In a very real way you stand between your wife and your daughter. She is very vulnerable to indoctrination from any source, let alone her own mother. That doesn't mean you should attempt to indoctrinate her first; that's just as bad. It simply means that you need to be the voice of skepticism in any conversations about Ba'hai, or any other belief. It sounds like nobody else will be.
Of course you can't be there every moment. However if your wife privately tells your daughter things about the faith that would not convince you, firstly she's picking the easier target and secondly she knows on some level that her reasons are not sound, and is using them to preach anyway. Both are dishonest, and she needs to realise that. Her first act as an evangelist should be to convert you, not your daughter.
Pay attention to your daughter, that's the main thing. If you think she's not thinking about something the right way, it's your job to put her straight. That's just one of the things you do generally as a father; this is no different.
Though you have every reason to be concerned, don't worry too much. What probably started me on the road to doubt was the simple fact that my father, someone I respected and looked up to, did not buy into religious belief like everyone else (it seemed). He only bothered to tell me he was an atheist about once. Your mere presence as an unbeliever may well influence your daughter greatly.
Short answer: those parts of theology that are not irrelevant are ineffective.
The bulk of theology is concerned not with the existence of gods, but with the nature of particular gods, usually the God of Abraham. (That's one way to denote the deity worshipped by Jews, Christians and Muslims.) It works on the accepted premise of His existence most of the time, so that it can attempt to discern His wishes and therefore inform human behaviour.
If the existence of the god is the point in question, the premise is unsettled and any conclusions from this kind of inquiry are moot. Thus the vast majority of theology is useless to atheists and agnostics, as long as they maintain those positions.
The remaining theology which does attempt to establish the existence of the relevant god(s) is in a category known as philosophy of religion. This is the stuff which might be useful in a discussion between a believer and a non-believer. That's why every major argument this field has ever produced has already been thrown at atheists in the course of discussions and debates over the last few years.
Atheists cannot ignore philosophy of religion, because it's shoved in our faces at every opportunity. It's the source of such brain-twisters as the transcendental argument, the appeals to fear like Pascal's Wager and the it-must-have-happened interpretations of Resurrection accounts. This is theology's moment to shine, and all the big guns have come out.
So how's it doing? Not great. I'm happy to assert without posting statistics that atheism is increasingly common, especially among young people. Attendance at religious services is falling, and those churches which are growing are more often than not cannibalising the congregations of other churches. The big guns of atheism, Dawkins, Dennett et al, are not given a moment's pause by the apologetic hurled at them, and they can say exactly why in each case.
There are many religious folks who think, "If only they would read this particular book about God, they'd change their minds." If they haven't read the book, some eager evangelist has probably paraphrased it for them, and had a reply shot back.
The apparent reality is that theology-based apologetics have been completely exhausted, and have not found their target. The reassuring idea that atheists are only atheists because of their own ignorance disintegrates when you consider the constant, all-guns-blazing proselytism forcibly educating them from all sides.
If theology has something new to say that might actually affect this ongoing debate, it's not just sitting in the open and being ignored. It needs to be unearthed and brought to bear. Now.
I usually avoid appeals to emotion because when used as arguments they're a type of logical fallacy; they have no bearing on the facts. If there's a Heaven, for example, my disbelief and incredulity cannot destroy it. If there isn't, though, all the belief and desire in the world won't create it.
That said, I'll do what I can.
If there's no afterlife, the most important thing to remember is that your friend is not suffering. Not only is he no longer in any pain, he does not feel deprived of anything - sight, touch, stimulation, emotion, companionship. It's tempting to think of death without an afterlife as a bleak, desolate place, but it doesn't matter because there's no one there.
The combination of body and mind that literally comprised your friend is gone, and can never be recovered or reconstituted. In a great many other ways, however, your friend is far from gone. He left an enormous legacy which will last until the end of time (if any). People who experience this legacy will regularly think of it as him. They will say he "lives on" through it.
First and most obvious are memories of him, including yours. You won't always remember everything about him, but there are plenty of things you will remember for the rest of your life. His death negates none of this. Memories of him will be written down and become stories, and be passed along even after those who remember him have also died. Even if nobody ever reads the stories, they will always be around somewhere, ready to bring him back once more.
Second is the body of works he wrought in life, the legacy he actually worked to create. If he had children, almost the entirety of his genetic code survives in them, together with a great store of memories and stories. His career has had a permanent effect on the economy and the business world, whether large or small. If he was creative, his art or craftsmanship can be preserved. If you know what he wanted to be remembered for, by emphasising these things you can actually positively influence future concepts of who he was.
Finally there are the effects he had without even meaning to, or knowing: the air that was displaced by his body, the nutrients and water that passed through him, the electronic signals spreading into space from the calls he made on his cell phone...there's an endless list. It may be that nobody ever traces a future occurrence (a breeze, a flower, a burst of static in a far-off space probe) back to the existence of your friend, but you can be certain that the universe has been indelibly marked by his brief presence, and will bear those marks forever. In this way, he not only lives on; he's immortal. Someday we will be too. If fact, we already are.
I'm very sorry for your loss, Celia. Despite all I've said, it is a loss. You'll never again have his company the way you're used to having it. As you mourn him, however, you may rejoice in what remains of him, which extends forever beyond his coffin. Your friend was who he was, and did what he did, and nobody can ever take that away.
The first thing I notice is that you haven't personally experienced any of this. Your friend hasn't demonstrated anything with a physical, observable effect for you. You're working entirely on the basis of his accounts of his own doings.
