Saturday, January 28, 2006

A Note to Individuals Who Thinks that Their Religion is OK

I got this from Soham. I don't know where he got this from. I thought it should be publiehsed, before I loose it.

A Note to Individuals Who Thinks that Their Religion is OK

You are wrong.

Now, I know what you're thinking -- everyone does it, a billion Chinese can’t be wrong, it makes us be humble and care about our neighbor and sure, there are people out there doing shitty things in the name of their religions, but their religions are different from yours, and, it's worth mentioning, worse than yours.

The problem, the one that you may not see, is not what your religion says, in particular -- although most likely, you believe in some pretty horrible things, like stoning adulterers or killing the children of your enemies or hating homosexuals or Jews or not touching menstruating women or having as many babies as possible. And if you don't it's probably only because you've decided which parts of God's word are good enough for you, and which parts aren't to be taken seriously, since they bother you personally, and that they can therefore be considered to have been mistakes on His part.

The problem is not what your religion tells you to believe, but how it tells you to believe -- that is, it tells you that you can -- no – must believe in the absence of the type of evidence that you're used to demanding out of life. In fact, your salvation depends on believing without evidence -- skepticism will actually damn you to hell for all eternity.

You: "Well, it looks like a dog and it barks."
Your Religion: "It's a cat."
You: "Are you sure? I think it's a dog."
Your Religion: "Do you want to burn for all eternity, smarty-pants?"
You: "Oh, right. It's a cat."
Now, let's not get into the fact that this is really, really
Undignified the fact that, if humans are different from, say, squid in any meaningful way (thinking-wise) it's in our capacity to think abstractly enough to perform complicated logical comparison and deductions. But you're going to chuck out what makes you human. That's fine. Whatever.

And let's not get into the fact that all the crappy stuff religion tells you is pretty crappy, or that it's all internally contradictory, or that most people aren't very meek or poor or any of those things, in spite of what their particular Book says.

The point is that you believe it's a cat now. So what? Well, the 'so what' isn't that you're going to look like an idiot trying to make a golden retriever shit in a box, although you are. The 'so what' is that once you decide that it's OK to believe in the absence of evidence (or in the face of contradictory evidence) you've endorsed two related points of view:
No one in society has any responsibility to anyone else with regards to thinking things through. I believe my car's brakes don't need to be checked, even though I don't know for sure. Here, borrow the keys, you'll probably live. In one grand gesture, you've gotten on board with the idea that there is no such thing as negligence. As long as I believe a thing, even if a cursory look at the facts might convince a reasonable person of the opposite, well, hey, that's my right. It's ethical and reasonable. There's no need to look, no need to think. It's 10 pm, do you know where your children are? Nah, but I believe they're upstairs, and I don't have any responsibility as a parent to check.

No belief can be judged against any other. You believe that God tells you to love, I believe He tells me to fly a hot air balloon around the world. You'd like to tell me that I'm wrong, but you can't, because argument is about verifiable facts, or chains of facts, deduced logically from one another or derived directly from experience. By getting on board with faith, you've rejected argument as a meaningful activity, and rejected thinking critically altogether. You can no longer critically consider or compare ideas, since you believe that it's OK to have faith in spite of critical evidence. Got an argument against genital mutilation? Who cares -- you've already come out on the side of belief in the face of contradictory evidence. I agree. Where's my knife? Everything's OK with you, once you decide that you don't need to believe your eyes or your brain.

So there it is. I don't care if God tells you to suffer the little children, or feed the poor. If that's the only reason you've got for doing those things, you're a shitty person, and your beliefs do more harm than good. Your existence and your attitude demean you, and, much worse, help weaken two of the most important quantities in any society: our ability to trust that other people are telling us the truth and being responsible in their statements and thoughts, and our capacity as a society to look for answers using our brains and our capacities to reason from evidence. Those are all we've got, and once they're gone, society isn't doing anyone any good, since you can't trust its members to be responsible, and you can't rely on reason to dictate your course of actions.

And you, by tolerating religion, have taken a big fat dump on both of these commodities.

That said, every religion is fundamentalism.

It's worth pointing out at this point that a lot of what you hear about how the problem is 'fundamentalism' is bullshit. When people say this, they seem to be talking about something like XXXXTreeeeeme religion, that says completely crazy things.

The problem, as I've mentioned above, is that once you accept religion, in the sense that you've decided to tolerate (or even embrace) beliefs in the absence of justifying evidence, you've no longer got any rational or ethical basis for judging one doctrine against another. You've decided to take part in an occasionally comforting dance in which reason and evidence can't be used to judge ideas, and once you've done that, you've got no ground on which to judge anything to be 'fundamentalism', and even if you did, you'd have no grounds to judge that it was a bad idea, and even if you could say that it was a bad idea, you'd have no grounds on which to say that it can't be tolerated, since you've already decided that a rational case against an idea should not prevent you from believing it.

Here's how the discussion goes:

Me: "My book says that women who learn to read should be stoned to death."

You: "That's barbaric! It's bad for women, who have natural rights guaranteed by my constitution! It's unfair! It's cruel! Think about it!"

Me: "So what? You believe that Moses talked to an invisible man in space through a burning bush, and you're telling me that I can't believe what
I want because it doesn't make sense? Who are you to tell me I'm nuts?
Go to hell, infidel."

The only thing fundamentalist about fundamentalism is that what these people (whoever you decide is a fundamentalist) believe requires that they ignore the evidence of their senses and suspend their ability to reason -- it's not double-think, it's willful ignorance. And if you're a religious person, any religion at all that requires faith in the absence of evidence, you do this too. You have everything that's important in common with every other religious person in the world -- you believe what you want in spite of evidence for or against your case.

You are a fundamentalist.

To sum up.

To paraphrase someone who thinks about these things for a living, your immediate reaction to the assertion that your faith is unethical is something along the lines of, "No it's not. Some people's are, because they make you mean, but mine's about being nice." Your religion doesn't tell these maniacs what to believe. In the end, however, that doesn't matter, because your religion, like all others, does tell maniacs how to believe. It tells them -- you tell them, every time you do it, every time you tolerate it -- that it's OK to ignore evidence, it's OK not to exercise your capacity for logical deduction.

So the next time someone blows up a building, or shoots an abortion doctor, or prevents young girls from learning to read, in the name of
God, I hope that you won't get too self-righteous about it. In fact, you and they are peas in a pod. You enable this person to do what they do.
You promote in society a tolerance and understanding for this behavior.
Your failure is their failure. Your willing ignorance is their excuse.
Your desecration of society's respect for the truth, for our responsibility to be intellectually diligent, for judging what might be true against what we can discern with our senses to be true, your faith is the exact same thing that makes what they do OK. Your guilty pleasure, your insistence on ignoring what your senses and your intellect tell you removes you and helps remove society from any position in which it is sensible to pass moral judgment on anyone else for believing in the absence of evidence, and then acting on these beliefs, however loony, because you do precisely the same thing they do.

Your religion is everyone's religion, because you've rejected the validity of rationally judging ideas on the basis of our senses and minds. You do it. You OK it. You bring it on. Thanks a lot.