Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover Reveals the True Horrors of Religious Fundamentalism by Christina Knowles

Educated

This real-life account of a young woman who grew up in the mountains of Buck’s Peak, Idaho, who was denied a basic education, forced to work hard labor, refused medical treatment for life-threatening injuries, and left unprotected to defend herself against a violent and mentally ill brother, is an intimate look into the world of religious fundamentalism.

Tara Westover, grew up the child of religious fanatics. Her parents, who also happened to be mentally ill, were paranoid and ignorant. Tara’s father refused to allow her to go to school, or to go to the hospital after sustaining a head injury and a debilitating flesh wound, and did not even register her birth. Tara was raised believing the government would send in snipers to kill them at any moment because of their refusal to participate in the great conspiracy.

The reader follows Tara through her eye-opening journey from an ignorant child, who believed everything her parents told her, to a Harvard-graduated Ph.D. We see, through Tara’s eyes, the humiliation of being the only one in her college class who had never heard the word, holocaust, who had learned from her father that it was all made up by the Jews to gain sympathy. To be so completely unknowledgeable about the most common of knowledge was to navigate a sinister world in the dark, armed with nothing but hope.

Tara never gave up. She educated herself, studied on her own, and took the SAT until she got good enough scores for a partial scholarship to BYU, who took “home-schooled” kids with no school records. She went on from there to win a fellowship at Oxford, and then to Harvard for grad school, all while struggling to keep her family’s love. Her family, who believed she was lost to Satan and was possessed, gave her an ultimatum, their world or the real world she was just discovering. After years of abuse, and struggling with her own mental issues as a result of the abuse, Tara chose to let them go, while graciously keeping the door open if they chose to accept her, which is more than I would have done.

This book broke my heart. The fact that children of religious fundamentalism all deal with trying to live in two worlds, while not being given the tools to even distinguish between truth and fiction, is a danger, not only to them, but to the rest of us. But how different is this from any family who raises their children to believe in fairy tales? Any indoctrination of blind faith results in an intellectual disability, the ability to abandon reason, living in a false and tumultuous world that is never truly safe.

While Tara found education, and thus, her escape, she was forever scarred by the experience and still suffers today. Many are not so lucky, even those who had less crazy circumstances. They go through their lives expecting miracles and blaming themselves when God doesn’t answer their prayers. They ignore medical advice, refuse their children a good education by home schooling with books designed to indoctrinate them into a particular religion, they teach their children not to trust science, and to fear those who are different from them. Many are unable to shake off these chains of religious abuse and educate themselves.

I’m glad Tara insisted on her right to find truth and to be educated. We all benefit from the education of all children. Religious belief is a dangerous thing. For example, why follow your conscience and the law if God tells you to go against it? Why take care of this world when God is going to make another one to replace it anyway?

Tara was taught to fear and hate, all based on lies. She had no defense. She came into this world with no other resource for truth than her parents. Even when Tara questioned the beliefs of her parents, she risked losing everything, even her home as a minor child. Religious indoctrination is child abuse, plain and simple.

I highly recommend getting this book on Audible. Julia Whelan, the narrator, gives life to the voices of Tara’s family, especially her father. You will be drawn in immediately. Five out five stars for this one.—Christina Knowles

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A Manual for Creating Atheists by Peter Boghossian: A Book Review by Christina Knowles

Manual for Creating AtheistsIn A Manual for Creating Atheists, Peter Boghossian makes a great case for street epistemology, or attempting to create atheists, whenever we engage someone stuck in a faith system in our everyday lives. At first, the title comes across as a little too “evangelical” for even my taste. I mean, what about “live and let live?” Should we actively try to spread our take on things just like the religious do? What about respecting people’s views if they’re not harming anyone?

Well, Boghossian points out what many of us are aware of already. Faith, or “pretending to know things you don’t know,” as Boghosssian defines it, hurts us all. It dumbs down our society, causes us to deny science, create laws that inhibit the rights of others, and feeds radical fundamentalism. At any rate, he is not advocating for bringing this message door to door, but merely engaging in Socratic questioning when we find ourselves in a friendly conversation with those of faith. Basically, he wants us to stop backing down out of “respect” for ridiculous beliefs, distinguishing between respecting the individual and pretending to respect their beliefs, thus legitimizing irrational thought.

Where I disagreed with Boghossian was that we should always target the epistemological process of faith, rather than specific beliefs or contradictions in “holy” texts. While I agree, blind faith is the problem, and as he puts it “all faith is blind,” many will be more willing to question the “virtue” of having faith if you put a crack in the specifics of what they already believe in their particular religion. It’s a lot easier to expose the fallacious elements of faith, in general, if you can show how beloved personal beliefs fail. This often leads to questioning everything. And this is the ultimate goal, questioning—examining everything with critical thinking. Skeptical thinking is the epistemological method that leads to finding truth. In my experience, it seems that many people progress through many steps toward skepticism, and that the first step is admitting that their own holy book has undeniable errors.

My favorite part of this book was how eloquently and logically Boghossian makes his case for getting back to Classical Liberalism, rather than the modern liberalism we see so much in higher education today. Boghossian explains that in an effort to promote tolerance and acceptance, we fail to attack bad ideas and bad thinking out of a misplaced politically correct sense of diversity. While cultural diversity is a good thing, we still have to point out, question, and attack logically the ideas that cannot be true or that are harmful to freedom, democracy, human rights, etc. Boghossian discusses how certain topics are considered off limits in our educational institutions today, religion being primary. Boghossian says that liberalism today has “favored” groups that are protected, while the rules against intolerance for these groups do not apply to other groups who are not favored. For example, one favored group currently is Muslims. Boghossian states,

“Contemporary academic leftists don’t withhold making judgments entirely, as do cultural relativists. Rather, they withhold judgment to the degree that a culture seems foreign and/or alien, or to the extent that they perceive a culture to be misunderstood or victimized by the West. Islam currently occupies the top rung on the contemporary leftist hierarchy of beliefs and practices that should not be criticized.

