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Comments by Ted Foureagles

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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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

Go to: Mount Etna eruption expected any time now - webcam

Ted Foureagles's Avatar Jump to comment 33 by Ted Foureagles

In the 1970s I climbed all of the big volcanoes in the US Pacific Northwest, and spent a few nights inside a wet, stinky fumarole while waiting out a winter storm on Mt. Rainier. Mt. Saint Helens was just about the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen, from a distance and up close. It was like what a child might draw if asked to depict a dormant volcano -- perfectly symmetrical and implicitly benign. I climbed it in the spring of 1979, and on reaching the summit found it quite a bit more active than I'd expected. It gave me a new sense of what those dirt ripples I'd been exploring on the east shore of the Pacific really were. A year later and a continent away I watched on TV as one of the mountain's lovely flanks blew up and slumped down, leaving it just another of Ma Nature's jagged, irregular things. I don't know how exactly to describe what I felt while watching that, but it was something like the sense of a jilted lover. I wanted the world to be beautifully symmetrical in the way that St. Helens was, and the world obviously didn't care what I wanted.


Sun, 15 Apr 2012 17:17:14 UTC | #934861

Go to: Killing Bald Eagles in the name of religion

Ted Foureagles's Avatar Jump to comment 18 by Ted Foureagles

My name and much of my world view was given to me by my traditional Cherokee Grandfather. It is common among Native American societies to understand ourselves as sovereign nations not necessarily subject to US laws -- incorrect, but common. I view killing for means beyond subsistence or protection as abhorrent. Some of my traditional relatives don't see killing for spiritual reasons as wrong, and some of my fellow mainstream Americans don't see killing for political reasons as wrong. The latter far outweighs the former, and Native American numbers are so small that hardly anything we do makes much difference. Native and European cultures on this continent are still far from perfectly blended, and conflicts in ideology permeate the realtionship. Native Americans hold some few rights by treaty, and are often keen to defend as many of them as possible, even when they contain irrational beliefs. I don't like it, but am loathe to surrender those last precious rights. And for what it's worth, I'd sooner kill a human than an eagle.


Sun, 25 Mar 2012 00:50:33 UTC | #930289

Go to: Who has the right to prevent children learning to be tolerant of others' beliefs?

Ted Foureagles's Avatar Jump to comment 14 by Ted Foureagles

          [Comment 4](/discussions/644998-who-has-the-right-to-prevent-children-learning-to-be-tolerant-of-others-beliefs/comments?page=1#comment_922116) by  [Helga Vierich](/profiles/174098)          :

                 What, do ***any*** of you really think that transmission of religious ideas to children is parental right or duty?...

I think that it is, though I'm often saddened by the effect. And I agree with this court decision, specifically, "Writing for the majority, Justice Marie Deschamps said the parents failed to show that the ERC course interfered with their ability to transmit their faith to their children."

Parents should have the inviolate right to try to pass their traditions and beliefs to their children if they wish, and any public school system worth its salt has the duty to bring to its charges a broader view. That, as far as it goes, seems simple & clear, though apparently not uncontroversial. Questions of duty and right become more complicated in terms of perceived good for individuals and society when we ask whether a parent has a right to shield a child from other views, or whether society has a duty to intervene in such attempt. Objections of those bringing this suit to the contrary, the ruling doesn't seem to address the issue at that level. Parents are still free to attempt to indoctrinate their kids, for good or ill, but if those kids attend public school they will necessarily be exposed to larger reality.

Some of my religious friends home school their children specifically (or so it seems to me) to shield them from ideas in conflict with their own, and I find that quite sad. Standards for home schooling in the US states with which I'm familiar seem minimal -- focusing almost entirely on math & language. I would support legislation requiring home schooled children to show competent basic familiarity with philosophy, reason and comparative religion, and that they have been adequately taught how, rather than what to think. But the mere suggestion of such in the US at this dark time would torpedo the career of any politician.


Sun, 26 Feb 2012 20:04:29 UTC | #922175

Go to: Grovel for the sake of it

Ted Foureagles's Avatar Jump to comment 25 by Ted Foureagles

The president sacrificed a pawn for a bishop, and we pawns naturally find that rather disquieting. On a superficial emotional level we crave alpha dog behavior in our champions and expect it of our opponents. President Obama and his political team surely understand how failure to do so entails cost, and yet pragmatically take the tactic of symbolically rolling over to acheive a larger goal. Can anyone imagine someone like George W. Bush, or faor that matter any of the current Republican candidates, doing the same?


Mon, 13 Feb 2012 16:42:21 UTC | #917232

Go to: Atheism in America

Ted Foureagles's Avatar Jump to comment 28 by Ted Foureagles

First a little background. Some of my family came to North America from Scotland in the 1740s, and others were the Cherokee & Creek natives on the land for a few thousand years before. After the 1838 Trail of Tears, those who remained did so by dint of passing for white -- the whiter the better. Many of them were Ku Klux Klan members by default, just as many in Saddam's Iraq were de-facto Bath party members.

