Thursday, January 1, 2009

Just Say No to Thinking

Well, it's the new year and an email that appeared in my box today alerted me to the fact that it's time to emerge from the fat and sugar-induced stupor of the holidays and regroup for the ongoing battle against the dangerous forces of narrow-mindedness, group-think, and religious dogmatism. This time it was an email diatribe and urgent warning against Neale D. Walsch's "devastating" book, Conversations With God, a book that purportedly spreads the "false doctrine of the devil" in the guise of spiritual guidance. Of special urgency to the writer of the email was the vigilance required to prevent this book and Walsch's Conversations with God for Teens from falling into the hands of schoolchildren lest "exposure to worldly mediums" corrupt them and distort the only truth acceptable, that of the Bible. Noted examples of disagreement with Biblical teaching involve God's answer, in Walsch's voice, to a girl who inquires why she is a lesbian, to which God/Walsch responds that she was born that way because of her genetics. The author also has God disavowing the idea that premarital cohabitation equates to "living in sin" and is dismissive of the idea of sin itself.

While one may debate the wisdom of Walsch's responses in this book, and certainly one should not accept his word at face value any more than any other writer's in the market-place of ideas, the issues he discusses are serious ones with which people grapple in a globalizing world that more and more presents us with confusing and difficult choices. To offer only adherence to an inherited and strict code of conduct that goes against the nature of what many people actually experience, and instinctually feel is normal, is to place a psychological stranglehold on them. This is not to say that we should all dive down the hole of cultural and moral relativism, or that we should simply engage in compulsive, feel-good behaviors, but that young people should be encouraged to THINK about the moral choices they are called upon to make and explore the issues from a wide perspective. In contrast, the Walsch-bashing email circulating about is representative of the kind of rigid closed-mindedness that prescribes blind acceptance of doctrine over a rational evaluation of ideas, and which ill equips people, especially the young, from forming the capacity for critcal thinking and moral evaluation so necessary in our contemporary social environment, an environment which offers up to our young a constant diet of far more damaging, shallow, and pernicious fare than this supposedly dangerous book.

Conversations With God is a thought-provoking book and on that point alone I would recommend it. For that matter, I would recommend reading the Old and New Testaments, the Koran, and the Bhagadavita. It is only through a broad exposure to contrasting theories that one develops the capacity for critical evaluation of ideas, for being able to distinguish the garbage from the gold, to separate the bullshit from the truth. And while, as a parent, I disdain the easy availability of smut, stupidity, violence, and mind-numbing trivia over the Internet and other media, the answer is not to prohibit, since restrictions are all too easy to get around and tend to create a mystique around the thing prohibited, in turn making it more desirable. A better tack is to create in young minds an appetite for excellence, a distaste for junk, and a desire to think. Expose them to the great ideas, literature and art of our culture and other cultures. At the very least, encourage them to read. As a parent, I would be thrilled if either of the teens in this house would turn off the TV, get up from their computers, turn off their iPods or cell phones, and read books, even ones less deserving of respect than this one.

1 comment:

  1. Good points for sure. If indeed "god is the ocean and we are each a wave" then Walsh's god is as real as any other created god man has come up with. The difference? Walsh's god actually makes sense without all the "smiting" going on.
    We all need to take back our power of thinking and reasoning, perhaps that should be a #1 resolution for 09.