My Letter to My Daughter pt4
Tradition, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or social custom); a belief or story relating to the past that are commonly accepted as historical though not verifiable. Traditional beliefs often start from almost nothing; perhaps somebody just makes them up originally to explain phenomena that they did not understand, like the stories about Thor and Zeus. But after they have been handed down over centuries, the mere fact that they are so old makes them seem special. People believe things simply because people have believed the same thing over centuries. The trouble with tradition is that, no matter how long ago a story was made up, it is still exactly as true or untrue as the original story was.
The largest tradition that we come in contact with, in our day-to-day lives, is religion. Most of the people in America are Christian. There are many branches of the “Christian” church: Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Latter-Day Saints etc. These are just a few of the hundreds of branches of just the Christian religions, there are also Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, etc. There is no way to have an exhaustive list. The differences in some of these are admittedly large while some are miniscule. People who believe even slightly different things from each other often go to war over their disagreements. So you might think that they must have some pretty good reasons, or evidence, for believing what they believe. But actually their different beliefs are entirely due to different traditions. It seems that if evidence comes to light that agrees with their views, it somehow reinforces their position, but when evidence comes up that disagrees with their views they no longer need evidence as much as “faith.”
Many people try to refute the argument against tradition by using language as a crux. Yes, language is passed down by tradition, there is no other way. Evolution states that an organism (like fish, lions, and us!) is built to survive in the environment where its kind lives. Some fish live in fresh water while others live in salt water; lions learn to track and hunt their prey; we learn the language of our people. In order to prosper and thrive in our environment we learn the language of the area. In America, the majority, speak English (in one form or another) and call Racer a cat, in Italy they speak Italian and would call her un gatto. Neither of these words is more right and as such neither the Italian nor the English consider theirs the more correct way, just two sides of the same coin.
Children are required to absorb a myriad of traditional information about the culture they grow up in. The child can’t be expected to sort out the useful information (like language) from the bad information (like gods, devils, and the like). Because children have to learn from adults they are likely to believe nearly everything that they are told; right or wrong, true or false, backed up by facts or unsubstantiated claims. I am not saying to not listen to your elders; they can pass on very valuable information, like I am trying to do with this letter.
Could this be what happened with religion? Belief that Thor caused the lightening, that Jesus had no human father, a select few prayers are answered, or that a group of Jews crossed the globe to populate America while destroying the genetic link to their supposed ancestors. Millions have believed these things; millions more still do, but why? Perhaps they were told that it was true by their elders when they were young and impressionable. Muslim children are told very different things from Christian children, yet both are convinced that they are following the correct path. The two languages are correct for their respective countries because they are not mutually exclusive, but because different religions claim different things happened to the same select group of people they can’t both be correct.
In closing, I want you to know how very much I love you. I have not written this to break bonds within our family; I only want to try to raise you above the influence of authority, revelation, and tradition. I know the topics in this letter are huge, possibly too large for you to comprehend yet. I am ready to answer any questions you have. I may not have every answer and perhaps you should not simply listen to me (authority and tradition, you know), but I will help you find the answers with an open mind and heart. I hope this letter finds you well, I hope you are able to understand and absorb what is contained in it, and lastly I hope that (since I am writing this years before you will read it) I have been a good role model for you. I will leave Mr. Dawkins’ final paragraph un-edited because it is better than any I could come up with.
What can we do about all this? It is not easy for you to do anything, because you are only ten. But you could try this. Next time somebody tells you something that sounds important, think to yourself: ‘Is this the kind of thing that people probably know because of evidence? Or is it the kind of thing that people only believe because of tradition, authority or revelation?’ And, next time somebody tells you that something is true, why not say to them: ‘What kind of evidence is there for that?’ And if they can’t give you a good answer, I hope you’ll think very carefully before you believe a word they say.
Love your Daddy
Posted on April 3, 2013, in Christianity, Coming Out, Mormon-isms and tagged atheism, atheist, book of mormon, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, evidence, faith, faithless, free, free thinker, free thinking, free thought, freethought, LDS, Mormon, open. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.