Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Warped Views Part 1: Peering through the Lens of Religion -- How Religion Influences our Thinking (And On Child Nudity and Breastfeeding in Public)

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Imagine a world with no religion.

I'm not talking about zero religious belief, spirituality, or superstition. I am talking about organized religion that reinforces all of these things and bottles them up in one convenient to access package of ideologies ready made to believe without any effort.

What if this influence faded into, well, nothing?

What would that look like exactly?

Now, hear me out. I realize it's not likely, nor at all that realistic. 

The psychologist Bruce M. Hood's books Supersense and The Science of Superstition do a great job at illustrating why we have superstitious beliefs in the first place. Apparently, our brains are hard wired to experience certain types of errors that lead to superstitious reasoning more often than not.

Jesse Bering's book The Belief Instinct applies this well known fact and asks how much do our superstitious beliefs feed into our everyday beliefs systems, including religion. It's no surprise that we come to discover that it's a lot.

So, please don't mistake me. I know religion isn't going anywhere anytime soon. It's practically hardwired into how we think. At least, the superstitious aspects are.

Which is why I have always striven toward more rationalistic thinking, to try and counter-balance the superstitious nature of thought and the way the human mind is inclined to work.

But, like John Lenin posited in his song "Imagine," what if there was no religion?

Now, I decided to take this concept and apply it to some very mundane things which, on the surface, appear to be unrelated to religion but which, upon closer inspection, actually seem to reveal a strong religious influence.

Many of these things are cultural attitudes, ways of thinking, or even customs. At this point, the psychology only tells us there is a connection between human thought and behavior and religious / supernatural thinking, but what if we were to take a step back and pretend... as a thought experiment... of what would happen when we take the religious lenses off for a moment?

I'm going to start with an example that popped up in my news feed not so long ago.

I don't remember the source, but I had read a report where a woman had called the cops on her neighbor because the next door neighbor's kids were in the front yard, running around the sprinkler, on a hot summer day, without any clothes on.

Apparently one of the children was an eight year old girl, and the priggish neighbor felt that was just brazenly inappropriate, and called the cops on the kids (or more precisely, the kid's parents).

At first glance, this just seems to be an overly prudish and puritan person with a crippling sense of propriety that compels them to force others to the same levels of priggishness. It also seems to reflect a person who has not themselves experienced raising small children.

I think it's safe to say that small children running through the sprinkler on a hot summer day is a co-ed sport, and all of us who have raised small children seem to know it. In fact, it's a universal fact among experienced parents.

Apparently, for this woman, the nudity of a small innocent children playing across the street offended her to the point where she felt it was her *duty to call the cops on some innocent children playing in the water on a nice summer day.

First off, let's call it out for what it was: an overreaction, for sure.

But it got me to wondering, why did she feel this way? Why did she feel that this reaction was the appropriate reaction to be having here?

It's no secret. The reason most people are prudes is because the idea of sex offends them.

So the weird part is that she was obviously sexualizing small children to some small degree. That is, she was viewing them from the standpoint of an adult who knows about sex and imposing her embarrassment of sex and sexuality onto them. Needless to say, a child isn't yet familiar with this sort of thinking.

Stranger still, however, was that she viewed the children's play as inherently wrong because they were naked. She didn't just feel it was inappropriate, but she also obviously felt on some deeper level that it was morally wrong. This is evidenced by her response that upon witnessing innocent naked children playing in the water she called the cops. 

That, to me, doesn't seem to be the appropriate reaction. You only call the cops if you need help or are reporting a crime. She obviously didn't need any help. So it's clear that, in her mind, she was reporting a crime.

But there is nothing especially criminal about being naked (I'm not talking about indecency laws here -- just the act of being naked). Furthermore, what we can say here for certain is that there is nothing especially criminal about small children playing outdoors naked (especially in their own homes and own yards).

The only way a grown adult could assume that nudity was itself a kind of deviant or criminal conduct was to believe that nudity itself was somehow inherently morally wrong.

Now where have we heard such a story?

That's right. We hear of such a tale in the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden.

As the Christian story goes, Eve ate of the forbidden fruit at the behest of the talking snake, full well knowing that God had commanded them not to eat of that particular fruit. She convinces Adam to partake of the fruit, and they both gain the knowledge of life and death. 

In their new found knowledge, they obviously come of age, and upon realizing they are sexually mature -- they become embarrassed and cover themselves (usually depicted as covering up with a fig leaf). God pulls back the curtain at the last minute, like a parent stumbling upon one of their teenage kids having sex on their bed with their boyfriend or girlfriend, and asks what they've been up to (wink, wink, nod, nod) and then berates them. In their shame they cover themselves with fig leaves and, like young adults who still get treated as children, are punished for their disobedience.

