Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Mills is his fathers son

The Portable Atheist next has a chapter by John Stuart Mills. Hitchens comments on Mills' three essays on religion that got published after he died, but choose not to include one or all of those articles in this book but instead has included chapter 2 of his autobiography. I find this choice interesting as it has the following:
Finding, therefore, no halting place in Deism, he [Mills' father] remained in a state of perplexity, until, doubtless after many struggles, he yielded to the conviction, that, concerning the origin of things nothing whatever can be known. This is the only correct statement of his opinion; for dogmatic atheism he looked upon as absurd; as most of those, whom the world has considered Atheists, have always done. (page 58)
That's not really a "case for a splendidly godless universe" by an "influential voice" which the back of this book has printed on its.

Most of this chapter is Mills reflecting on his father and his teaching and methods in bringing him up, and Mills was brought up to be a genius:
By the age of fourteen he had read most of the Greek and Latin classics, had made a wide survey of history, had done extensive work in logic and mathematics, and had mastered the basics of economic theory. (here)

He learned Greek at three, Latin a little later; by the age of 12, he was a competent logician and by 16 a well-trained economist. At 20 he suffered a nervous breakdown* that persuaded him that more was needed in life than devotion to the public good and an analytically sharp intellect. (here)
Although his father was once a Presbyterian minister, he did not bring Mills up as a believer, instead here are some views Mills remembers of his father:

He found it impossible to believe that a world so full of evil was the work of an Author combining infinite power with perfect goodness and righteousness. (page 58)

...his aversion to religion, in the sense usually attached to the term, was of the same kind with that of Lucretius: he regarded it with the feelings due not to a mere mental delusion, but to a great moral evil. He looked upon it as the greatest enemy of morality: first, by setting up factitious excellencies, — belief in creeds, devotional feelings, and ceremonies, not connected with the good of human kind, — and causing these to be accepted as substitutes for genuine virtues: but above all, by radically vitiating the standard of morals; making it consist in doing the will of a being, on whom it lavishes indeed all the phrases of adulation, but whom in sober truth it depicts as eminently hateful. (page 58)

I have a hundred times heard him say, that all ages and nations have represented their gods as wicked, in a constantly increasing progression, that mankind have gone on adding trait after trait till they reached the most perfect conception of wickedness which the human mind can devise, and have called this God, and prostrated themselves before it. (page 58)

Mills' father clearly didn't like the idea of God or the structures religion imposes on the people in it. I think this high lights the importance of believing the correct things and then being genuine about it. I wonder how many atheists are a result of them being disillusioned by the church...

It is obvious that Mills' upbringing by his father was highly influential on him:

It would have been wholly inconsistent with my father's ideas of duty, to allow me to acquire impressions contrary to his convictions and feelings respecting religion: and he impressed upon me from the first, that the manner in which the world came into existence was a subject on which nothing was known: that the question, "Who made me?" cannot be answered (page 59)

I think this highlights the responsibly and the impact that parents have on their children. Sure some children turn from their parents beliefs (either to or from Jesus or religion), but I still see it as a parents duty to love and teach their child what they believe. I wonder if the new Atheists would say that Mills' father abused John because he indoctrinated his child (see the end of this article)...

At the moment John Piper is writing a book on marriage where he says "children will have years of exposure to what the universe is like before they know there is a universe." It is important for a parent to model large concepts to their child, so when they grow up they can understand them. Piper goes on to say: "Will the child be able to recognize God for who he really is in his authority and love and justice because mom and dad have together shown the child what God is like." I don't think Mills could.

You can read chapter 2 of Mills' autobiography here.

* In chapter 5 of John's autobiography he talks more about his breakdown, he seemed to suggest the weight of what his father had put on him was too much and didn't want to burden his dad with this problem:

My education, which was wholly his work, had been conducted without any regard to the possibility of its ending in this result; and I saw no use in giving him the pain of thinking that his plans had failed, when the failure was probably irremediable, and, at all events, beyond the power of his remedies.


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