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What children can teach us about blind faith and the power of ‘Why’?

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What children can teach us about blind faith and the power of ‘Why?’

By Tracy Simmons

One of my friend’s kids is at a stage I very much appreciate: the trust, but verify phase.

“Eat the rest of your dinner and you can watch a little bit of a movie before bed,” Liz will tell her 4-year-old son.

“With who?” he’ll ask.

Children aren’t afraid of questions.

My 5-year-old goddaughter recently asked what BLM means, because the house next door has a sign posted with the three letters crossed out.

When her moms explained it to her, and why the neighbor’s sign was hateful, she asked, “Why isn’t our neighbor kind to everyone? He shovels the sidewalk for everyone.”

Kids observe, and they wonder, and they seek understanding.

I hope this means they’re all journalists in the making, and that they’ll hold onto that curiosity.

Inquiry is holy.

Blind faith is not.

Blind faith is backing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine simply because televangelist Pat Robertson proclaimed that Putin is “being compelled by God.”

Blind faith is supporting the 150 anti-LGBT laws that have been introduced so far this year because you want to believe conservative politicians and faith groups when they say they can legislate gay people away.

Blind faith is being antic about critical race theory, even though it’s not taught in our school systems.

Blind faith is applauding Texas’ and Idaho’s abortion bans because some say abstinence-only education will solve the problem of unplanned pregnancies.

I find myself wondering why people stop querying and just start accepting what they’re told at face value. Is it driven by fear? Laziness? Apathy? Social media?

Having grown up in a cult, the unquestioning belief in something – even when it’s unreasonable or morally wrong – is something I’m too familiar with. And I’m losing patience for it.

We can all take a page from the kids in our lives and start asking “why?” a lot more.

We don’t have to all agree. Diversity of opinion is good. I just hope each of us investigates and understands why we vote and believe the way we do. In that seeking, we will get to know ourselves better, and hopefully others.

It’s hard to disrespect a person whose deep convictions come from deep exploration.

Some of the answers we seek will be in books, or journals or articles. Some will come from our teachers. Other determinations, though, come through discernment.

I love the story from the Kālāma Sutta, a discourse of the Buddha. In the text, the Buddha comes to a town and the inhabitants (the Kalamas) ask him for advice. They tell him many religious men have visited and pushed their doctrines upon them, while tearing down any doctrine that opposes their views.

They ask, “Which of these men speaks the truth?”

“It is proper for you, Kalamas, to doubt, to be uncertain …,” the Buddha responds. “Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another’s seeming ability; nor upon the consideration ‘The monk is our teacher.’ Kalamas, when you yourselves know: ‘These things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,’ abandon them.”

The Buddha is encouraging free thinking here and says it’s more than knowing right from wrong. One translator explained it this way, “The ability to question and test one’s beliefs in an appropriate way is called appropriate attention.”

I like that. May we all question and give appropriate attention to the values that influence us.

Tracy Simmons
Tracy Simmons
Tracy Simmons is an award-winning journalist specializing in religion reporting and digital entrepreneurship. In her approximate 20 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti. Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas, Connecticut and Washington. She is the executive director of SpokaneFāVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Washington. She also writes for The Spokesman-Review and national publications. She is a Scholarly Assistant Professor of Journalism at Washington State University.

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[…] Tracy Simmons, editor and executive director of FāVS, will speak about how “Healthy Faith Communities Are Allowed to Question” on Sunday (March 27). She will draw on her experience growing up in a cult, which she wrote about in “I Left the Cult Next Door” for the Wall Street Journal and discussed in her 2020 TEDxSpokane talk “The Cult Next Door.” She’ll touch on her most recent column, “What children can teach us about blind faith and the power of ‘Why’?“ […]

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[…] I wanted to be sure, though, that theological questioning as well as social involvement were welcome, and was glad to find that it would be. Not all churches are so open to a questioning faith, expecting instead the blind faith Tracy Simmons critiqued in her March 22 FāVS column, “What children can teach us about the power of ‘Why?’”. […]

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