“Leftist academicians fervently judge elements in Western culture. For example, academic leftists take great pride in condemning Western institutions, Western financial systems, and Western corporations. One might see a leftist academic withhold judgment, regarding a clitoridectomy in Northern Africa, but loudly decry a gender imbalance in the headcount of speakers at an academic conference” (Boghossian 205).

This type of hypocrisy is all too familiar. Sam Harris often points out what he sees as the dangers of the Islamic faith, as well as other religions, and I have always appreciated his willingness to come out with these issues publically, realizing this dialogue cannot be “off limits,” just because it will offend someone. Open and intelligent civil discourse requires that we can engage these issues. And as both Harris and Boghossian point out, religion is not race. People choose to change religions every day and cannot be born a certain religion even if they are born into a religious family. As Boghossian points out, Islam is the favored protected group at the moment, but we don’t have any trouble pointing out flaws in Christianity, Mormonism, or Scientology. What is the difference?

Boghossian, by no means, advocates for discriminating against the rights of anyone based on their religion, but merely states that no religion is off limits for critical examination and civil discourse.

This book is filled with wonderful references for further reading and resources to help the concerned atheist spread critical thinking, and I look forward to reading many of them; however, I will still attempt to point out specific problems with specific doctrines, rather than only targeting the faith fallacy. Overall, Boghossian conveys some very good strategies and makes his points well. Four stars out of five—Christina Knowles

Here is a link to purchase Boghossian’s A Manual for Creating Atheists

 

 

 

Give Me Peace by Christina Knowles

livescience

Photo via livescience.com

The world is falling apart around me, but all I see is her

She doesn’t see me

Her mind is showing her different things

Her eyes are dim and fogged

Over with images she doesn’t want to see

The pain she feels is real

Real is the fear I feel

Looking into her eyes full of visions

Induced by a dying body

Misfiring synapses, remnants of past sights

A simulacrum of visual forms

Meaningless electricity

The pain in my heart sears

Wanting to hang on to her

And wanting to let her go,

Wanting the pain to end

She doesn’t deserve to suffer like this

And I don’t deserve to sit here

Screaming silently

Listening to the delusions of those gathered around

Their talk of visions of angels and going to meet those

Who’ve gone on before

Yes, she sees angels

She also sees angry eyes

And attackers tearing at her clothing

Is that from God too?

You stupid, gullible people

Let me grieve in peace

The Business of Dying by Christina Knowles

seidoryu As an atheist, I shudder at the thought of a chaplain at my bedside when it’s my time to die. However, today I was privileged to listen to a truly profound and helpful chaplain guide someone close to me on “the business of dying.”

Shortly after being informed that she had very little time left, the chaplain arrived, and instead of a long dissertation on theology, endless prayers, or reading cliché bible verses, he merely accepted her word that she was confidant of her eternal life and moved on to the harder part, the present.

At first, I was concerned. He seemed pushy and inconsiderate. When he asked her what she was feeling, and she replied, “It is what it is,” he pushed, aggressively.

He led her through each possible emotion, explored them, talked about them, and acknowledged their validity. He said it was okay to grieve your own life, the disappointment, the lost time, the things that you will never be able to do, time with loved ones stolen. He asked about fear, not fear of the afterlife, but fear of the actual dying and fear about leaving loved ones behind. He validated all emotions someone might feel and empathized.

Next, he asked her what she wanted. He said she didn’t have to answer now, and that it didn’t have to be one big thing, but that she should think about that every morning when she wakes up and ask, “What do I want today?” He explained that he meant real things, good things like asking for a hug or asking to have a conversation about a memory or about what someone means to her. He encouraged her to go deep inside herself everyday to really get in touch with her heart’s desire. He said to not let these things go by undone. If she needs to say something to someone or just relive a memory with someone, ask for it. If she needed closure, to fix a relationship, or address a regret, she should have that conversation.

The chaplain told her that part of the business of dying was to celebrate the life she’s lived. He said to reflect on her life’s accomplishments, things she was particularly proud of, things she enjoyed, and things that she did right. He told her she lived a life that deserved acknowledgement.

He ended his counsel by asking her if she wanted anything else from him. She asked him to pray with her. He laughingly responded, “Is that what you want, or do you think that’s what I want to hear?” She said she did want it, and his prayer was beautiful, specifically saying that she was in control of her life and how she lived it to her last breath.

He was brilliant and profound, comforting and respectful. I thought, This is what a chaplain should do. So many times, I’ve heard the well-meaning pastor spout clichés and seemed more concerned with reinforcing religious beliefs than dealing with real emotions and concrete issues. I always cringed at the shallow recitation of the typical platitudes. Finally, a chaplain who knows what to say to the dying, what they need to know in their last days, what not to forget in the days to come. The compassionate and practical advice I heard today cut through all the nonsense of avoidance. People don’t need vapid dictums when they face the end of their lives; they need something real, something meaningful and honest to go about the business of dying. –Christina Knowles

photo via seidoryu.com