Thursday, January 23, 2014

Finding gold while being raked over the coals of hell by Christians

Yesterday I wrote a post indicating something I was musing upon about hell. I will summarize the entirety of the post in a sentence.
If Christianity were verified to be true, I think we would be likely to see a concerted effort on the part of all responsible stewards of that truth not to teach their children about hell until after some age of accountability because they would be likely to see it as unduly abusive to a child's mental well-being to do otherwise.
At the end of that post, I went on to write the following paragraph, which some Christian interlocutors to and with whom I was not talking have decided to rake me over the coals (of hell) for on the account of being uncareful with how I said it (and, to be frank, because I have apparently touched a nerve of theirs about evidence-based claims-making).
And note that this isn't typically what we see. (1) Among those Christians who believe that Hell is a reality, there is a perceived ethical imperative in the other direction--to teach children about Hell before they can handle the idea. (2) That suggests that the Christian ethic places a higher value on securing the belief than on the mental well-being of the child--something that would be unlikely to be the case if Christianity were true. (3) This suggests something sinister and abusive about the practice of teaching Hell to children, even if abuse is not the intended effect of the ones doing the teaching. (numbers added, emphasis original)
A commenter requested that I back up the numbered statements with evidence before I am qualified to make them, but he did so in a way that was sufficiently unclear that I thought he was talking about wanting evidence that it is common that children are first taught about hell at a very young age (easily argued to be too young). As I assumed--to my error--that the commenter was attempting to troll me instead of asking a valid question, I treated him in that way and paid a price (one shouldn't feed the trolls even when they're not trolling).

Somewhat in my defense

Observe a couple of points before I proceed. First, notice that regarding (2), adding in the word "could" at the beginning, "That could suggest...," would cause the contention against that statement to evaporate. From that change, adding a qualifier of less than certainty to it, (3) follows from (2). My point with the post was to speculate in a particular direction, not to make a definitive statement about the state of the world. I should be more careful with my wording, then. Noted.

On (1), I have a very hard time explaining the fact that children frequently are taught about hell very early on (in the Pentecostal tradition, in which I was quasi-involved for a time, the proper time to teach children about hell is, effectively, as early as possible). I, and my commenter, and most people I found talking about it on the Internet when I searched, along with every friend I asked, all learned about hell before memory. The oldest ages I was finding in my search were around eight years old for first learning about hell (readers are encouraged to search for themselves for information on when it is appropriate to teach children about hell).

My (Christian) commenter indicated that he believes that no child should be taught anything (I'll add a qualifier of "except at great need" to be charitable to him) before an age that they are able to handle it. If his view is typical among Christians, then we have three possibilities to consider. Either (a) there is an assumption that children are ready to learn about hell at a time that may be too early (research is therefore indicated), (b) too-young children are learning about hell incidentally (at church, maybe?) with parents playing cleanup on this problem, or (c) there is a perception of great need to teach children about hell at an age that may be too early, one that seems most likely to be justified via the religious ethic.

In case (a) there is a problem--this assumption needs to be clarified and, if warranted, corrected. It remains to be determined, and very likely needs to be determined, at what age (read: maturity level) first introducing an idea like hell is appropriate. In case (b) there is a problem that is very difficult to nail down but that also may imply that teaching slightly older children about hell, with them unable to understand why they shouldn't teach younger siblings, friends, and other children about it, may be inappropriate as well. In (c) there is the problem that I indicated, which essentially points out that the religious ethic values belief more highly than well-being, which I'm not sure can even be considered controversial since the religious ethic considers belief to be a necessary part of well-being.

Ultimately, though, most of this is away from my point--hence a fair amount of my aggravation. My point was to raise the question of why it isn't a universal (or even more common) ethical standard to withhold religious teachings like the doctrine of hell until after an appropriate maturity level is reached. Indeed, my post would have done fine without that paragraph at all, and were I less committed to honesty, I'd have deleted it or changed the wording, made a short note of that, and deleted all of the ugly comments, which I have left there partly to my own indictment.

I should also note that I found that as time wears on, with it both that fewer and fewer Americans believe hell is real (~60-65% of Christians, I believe, is the statistic) and that a more informed ethic is reaching a wider audience, we are hearing a louder call to this question from more sides, including many Christians, apparently. That, at least, is good news, though often it seems the answer given is in the 5-8 years range, which I suspect is far too young.

An important aside

To make a poignant aside, though, since it came up. To quote my commenter,
I am willing to state that no child should be exposed to anything at all for which they have not reached an appropriate level of mental and emotional maturity. That's easy.
In that case, one must wonder if he is admitting that no child should be taught about Christianity, or at least that it is the truth. Somehow I suspect not, hence my extension of "except at great need" clause to be charitable to his view. Although observe that this case implies that there is an ethical imperative in the religious ethic to secure belief before an appropriate age for evaluating something so substantial as a religion has been reached.

