A letter to my 16 year old self

While browsing Freshly Pressed, I came across a post entitled “Dear Me: A Letter to my 16 Year Old Self”. Which made me think … if I were writing to myself aged 16, what would I say? At first I couldn’t think of anything. Then I wrote this:

Dear 16-year-old self,

Greetings from the future.

I won’t spoiler it too much. There’s only one thing that I want to tell you – the rest you’ll figure out soon enough as you go along. Here it is:

Despite having always been presented to you as such, Creationism is not an intellectually viable belief. Nor is it necessary to Christianity (I hear it’s mostly a 20th century US phenomenon – interesting, no?). You will realise this shortly but there’s no reason for you not to know it now.

Try not to be a jerk to the people who believe in it, even though you will feel angry that they were able to promote this while nobody even said “there are other options” let alone “this is not the historic faith of the Church and is in fact bunkum”, which is what you will wish they had said.

On a brighter note, you have some very good books to look forward to (on this subject and others). Advances in science are making genetics totally fascinating – in particular look out for Charles Foster. And Kenneth Bailey is going to publish some stuff about cultural studies in the New Testament that you will love.

You already know how lucky you are to live in the 21st century – advanced techniques in science, archaeology, linguistics, so many other fields (not to mention The Internet)  seem to be making specialised study more amazing and more accessible than ever before. This is awesome. It continues to be awesome.

You’ve got a good head on your shoulders. Take care of yourself. The future is going to be awesome.

Love, Eudoxia

(P.S. You will acquire the nickname “Eudoxia”)

I found it interesting thinking about what I would actually want my younger self to know. E.g. note I didn’t say “yes, you have met your future husband” (although I had) because I think that the process of trying to work out whether we were right together was important and formative.

What would you tell your younger self?

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11 Responses to A letter to my 16 year old self

  1. What do you mean by “nobody even said there are other options” — did you ignore your biology and physics lessons?

    I think that you could write an interesting series of blog posts on the thought processes that led you into creationism and then began to get you out. It’s too easy for me to dismiss strangers as idiots but I can’t do that to you because I know that the lights are ON in your head.

    • I’ll try to explain a little bit more of what I meant. The message presented to me was “when it comes to the origins of the world, you *must* believe in Young-Earth Creationism or else you don’t really have faith. People who have other views are compromising Christianity or deluding themselves and are generally just plain wrong. This is the only way you can believe anything in the Bible, to “believe in it right from the beginning” “.

      The people I trusted to help me navigate matters of faith (family, church, church leaders) may or may not have actually held these views themselves. (I don’t know and even if I did know then I don’t remember now). But they gave a platform to these views by allowing proponents of them to give a talk and sell books in our church, and going and listening to the talk and buying the books, some of which I read.

      Looking back I consider all of this to have been a breach of duty of care, especially given that mainstream Christianity has plenty of opponents to Creationism. If they were going to let these people come and present their point of view they really should have presented others, at a minimum.

      Re school science – I don’t think I had done that much about evolution or the creation of the universe in biology or physics by age 16 (recall I was in NZ for most of that and so will have followed different curricula from you). Also as I recall the arguments presented in Creationist literature seemed sufficiently convincing to put up against science as taught to me in school up to age 16 (since a lot of school science is simplified / explained in a hand-wavy way / etc). When I was 14, 15 I wasn’t as good at spotting rubbish arguments as I am now!

      Getting out of it – well, I’ve always believed that God gave me a brain and expects me to use it, and as I learned more about everything (science, the history of how some of this science was developed, archaeology, forms of literature (e.g. it makes no sense to read the Bible as a textbook since textbooks weren’t invented til centuries after it was written)) it became clear that actually, Creationism wasn’t compatible with “God gave me a brain and expects me to use it”. Moreover, there were plenty of other ways to think about the creation of the world that made more sense in many ways (scientific, literary, historical) that were held by many Christians over centuries and didn’t mess with Scripture (plus, I started to realise that Creationism *did* mess with Scripture since it’s clear that the authors of Genesis weren’t trying to write what Creationists claim they were). So it became a clear choice. It was a gradual process, though, and took some time. I wish I’d figured it out a bit sooner.

