A year or so after I became an atheist, I started taking a casual interest in philosophy, especially meta-ethics. Over this time, it has often struck me how much wider the scope of philosophy is, compared to theology. Philosophy asks obscenely general questions. How do I know anything? Is there a right way to approach morality? What do “good” and “bad” actually mean?
I wonder, then, if religious indoctrination works so well because it gives a false sense of permissiveness: it allows its subjects to ask quite a wide range of probing questions, as long as they don’t verge on broader, meta-religious issues.
Throughout my (rather liberal) Christian experience, I encountered little resistance to my curiosity about religious issues, yet this curiosity somehow never extended to the really big, general questions like those of philosophy. I never once wondered what “good” and “bad” really meant. I never even questioned the existence of God.
Instead, my religious conditioning led me (even encouraged me) to ask only the narrower questions: What does God want me to do? What did Jesus mean when he said this? I was completely unaware, at the time, that there even existed more general questions as these: I had been taught that God and his teachings encompassed everything. This false sense of scope eclipsed a much broader arena of thought.
For this reason, I suspect that if I had been exposed to philosophy at a younger age, I would have shone the light of critical thought on my religious beliefs much earlier. Perhaps this ought to be a goal of those who would seek to broaden the horizons of the indoctrinated.