(NB: Catholics have two coming-of-age rites. The first is First Communion, and it is at roughly 8 years old. That time is considered to be the earliest time at which a child is likely to be able to recognize the significance of the Eucharist. This is telling concerning age-appropriateness of religious articles. The second is Confirmation, at 12-13 years old. It is when a child is first considered mature enough to make the decision for herself about whether or not she will accept the religion, so using that as a guide, we could say that the Catholics, at least, feel that 12-13 is an appropriate minimum age at which a person is mentally and emotionally mature enough to evaluate a faith and 8 years old is a minimum age at which a person is able to make sense of religious articles at all. By the comment, no person should be taught to accept a religion as true before age 12-13 and should not even be introduced to religious articles taught as truth before age 8. That is easy.)

Doing my homework

I take these things very seriously, not least the requirement that our claims to knowledge are based to the best degree possible on evidence. I also readily admit to being willing to change my mind when shown to be wrong. Thus, I spent a long time last night reading comments about my alleged dishonesty betwixt taking the time to hunt down and investigate what research has been done in this direction. Unsurprisingly, very little has been. Of course, my post from yesterday was actually intended to be part of the growing call for that research to be done--something I should have stated more plainly--but it has been dragged off that point by a combination of factors that do not least include my own misjudgment.

Finding gold in the coals

What I want to share in this post, then, is the fruit of that investigation, which is the work of Dr. Marlene Winell, author of Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Formal Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion. Dr. Winell has spoken about what she is calling Religious Trauma Syndrome at psychological professional conferences as well as at atheist/freethought conventions. Should Religious Trauma Syndrome clear the hurdle of official recognition based on her growing body of cases, a door may very well be opened into conducting the kind of research that so sorely needs to be done.

About Religious Trauma Syndome, Winell has written about the cycle of abuse that effectively drives it,
The doctrines of original sin and eternal damnation cause the most psychological distress by creating the ultimate double bind. You are guilty and responsible, and face eternal punishment. Yet you have no ability to do anything about it.

You must conform to a mental test of “believing” in an external, unseen source for salvation, and maintain this state of belief until death. You cannot ever stop sinning altogether, so you must continue to confess and be forgiven, hoping that you have met the criteria despite complete lack of feedback about whether you will actually make it to heaven.

Salvation is not a free gift after all.

For the sincere believer, this results in an unending cycle of shame and relief. It is a cycle of abuse.
The cocoon

She also describes the phenomenon as being like a cocoon (See Leaving the Fold, Ch. 2). Within the cocoon, which is to say with one's religious beliefs intact and unchallenged, the trauma is far less apparent or fails to manifest clearly, but one also cannot move out of that cocoon without experiencing it. This, incidentally, would create an additional psychological pressure to maintaining one's beliefs if her observations are borne out.

This seems to accord with an observation that I have had--but have no empirical evidence for--that among formerly believing atheists, a sense of psychological damage from their religion, especially from patterns taught in early childhood (fear, guilt, and shame being the most common, though there are others), is extremely common, and yet from still believing religious people, it seems nonobvious.

Until now, I had assumed that the most likely explanation for this phenomenon was the rationalization of the harm on the part of the religious, and that may be a part of it. I now suspect more strongly, though, that they may actually be blind to it since the beliefs themselves insulate them from experiencing much of it overtly. Note that this is not really something that could be considered a protective effect of religious belief.

Phobia indoctrination

A most useful term that Winell employs to describe at least some of the mechanism leading to Religious Trauma Syndrome is "phobia indoctrination." This seems to be a very apt term for religiously inculcated ideas that are likely to induce fear that prevents rebellion, doubt, or apostasy. The problem, of course, is that we do not consider phobias to be a healthy state of mind, and we do not consider indoctrination to be a healthy way to convey information. And yet, Winell points out that teaching these kinds of articles to children unable to process them and too likely to trust them seems to meet the criteria for both of these terms.

Aside: It strikes me as relatively obvious that if the religious articles are not true, and we can be quite confident that they are not, then fears of these religious articles are irrational by their very nature. Of course, there is a huge body of philosophical literature debating whether or not holding false beliefs, if religious, constitutes being irrational, and I'm not interested in getting into that debate, one I personally feel concedes more than we can justify to the religious position (which lacks epistemic soundness).

When I first found this term, I became very hopeful that a body of literature surrounding it would be easily found, perhaps regarding cults who also use the technique (though more often on vulnerable young adults and adults than on children). Some effort has been made in that direction using the term, but I suspect the term itself is new (and perhaps due to Winell herself) and has not found its way into the literature yet. (Much of what can be easily found on that term talks about cults and Mormonism, with a few asides into Scientology.) Since the study of cults has a rather thorough body of literature behind it, I would not be surprised to find a similar phenomenon under a different name in that literature, but I have not had time to look into that yet.

Though not all religion is likely to be passed on in this way, I feel like it is plausible that a great deal of it is. I was raised Catholic by not terribly seriously religious parents. It would therefore be far from the mark to consider my indoctrination into religion severe. (I tried to inflict a more severe indoctrination upon myself a few times while of college age for what I recognize now to be primarily social reasons, but it didn't take very deeply.) And yet even with this very moderately religious upbringing, I suffered a regular struggle with the fear of hell, among other modest issues, for thirteen years after walking away from Christianity, and I'm not sure I'll ever be totally rid of it. To call this a "phobia indoctrination," which must have been very passive if it was one in my case, hits the mark very closely for my experience as I now understand it.