      (Wow, that turned out to be a lot longer than I intended!)

      • Sorry it’s taken me a week to get back to you. I just find this kind of story, as with any abuse of power, rather upsetting. I think that, if you’re going to continue to view the Church as a force for good, you need to oppose its most serious flaws, such as the intellectual dishonesty you were a victim to. I hope that doesn’t sound too arrogant. It’s just that I hate religion and I know you uphold it, but I can’t bear to think of you as implicitly upholding its depravity.

      • (replying to Mark – hopefully this will show up in the right place underneath his comment).

        I’m not comfortable framing my experience as an abuse of power. I think that would require malicious intent. Like the quotation attributed to Napolean … “Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence”.

        Yes, the Church is flawed. Every church congregation I’ve been part of openly admits that. One of the strange-when-you-think-about-it things that Christians believe is that God, for some (arguably inexplicable) reason wants to use us (humans) to help fix things. Which given our track record is … not necessarily the obvious choice. It’s also a huge responsibility – to do the very best that we can and work as hard as we can – which perhaps we would do well to remember a bit more often.

        One of the things that has been very encouraging to me has been learning that people of faith have dealt with all this sort of thing before. It’s not like every other Christian is a creationist and I alone am not; and there are lots and lots of Christians who seek to uphold and spread intellectual honesty (on this and other matters). Maybe they/we don’t get talked about enough, and we absolutely still have a long way to go in many areas … but there is plenty of good sense in the Church alongside some of the more silly stuff. Unfortunately, as with everything, it’s the silly stuff that makes good headlines.

        “oppose its most serious flaws”? I guess so. Based on the belief that God gave me a brain and expects me to use it, as I learn more – about science, social justice, whatever – what I try to do changes and grows. For example, I am currently reading stuff by Kenneth Bailey about the New Testament (re studying the New Testament within its cultural context, which makes sense of a lot of things in the Bible which may be otherwise hard to understand). At the moment this has me pondering gender roles and what the Bible does and doesn’t say about them. I also have a book about Christian Ethics on my to-read list, and want to read up on the History of Christianity if I can find a good way to do it. Learning how people have dealt with problems before is a super-helpful way to start approaching them in the present.

        You will also note that I’m involved with 14-18s groups in church – is this as a way to try and rectify the mistakes that I think were made when I was a teenager? You bet it is. But I also don’t want to lose sight of what people did *right* when I was growing up, because there were an awful lot of things that they did right and I really appreciate and value those. It’s easy to say “you’re wrong here, here, and here” and miss the other 97 things people did that were good and right.

  2. Jack V says:

    *hugs* That’s a lovely letter. I’m still inspired by your example here 🙂

    • Thank you! 🙂 I hope that it can be useful to have a bit of discussion of this sort of thing. I think part of the reason why my own experience was so strongly swayed by a few factors (one talk, a couple of books) was that people with other views simply avoided the subject – maybe they didn’t want to make a fuss, or cause conflict, or thought that it was obvious and didn’t need addressing … but you know, I was 13 (or however old) and to me it wasn’t obvious.

  3. This is a reply to EudoxiaFriday’s comment from 11th January 2012, which does not seem to have its own Reply button.

    “I’m not comfortable framing my experience as an abuse of power. I think that would require malicious intent.”

    Neglect is a form of abuse. If the Church neglects to stop people from routinely using its ample resources to push anti-factual bunkum that reduces people’s ability to comprehend the universe — effectively reducing the public’s intelligence — then the Church is abusing its power.

    “Yes, the Church is flawed. […] Christians believe that God […] wants to use us (humans) to help fix things. Which given our track record is … not necessarily the obvious choice.”

    The “we’re only human — go easy on us” defence might be acceptable if the Church were a small new organisation and they were working out the kinks, but that is not the case. The Church is vast, ancient and fervently opposes change. The problems within it are not new.

