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June 26, 2011

Definitely an unrealistic scene

“Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God?” says Roseli, as she begins reading out loud from the Book of Mormon during breakfast this morning.

“God isn’t real,” interrupts Joshua.

“Who told you that?” asks Roseli.

The answer was obvious. I never say it exactly that way. I don’t believe God is any more real than the Easter Bunny, but I know that in our home I have to make it clear that this is my perspective, not an absolute truth.

“Dad,” said Joshua.

“That’s my opinion,” I clarify, standing at the kitchen counter, “Mom has a different opinion.”

“What Papai meant to say was that he belieeeeves God isn’t real,” says Roseli. “And I belieeeeve that God is real.” I was impressed by how calmly Roseli reacted to Joshua’s comment. It wasn’t long ago that such a comment would send Roseli spiraling into a day-long funk.

“I made up my mind that God isn’t real,” says Joshua.

But you’re only four! I think.

“Well, God is as real as you want Him to be,” Roseli says, looking down to continue reading.

What a devastatingly revealing comment!

Do you know what comes up when you Google “* is as real as you want * to be”? The three most common results are “Santa,” “superstition,” and “opportunity” (referring to a get-rich quick scheme), followed by “Jesus Christ.”

No one would ever think to say that something as undeniably real as, oh, the sun, say, is “as real as you want it to be.” The sun would continue to exist in the complete absence of human consciousness. Santa, superstitions, opportunities, and God, on the other hand, are socially constructed concepts, inventions of human thought.

Above the chatter of three utterly disinterested boys, Roseli continues, “Wo unto such an one, for he is not prepared, and the…”

“I AM BUZZ LIGHTYEAR, AND I COME IN PEACE!” announces a toy, which I then try, unsuccessfully, to coax from Elijah.

“Yea, come unto me and bring forth works of righteousness…”


“…shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire…”


“Notwithstanding a shepherd hath called after you…”


Roseli persists, finishing her reading for the day with these last two appalling verses on the page:

“…and if ye will not hearken unto the voice of the good shepherd, to the name by which ye are called, behold, ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd. And now if ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd, of what fold are ye? Behold, I say unto you, that the devil is your shepherd, and ye are of his fold; and now, who can deny this? Behold, I say unto you, whosoever denieth this is a liar and a child of the devil.”

“So every good Hindu, Jew, Buddhist, atheist — a majority of the world’s population, in fact — are shepherded by the devil,” I say. “Verses like these only serve to create an us-versus-them mentality. You either accept Jesus or you’re of the devil! It’s incredibly divisive!”

After a moment’s thought, Roseli says, “That makes sense.”

Well then why, I think, would you want to read such verses to the kids? You know… pick out the nice bits and reject the nasty. That’s what most people do.

Part of the reason, I think, has to do with social pressure. The Primary has an incentive program in place whereby the kids are rewarded for reading the scriptures. Each week we get an email saying, “Here’s your friendly reminder to send me the days your kids have read this week.” I think Roseli would be embarrassed to report that she hadn’t been reading every day. This isn’t to say that she doesn’t genuinely want to read the Book of Mormon to the boys, but she’s been much more consistent about it since she’s been held accountable by a weekly email.

I’m all for reading, including from sacred texts. The president of American Atheists, David Silverman, has said, “I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.”

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  1. Nelson Aidukaitis permalink

    Kicking against the pricks…

    …their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men… …when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God. … as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose…

    Nelson Aidukaitis

    • Nelson, my old and very dear friend, ..what, pray tell, does any of what you quoted have to do with what was expressed in the article in question?!

      When we worked together in Curitiba as young missionaries you were a thoughtful and critically inquisitive, not afraid of pushing the envelope, of questioning authority, of standing up and asking tough questions when tough questions needed to be asked. What happened?

      When did you lose the desire you once displayed to think logically and critically, to not settle for religiously packaged non-answers? ..Wish we could go back to those days again and revisit the things you showed me, opening my eyes to what was really going in in Brasil, in particular in the years leading up to the Mormon church dropping the ban on blacks in the priesthood..

  2. HA! I love that last part. I’d never really thought of it that way before.

    I don’t live in the best neighborhood, and we always have people coming around trying to hand out pamphlets about ending substance addiction through the power of Christ. Personally, I find this incredibly insulting.

    Would they go into a wealthier neighborhood and hand out such pamphlets? Somehow I have my doubts. They are always trying to lure neighborhood children into church by offering to send a van around to pick up them and their friends and talking about how much fun they’ll have with all the other kids and such nonsense.

    I always try to tell my kids, in age-appropriate ways, that these people are trying to take advantage of their naivete and lure them in with all sorts of promises. I really don’t think indoctrinating young children to religion is a good thing, and I find this trolling for fresh souls to be predatory.

    I don’t want to push my kids into non-belief, but I DO want to push them into a science-based worldview. Of course, I hope that viewing reality through the lens of science will lead to atheism (and I have a hard time seeing how it could not), but whatever they eventually decide on I want it to be a conscious decision they reached through rationale and logical thought.

    Perhaps the best thing I could do for them to that end, as David Silverman so succinctly put it, is to buy them a bible.

    • Tina permalink

      I think that families should go to church together, and not just send the kids on a bus, and not know what their children are being taught. Religion does help people away from, and deter them from getting into substance abuse problems though. Also wether you want to believe it or not atheistism is a religion. A religion is a faith that a group of people believe in, and a very large group of people are atheists and believe there is no God so that is your religion SO IF YOU ARE AN ATHIEST YOU DO BELIEVE IN ORGANIZED RELIGION.

      • Perhaps you’ll agree then that not collecting stamps is a hobby. And since we likely both disbelieve in Zeus, we both belong to the religion of Azeusism.

  3. Jonathan permalink

    I don’t feel like going into a long rant today. Let me just make two points, though I have more I could address.

    First, “…and if ye will not hearken unto the voice of the good shepherd, to the name by which ye are called…,” then you are in doodoo, etc. Who is Alma addressing here? Oh! Members of the Church. He is condemning them for not hearkening (implying they have already heard, but do not listen), and that they have already been called, but are rejecting. As always, context is critical to understanding.

    Second, how dare those verses create an us vs. them mentality. Unlike those religious ignoramuses, we atheists would never separate us and them. I can’t believe anyone would be so divisive as the readers of the Bible, The Book of Mormon, or other sacred texts! Therefore we must put forth a great deal of effort into stopping the religiously indoctrinated from spreading their destructive message. After all, they are the ones who have caused all the problems in the world. Definitely not us.

  4. It’s interesting to read your interaction with your kids. I always try to avoid stating what I think about religion. I’m rather fascinated to see what my kids come up with for themselves. – and it really would make no difference to me if they grew up religious. My son has always been sceptical of god and also Santa Claus. My daughter has declared herself a Christian (although she knows next to nothing about it!), and also believes fervently in Santa. I think this has rather more to do with their personalities (she craves security) than anything else.

  5. Nelson Aidukaitis permalink

    Roseli is a saint…

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