The Parable of the Absent Parents

Discussion in 'Religion' started by James R, Feb 3, 2020.

  1. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    Here follows the Parable of the Absent Parents - a story of my own invention (credit goes to DaveC for providing a similar tale that was inspiration for this one).

    A pre-teen boy has no idea who his parents are. They have never been a part of his life. During his childhood, his carers gave him a book and told him it contained all his parents' rules - i.e. the rules that set out how his parents expect him to behave. Rule no. 217 says "When you're at home on your own, don't drink the alcohol and destroy the place." Elsewhere in the rule book, it says "Rule 2001. If you disobey any of the rules in this book, your parents will punish you. The punishment will be life in prison." The book also says things like "Rule 1. Your parents love you" and "Rule 13. It is wrong to disobey your parents' rules."

    Over time, as he grows up, the boy starts to wonder about the book. He starts to question whether his parents are alive, and whether they really wrote the book at all. He has met people who assure him that, yes, the book was written by his parents. Some of them even claim to have met his parents, themselves, perhaps even receiving private communications from them. On the other hand, he has met other people who tell him the book is a lie: his parents died when he was a baby, and the book contains words of others that are merely attributed to his parents.

    That he can't verify the writers of the book is one problem. Another is that after reading it many times, talking to other people and educating himself independently, the boy starts to think that maybe some of the rules aren't very good. For instance, Rule no. 31 says "All homosexual people are evil and must be killed by stoning" and Rule no. 87 says "Some people are meant to be slaves. If you want to take and keep slaves, there's no problem with that."

    One night, when his guardians have gone to a film, the boy drinks the alcohol from the booze cabinet and destroys the house.

    One year later, there is a knock on the door. The boy opens it. Standing there are a man and a woman, carrying handcuffs, which they slap on the boy. "We are your parents!" they tell him. "We are arresting you for breaking the rules in the Parent Rule Book. You will spend the rest of your life in prison!" The boy is dragged away and lives out the rest of his days in a concrete cell.

    Here endeth the parable.
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2020
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  3. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    I first posted this parable in a different thread, but I think it makes for an interesting-enough discussion to deserve its own thread.

    Let us consider the moral behind the parable.

    Suppose that the man and the woman who turned up out of the blue at the end of the story really were the boy's parents. The parents were real all along. The Book of Rules really was written by them, and all the people who had told the boy both the facts about the parents and the book were speaking the truth all along.

    Here are the questions I would like you to consider:

    Were the parents in my little story evil or manipulative for setting the boy up to fail? Or did they set him up with an opportunity to succeed?

    Were the parents justified in exacting punishment on the boy for doing something that they gave him the freedom to do? It's not like they didn't warn him what the consequences would be. It's right there in Rule 2001. The boy, having read the book many times, and having been assured it was all genuine, could hardly plead ignorance.

    According to some, the moral of this story is that it shows that people are given freedom to make the right decisions, but they sometimes ignore them and go their own way, to their own detriment. Those who allow the freedoms are not to blame for how others choose to exercise the free will they were allowed. Thus, it wasn't the parents' fault that the boy chose to drink and trash the house. They weren't even there at the time.

    According to others, maybe the parents were at fault in some way, though not necessarily because they allowed the boy his freedom. Can anybody suggest how the parents might have been at fault?

    Finally, I chose to post this parable is in the Religion forum. Is anything in this story applicable to God's morality?
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  5. cluelusshusbund + Public Dilemma + Valued Senior Member

    People have free will to choose good or evil... an like it or not are responsible for ther actions.!!!
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  7. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    That would largely depend on whom they appointed as his caregivers. And whether their Rules were crazy-making - illogical, self-contradictory, inconsistent with reality as experienced by the child, impossible to comprehend/obey at his stage of development.
    It's not a question of freedom or ignorance; it's a question of degree of responsibility.
    In any case, I cannot condone punishment without due process. The child has no adult advocate; is not given a hearing.
    That last sentence gives one indication of culpability.
    A parent's job doesn't consist of making up a bunch of rules and hiring a custodian.
    Where were they? What kind of environment did they provide for the child's psychological development? What kind of guide and example was the caregiver? What life-skills was the child taught? Why did they leave a child alone with an unlocked liquor cabinet? (BTW, they also left a loaded gun in the upstairs dresser - if he hasn't found it yet, he will.) Why did the appointed guardian desert his post? Why did nobody notice how disturbed the child was becoming? How come the grownups get off scot free??

