Puzzlement Preferred: How to Use the Sweet Spot of Fear to Escape Religious Thought

A. Jay Palmer

Puzzlement vs. Religion

There have been many excellent publications on the continuing legacy of human conflict that religion has brought to society. In his 2004 book The End of Faith, Sam Harris takes his reader through a terrifying journey surveying the atrocities of continuing religious conflict. At the end of the book he suggests in one simple sentence how religious thought could be brought to an end in a single generation: “If parents and teachers would give honest answers to the questions children ask.” I have remained awestruck by the power of that simple, single sentence.

The immediate response of most religious people to giving honest answers is to say that we already do that: “We are being honest when we say that we believe or have faith that Jesus Christ is our savior, and so on.” This is, of course, the worst kind of dishonesty that one can give a child or anyone else when a question is asked for which you simply don’t know the answer. It is an abuse of trust. Children do fine with the “I don’t know” answer provided they are in an environment of love and support. It fires their natural curiosity and challenges them to learn about their world. We can still tell stories to our children to stimulate their imaginations and inspire them. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as it is made clear to them that the story is allegory and not a specific answer to their questions. But it is how children and the rest of us respond to puzzlement that I believe offers a way forward in bringing about Harris’s solution to ending the religious mindset.

Before going further, I need to state my very simple and general definition of the religious mindset: allegiance to an ideal without question. Thus, this definition includes nationalism, which is responsible for the remainder of major human conflict not due directly to theistic religion.

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