From this fable Christians have made all kinds of erroneous assumptions, but the most damaging perhaps being that sex before marriage is a sin (apparently Adam and Eve were created married? God created Adam a companion, sometimes interpreted by Christians to mean a wife -- not merely friends with benefits), that sex is designed (by God) to only be between a man and a woman (e.g., Adam and Eve not Adam an Steve) and that women are inferior to men (hence Eve gets the blame and the worse of the punishments). 

[It's worth noting that there are other passages found in the Bible where Christians derive the purity myth and the notion of not living in sin before marriage -- but they will often say that Adam and Eve were the first husband and wife and will claim that this fable, with a talking snake, represents the Christian model of one man, a husband, and one woman, his wife, concept of marriage and thus claim that anything that deviates from this model is wrong in the eyes of their God.]

Now it is likely that this fable was the driving ideological element that gave rise to the woman's own prudish views of nudity. She believed nudity was a sin, because she equates nudity with the ideas of sex and sexuality -- the very "crime" Adam and Eve got caught doing moments after eating of the forbidden fruit, and therefore thinks all nudity is sinful.

As such, the idea of some children playing naked in a sprinkler one summer day, was distorted by this woman's religious beliefs (faith) to make an otherwise innocent act into a sinful and depraved one from which she, for the life of her, couldn't tell the difference from an act of harmless innocence and a genuine harmful criminal act.

This is precisely how religion and religious beliefs can sometimes warp our views of the world around us.

Now, in my own deconversion, it took me a long time to realize that many things looked different once I had taken off the ruby lenses of my religious spectacles. After seeing the world anew, apart from my religious upbringing, I realized that I had to reconsider a great deal many things.

Of course, I can't help but wonder what other areas within society and our culture are governed by this overbearing act of religious influence upon our thinking.

As with the above example, where a woman found the nudity of innocent children playing outside offensive, I have to wonder... is this why so many find breast feeding in public offensive too?

I mean, when you pause to think about it, there's really no reason to get offended by a newborn infant drinking its mother's milk. If it didn't, it would surely die. But there are people out there that seem to be so offended by the sight of a bare bosom that they are willing to vote for laws that ensure a child must starve away, wailing and crying, and seeks to make it illegal for the mother to feed her child in public. 

I really cannot see how such a warped notion of public etiquette could come from a secular worldview and the understanding that we, as humans, are mammals. And mammal infants require their mothers milk. And thus it is perfectly natural for newborn infants to suckle from their mother's tit.

What is unnatural is to freak out by this fact. So much so that you'd want to make it illegal, or else really difficult, for a mother to feed her infant child in public.

It seems to me that this warped thinking can only arise from the same place -- the overly bashful, modest, since of religious bred propriety that is so completely embarrassed by any modicum of sexual nudity (and by extension nudity) because it likens sex to being a kind of morally wrong conduct and a sin, and thus views the human anatomy in utter disgust.

Many will claim it's not actually religion that is convincing people that it is not appropriate to breast feed in public. Some say it is a matter of protecting the women from would be perverts and molesters. But again, the reasoning behind this seems to share a common source. 

First off, I will say that if a person is stalking women who breast feed simply to get off on the sight of breasts, these people are sick. But it seems we find that there is a bit of victim blaming going on here. For we aren't calling out the perverts so much as we seem to be saying that it's the woman's fault for not being modest enough.

That's just insane on the face of it!

What we can do is write laws against ogling women who breast feed in public. Additionally, we can clamp down on sexual harassment. And, further still, we can create safe public areas for women who need to nurse their infant children.

That seems to be the proper response to help facilitate women who need to breastfeed in public.

What doesn't make sense, however, is to see a boobie with a small human being attached to the end of it suckling, and freak the hell out and then denigrate the mother with slander while calling into question her moral conduct -- all the while claiming you were the one who was offended.

That's totally the wrong action to be having.

And it's only an action one could have if their view of the world was distorted by their religion and religious beliefs so that they gained a rather warped, and even improper, view of things.

All things being equal, we have to seriously wonder. What else might be influenced by religious thinking?

Might tattoos and tattoo art be viewed negatively because of such forms of religious thought? What about body piercing? Or any form of body modification for that matter.

What about viewing pornography and the profession of being a porn star? Nothing seems to be wrong with these things except that, in every case, there is an admonishment of such to be found in the puritan and priggish teachings of religion.

But these are just a few examples. I'm sure there are plenty more we could purse out.



Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist