This is a guest post by Tony Lakey. Tony is a queer atheist, a social justice and interfaith activist, and an alleged Faitheist. A contributor to Columbia Faith and Values, he studied Philosophy and Sociology at the University of Missouri – Columbia, where he also ran a secular student group. He tweets at @tonylakey.
Last week, American Atheists posted an image with a quote from Dave Silverman:
“I had thought when I was younger that I was right and theists were just wrong. Then I thought that I was right and they were just stupid. Finally, I realized that I was right, and theists were just victims”
Wow, that quote has clearly got some issues. Like, for starters, they don’t really think ALL religious people are victims, right? American Atheists’ PR director, Dave Muscato, was quick to inform me that he agreed, it is clearly not the case that all religious believers are victims. That’s a relief…until you read the rest of his response:
“Some of them are in on the scam and continue calling themselves religious for money or power or because they want to fit in. So yeah, not only victims. Liars, and victims. Not much better though.”
Yeah, that’s definitely not okay either. You can be religious without being the victim or a scam artist. Why is the truth about the existence of a deity so important to you (something Muscato was sure to emphasize, in no uncertain terms) but the truth that “one need not be either a victim or a liar in order to be religious” irrelevant? Just because someone holds a metaphysical belief you think is false, does not make them a victim. If that is a stance you actually hold, would you not also be a victim for any false belief you happen to hold?
I think it’s pretty clear that would have to be the case with such a broad definition, and fortunately Muscato agrees and modifies his claim. Instead, you are no longer necessarily a victim if you are religious, but you are DEFINITELY indoctrinated because, “Religions are specific systems with specific sets of beliefs. You don’t come to those on your own. You have to be taught them. It would truly be a miracle of [sic] someone raised in isolation who had never heard of Jesus came to the conclusion entirely independently that a dude named Jesus was part of something called a trinity etc. That only comes from other people = indoctrination.”
Ignoring, for a moment, that isn’t what religion is, it seems like indoctrination is being defined as ideas that can only be taught by other people. Which, from the way Muscato described it, would also apply to most of human knowledge and anything taught. But fear not, readers, for as soon as this mistake was realized,
the goalposts were moved again the definition was amended, because obviously, indoctrination and teaching cannot be the same thing.
“…the difference between [indoctrination and teaching], is that teaching means or implies the information you’re passing along is demonstrably true and indoctrination means that you are using psychological tricks to manipulate someone into believing something false…”
So true things are taught, and false things are indoctrinated? For anyone curious, most definitions of indoctrination do not rely on the truth value of what is being taught, but on whether or not one is allowed to question or critically examine the content of a teaching. So really, all indoctrination is teaching. Not necessarily ethical teaching, but certainly teaching. But if for the sake of argument, we go with Muscato’s definition, then I guess I was indoctrinated into believing that Pluto was a planet. And if this were true, Neil deGrasse Tyson would have been complicit with this indoctrination until 2006. In that case, American Atheists should be expected to go after NDT and planetary science educators behind the whole “Pluto is a planet” sham with the same fervor and vitriol as they do the religious . . . or just stop painting all religion with such a broad brush. But honestly those are both about equally unlikely.
Unfortunately that was the last of the thread I was able to see before it was deleted, so we may never know where American Atheists stands on Pluto’s planetary status indoctrination.