Too narrow

On that last point, my biggest objection to Dr. Winell's work, though I think I understand it, is the focus on fundamentalism instead of religion more broadly. Fundamentalism, I do not deny, is the most severe and damaging form, and Religious Trauma Syndrome is likely to be most prevalent and most severe in those cases (Winell notes patients and contacts who are unable to function in day-to-day life because their Religious Trauma Syndrome is so severe, and attempted and successful suicides are not unheard of).

I do think, however, that in typically lesser degrees, it is far more prevalent, extending in fair likelihood to many, if not most, if not all, believers. Perhaps it is only visible when something shakes them, even slightly, from their belief cocoon (judging by my experiences with hundreds or thousands of formerly religious atheists but not empirical data). In that regard, I hope via fundamentalism that Winell can get a toehold for Religious Trauma Syndrome that then leads to a much broader investigation. This needs more attention than it gets.

A call to compassion

If Winell is correct about her assessment of the "safe cocoon" provided by beliefs, then there is a major call to compassion here for those of us who are strident against faith. The religious, particularly the deeply religious, are trapped in their beliefs--which, being untrue, are likely to create cognitive dissonance in addition to other issues (see Winell)--by potentially serious psychological consequences connected to moving away from those beliefs, sometimes even slightly. In working with believers, then, especially in the effort of disabusing them of their belief systems, we must be compassionate to this psychological state of affairs.

We are in a position where the world may depend upon breaking the spell of religious belief, and it seems likely that doing so will entail a major need for compassionate psychological care for many as it happens. On a case-by-case basis, we must also recognize the psychological trauma that has to be dealt with as people leave their faiths. Supporting these endeavors to shine the light of psychological research on problems of this sort, then, is likely to be of high value, so I encourage readers to research them for themselves and make decisions that seem fitting.

Summary

It is worth noting here that, though empirical studies have not been done on this matter for whatever reasons, the body of observations of Winell in her professional work (which is connected to but not exclusive to the psychology of religious harm) leads her to conclude with confidence that teaching children these kinds of religious articles constitutes a form of child abuse. That isn't to say that she's guaranteed to be right without some kind of empirical study to strongly back her up, but it is more than enough to be strongly suggestive.

These matters deserve research so that they do not have to depend on speculation and a growing body of strongly suggestive cases. Connected to that directly, the people who suffer in these ways deserve the dignity of having the matter treated with seriousness--not dismissiveness and obfuscation--until and after the research bears on the matter.

34 comments:

  1. James, which religion is this?

    "You must conform to a mental test of 'believing' in an external, unseen source for salvation, and maintain this state of belief until death. You cannot ever stop sinning altogether, so you must continue to confess and be forgiven, hoping that you have met the criteria despite complete lack of feedback about whether you will actually make it to heaven.

    "Salvation is not a free gift after all.

    "For the sincere believer, this results in an unending cycle of shame and relief. It is a cycle of abuse."


    That's not a belief of evangelical Protestantism. See here and here for representative statements.

    See also Eph. 2:8-9, and concerning the "shame and relief" cycle, see here. Note also my article on this.

    I don't dispute for a moment that legalism (manifested in shame and relief, among other thoughts and experiences) has been rampant in the history of the Church. I have called it Christianity's favorite all-time heresy. Still it is something other than real Christian doctrine and praxis. What Winell and you condemn, therefore, is something I condemn, too. It is destructive. It is deadly.

    Condemning something other than real Christianity is something I'm quite willing to join you in.

    The same could be said for the cocoon. I have written before of the need to learn others' beliefs, and to be in relationship with persons who think differently. I will be teaching that very thing to a high school class at church this week.

    So where there is ghettoized Christianity, I agree it is harmful. I join you in condemning it.

    You object to her focus on Fundamentalism. I cannot help but wonder if there is some quantitative aspect of her work to go with the qualitative. Undoubtedly there are versions of "Christianity" that have harmful aspects. This has been true from the beginning. How prevalent are they? And how does your opinion square with the overwhelming, virtually unanimous body of research showing that religious persons have better physical and emotional health on almost every measure than non-religious persons? Examples are too numerous to present exhaustively, but here are a few: here (pdf), here, here, here, and here.

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    1. I happily await how you can tell us which Christianity is the "real Christianity."

      "And how does your opinion square with the overwhelming, virtually unanimous body of research showing that religious persons have better physical and emotional health on almost every measure than non-religious persons? Examples are too numerous to present exhaustively, but here are a few: here (pdf), here, here, here, and here."

      That's a topic for a different day and a different post (do note that these are not peculiar to Christianity, though). I do not appreciate the presentation of these, though, in any way that might in the slightest distract from the seriousness of the reality of the suffering of those afflicted with something like Religious Trauma Syndrome.

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  2. I wouldn't appreciate that either, James.

    If you're really serious about knowing what's real Christianity, I'll be glad to explain it to you.