    Up to Malachi, perhaps.
    You didn't mention that the kid would have gotten away with everything if he'd just sacrificed his little brother.
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2020
  8. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    Solely responsible?
  9. cluelusshusbund + Public Dilemma + Valued Senior Member

    Well sure they are solely responsible for ther deeds... unless it was beyond ther control to do otherwise.!!!
  10. Bowser Right Here, Right Now Valued Senior Member

    Are you the one to enforce punishment, CH?

    Do the gates of Hell open for All who have come short? I'm looking for an excuse, but it really isn't in My Loving Nature.

    I don't know. Maybe I should revisit My Rule Book. Seems a bit extreme but would certainly make my job easier.
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 3, 2020
  11. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member


    Stop trolling my thread, please. I have deleted the large, distracting, irrelevant photograph you posted and have merged your other three posts.
  12. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    Not a good analogy. It treats all the characters as if they are in a parental vacuum.

    Better: His carers, his community and his ancestors were also raised by the parents, using the same rulebook and rules - and they trust their ancestors. It has worked for them, and they adhere to it, and it has caused them to flourish in the "wisdom" of the parents. That's an important detail in the parable: no believer is an island. IOW, it's not a book; it's a culture. It has provenance.

    Define "justified" in the context of a god that (as theists purport) created all that there is. In what fashion could he ever not be justified? Humans don't have a Right to live that supercedes this creator's will. Human rights are a human invention.

    Carrying the parable in the other direction: can a colony of ants comprehend the morals of an entomologist who cares for his ant farm? If the ants get out of the farm and into the poison bait, can they comprehend the morality of the caregiver stopping them? Ants have ant morals. They don't know of pesticides.

    Certainly there are things that the parents could have done. They could have been directly present for every decision the kid made, to ensure he chose correctly.
    Short term fix. How would the child have grown up? Would the child grow up at all?
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2020
  13. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    From total absence to constant control, from birth to adulthood is a very big either/or proposition.
    These questions equally valid to the extreme laid out in the parable.
    What responsible parents do is guide their child from infancy through each stage of competence and responsibility, with appropriately less intervention as the child matures.
    In no imaginable real-life comparison is this god like a parent... with one possible exception
  14. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    Neither of those are what's being asserted.

    It's surely somewhere in the middle. Whose decision is that? The kid's? Or the parents'?

    I totally agree. Which is why it's not the best analogy over all.

    But there are some pieces where analogizing is informative, such as why an overseer, despite being caring, might not intervene for every skinned knee, or squished ant - or tsunami.
  15. davewhite04 Valued Senior Member

    Which it does tend to be out of their control doesn't it?

    Unless you don't know about the shadow people?
  16. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    No? Then I misunderstood these statements:
    What is in the middle?

    There might might be. But they're not in this parable, which is only about rules and punishment, not protection or caring. And neither is a reference to the Jehovah in the bible: He made a bunch of rules, but also interfered in all kinds of human affairs, was jealous and fickle, played favourites, encouraged chicanery, smote innocent people and changed his mind. In fact, he behaved like some real life fathers actually do.
  17. cluelusshusbund + Public Dilemma + Valued Senior Member

    More than most realize... to put it mildly.!!!
  18. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    That was meant sarcastically. i.e. The opposite of JamesR's scenario of absent parents is micro-managing parents.
    Both are unrealistic and thus make a poor analogy.

    See the followup:
    i.e. how can a kid grow up to make his own decisions if he's micro-managed at every decision?

    Sorry, my bad. That was poorly communicated.

    Hopefully now it's clear that both extremes are not a realistic depiction in a good analogy.

    JamesR's parable contrives a scenario where the wisdom occurs in a vacuum and at arm's-length - biasing the reader to view it warily.

    How can any parable about rules and punishment have any meaning without any attention paid to care and protection? That would make the rules and punishment entirely bereft of context - or having a point.

