Atheism / Religion / Science

Trivial Pursuits


Trivial Pursuit

As I age, I’m dealing with the inevitable realities of diminished mental capacity. Neuroscientists have suggested that our minds peak at 22 and start deteriorating around 27. Based on personal experience, that sounds about right. That’s not to say that I’m getting dumber. In fact, there is no age at which we can’t still learn new things, no matter what they say about old dogs.

It’s just that my ability to retain and process new information is definitely not what it was when I was younger. I’ve never thought of myself as having a great memory. In my silly teenage years when I thought I might be an actor, memorizing dialogue was always a struggle. I always wished I had a photographic memory (almost certainly a myth) so I could be one of those geniuses who seemingly had an endless wealth of information, but alas, I was burdened with a very mortal memory.

Which is why recent games of trivia at work have started to make me angry. I’m not angry because I don’t know the answers, I’m angry because I do know the answers. You see, I work in a restaurant and there are periods of downtime where some of us pass the time with games of trivia. Initially this started out with food trivia, obviously, which is not my strong suit, but the topics expanded to include presidential and music trivia (more my speed) and in recent days, Bible trivia.

Now we’re talking.

I have always been one of the best, if not the best at Bible trivia in almost any group. Even back in my youth when everyone I grew up was a Christian, I still could run circles around most of my friends with my depth of knowledge on the old stories and minutia littering the pages of God’s ol’ diary.

As we’ve been playing Bible trivia at work in a city where a large majority of the residents went to Catholic school yet barely know the Old Testament from the New, I’ve been amazed by just how much of the obscure details of the Bible I still remember.

And this is why I’m angry. As a kid going to a private Christian school, we were made to memorize whole passages of the Bible. I had read the entire tome (including all the really boring books) by the age of 10, and that wasn’t the last time. I heard and heard (and heard) the various stories so often that the details were as real to me as any movie or TV show I watched. My young mind, essentially a sponge capable of soaking up untold amounts of new information, was consumed with memorizing the myths of sheepherders and zealots.

At that age, I was a black hole for information. I read all the time, I did my older sister’s algebra homework just for the thrill of it and school was actually fun (that would change). If, at that period in my life, my inexhaustible thirst for knowledge had been driven towards science instead of books of the Bible, I have to wonder where I would be today.

I’m not saying I regret doing what I’m doing or that I don’t enjoy being a writer. At a young age, I always figured my love of math would translate into a career in the field, but then I discovered writing (and girls) in the sixth grade and my path was set.

I can’t help but think, though, that if the nooks in my memory that are filled up with the stories of Samson and Job had instead been left open for biology and physics, I could have achieved something truly great in one or both of those fields. I’m fascinated by the sciences and since graduating from college have read dozens of books on a variety of subjects from evolution to particle physics, but while I can discuss the topics with better authority than most people with degrees in Creative Writing, the details and specifics of the subjects slip out of my mind almost as soon as I read them.

This is why I would never raise a child in religion. It’s not because I want to shelter them from it or force them to be an atheist, it’s because I would rather their mind be filled with knowledge that could truly benefit them. Even if you are a person of faith, you must admit that a child would be far more successful in life if they were taught the basics of biology at a young age rather than reading the story of David and Goliath.

I realize that there is room for both in a child’s upbringing, but unfortunately when children are raised in religion the sciences are either completely ignored or taught in a way that is utterly wrong.

If I had a child and she wanted to read the Bible, I wouldn’t discourage it at all. Having read the Bible as often as I have (and continue to do) is a large part of why I believe (or rather, don’t believe) what I do.

While being able to rattle off the first 5 books of the Bible, the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) is all fine and good, I’d much rather be able to effortlessly list off the eight major taxonomical ranks of life (Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species). The former I knew offhand, the latter I had to look up.

Both might be largely symbolic trivia, but I’ll take scientific symbolism over religious symbolism any day of the week.

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2 thoughts on “Trivial Pursuits

  1. You make a compelling point when you write –

    “Even if you are a person of faith, you must admit that a child would be far more successful in life if they were taught the basics of biology at a young age rather than reading the story of David and Goliath.”

    I am a person of faith and I agree teaching a child the basics of biology might more readily equip them to be “service-able” in our society, which might lead them to be more successful in terms of getting a higher paying job or even contributing to an advance in science or technology.

    Yet, I would also contend that excluding the Bible from basic education (which is more commonly done) is denying a source of inspiration great leaders (including scientists) have drawn on throughout the ages.

    Consider this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. –

    “Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge, which is power; religion gives man wisdom, which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals.”

    • I expected this response, so I tried to preempt it when I wrote:

      “If I had a child and she wanted to read the Bible, I wouldn’t discourage it at all. Having read the Bible as often as I have (and continue to do) is a large part of why I believe (or rather, don’t believe) what I do.”

      That is, I don’t think there is anything wrong with reading the Bible, because it is an important and vital part of literature. But, big BUT, it isn’t the only worthy work of literature out there, and while a child who was unfamiliar with it would certainly be lacking, the same could be said of someone who never read Homer or Shakespeare or Twain. In a perfect world, every kid would grow up reading at least some portions of the Bible, just because it is an important link in the historical chain of literature.

      As far as MLK’s quote, I frankly disagree. Anyone who claims that the Bible dispenses moral values (which is what I assume he means) is either ignorant of the majority of the Bible or is willfully picking and choosing. The Bible is perhaps the most immoral and vial work of literature known to man, and that includes anything Joyce ever wrote. Any ‘good’ that can be taken from the Bible (e.g. The Golden Rule) exists in other religious writings from a variety of cultures. Which is to say that I don’t think any person who misses out on the Bible is going to be lacking in moral guidance.

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