We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

If religion were true, its followers would not try to bludgeon their young into an artificial conformity; but would merely insist on their unbending quest for truth, irrespective of artificial backgrounds or practical consequences.

- H. P. Lovecraft

For me this quote can really be applied to almost any set of beliefs.

37 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Giles

    Lovecraft clearly had no understanding of the concept of the concept of faith.

  • Hank Scorpio

    Good quote, but still, I’d consider the source.

    Lovecraft was essentially a chronically ill shut-in with a bizarre and unfounded belief in his own superiority. He was also an extreme anglophile, mysogynistic, and had a fish phobia.

    In short, he made Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath look like models of stability. Oh, and his writing wasn’t really all that great either.

  • I think the operative word is ‘bludgeon’, Giles. Faith can be rational but there is nothing admirable about faith without reason and imparting dogmatism to one’s children is all too often a characteristic of religious ‘education’. It need not be perforce however (I am not as reflexively allergic to all religion as Lovecraft was).

  • Hank, oh yes, Lovecraft was a bit of a fruit loop but that does not make the quote wrong. Strangely I was introduced to HPL by a very erudite Jamaican gentleman who found Lovecraft’s visceral racism morbidly fascinating.

    His writing style is very dated and very much an ‘acquired taste’ but the fact is he probably has more fans now than ever.

  • Giles

    “would merely insist on their unbending quest for truth”, sounds remarkably like bludgeoning something else into children.

    The point being that radical atheisim is, I think just as narrow minded.

    And if we have a choice between teaching (or blugeoning) children religion or atheism, I’d choose the former – children aren’t rationale creatures and religion fills the gaps in their rationality. Once they’re old enough to think rationally then they can make an informed choice to believe or not to believe.

    But it doesnt really work so well the other way round – teaching children that there is nothing but reason is I think cold and cruel and robs them of something that children deeply need.

  • That does not make a great deal of sense Giles. How is insisting a child figure out what is true, as opposed to telling them what they must believe, bludgeoning something else into children?

    children aren’t rationale creatures

    I fail to see how imparting dogmatism (the opposite of urging them to seek truth) helps them become rational… and in any case I dispute the notion children are not rational.

  • Giles

    Because lots of things cant be rationalised or proven to be true – especially from the perspective of a child.

    I dont think a child is capable of only seeking the objective truth and particuarly it leaves the open to manipulation by anyone who has greater powers of reason and rationality . And unfortunately these type of people aren’t often the goodies.

  • Well Lovecraft was not that bad as the Library of America has just recently inducted him into their ranks. They have finally realised how influential the man was in American popular culture. It is fascinating to spot the Lovecraft nod in movies, music and books. What is most interesting is the fact that much of what he wrote about actually existed (like worship of Dagon).

    Another good thing about Lovecraft is that he encouraged people to write “Mythos tales” and those who did include the man who wrote the Conan tales, William Peter Blatey (The Exorcist), and lots of other writers of note. Its a tradition that continues today with lots of writers trying their hand in his warped world including me. Writers including Stephen King have been known to write Mythos short stories.

    I wonder what Lovecraft would think of the fact that are some who actually worship Cthulhu these days.

  • I wonder what Lovecraft would think of the fact that are some who actually worship Cthulhu these days.

    I expect it would just confirm his beak view of the irretrievable inanity of much of humanity.

  • Because lots of things cant be rationalised or proven to be true – especially from the perspective of a child.

    Everything can be indeed be rationalised… and it does not matter if you cannot prove something to be true beyond a shadow of a doubt as all you should really do is form falsifiable theories based on the best understanding currently available. That is what critical thinking is.

    If critical thinking brings you to believe in God then I really do not have a problem with that. I do not share your conclusion but then I am quite willing to admit I might be wrong and you might be right (I doubt it though).

    But if you believe in God because Ma and Pa told you you would go to hell if you did not and you could not be a good person if you did not and they would be really really upset if you did not, then I guess I am with HP Lovecraft in terms of how I feel about that.

  • Again, atheist rationalists paint an extreme caricature of faithful parents providing their children with religious education.

    if you believe in God because Ma and Pa told you you would go to hell if you did not

    Perhaps that’s true of some fire’n’brimstone folks, but Jesus as a person is really compelling and likable and appeals to children.

    In early adolescence, with the developing capacity for abstract thought, a fine sense of fairness and justice appears in young teens. They see the viciousness that goes on around them, and it makes Jesus even more compelling because he is the antithesis of it.

    To strive to be Christlike makes one a better person, more capable of loving the unlovable, generosity, forgiveness, peace in all circumstances, and refusing to be merely hungry for money, sex, and power even if it is the “rational” thing to do. The wisdom of the Cross trumps the “rational” wisdom of the world.

    Yes, ask, seek, knock…pursue Truth and you will find him.

    Sorry to get all faithful on ya, but that’s how it worked for me, and I’m a very intellectual and rational person. Perhaps a reasoning person of faith is rare as hen’s teeth in post-Christian Europe, but there’s a lot of us in America.

  • Giles, Perry has said this before but I’m going to repeat it anyway; There is a difference between being told to seek your own truth, and being told to accept another’s truth without question. If a child is brought up believing there is only one truth (be it theistic or atheistic) then they are less likely to find their own truth later in life. People tend to stay in their comfort zone.

    This argument is beside the point anyway as the issue being skirted is the question of faith schools and whether they should get state money. I think no. Faith is a personal matter and is not something that the gov’t should concern itself with. If parents want their children to be educated in a certain faith then they should do it themselves or pay for it off their own backs.

  • A lot of these problems go away if you shrink the state sufficiently. “State money for faith schools” is an irrelevant question if there is no state money for any schools.

    I understand that people have a problem with parents inflicting their views on children, but what’s the alternative? I always told my children what I thought about things but I also wanted them to be educated, so I told them (pretty dismissively at times!) what the opposing views were. On religion, I told them I was an atheist, but that I hoped they would believe in God as it’s an easier path through life. Selfishly, I wanted to die with them thinking some pretty fiction that would make it easier for them.

    I was heavily indoctrinated as a child, but grew up a reluctant atheist (I could use that pretty fiction myself, but I don’t know how to switch off my rationality so as to enjoy it). I think we often overestimate parental influence. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes it has the opposite effect to that intended. Not exactly a lethal thing to worry too much about!

    In any event, there are millions of parents giving out millions of perspectives – some wacky, some not, some involving “imaginary friends”, some not. Better that than a unified State vision of everything.

    Oh, and it’s a good quote, even if it is from a bad man. Do I have to give up enjoying Wagner’s music because he was a bad ‘un? I think not. That’s why so many ad hominem political attacks are just pointless. If a legislator legislates, a composer composes or a writer writes well, then let’s take the benefit of his good work and disregard the rest.

    Good guys are often bad men having a good day (and vice versa) anyway.

  • Uain

    “If parents want their children to be educated in a certain faith then they should do it themselves or pay for it off their own backs.”

    A good point, but do agree then that said parents should not be subject to double jepoardy, in that they take their tax money with their child to their school of choice?

    kentuckyliz-
    Well said! My personal experience is that a sense of right, wrong, acceptance and fairness started to show early in childhood. And they had a finely tuned radar for any contradictions in what we said vs. what we did.

    As for old Lovecraft, there are a multitude of bitter men and women, who unfulfilled in their own lives, try to find fault in everyone else’s.

  • Pa Annoyed

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and say I think that religion should be taught to all children. Where they go wrong, though, is in only teaching one religion. They should teach them all.

    Your child hears about Odin and Thor one week, Osiris and Isis and Thoth the next, followed by Aphrodite and Athena and Hera. Then Tiamat, Ishtar, and Marduk, and on to Jari, Tiki, and Kanaloa. Morrigan, Cuchulainn, Danu, and Aonghus. Guan-yu, Yen Lo Wang, Feng Du. Ac Yanto and Zotz. it will take quite a while to do all the Hindu Gods (there are reputed to be 330 million of them), and then all the African ones too.

    After running through the entire gamut at http://www.godchecker.com/ I expect it might be safe then to show them Islam and Christianity too.

    No, Sir! I am very much in favour of a thorough religious education – I call it ‘innoculation’.

    You need to let kids play in the dirt in order to build their immune system up. Keeping them in a religion-free bubble is just asking for trouble. I mean, just imagine what would happen if Scientologists got hold of them?