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    1. I'm always willing to hear how a Christian, or anyone else, claims to know something like that.

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    2. http://www.thinkingchristian.net/what-is-christianity/

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    3. Tom,

      I don't see where your link answers the question:

      How do you know which Christianity is the real Christianity?

      Let's start with a basic example -- how do you know that those Christians who believe in transubstantiation are right, or wrong?

      Btw, I'll point out that you are continuing to act like a troll in that you are claiming to answer a question, again, by providing a link that does not answer the question, again. This seems to be your chosen way to handle difficult questions on this blog, and every time you do it from here on in I will point it out again.

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  3. Let me put it this way, then. There are multiple varieties of "real" Christianity. C.S. Lewis described their commonalities under the description, "Mere Christianity." Another way to view it is as "creedal Christianity," which is to say, that which accepts the creeds of the 7 early Ecumenical Councils.

    But here's another way I could answer. How about if I let go of the "real Christianity" descriptor in view of its being controversial on this site. How about if I just say to James, the kind of "Christianity" he is condemning is not the only kind of Christianity there is, it's not the kind that I practice, nor is it the kind practiced by the great majority of Christians I know. I condemn it with him. James would do well to specify that what he's condemning is not all Christianity, but a certain subset of that which goes under the name of Christianity and which does not represent the whole.

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  4. Tom, so if you prefer to speak of "representational" Christians rather than "real" ones that's fine.

    My question, per your invitation, is how you determine representational Christianity? Is there a reliable, verifiable, objective standard by which Christian practices and doctrines are compared? (And if so, why is it that Christians don't agree on these issues?) Or do you mean representational as either a mean or median (or some other sample) of the current population of Christians at large (and how do you determine who does and doesn't belong in this population)?

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  5. Cal, what I said was that what James wrote about does not represent the whole. You're asking me to explain what does represent the whole, which is another topic altogether.

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  6. Tom, you brought up the objection that James was not criticizing real / representative Christianiy. So if you're going to lay claim to knowing what is representative of Christianity, you should be able to explain how you determine this.

    Let me be clear; I am not asking you tell me what you think represents Christianity. I am asking you explain how you have come to these determinations -- what is the process by which Christians can align themselves so as not to fall prey to the criticism James leveled in his post?

    The reason I bring this up, of course, is that (as you concede), there are Christians who are not representative of Christianity. I just want to know how you determine this (per my prior comment).

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  8. Previously posted comment deleted because of a typo.

    Cal, if there is a significant proportion of Christianity that is not represented by what James described, then (obviously) what James described is not representative of all Christianity. I've already explained that. And I've already explained that this is not a claim concerning what is representative of all Christianity, it's a claim about what is not representative of all Christianity. I don't know why you think it is, per your second sentence here.

    You ask how I determine what represents real Christianity, or that there are Christians who are not representative of Christianity. Those are interesting questions but I've already said I'm not going to use these pages to discuss the differences between "real" Christianity and any other form of religion. The question is not germane to James's blog post, so I'd prefer to keep on topic: James's criticism is not representative of all of Christianity.

    As to how Christians can align themselves so as not to fall prey to James's criticism, I suggest you read from the previously linked page on What is Christianity? You criticized me earlier for linking to that page because it didn't answer the question that had been asked. You are now asking a different question, and that resource provides an answer to that question.

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    1. Actually, Tom, you quoted the part from Marlene Winell's page, not my post, about which Christianities are germane, and since she didn't specify, there's some onus on you to establish which is which. I'm assuming that you're focused on the word "confess," since many Protestants do not engage in this process explicitly and formally as do Catholics, but that's not fully material.

      As I presented my own case here, where even in a very gentle form of Catholicism I obtained a mild case of stygiophobia that lasted well after I left Christianity, I'm not sure how many Christianities I'm talking about here, then. Perhaps it's only the false ones.

      You could, perhaps, clarify that for us. Of course, due to the "cocoon" thing, we'd have to talk to people who have apostasized, in all likelihood, from any you name to see if any (even one will do) have experienced some mild form of the syndrome as a result of their religious upbringing.

      This, of course, is part of the point of my post. I strongly suspect (read: do not know but think it may be likely) that it applies very broadly and perhaps even universally not just to the Christianities but to religion generally. I don't know that, but I suspect we could easily find elements of it if only we were able to properly look.

      Incidentally, Marlene Winell (and another, Valerie Tarico) have a strongly vested interest not just situated in their upbringings in fundamentalism to focus all of their attention on fundamentalism. As you have handily demonstrated for us, fundamentalism is very widely considered to be harmful and even a cognitive disorder. By focusing there, where there is less of a taboo to gaining traction, they can hope to achieve their goals of getting this issue taken more seriously. If that occurs, the matter of the question will probably spread.

      At that point, should it arise, if you wish to maintain your beliefs, I think you had better have a pretty cogent explanation for why your Christianity is the "real" Christianity, although I'm not asking you to present that here since you've said you're unwilling.

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    2. Lot to unpack here:

      TG: "Cal, if there is a significant proportion of Christianity that is not represented by what James described, then (obviously) what James described is not representative of all Christianity."