The first thing I would do is ask your friend and/or his mother why they don't go public with their "powers" and make a fortune as a new family of Uri Gellers. They will have very good reasons to give you, no doubt, but their reaction in the first split-second will be very informative if you look closely. The idea of being scrutinised by a professional skeptic like James Randi can be an unpleasant one if there's any doubt in one's mind whatsoever.
You've brought up a great many paranormal phenomena being claimed by the same fellow. Even if you don't consider the possibility that your friend is lying, there are ways in which he can have given himself a mistaken impression of each one.
Poorly-defined "spirits", in particular, can be credited for a wide range of things.
- A sudden, brief wave of nausea can come to some people at any time for a variety of medical reasons. It can feel like a ghost has flown straight through them.
- Like me, some people have one-second episodes where they shudder all over, even though they're not cold. It's referred to as "someone walking over your grave".
- We hear disembodied voices all the time, in our thoughts and in our dreams. All it takes is serious consideration that they might not all be coming from you, even if they really are, to create the idea of a second participant in your inner monologue.
- During an episode of sleep paralysis, which I've also experienced, hallucinations of all kinds can happen to perfectly sane people. The brain just panics.
The predictions of your friend's mother are made more significant by confirmation bias. If she has a feeling that your friend may be ill, but then calls and finds out he's fine, she probably thinks nothing of it. If she calls and she's right, it's enough of a coincidence to have an emotional impact, and therefore be remembered. After a while, she would mostly remember only the times she was right, and have a skewed impression of her rate of accuracy.
The spoon-bending thing is the hardest one to explain away without considering outright fraud, but it's still possible. Put yourself in the place of your friend. You believe, fervently, that you have psychic powers of some sort. You decide to put them to the test by attempting the classic achievement, so you get a spoon out of the kitchen drawer.
You hold both ends of the spoon, very lightly, to detect any movement caused by your mind. You don't know how it's actually done, so you experiment. You look at the spoon, and imagine it bending. Nothing happens. You silently order the spoon to bend, and nothing happens. You decide to go all out, and concentrate on the spoon so hard your face scrunches up, and your body tenses. Still nothing, so you go even harder. Finally you're so intent on the spoon itself, and your muscles are so rigid, that you don't even feel the slight pressure your hands are now exerting on the ends of the spoon. It seems to bend all by itself, and your red face and headache tells you it is thanks to your mind. If anyone ever saw you do it they would instantly break the spell, but if you don't ever demonstrate it in public you might never know.
Finally, your friend's stories of telekinesis are a bit vague. You'd have to ask him and preferably also his friend exactly what happened for us to discuss it usefully.
Look at it this way. If your friend is right and there are spirits and psychics, that's important. If he's wrong and there aren't any, that's important too, especially to your friend. What if he receives what he thinks is a message from a spirit which accuses an innocent acquaintance of his of stealing from him, and he wrongfully confronts that person, therefore needlessly making an enemy?
That's why it's beneficial to him as well as you to find out whether there's any truth to all this. This is the spirit in which you might approach him, if you decide you want him to give you a demonstration.
He might well accuse you of doubting his honesty or his sanity, but - and this is important to the religious debate - just because someone isn't lying or mad doesn't mean they're RIGHT. There are countless ways in which they could be honestly mistaken, and if they are they need to know about it.
Shortest possible answer: "Says you."
It was Christians, among others, who declared that God is beyond understanding, after failing to reconcile His destructive actions in the Bible (and other catastrophes since) with His supposed existence as an omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent and entirely benevolent being with an interest in humans. It's one of the many approaches to theodicy, and probably the most dismissive and least satisfying.
Remember that this is the being from whom fundamentalist Christians attempt to take their entire moral code, word for word. Yet they admit that nobody, let alone them, understands why God supposedly commits such atrocities or allows them to happen. If they can't understand this side of Him, they really have no understanding of God's own moral code at all, and they're flying blind.
One reply would be that God's moral code applies only to God and not to humans. Some of God's supposed instructions to humankind are pretty clear and just about sensible (like the Ten Commandments), but other times he instructs armies to wipe out entire races, so it's not as if His unexplained lapses in benevolence never affect us.
In short, as long as Christians declare that we cannot understand the God of the Bible, using Him as the ultimate arbiter of morality (or anything else) is a shot in the dark.
I always prefer to communicate through the site, where others might enjoy the discussion.
Like me, you're an agnostic atheist. Admitting you don't know and could be wrong makes you agnostic. Regardless, your lack of belief in gods or the equivalent makes you an atheist.
Believing our future and our choices are set is called determinism. I don't believe in free will either (sure, we can do what we want to, but we can't want what we want to) but I stop short of being a determinist like you.
That's because there appears to be a random element in the universe. It's what quantum mechanics were formulated to explain. It rarely affects any event we might actually observe, but it seems that on an atomic level the position and velocity of any particle is often not even determined, let alone predetermined. There's no way to control this phenomenon so it's no friendlier to free will than determinism is, but it does suggest that the future path of the universe is only secure on the surface, and only most of the time.
Don't feel you have to categorise yourself at all if you don't want to, but purely by definitions, you're an agnostic atheist and a determinist. I'm with you on two out of three.
To my knowledge, none of Hitchens' many debates have been released commercially. Nevertheless they are widely available online, principally on YouTube. There are ways to make independent video files out of these clips, and burn them to DVD or at least Video-CD format. See Google for converter apps.
Any other suggestions are welcome.