    The absent parents are an analogy to God. If the parable cherrypicks and chooses what it includes then the conclusion is foregone. That's hardly scientifically rational.

    This thread was spawned from another thread, where I proposed a hypothetical theist's take on God the parent. JamesR made a counter-proposal, which I took issue with, saying this:

    Would you be comfortable with the method [I have ascribed to JamesR] if a Fundie asked you how evolution works? They lay out their idea of how it works, and you hold your tongue until you see a flaw? In my experience, such flaws occur around the first or second word, where they start the story in the middle, pre-seeded with their own preconceptions, rather than at the foundation.

    The point is that the parable that opens this thread is as biased as a Fundie summarizing his idea of evolution. If you want a fair take on evolution, it should be a Darwnist that leads it.
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2020
  19. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    Coulda swore that's what I said.
    There is no wisdom in it - just a book of rules (that nobody puts into context, explains or justifies) and a threat (of one blanket punishment for all transgressions from eating a shrimp to blowing up the world).
    That part is valid: the divine laws were only ever imparted to mankind by priests: no god ever instructed his people directly.
    If only they'd been wary! We could have saved a lot of strife, grief and destruction.
    Yet, there it is.
    Yea, I think we got that. The only problem is, the god in this analogy is unlike the god of either bible, the Quran or the gods of any pagan religion I've ever read about. In the Imperial age of Europe, the Christian god has been pushed so far out into space that he seems entirely absent, but up until about 1400AD, even Our Father Who art in Heaven was a lot more hands-on.
    What's scientific and rational got to do with religion?
    That's fair enough.
    I just answer the questions; I don't analogize the parables.
  20. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    A perfect example of my point. If you start with a parable that ingrains cynicism you're going to come to a cynical conclusion.

    This is why I'm saying JamesR's method here is pointless, IMO. The conclusion is forgone. It is little more than reinforcing what we atheists already believe.

    I'm arguing Devil's Advocate - trying to show how that the God construct is not as illogical as atheists often make out. It has an internal logic that JamesR's account entirely misses.

    It's here. It's only two paragraphs or so, but I think it puts this thread in better context:
  21. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    God's Advocate, surely.
    But this construct is illogical! Gun-totin, Trumplican Corporate Jesus makes no kind of sense, while Jehovah might have been comfortable in the role. Well, in fact, his chosen people were not unlike Virginia planters - patriarchs who counted their worth in the acres, women, slaves and livestock they owned. But those chosen people declined redemption by a socialist hippie.
    Because the logic belongs to a different cultural matrix. It grew in a different soil. It didn't make a good transition to Christian doctrine, where the whole father nonsense was tacked on. It didn't graft well to European paganism - which had worked much better in their cultures. That god could not possibly grow into the successive promotions from being carried around in a box by one family of itinerant herdsmen to competition with other tribal deities, to national god, to god of a multi-cultural empire, to god of the the whole Earth - which turns and is round, ffs! - to god of an immense and spreading universe. His logic just about stretched to being god of an aggressive little country, where his prophets could blame inevitable defeats on moral backsliding and predict victories ahead.
    By the time it was transported to the New World, that religion had become a grotesquery.
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2020
  22. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    Heh. Not advocating for God so much as fighting what I see as one of the weaker atheist arguments.

    Sorry, which construct do you mean by "this"?

    I'm not sure where this comes from.
  23. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    James R is placing the Judeo-Christian god of biblical fame in the framework of a modern family.
    The analogy breaks down instantly.
    Jehovah gave commandments directly to an adult, a tribal leader who had the authority to enforce it. There was never any question of God guiding the people to good behaviour, or anywhere except fertile land whose current owners had inadequate defenses.
    The familiar Our Father/Big Omni construct has only the most tenuous relationship to the god of the OT and has, meanwhile, been so distorted by western religions as to be quite irrational.
    It was only Jesus who claimed the god as his direct progenitor. This was a weird, wrong, foreign concept to the Jews of his time, but perfectly natural to Romans and Greeks, whose gods regularly mated with humans...
    but didn't hand down rule-books.
    From American culture. Where the atheists you're most likely to encounter are getting the image they reject.

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