Hate the Tenets, Not the Teneteers

Folks frequently make the following distinction: Respect the religion, but condemn the “bad” things people do for it.

Recently I have spoken out against religion and its tenets of faith for various reasons, among them are terrorism, denying medical care to children, racism (as found in the Christian Identity movement), and missionary work (which, among other things, too-often separates members of the same family into believers and others).

I also sometimes harp on religious beliefs that I see as highly acidic to a cohesive society. I am thinking here, for example, about the doctrine of hell — which I find troubling whether it causes division of not. Let’s say my Christian neighbor wont let his kid play with mine because “that atheist family is going to hell!” Or let’s say that Christian family treats me kindly and neighborly all the while thinking that I, my wife, my child will, eventually, be roasting eternally in torment… I mean, which one is more disturbing?

Then there are the many admonishments in both the Koran and the Bible concerning non-believers — casting them out as evil, unsaved, lost, and damnable…

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I find this whole respect thing to be both unwarranted and a little bit dangerous. A recent article by Johann Hari in The Independent exposes how “the forces of respect” are lining up to erode freedom and to institutionalize prejudice, chauvinism, and certain kinds of violence. The article centers on efforts by some Muslim nations to alter The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which 60 years ago declared that “a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief is the highest aspiration of the common people.” They claim it is simply not “respectful” to religion. 

And because the UN has bowed to this religious cry of disrespect, the objections have spread. Hari writes:

The Pakistani delegate recently demanded that his job description be changed so he can seek out and condemn “abuses of free expression” including “defamation of religions and prophets”. The council agreed – so the job has been turned on its head. Instead of condemning the people who wanted to murder Salman Rushdie, they will be condemning Salman Rushdie himself.

Anything which can be deemed “religious” is no longer allowed to be a subject of discussion at the UN – and almost everything is deemed religious. Roy Brown of the International Humanist and Ethical Union has tried to raise topics like the stoning of women accused of adultery or child marriage. The Egyptian delegate stood up to announce discussion of shariah “will not happen” and “Islam will not be crucified in this council” -– and Brown was ordered to be silent.

Hari also points out that a quick perusal of last week’s news can give us plenty of good reasons not only to disrespect religious beliefs, but to actively oppose them:

In Nigeria, divorced women are routinely thrown out of their homes and left destitute, unable to see their children, so a large group of them wanted to stage a protest – but the Shariah police declared it was “un-Islamic” and the marchers would be beaten and whipped. In Saudi Arabia, the country’s most senior government-approved cleric said it was perfectly acceptable for old men to marry 10-year-old girls, and those who disagree should be silenced. In Egypt, a 27-year-old Muslim blogger Abdel Rahman was seized, jailed and tortured for arguing for a reformed Islam that does not enforce shariah. 

So yeah, I’m pretty much all for not respecting religious beliefs. As many others have claimed, no one has a right not to be offended — I needn’t stop talking because you don’t like what you hear. I will continue to challenge. Here is a nice closing quote from Hari’s article:

All people deserve respect, but not all ideas do. I don’t respect the idea that a man was born of a virgin, walked on water and rose from the dead. I don’t respect the idea that we should follow a “Prophet” who at the age of 53 had sex with a nine-year old girl, and ordered the murder of whole villages of Jews because they wouldn’t follow him…  I don’t respect the idea that we may have lived before as goats, and could live again as woodlice. This is not because of “prejudice” or “ignorance”, but because there is no evidence for these claims. They belong to the childhood of our species, and will in time look as preposterous as believing in Zeus or Thor or Baal. 

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If Faith in God to Heal your Child Is not Faith – What Is It?

On a couple of my previous posts, particularly this one, How Religion Does Not Save (about the children of “faith-healing” parents), and this one, “Because I Love Her” Is a Rational and Logical Response, the discussion seems to return to “what really qualifies as faith.”

I defined faith as belief in something without or in spite of evidence.