  • A lot of these problems go away if you shrink the state sufficiently. “State money for faith schools” is an irrelevant question if there is no state money for any schools.

    Amen, bro, amen to that.

    I understand that people have a problem with parents inflicting their views on children, but what’s the alternative?

    Personally I take the view that it is better to teach a child to think than to teach them what to think.

    Of course what a parent thinks is hardly irrelevant and an argument could be made that if people can be convinced to think the ‘right things’ it matters less how they got there and from a purely utilitarian perspective I suppose that is true. Certainly I have met many ‘allies’ who also think the most alarming things, but whereas you can pick your friends, sometimes you have to take your allies where you find them.

  • You need to let kids play in the dirt in order to build their immune system up.

    Yes, I have to agree with that entirely.

  • J


    but Jesus as a person is really compelling and likable and appeals to children.

    Really? My old-fashion approach to education was to be forced to read the bible from front to back, out loud, in class, over a period of about 3 years, occasionally writing essays about some bits of it. Funnily enough we never finished Acts, and never got on to the Letters, which are by far the best bits of the NT, anyway.

    I remember being distinctly upset that just as things were hotting up with people getting turned into pillars of salt, temples falling and crushing people to death, and armies getting drowned in the sea, along comes Jesus and it’s nothing but endless boring parables about using your talents and seeds that fall on stony ground. Jesus was portraid as an utterly humorouless man in his late twenties who seemed incapable of speaking plainly and sensibly about anything at all. Not only that, but he was potraid as it four times over in slightly differing accounts. Thrilling.

    I hate to think of anyone under 13 finding Jesus other than a rather melancholy, impenetrable weirdo. You later find out that far from being a person he’s actually an incarnate manifestation of God, which is a bit hard to reconcile with all that kinky song of songs stuff you read earlier.

    I like religions in general, but the four Gospels has to be one of the worst religious texts ever. Apart from the whole “let’s write it four times differently” bit, it’s all so random without being fun. Buddhism gets the realm of Hungry Ghosts, Christianity gets… the parable of the loaves and fishes. Hooray.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    But it doesnt really work so well the other way round – teaching children that there is nothing but reason is I think cold and cruel and robs them of something that children deeply need.

    Not sure that is quite right, Giles. I think it is wrong to suppose that reason is “cold and cruel”. Some of the most inspiring things we have were created by people fired by a love of science and reason. The powers unlocked by man’s mind can inspire young people. Personally, I think that the world can use all the “cold” reason going around, and a lot less “warm” religion.

    I hate to think of anyone under 13 finding Jesus other than a rather melancholy, impenetrable weirdo.

    Weird, maybe, but inpenetrable, hardly. The message of the Gospels is clear as crystal. Love your neighbour as yourself, etc. Pretty easy to grasp. Hard to practice.

  • Giles

    Everything can be indeed be rationalised

    I’m afraid that most certainly is not true – I work as an economist and there are whole swathes of the subject which are, given the present state of mathematics, un rationlisable. I think any physisit would agree.

    Anyway back to the point:

    If a child is brought up believing there is only one truth (be it theistic or atheistic) then they are less likely to find their own truth later in life.

    In my experience that isn’t true – the most committed atheists I know virtually all had a very religious (catholic) childhoods.

    But my real problem with un religious schooling is what takes its place – which is normally to fill the gaps that cant be rationalised to a child with nonsense such as GAIA and so forth.

    In my view the best compromise is to teach in schools goofy christianity – father christmas, little donkey and so on. This is all stuff which no one will believe in once they reach adulthood – so it doesn’t tie the child to christianity but leaves them the choice once they are rational enough to decide, protects them from the gaia nonsense and is fun.

    And in a funny sort of way I think this is more liberal than the entirely rationalist, agnostic approach to teaching children since at its centre is the premis that, as perry said, everything can be rationalised, which, I repeat is not true. Or more specifically it requires an act of faith to believe it is or one day might be true.

  • I’m afraid that most certainly is not true – I work as an economist and there are whole swathes of the subject which are, given the present state of mathematics, un rationlisable. I think any physisit would agree.

    Not true at all. You do not need mathematics to form rational theories as to why something behaves the way it does (though it helps) and the ability to form rational falsifiable theories is all you need to do in order to ‘rationalise’ something. It is the opposite of ‘bind faith’.