      This is a tautology. I've been asking you to explain either end of it.

      TG: "I've already explained that. And I've already explained that this is not a claim concerning what is representative of all Christianity, it's a claim about what is not representative of all Christianity. I don't know why you think it is, per your second sentence here."

      What? Either way you are claiming to know what is representative of Christianity. You can't dodge away from the claim because one is a positive and the other a negative assertion. You are claiming to know about a representation, and I am simply asking you to explain the process you use to determine that representation.

      So far, crickets.

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    3. TG: "You ask how I determine what represents real Christianity, or that there are Christians who are not representative of Christianity. Those are interesting questions but I've already said I'm not going to use these pages to discuss the differences between "real" Christianity and any other form of religion. The question is not germane to James's blog post, so I'd prefer to keep on topic: James's criticism is not representative of all of Christianity."

      To correct this, you started out by commenting that you know what is representative of Christianity, and that James OP did not pertain to that. You raised the topic of real (which you've offered to change to "representative") Christianity, so I think it's more than a little odd that when asked to explain the topic you raised you'd demur because your comment is not relevant to the OP.

      And then your last sentence just blows up. You'd like us to allow that your assertion is valid (James' OP is not representative of all Christianity), but then you say that your assertion about the OP is off topic so please ignore it? Are you then withdrawing your objection? Or would you like to retain your objection, in which case you can explain how it is that you can determine what is and what is not representative of Christianity? Because if your comments here are to have any weight, I think you need to pick one -- irrelevant, or relevant and justified.

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  9. TG: "As to how Christians can align themselves so as not to fall prey to James's criticism, I suggest you read from the previously linked page on What is Christianity? You criticized me earlier for linking to that page because it didn't answer the question that had been asked. You are now asking a different question, and that resource provides an answer to that question."

    Yeah, no.

    I don't know how many times it will take for it to be pointed out to you that are repeatedly caught hand waving, pointing down rabbit holes, misrepresenting, linking-and-diverting, etc. But you have totally lost the right to claim that I or anyone reading here merely "read from the previously linked page on What is Christianity" and not be called out on it.

    I am largely certain that the question I have been asking throughout is not there. That question is"

    "How do you determine what is representative of Christianity?"

    But if you do actually answer that question in the links you promise contain that anser, please just copy and paste it here. If you do not, I think everyone reading will know, again, how it is you choose to argue for your beliefs.

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  10. No, Cal, the question I was answering when I offered you that link was, and I quote, "what is the process by which Christians can align themselves so as not to fall prey to the criticism James leveled in his post?"

    If you have concluded without examining the evidence that there is no answer there, then I'm not sure what to make of your view of examining evidence before drawing conclusions.

    As to your question, "how do you determine what is representative of Christianity," I have already told you that this is a question that would take us off topic.

    My point to James was that "x is not representative of all y, because there is some significant proportion of y for which not-x is true." That was the point I intended to make, and if I failed to make it I'll be glad to clarify; but it seems to me that it's already a logically valid argument in that form, and I'm comfortable with "everyone reading" to know how I "choose to argue" for the point I chose to argue for.

    Note however I did not choose here to argue for all my beliefs. That would be silly. Note also that it is not necessary for me to provide a general description of all y, which is what you have asked for. That's a new topic. You can ask for it all you want, but what you are doing thereby is asking me to devote my time to introducing a new topic on someone else's blog.

    Meanwhile, I have a question for James. James, having read the book, can you supply any information on its scholarly background and its methods? That question was raised here. Not having read it I don't want to assume anything. Thanks.

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  11. Let me clarify, since I can easily see Cal jumping on it my point, "That would be silly." The silliness would not be in arguing for all my beliefs; I'm doing that in a series starting on my blog this week. The silliness would be in doing it here, in this context, in relation to the topic James raised in his original post, especially in view of how many thousands of words I intend to devote to developing the case.

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    1. TG: "If you have concluded without examining the evidence that there is no answer there, then I'm not sure what to make of your view of examining evidence before drawing conclusions."

      I did look at your link. As your introduction and the document outline indicates (and those sections I perused), this is a document that talks about, well, I'm not really sure. It meanders. There are deepities. You tell anecdotes. It is exactly as I predicted it would be -- a long winded document that doesn't seem to answer my question.

      "How do you determine what is representative of Christianity."

      You have responded, TG: "I have already told you that this is a question that would take us off topic."

      But, as I keep trying to point out, that is the topic raised by your objection.

      You commented here originally that James's OP didn't apply to real Christianity , using the phrases "something other than real Christian doctrine," and "something other than real Christianity" and suggesting that maybe James' post applied to something you called "ghettoized Christianity."

      Later, you asked to modify your description of your religion to "representative Christianity."

      All of this entails that you have some means of discerning what is representative of Christianity that supersedes James means of assessing what represents Christianity -- otherwise your objection applies only to your beliefs. When pressed to explain how your objection pertained to something broader than your beliefs, you then declared, TG: ""As to your question, "how do you determine what is representative of Christianity," I have already told you that this is a question that would take us off topic." "

      But you can't have it both ways -- claim your objection pertains to more than your own beliefs, but do nothing more than describe your own beliefs.

