Havelock Ellis has stated that, “The man who has never wrestled with his early faith, the faith that he was brought up with and that yet is not truly his own–for no faith is our own that we have not arduously won–has missed not only a moral but an intellectual discipline. The absence of that discipline may mark a man for life and render all his work ineffective. He has missed a training in criticism, in analysis, in open-mindedness, in the resolutely impersonal treatment of personal problems, which no other training can compensate. He is, for the most part, condemned to live in a mental jungle where his arm will soon be too feeble to clear away the growths that enclose him, and his eyes too weak to find the light.”
One of the tiresome themes in atheist writings is the assertion that everyone is raised with some kind of religious superstition that they need to triumphantly throw off once they are exposed to the blinding light of reason and science.
It’s tiresome because the “brights” repeat it over and over, even though it is completely false.
It is obvious that children are born accepting the world at face value and trying to somehow fit everything together so that they will know what to expect and how to react. This is a form of superstition, because they construct ad hoc explanations without having any real basis for testing their validity.
Moreover, children generally learn a variety of rules, stories, common sayings, truisms, slogans, jingles, proverbs, propaganda, and myths from their parents, teachers, peers, TV shows, comic books, music, movies, church, books, and so forth. These sorts of information comprise the child’s cultural understanding of reality.
Rarely does anyone think critically about themselves, their society, or the world at large until they reach the teenage years. By “thinking critically,” I mean really analyzing claims and testing them, checking historical evidence, comparing opposing arguments, and closely reading source texts. In fact, some people never do anything like this, since they get all their information from TV news, politicians, blogs, Twitter, musicians, and stand-up comedians.
However, if someone had the aptitude and opportunity to think critically, they would start doing it around age 12 or 13. That is why this general age range is commonly known in many cultures and religions as the age of accountability.
Now then, this process is no different for children raised by rationalistic scientific atheists, because a child is neither rational nor scientific. Moreover, the propositions of atheism and philosophical naturalism are not obvious or natural for a child; they are idealistic artificial constructs as much as any medieval theology.
But the adult atheist, having undergone a dramatic conversion at age 14 from Pharisaic churchianity to slobbering Darwin-worship or Marx-adoration, cannot help but overflow with evangelical passion and a desire to smash the idols of his youth. And so he naturally starts by assuming that every religious person around him is simply in a state of arrested development, numb to the wonders of the created world and the pleasures of free will.
For myself, having been raised in an overwhelmingly secular society by liberal scientific atheist parents who looked at religious people with a mixture of amusement and contempt, I find this condescending and disingenuous. There is only a tiny proportion of the population who reach adulthood without critically analyzing their religious faith. Some are directly assaulted by the obnoxious New Atheists or the hedonistic, idolatrous culture; most are driven by their hormones to simply challenge everything their parents say; and many are encouraged by their parents to be accountable for their own faith. This is a tradition in even the most insular traditional religious communities, who recognize that a mindless follower is an incipient troublemaker who will mindlessly follow the destroyers of tradition.
Yet, the arrogant atheist simply can’t let go of the idea that, since atheism seems so obvious and logical to him now, anyone who disagrees must be either lying for political reasons or still encumbered by the religious mythology learned as a child. Their zealotry is impressive but misguided; they would do better to criticize Christians for not being enough like Jesus, who disdained politics and religious convention.