Once when I was  in conversation with a Catholic missionary discussing this topic, he said his faith coincided with reason and that his religious worldview was more rational than mine as a result. He said that he loved learning about new scientific discoveries because they increased his faith. I asked him a simple question. “Is there any sort of discovery that would result in a decrease of faith?” He looked at me puzzlingly for a moment. Then he replied, “No!” I said, “So your faith only slides one way, whether discoveries are made, not made, and regardless of the results of the discovery — the faith-slider simply goes toward increase?” He agreed. So my question is… is this faith? And if it is, doesn’t this deny any room or role for reason?

Now I am an advocate for recognizing emotion as a source of our knowledge and as a large part of our decision-making faculty (that was the subject of my last post). I think that “evidence” comes in a wide array of flavors (such as intuition or instinct). But again, simply recognizing that we may intuit an aspect of “truth” and then allow that intuition to influence our logic, I do not think that is faith… I call that normal human decision-making. What do you call it?

Having “Faith” In Science

The topic of “faith” in regards to (particularly atheists’) “devotion” to the scientific method (and the institution of science generally) seems to be recurring at more regular intervals of late…

It was raised on several occasions in last weeks’ HIV/AIDS posts here and here, and this article at Wired (Artist Builds Temple of Science) makes the “science as religion” accusation tangible.

So why does this way of viewing science persist? In my opinion it stems primarily from peoples’ lack of awareness as to how science is “done.” It is not obvious to people that a free-market of ideas is going on in science — for grant money, for status, for fame — just as in any other field, scientists are working to be the “first,” they often treat other scientists as foes and are competitive even among those with whom they are in agreement… there is no monolithic “science”… it is a profession whose participants have many distinct personalities, ethics, motivations, desires, etc…

But from the perspective of regular people (non-experts, non-professionals) it is difficult to know where to put one’s trust — especially with all the competition and non-aligning motivations that crowd science. Meanwhile the language and ideas of the professionals have become so specialized (and will only become moreso over time) that even those who wish to untangle the “truth” can become hopelessly lost without the guide of a PhD. In other words, the folks who believe science may know no more about a given topic than folks who believe their religion, and furthermore, sometimes “science” just gets things wrong. Continue reading

What Is Your Purpose?

Over the weekend I had a fascinating email exchange that I wanted to share and ask others’ opinions on. It started with this posting in the comments section of Sunday Funny #6:

i know this is slightly off subject, but i have a question. what do you live for? what is your purpose? i find that i need some purpose, without that i fear there is no reason for me to continue living… Continue reading

A F-Aitheistic View?

I plan to post a more comprenshive roll-up of my Religious Labels survey’s “first week” (if you haven’t taken it yet — please do), but I wanted to open up discussion on what I am finding to be some rather surprising results.

A couple weeks ago I wrote a post entitled “Avampirism” in which I chided religious folks for calling atheism a “faith.”  In that post I pointed out that only those who made faith-based statements could be accused of having a faith, and I used the example of someone claiming with absolute certainty that God does not exist as an example of an atheistic faith-based view. I even cited a quote by Richard Dawkins, the much heralded and ridiculed “New Atheist,” who said, “Reason alone could not propel one to total conviction that anything definitely does not exist.”

But alas, the preliminary results of my survey indicate that self-identified “Atheists” may be somewhat less attached to reason than I would have thought. Now the sample size is small, 112 Atheists, but of them just over 30% indicate there is a 0% chance of the existence of God. I am eager for more results to come in, but if this statistic holds firm, I will have to revise my position on the significance of a F-Aitheistic view.

“Because I Love Her” Is a Rational, Reasonable, and Logical Response

In his book The End of Faith Sam Harris points out, “People of faith naturally recognize the primacy of reason and resort to reasoning whenever they possibly can. Faith is simply the license they give themselves to keep believing when reasons fail” (232). To believe something true without evidence or in spite of evidence is called faith — and many consider it a great virtue. A semantic distinction becomes necessary here; I am not talking about faith as trust — as in, “I have faith my wife will show up on time.” This type of faith is likely based on experience, e.g. the many times my wife has been on-time. Having faith as the result of weighing and thinking through available evidence is simply how one operates in a reason-based worldview. Logic, emotion, and even subtle “subconscious” cues may add to and aid our evaluations and calculations, but this kind of faith requires no leaping or revelation. This kind of faith does not require faith. Continue reading