

Case has had two encounters with the specter of death just this year. He had a big cancer scare (doctors were talking of 6-month survivability) that turned out to be misdiagnosis (actually cat scratch fever), and a few weeks later had half his face torn off by a dog (no important pieces were swallowed, and it all now looks pretty good, considering). In both instances he bravely but quiveringly told us that he didn't want to die. Oh, I should mention that his twin was stillborn, and he's always been aware of that. We have a little birthday ceremony each year down in the woods where the ashes were scattered. Point is, this kid is more familiar with death than most of us in "first world" societies are until we actually buy the farm.

Case's shrink says that he's a high-functioning, high level sufferer of PTSD -- understandable. He comes home from his Christian school talking about the literal historical account of Noah and the flood, and crying because it seems so cruel. I imagine that he imagines that his beloved kitten (who gave him cat scratch fever) would have drowned if another kitten had been chosen first, I tell him that these are stories made up by people a long time ago who didn't have science and were just trying to figure out how things worked, and needn't be taken as true. That seems to calm him for now, but we're sure to soon get to the point of discussing whether the comforting bits as well as the horrifying bits are likewise unreliable. In the meantime, I've bought him Dawkin's "The Magic Of Reality", and hope to read it with him.

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Tue, 24 Apr 2012 23:30:20 UTC | #937099

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