Sunday, 31 May 2009


If you met primitive tribesmen whose religion taught that the world was flat, would you tell them that it was round? That is approximately the issue I faced when I met these innocents on a redwood forest trail. Of course I engaged them---that's what I do--thinking they were Amish.
Turns out they are from a very minor sect numbering 6000 called the Brethren and they traveled here from Pennsylvania and Ohio to attend an annual conference where the group will decide such issues as whether to ban internet use (as corrupting), whether it's ok to make movies about themselves. what is proper, modest dress and 17 similar issues all relating to their primary concern to "separate themselves from the world."

Among their "flat earth equivalent" beliefs is that the world and all that's in it was created in 6 days about 6000 years ago, that the Bible is literally the inerrant word of God, detailing how we should live our lives etc. That evolution is a huge lie.
After I got their story, I faced a sizable moral dilemma: DO I TAMPER WITH THEIR FAITH OR LET THEM GO THEIR WAY UNSCATHED? Do tell them that their "certainty" is a destructive illusion? That they have been conned? (indoctrinated) That life is infinitely richer
when uncertainty is embraced.
I predict that most of my readers would say: LEAVE THEM ALONE! THEY HAVE A LIFE AND A CULTURE---AND IF YOU INDUCE THEM TO DOUBT THEIR DOCTRINES, CONSIDER THE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: Dreadful anxiety of losing their social comfort--friends, identity etc. These are simple, clean living, hard working folks--LEAVE EM ALONE!
Turns out, they took the decision away from me. They were feistier than I supposed and began to question me. We talked an hour or more as they gathered around my trailer. I read them two of my poems, "The Religion Warehouse" and "Hinduism" to give them an alternative perspective. They were transfixed. Perhaps I'm the only informed skeptic they will ever meet, their only opportunity to escape a cult-like existence. But they are very nice boys, ages 17. 18, 19 and 20--incredibly gentle and courteous in the give and take. They asked all the right questions and were astounded that an unbeliever knew the Bible as well as they. I did not press too hard.
We walked a long way together and I noticed their seeming inability to make decisions: when to turn back, when it was time to leave, etc. I could see that they were OBEDIENCE ORIENTED--believing that what life is about is obeying the rules. The alternative of CREATIVE RESPONSIVENESS seemed alien to them. I ached to give them a copy of Emerson's essay On Self Reliance. We ended up exchanging books: They gave me "Moving Toward the Mainstream" and I gave them Sam Harris' Letter To A Christian Nation. (a brief masterpiece of skepticism) All four were anxious to read it. I feel satisfied and enriched by the encounter.

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