    I think where you are making the biggest error is mistaking faith-from-reason with irrational faith. I agree with Aquinas that faith can (and indeed must) have a rational basis, I just disagree with where Aquinas’ conclusions took him. I have faith that the practical problems of nuclear fusion technology will eventually be overcome. I do not know that for a fact but I have faith that will be the case… but my faith has a rational basis to it. I do not believe it to be true “because” or due to the fact it was told to me as the truth by my parents.

    By the same merit I am not prepared to accept the existence of God as an act of faith because I can see no rational basis to that and can in fact come up with several rather better theories why people believe in God (i.e. other than “because God exists”).

  • but Jesus as a person is really compelling and likable and appeals to children.

    Lol, only for very dim children. Why do you think they try to start them indoctination so early in life? If he was so compelling and likable indoctrination would not be necessary.

  • Kevin B

    So if HP Lovecraft thinks it’s wrong for people to bludgeon their young into artificial confirmity with their religion, who does he think should be bludgeoning the young and what belief system should they be inculcating?

    Oh yes, the search for truth!

    For me, the chain of responsibility goes self, family, community, state. Ultimately the responsibility lies with the self, but I would rather have the family or the community doing the bludgeoning than the state.

    That is why I believe that schooling should be the responsibility of the family and the community, because I trust their values more than I trust a National Curriculum full of the fashionable social nostrums of the day.

    Of course, because we’re human, some families and some communities will screw up their young, possibly irretrievably. but if the state stays out of it, the more curious young will recover themselves.

    As an aside, I happened across a Heinlein quote in a blog comment the other day, and for some reason it seems aposite to this post.

    Man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalising animal.

  • but I would rather have the family or the community doing the bludgeoning than the state.

    I think the point is that with a bit less bludgeoning and a bit more teaching people to think critically, we might have a few less irrational people. If that does not work then the bludgeoning can always come later.

    And I think the ‘community’ has no business whatsoever ‘schooling’ people in the current sense.

  • Kevin B

    And I think the ‘community’ has no business whatsoever ‘schooling’ people in the current sense.

    Yes Perry, you’re probably right. Perhaps I’m idealising some nostalgic memory of community from my youth, before the State re-defined the term. You know, the good old days when community meant your neighbours, and the pillars of the community were Doctors, Midwives, Vicars, Priests, Headteachers, Local Coppers and even Butchers, Bakers and Candlestick makers, rather than Social Workers, Outreach communicators, Sensitivty counsellors and the like.

    But I do have a problem with teaching (young) people to think critically. Not neccessarily with the notion, though I do believe there may be problems, but with the practicalities of finding enough people to say, “Don’t believe a word I tell you! Don’t believe a word anyone tells you!”

    Such modest teachers are rare.

  • Uain

    “.. Lol, only for very dim children. Why do you think they try to start them indoctination so early in life? If he was so compelling and likable indoctrination would not be necessary …”

    C’mon Andrew,
    You can do better than that! Why do you think the State wants to get *their* hands on them early? A child’s mind is designed to learn. At least until collectivist twits or pseudo-intellectuals claiming there is no “truth”, get hold of them.

  • For those who believe, truly believe, that there is a Hell and doing certain things gets you consigned there to all eternity, not bludgeoning into children a guide to avoid Hell is as irresponsible as not bludgeoning into them to look both ways before crossing the street.

    Children, to my experience, often forget to look both ways even when they understand the need for it as a rational thought process. It’s a dangerous bit of irresponsibility to depend on their rational thought to keep them alive. For those who take their faiths as seriously as the threat of oncoming cars, similar tactics seem entirely justified.

  • Duncan

    If religions didn’t indoctrinate children before said children were old enough to think rationally on their own about what they were being taught, most would fade away within a generation or so.

  • TM Lutas, I think that is wrong on just about every level. Children, rather like adults, are often careless and thus get run over by cars, it has nothing to do with their ability to think, or no think, critically… but in any case, teaching survival skills is not the same as teaching religious or philosophical concepts. Yet even there, the ability to think critically gives a child the advantage of separating the wisdoms of age from the old wives tales.