    “One of the things that has been very encouraging to me has been learning that people of faith have dealt with all this sort of thing before.”

    While it is reassuring that others have been able to partially recover from Creationism, it is deeply depressing that so many more have not. It is all the stranger to praise the Church for having helped you when they caused the problem for you and continue to cause it globally.

    “It’s not like every other Christian is a creationist and I alone am not; and there are lots and lots of Christians who seek to uphold and spread intellectual honesty”

    But they do not seek to do that because they are Christian, they do that because of a sense of curiosity and honesty that is also widespread in atheists and agnostics. That is not a defence of the Church but a defence of people in general. It should make you wonder what the value of the Church is, since the Church is not “people in general”.

    A large part of the Church is the many people who flock to it but the power is held by comparatively few. Those few are largely responsible for its policies and agendas. They have positioned themselves as the arbiters of right and wrong, they reject questions as to their integrity and, in proportion to the people in general, their behaviour is atrocious.

    Across the globe, through the centuries, and right now, the Church declares everyone to be sinful and unworthy, which is a miserable thing to do, and then for example practices paedophilia: In any other group of people, incidences of paedophilia are very rare and cause the perpetrator to be instantly ostracised and subjected to criminal justice. In the ranks of the Church, paedophilia is covered up, the perpetrators protected and the victims told to be quiet, as they are sinful children but God forgives them.

    “Maybe they/we don’t get talked about enough, and we absolutely still have a long way to go in many areas … but there is plenty of good sense in the Church alongside some of the more silly stuff.”

    The Church has a “long” way to go, but it will never get there — that would involve change.

    “Unfortunately, as with everything, it’s the silly stuff that makes good headlines.”

    This is not about headlines; this is about the Church using its web of “silly stuff” for dishonesty, hatred and covering up its crimes.

    • (It doesn’t have a reply button because WordPress only allows a limited amount of nesting of comments)

      I strongly disagree with the points you have made in this comment, but don’t wish to continue this discussion via blog comments (we can talk about it when we next meet up in person, if you want) as I don’t think this will be useful.

      I note that you make assumptions about what the Church is and does (e.g. that it “fervently opposes change”) that I strongly disagree with. I think we have very different conceptions of what the Christian Church is and what it does. Also, this has turned from me discussing my experiences and my story (which I feel able to reliably comment on) to the Church as a whole throughout time and across the world and its practices (which I do not!) so please, let’s stop this chain of conversation at this point.

    • I’ve clicked the Reply button under my previous comment, instead of the one under yours. I wonder where this comment will end up!

    • Ah, that didn’t increase the indenting. I should have done it that way before. Sorry about that.

      I find this discussion very interesting but it takes me a while to prepare each response. I don’t want you to feel that you have to respond immediately either; I am subscribed to the comments on this post and will know when you respond.

      Because of the time it takes, I would like to have a record of the discussion for future reference. Because of the universality of the issues (I’m trying not to pick on you here — I like you!) it makes sense for the discussion to be public. Would you prefer a different online forum? We could resurrect our old 1A2C blog!

    • I see your points about wanting discussion about things like this written down for future reference. I can see why you think that these things should be public although I’m not quite sure that I agree – I’ll have to think about that. If it’s a discussion where we’ll be thinking things through (which I think is inevitable), I’d rather have it locked so that only we can see it, because on the internet anything you’ve ever said can be dredged up and taken out of context (though selected bits could be made public once we’ve done some of the thinking!).

      We could resurrect the old blog, indeed! I think that would be a more appropriate forum for this kind of discussion. I would also want discussions to be tightly focused, so that we can usefully make comments about things and try to research data. E.g. as a rule I think there’s no point asking “what do Christians think about X?” without at least specifying a particular century, and a section of the church (Catholic? Orthodox? Anglican? Protestant generally? Evangelical?) I warn you that my answers to almost every question will be “I don’t know, but …” because I know enough about Christianity and Christian history to know how much I don’t know!

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