      So, again, I extend to you again the invitation to merely copy and paste the relevant portion from your linked document to my question. Your failure to be able to do this makes me even more certain that you are hand waving and diverting and delaying. Again. This has been a common ploy for you, and I am calling it out. Again.

      If you 'd like to modify your criticism of the OP to say that your beliefs are merely different than what is described, then I have no beef with that. But if you want us to accept your claim that you know better than James (et al.) about what represents Christianity, without demonstrating that you have a means of ascertaining what this is, then I will continue to point out that your criticism seems very hollow.

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  12. Cal, you write, "All of this entails that you have some means of discerning what is representative of Christianity that supersedes James means of assessing what represents Christianity."

    You're not reading.

    What it entails, and what I have said more than once, is that I have some method of determining that what he wrote is not representative of all Christianity. To show that some portion of what goes under the name y is not-x does not require producing a general description of all y. It only requires instances of not-x among that which goes under the name y.

    (By way of reminder: y represents "Christianity," and x represents "any instance of the error(s) James points to concerning children and teachings about Hell.")

    How is that so difficult for you to grasp?

    Now if this doesn't satisfy you, then I'm content with not satisfying you. It is valid, it is relevant, it is to the point, and if you don't get it, that's not my problem.

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    1. Tom, Cal still has you.

      He's asking what I asked in the first place in inverse: how can you tell if some Christianity is not a real/representative Christianity?

      It follows from "which Christianities aren't real/representative?" that there is some method by which you can determine either those that are or those that aren't (and thus both by exclusion).

      Why don't you just name a couple of examples of not-real/representative Christianities, perhaps with a small amount of explanation for why they fail?

      Also, that still avoids the point of the OP which is that there is a body of cases evaluated by a professional in her working environment that strongly suggests that good research into a possible psychological harm of religious belief exists. She focuses on fundamentalism, and per my own experiences and the cases of many people I know, I suspect the harm reaches further, though usually less severely.

      That means that this whole discussion you raised about real/representative Christianities is a distraction from the problem I raised originally: that people are harmed psychologically by religious indoctrination. You seem to have attempted to claim that among those who are indoctrinated in real/representative Christianities, this problem does not occur. There's a tall burden on that with two things to establish.

      I think to escape what I've put in my post, you have to demonstrate that there is some Christianity that is simultaneously representative Christianity (how do you determine this?) and that presents in a way whose apostates never show any clinically detectable signs of having been psychologically harmed by being raised under religious indoctrination (and how will you show this?).

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    2. Yes, to recap (again):

      TG claims that having a "means of discerning what is representative of Christianity" is meaningfully different from a "method of determining that what he wrote is not representative of all Christianity."

      Both entail that one has a means / method with which to distinguish what represents Christianity. Tom has tried to give himself a pass by claiming a distinction without a difference.

      Tom has consistently shown that he would like to retain the privilege (of claiming to know what represents Christianity (or, it's inverse, not Christianity), but without disclosing what his means / method are.

      TG: "It is valid, it is relevant, it is to the point, and if you don't get it, that's not my problem."

      All that you have done is continue to show that you will not try to understand, or not capable of understanding, why the problem I have identified is relevant and that it remains your problem to resolve (should you wish your objection to appear valid).

      But I do agree entirely with James -- much like your insistence that the definition of faith is what Boghossian's book is about, your caviling on justifying your claim to have a privileged knowledge of what represents Christianity does divert from the central and interesting point of the OP.

      Thanks for commenting here, though. I think your continued engagement is what makes this blog more fun than most.

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    3. Further, Cal, you write,

      "But I do agree entirely with James -- much like your insistence that the definition of faith is what Boghossian's book is about, your caviling on justifying your claim to have a privileged knowledge of what represents Christianity does divert from the central and interesting point of the OP."

      I suppose it might be necessary one last time to point out that my position here does not rest on any claim of any priviledged knowledge concerning what represents Christianity. It rests on my knowledge that some of what James has said about Christianity fails to apply to some portion of Christians, therefore it is not representative of all Christianity. I wrote,

      "How about if I let go of the "real Christianity" descriptor in view of its being controversial on this site. How about if I just say to James, the kind of "Christianity" he is condemning is not the only kind of Christianity there is, it's not the kind that I practice, nor is it the kind practiced by the great majority of Christians I know. I condemn it with him. James would do well to specify that what he's condemning is not all Christianity, but a certain subset of that which goes under the name of Christianity and which does not represent the whole."

      That seems clear enough to me. Maybe I just needed to re-state it. Maybe it's not clear enough and you need to ask me clarifying questions. What you do not need to do, since I let go of it (that much is clear!) is continue to press me on "real" Christianity.

      And you do not need to press me on what is "representative Christianity," either, because I'm not making any claims about such a thing. I'm making (and supporting) a claim that what James condemns in this post is not-representative-of-all-Christianity.

      If that's not clear, please ask me a clarifying question or two. But for reason's sake, please stop asking me to defend something I keep telling you isn't part of my case here. Okay?