  • Midwesterner

    Perry, it’s the difference between preeminence of reason and preeminence of faith.

    Until you’ve seen the panic and pain in a parent’s face when their child ‘strays’, you can’t begin to guess. It’s exactly the same look a parent has when a small child runs into traffic.

    Whether we approve or not, TM Lutas’s statement -

    For those who take their faiths as seriously as the threat of oncoming cars, similar tactics seem entirely justified.

    is entirely true.

    And the nature of faith is that it is the ‘real’ world people of faith see. They see no difference between corporal punishment of children for endangering their souls as for endangering their bodies.

  • Duncan

    “They see no difference between corporal punishment of children for endangering their souls as for endangering their bodies.”

    The differnece being, we see the results of poor road crossing habits all the time.. where as the results from straying from your parents faith are a bit more nebulous.

  • What is the difference between the idoctrination of children into the socialist view of life and that of the Christian (or Muslim) one? I find quite a few similarities between all of them…always have.

  • G

    If there were such a thing as religion with a set of claims that can potentially be proved true or false, that quote would still be a non-sequiter, but it wouldn’t be a peculiarly rank example of insignificant speech.

    but Jesus as a person is really compelling and likable and appeals to children.

    Only if you’ve never read the gospels. What exactly is likeable about demagogic, proto-Communist cult leaders?

  • Uain

    “…What exactly is likeable about demagogic, proto-Communist cult leaders? ”

    Not much, but if you recall, this One died first for his followers, rather than the other way ’round.

  • Uain

    ” What is the difference between the idoctrination of children into the socialist view of life and that of the Christian (or Muslim) one?”

    Ummm, let’s see…

    Socialist =
    (1) “what’s yours is mine and everyone else’s.”
    (2) Nit-picking regulations on all aspects of life.
    (3) Punitive measures against non-conformers.
    (4) A constantly expanding list of “oppressed” with full accusatory and confiscatory rights against productive members of society.
    (5) etc. ad. nauseum.

    Islamist =
    (1) “what’s yours is mine and everyone muslim’s.”
    (2) Nit-picking regulations on all aspects of life.
    (3) Punitive measures against non-conformers.
    (4) A constantly expanding list of “infidels” to be killed, raped, robbed, whatever helps islam.
    (5) etc. ad. nauseum.

    Do I *really* need to itemize how christianity is completely different?
    It is my experience that if a Christian tells a liberal dolt you’ll pray for them, they become apoplectic.
    But if a muslim tells them they are infidels worthy of death, they are like mute sheep…. go figure.

  • gravid

    I “believe” that all religion is another form of control by the few over the rest. I was brought up praying but not going to church until my early teens. That didn’t last long. I have no religious beliefs and question everything now. I am deeply suspicious of those who woul;d try and influence my thoughts, ie everyone else, paranoid, me? I read a quote attributable to the jesuits saying that if they had a child in it’s first seven years they had them forever. This sounds sinister but if you want people to conform to your belief system then indoctrination from an early age is the way to go.
    I firmly beleive that religion should be separate from schooling.

    Children are very rational, it’s just that their sum of knowledge is less than an adult.

  • jayne

    When I was an early adolescent I couldn’t understand what people saw in trees and sunlight. I practiced hard and got there eventually. Self-taught.

    I was an intellectual snob and felt obliged to listen to classical music. Hard and unpleasant work. Wrote Mozart’s operas and the requiem out in all languages available. Still didn’t get it. Struggled and struggled, then gave up, heard a snatch of something in passing, captivated forever…. Self-indoctrined.

    Read hard book – literature, history, philosophy… Very tedious and unpleasant. Still remember them amongst the trash and they inform the way I behave, the decisions I make in life. Self-undecieved.

    Fought concepts of the divinity and the divine, blindly and with great determination, logic and reason etc. Finally recognised that all occassions were only partly happy, partly sad – never fully lived. So sadly late in life turned myself in at a synagogue. Self-(and inconveniently)-confessed to a faith I wasn’t born to.

    Dead right I don’t want to watch my children struggle through that process or some other unguided journey alone. Doesn’t passing on knowledge, experience and their fruit, belief, count for something? Even if it is only taking the responsibility of passing down to the next generation all the possible tools to collectively reach some new compromise with the universe.