My parents left North Carolina when I was a few days old because they'd had a cross burned on their lawn by the KKK, who pretty much ran everything around there from mayorship to school principal to minister to sheriff. The dual but inseperable dictates were that they stop granting business credit to black folk and also join the church. We settled way up in the Colorado High Country where, even if you met someone it wouldn't occur to them to question your beliefs.

I recently moved back to Carolina and find it little changed, at least in the rural places. Back home in Colorado there are loud, obvious contingents of ultra-conservative Christianity down in the Front Range cities, but no one really pays attention to them except for pundits from elsewhere. Up in the hills religion is a personal thing entirely irrelavent to the public (such as it is) sphere. But down here in Southern Appalachia, religion, specifically Conservative Christianity, is the background, suffusing everything. The overt KKK has mostly faded politically except in a few isolated places like Mt. Gilead or Faith, NC, and Southern Baptism has more or less taken its place.

You can openly be an atheist here now without risk of burning crosses, at least if you choose your community well. But to do so means a certain, perhaps critical loss of community effectiveness and social legitimacy. I've brought up the subject of atheism with a few of my Carolina neighbors, all very good people, and every single one linked it to devil worship. Such is the state of social reason in the US Southeast in 2012.


Mon, 06 Feb 2012 23:41:00 UTC | #915176

Go to: Gingrich vows to ban embryonic stem-cell research, questions in vitro practices

Ted Foureagles's Avatar Jump to comment 15 by Ted Foureagles

How embarrassing for a fellow atheist to opportunistically spout such vile trash! As social primates, most of us have a highly functional bullshit meter and, at least to me, it's patently obvious that Newt doesn't really believe this stuff he's been saying. This doesn’t mean that he wouldn’t turn it into policy if it served his purposes. He’s quite a dangerous man when holding the credulous in thrall.


Fri, 03 Feb 2012 00:05:12 UTC | #914104

Go to: Alaska Airlines removing prayer cards from meal trays after 30 years as complaints increase

Ted Foureagles's Avatar Jump to comment 52 by Ted Foureagles

Oh great -- now I have to worry about how those big damn things really stay in the air!

A card with a mountain scene says, “I will be glad to rejoice in you; I will sing praise to your name O most high.”

I'd rather like to see them keep this line, on an R. Crumb drawing of Jerry Garcia.


Thu, 26 Jan 2012 17:40:27 UTC | #911763

Go to: Forget religion, get 21st century morals: Richard Dawkins

Ted Foureagles's Avatar Jump to comment 10 by Ted Foureagles

          [Comment 7](/articles/644725-forget-religion-get-21st-century-morals-richard-dawkins/comments?page=1#comment_911680) by  [AtheistEgbert](/profiles/136425)          :

                 @Comment 5Behaviour codes of the masses is another way of saying conforming to authority. Much like children are 'taught' through conditioning what is right or wrong. This could be called the basic guilt complex. All of that, in my opinion, is not moral at all, but it probably accounts for the majority of people.Only with choice can morality be said to exist within the individual, but then those choices must transcend the ego identity, otherwise moral choices would be relative to the ego, and therefore meaningless.I think these paradoxes can be resolved, but I wonder if others have truly thought deeply about the subject?

I think that collective morality is possibly and partly a response to authority and thus, as you say, not "moral". But a personal moral code is also largely derived collectively. We observe behaviors of those around us and choose to incorporate or reject the values they represent. As we are highly social animals, mostly quite alike, these individual choices combine and mutually reinforce in society, creating a "code for the masses". Only when someone feels a need to formally collect and codify them to inflence behavior of others does it become authortarian. And some degree of authoritarianism isn't necessarily a bad thing, else we'd have no use for laws.


Thu, 26 Jan 2012 17:12:14 UTC | #911750

Go to: What your mind really looks like on shrooms, cigarettes, weed, and booze

Ted Foureagles's Avatar Jump to comment 20 by Ted Foureagles

My SWAG, back in the Sixties, was that these drugs slowed our brains frenetic filtering, comparing and discarding of information -- sort of the Oh Don't Be Ridiculous Center taking the afternoon off. And as we were accustomed to taking whatever passes those filters as reality, our perception of reality seemed to expand.


Edit: And I see that Geoff, and Huxley, beat me to it.

Thu, 26 Jan 2012 16:48:01 UTC | #911740

Go to: Why we invented monsters

Ted Foureagles's Avatar Jump to comment 22 by Ted Foureagles

"In the heads of goslings and ducklings and chicks at the moment they peck their way out of the egg is, as a classic experiment suggests, a rough knowledge of what a hawk looks like… Scientists make a very simple silhouette… There are two projections that could be wings. They flank the body which is longer and rounded at one end, and shorter and stumpy at the other. If the silhouette moves with the long projection first, it looks like a flying goose, wings spread, neck preceding. Move the silhouette ... neck first over the hatchlings and they go about their business… Now move the silhouette stumpy end first – so it looks like a hawk with wings outstretched and long tail trailing – and there’s a flurry of peeps and trepidation. If this experiment has been properly interpreted, somehow, inside the sperm and the egg that made that chick, encoded in the ACGT sequence of their nucleic acids, there’s a picture of a hawk.”

From Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan

Mon, 12 Dec 2011 19:56:03 UTC | #898341

Go to: Would The World Be Better Off Without Religion?

Ted Foureagles's Avatar Jump to comment 32 by Ted Foureagles

@comment 28:

I agree that it is dangerous and, in my opinion, largely harmfuf to society. I cannot agree that it turns everyone against each other. My experience (as a lifelong atheist seeing it only from the outside) suggests that religion turns those within groups toward one another, if away from those in other groups. I suspect that this is, or was, the selective value of the meme. I can imagine how it might have enhanced group survival at the dawn of civilization and beyond. It's harder to imagine how something that "turns everyone against each other..." became so deeply integrated along the way to civilization. The question, I suppose, is whether we as a species and, what is quite different, societal groups still need religion to bind and direct us. I'd say not, but that's only my minority opinion.

Living where I do at the moment in the southeast US, nearly everyone with whom I interact is deeply religious. I don't much like it because it excludes me, but it does seem to hold them closer together than might otherwise be the case. I say might because I have seen in my home in the Rocky Mountains forms of society not organized primarily around superstition. Those societies work, and in my opinion work better, but they are not as cohesive as those down here in Carolina. Each situation has its defining nodes. In the Rockies, libertarianism is rife. A friend once said "Nobody moves to a mountain out of love for their fellow man". Back east, conformity is prized.

My hope for humanity is that we outgrow dependance on superstition as social glue. I think that it may be unrealistic to assume that we already have, and disengenuous to posit that it never had value.


Tue, 22 Nov 2011 15:50:42 UTC | #892327

Go to: Would The World Be Better Off Without Religion?

Ted Foureagles's Avatar Jump to comment 26 by Ted Foureagles

I suppose that if one answers the question of the debate in the affirmative, as I would, a follow-on question might be: Is our species, in whole and at this moment, matured such that we can escape the irrationality of religious faith and flourish in face of the consequenses? Some individuals surely can, while others presumably would not. And on balance, are our various societies as they are now configured both robust and adaptable enough to function well with such a large influence on social control eliminated?


Tue, 22 Nov 2011 10:56:10 UTC | #892242

Go to: Forced into irrationality

Ted Foureagles's Avatar Jump to comment 9 by Ted Foureagles

Many, perhaps most of the children I've known who grew up in fundamentalist religious households seem not to have been victims of overbearing indoctrination, but rather to have passively absorbed the ideas of loving (or otherwise) parents. Parents or whatever caregivers / authority figures comprise a child's primary models of reality at a time when those connections of mind are critically and deeply forming. They may react in adulthood from those depths without knowing why, and sometimes without the ability to overcome the reaction even when they recognize it as unreasonable. Convoluted rationalization often follows – usually with good intent.

I’m reminded of a good friend who has one of the finest minds I’ve encountered. In our youth we spent almost as much time discussing science and philosophy as chasing women. He’s an accomplished amateur astronomer who makes inventive telescopes from scratch – grinds lenses, silvers mirrors – whole bit. He can speak at length and in depth on cosmological theory, adding his own interesting insights. In other words, he’s no dummy.

In his mid-thirties he got married, had a kid, and suddenly became a Christian fundamentalist just like everyone else in his immediate family. As befits a questioning, original thinker, he taught himself Greek and some Aramaic in order to check the stuff himself. He now believes in a 6,000 year old earth, and the undeniable cosmological and geological evidence to the contrary is just God’s playful ruse. And troublingly, he buys the idea of infallible prophesies regarding “End Times”.

When speaking with him one can tell that his remarkable mind is still there, but a wall of some sort has arisen beyond which it will not go or even look (he thinks the same about me). I don’t know – it’s perplexing. His example is the main reason why I have to think of religious people as about as smart and as good as anyone else with epistemological stances as valid as mine, for all I know . I’m profoundly grateful that my parents allowed, even pushed me to think for myself. I was four years old when I objected to going to church with Mom, who was an observant Southern Baptist (just like her parents & siblings). We made a deal that I didn’t have to attend church if I would read the bible every day and be prepared to discuss it at night. I was to do this until all the way through the King James (one of our ancestors) old & new testaments. She then gave what I still consider some of the most reasonable advice I’ve received. She said. “You needn’t be pious but you shouldn’t be ignorant”.

That damn book was a heck of a slog for a little kid! It took me about a year and a half to make it through, sometimes scared shitless and other times laughing. By the time I was done, and after some 500 nightly discussion sessions with Mom, we pretty much had the foundation of a lifelong understanding and respect for our different views. I came out of the experience a wizened preschooler firm in my rejection of religion, and Mom at least never had to preach to me – remind on occasion, but never preach.

In the half-century since I’ve felt no urge toward religion (well, I flirted with being a Zen monk when I was 17 and stoned), while many of those I’ve most loved have been deeply religious, including my wife of 25 years. I think that relationships between believers and nonbelievers needn’t be adversarial, at least in all aspects. Surely, when political decisions are off in la-la land someone has to push back, and that often involves a large element of belligerence. But I’d posit that there exists value beyond reason just as there is value beyond faith.


Mon, 14 Nov 2011 21:57:23 UTC | #890189