      Concerning the "diversion" of which you accuse me, the OP contains more than one core assertion. One of them is that it would be good to do build upon the research he mentioned and to find out what more can be learned. I agree with that, as I said in the previous thread.

      Another was that children can be hurt by too-early exposure to the frights of Hell. I agreed with that some time ago.

      Another was that there are some Christians who practice a shame-and-relief form of religion, which I have already agreed is harmful. I have also said that this does not describe all of Christianity.

      What other main point of the post am I diverting attention away from?

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  13. Cal, I have tried to understand how what you wrote is relevant to the point I have made in this thread. My real difficulty with that is this: what you keep trying to address just isn't relevant to the point I'm making. It might be relevant to some other point, but it's not relevant to mine.

    Keep in mind, please, that while I said something early on about "real" Christianity, I recognized rather quickly that it was neither necessary nor helpful to my argument here to make any kind of stand on "real" Christianity.

    Please note as well that my argument requires no agreement and calls for no assumptions as to what is representative Christianity. It just doesn't. I've explained that repeatedly, and I've showed the reasons for it. I continue to be amazed that you think my argument depends on that.

    In fact I'm amazed at how you repeat yourself from one posting to the next without engaging with my answer. You criticize me for not addressing your point, when actually have been addressing it repeatedly, and you have been ignoring my answers.

    Just by way of reminder, a discussion that goes like this is usually considered unproductive and the blame is usually laid at the feet of A:

    A. You say X, and you are wrong.
    B. I say X for reasons a, b, c.
    A. You say X, and your reason p is wrong.
    B. I don't say X for reason p. I say X for reasons a, b, c.
    A. Why won't you defend p?!
    B. I don't defend p because my reasons for X do not include p. Sure, I brought up p once earlier, but in the course of our conversation I have recognized that the better reasons for X are a, b, c. I could defend p but it would be a long and complicated defense, and it's not necessary for my conclusion X. (But if you want to see my defense of p, I can direct you to where you can find it elsewhere.)
    A. You are really running from the issues. There's something wrong with you! What about p?
    B. I could defend p, but my real purpose here is to establish X, which I can do much more simply and directly by way of a, b, c.
    A. See? There's proof: you can't defend your position p.
    ...

    Cal, you are playing the part of A in that exchange. If you want to challenge my conclusion X, you really ought to examine a, b, c, not p. If reasons a, b, c genuinely lead to my conclusion X, then X is solidly established. If you think they fail to lead to X, then you ought to explain why you think so.

    (I assume you know what a, b, c, p, and X represent. If not then I really must give up on you.)

    This is how reasoned dialogue is conducted. This is not rocket science. This is not advanced logic. This is basic. And you're missing it.

    James, you say,

    "I think to escape what I've put in my post, you have to demonstrate that there is some Christianity that is simultaneously representative Christianity (how do you determine this?) and that presents in a way whose apostates never show any clinically detectable signs of having been psychologically harmed by being raised under religious indoctrination (and how will you show this?)."

    In other words, you want me to show that there is some representative form of Christianity from which a person can apostasize without harm?

    Really???

    I wrote once before that you show evidence of not understanding what Christianity teaches. If you think you can expect an evangelical Christian to comply with that request, then you really don't understand what we believe.

    So what's in evidence here is a lack of knowledge and a lack of ability to understand a process of logical reasoning.

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    1. You are implying that there is a representative form of Christianity. How do you know? Which ones are they? Which aren't? How do you tell them apart?

      "In other words, you want me to show that there is some representative form of Christianity from which a person can apostasize without harm?
      Really???"

      Are you implying that there is definite harm associated with apostasizing from a representative form of Christianity? Do you know it's the apostasy that causes the harm? If so, how do you know this?

      That isn't what I'm suggesting, though. I'm suggesting that any identifiable harm present is from the upbringing or other indoctrination into the religion and holding those beliefs for so long. Apostasy only came up because it seems possible that a positive identification of this harm is far more difficult than may be needed in people who still shelter their emotional lives within the relevant religious beliefs. I honestly don't think it's a necessary part, regarding indoctrinated phobias, but it may be. At any rate, it's far more easy to identify in people who have apostasized because their current beliefs do not serve potentially to stand in the way of presentation of the the problems.

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    2. Tom: "And you do not need to press me on what is "representative Christianity," either, because I'm not making any claims about such a thing. I'm making (and supporting) a claim that what James condemns in this post is not-representative-of-all-Christianity."

      The contradiction in your two statements above should be readily apparent to readers here, so I'm going to leave it without further much further comment. All I will say is that you seem intent on playing a long-winded shell game with words -- real, representative, not-representative-of-all, etc. -- in a way that it seems you think will allow you to make claims about Christianity without having to justify your claims.

      You do the same thing just a few sentences later. That's because you write:

      TG: "I wrote once before that you show evidence of not understanding what Christianity teaches. If you think you can expect an evangelical Christian to comply with that request, then you really don't understand what we believe." (I'll remind the reader that Tom had just written prior, TG: "And you do not need to press me on what is "representative Christianity," either, because I'm not making any claims about such a thing.") So, in one breath you condemn James for not understanding "what we believe," and the next you claim, "you do not need to press me on what is "representative Christianity," either, because I'm not making any claims about such a thing."

      Pure awesome.

      I'm also going to type in two more of Tom's comments below, because I think they put a nice punctuation mark on the whole thing so far.

      TG (to me): "This is how reasoned dialogue is conducted. This is not rocket science. This is not advanced logic. This is basic. And you're missing it."

      TG: (to James): "So what's in evidence here is a lack of knowledge and a lack of ability to understand a process of logical reasoning."

      That is all.

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  14. Reprising an earlier question to James: what about Dr. Winell's scholarly qualifications? http://www.ex-christian.net/topic/50269-dr-marlene-winell/

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    1. What about them? If she was a bum who dropped out of school in the sixth grade and was pointing to a potential cause of legitimate harm that may very well need research done on it, should that matter?

      Tom, I know people, close friends, who suffer a problem very much like this from their religious upbringing. They have gone from therapist to therapist seeking help, and all keep being referred out because the problem falls either outside of their area of speciality or, in at least one case, too close to the personal religious beliefs of the therapist. These people need help that they cannot get, and they (and their therapists) plainly identify the source of their troubles to be their religious upbringing. Are you trying to deny that or discredit it?

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  15. There is probably more effort expended to try to convince the other tribes within Christianity than there is to try to convince atheists to become Christian. Hell is a bigger deal with some tribes within the religion than it is with others. For example, check out an orthodox priest explain "the gospel in chairs". http://youtu.be/WosgwLekgn8

    You can find my own take here. http://paulvanderklay.wordpress.com/2009/04/21/on-hell-and-parties/

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  16. James, you ask,

    "Tom, I know people, close friends, who suffer a problem very much like this from their religious upbringing. They have gone from therapist to therapist seeking help, and all keep being referred out because the problem falls either outside of their area of speciality or, in at least one case, too close to the personal religious beliefs of the therapist. These people need help that they cannot get, and they (and their therapists) plainly identify the source of their troubles to be their religious upbringing. Are you trying to deny that or discredit it?"

    No. What gives you that impression? Recall, please that the first time I asked about this, I phrased it in a neutral manner, as free from assumptions as possible:

    "Meanwhile, I have a question for James. James, having read the book, can you supply any information on its scholarly background and its methods? That question was raised here. Not having read it I don't want to assume anything. Thanks."

    The second time I raised it (did you notice?) it was with a link to a non-believer's questions about her.

    I am quite sure, James, that if her methods are doubtful, you would agree her conclusions ought not be relied upon. I didn't read the book, I don't know about her methods, and I have asked you to comment on it as one who did read the book. If you find fault in my doing that, I will be very surprised.

    Now you remind me again about all the people you know who have had some kind of post-religion syndrome. If that's your data source, I don't know why you brought Dr. Winell into the conversation.

    If Dr. Winell's methods and data are good, then by all means say so. I only asked the question because it has been raised by at least one Christian and one non-believer, in a manner that seems prima facie worth asking more about--which is what I have done.

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    1. In your OP, James, you did say that her methods did not rise to the level of careful empirical research. Rather they were suggestive of the likelihood that such research would be a good idea. I accept that. I was asking for more information, and I hope you can accept that.

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  17. Cal, your readings of what I write are truly astonishing. You find a contradiction here: "So, in one breath you condemn James for not understanding 'what we believe,' and the next you claim, 'you do not need to press me on what is "representative Christianity," either, because I'm not making any claims about such a thing.'"

    You didn't notice that the "we" in that first clause refers to evangelical Christianity, whereas "representative Christianity" in the second clause refers to a much larger class of religious believers.

    There are certain definite things that can be truly said about evangelical Christianity, one of which is that James ought not to expect an evangelical to think there is no harm in apostasy. That is a true statement.

    Meanwhile with respect to "Christianity" in general, which includes evangelicalism and many other branches and belief-sets, I have made no representations because I did not need to.

    In shorthand again, I have made no representations regarding all of y. I have, however, made one representation regarding z, a subset of y.

    If you see that as contradictory, you do not understand the simplest logic. A contradiction obtains when one says A and not-A about the same subject x. To say nothing definite about y while saying one thing definite about z just isn't a case of contradiction, even if z is a subset of y.

    What more can I say?

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  18. Tom, you are correct in that I didn't notice the "we," which I see now refers to the subset of evangelical Christians. So, my second example of your writing here does not introduce another version of your contradiction. That was just sloppy of me.

    The rest of my comments stand, however -- you seem bent on denying the obvious, that in order to claim that James' criticism does not apply to some part of Christianity (real, representative, Christianity-as-a-whole, whatever new qualifier you want to try and find, etc.) you are making a claim that you know something about Christianity.

    And it is a contradiction to make a claim and at the same time deny that you are making one.

    But this has gone on waay to long. I am going to stop responding to your attempts to deny this. It's just counter-productive. And I think everything is perfectly available to anyone who may read it.

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  19. Thank you for that promise, Cal. I appreciate it.

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