Thoughts on Religion

What I have to say next will probably not go over well with some, and I apologize to those who view what follows as arrogant or disrespectful. Sometimes there are things needing to be said that can’t be candy-coated by being nice.

There are some of my older posts about my views on religion and belief that I no longer agree with, some in which I’m either a little too inflammatory or which could very well be seen as too conciliatory, to some personal tastes and techniques of approach.

This applies to both articles and comment responses, and in both cases, I’ve been guilty of using a single approach and applying it globally.

Big mistake.

People are different. There’s no two ways about it, and though I generally tend to vary my approach nowadays, I’ve made the mistake on occasion of being either unfair to the point of antagonism, or too fair to the point of excessive and ineffective politeness.

My views have evolved over the nearly two years this blog has existed, and some of them are not very pretty.

No matter my tone, due to the nature of the psychology of belief, I have been and will be seen by some as somewhat dickish, antagonistic, arrogant, ignorant, ideologically bigoted, politically incorrect, closed-minded, pseudo-skeptical, pseudo-intellectual, or any number of other things, by the simple fact that I disagree with and have the gall to criticize someone’s belief.

To a few I’ve met, tone is irrelevant and attempts at civility are useless once I reveal my own views. They have often immediately shifted into a defensive mode and what would have been constructive dialogue becomes potentially confrontational, forcing me to break off the discussion prematurely.

I hate quarrels.

Currently, I’m not a big fan of organized religion since I don’t find any blameless for a lot of the worlds ills and often largely responsible for the spread of irrational claims.

Whatever good is done in the name of religion, I think it can be done better without the crutch of a belief system that sometimes requires as part of its doctrine unquestioning and often irrational faith.

Mind you, I don’t find fault with people for believing, and I’m not out to forcibly ‘make people not believe’ or anything similar. What they believe of their own free choice and full knowledge is their own business.

Up to a point.

Conversion by force, whether that of arms or of law and conviction by deceit fall more to advocates of and apologists for dogmatic religions and political pundits than anyone else.

Some claims though, are demonstrably false and dangerous when uncritically accepted, and these need to be roundly exposed and critiqued for the nonsense they are.

If someone could provide me with a really good reason, say, convincing evidence or a sound, valid argument (And I’m sorry, Pascal’s Wager won’t cut it.), then I might have become a theist again at some point (However close to zero the probability for that may be), though it’s likely that my theism would be philosophical rather than adherence to a particular tradition.

So far, though, no such reasons have ever made themselves known. I’ve looked for them, and I strongly suspect that no such reasons exist. I remain unconvinced, as I don’t have any real justification to accept anyone’s god as true, or any more true than the millions of gods human beings have invented and worshiped over tens of thousands of years.

I think that the god question is one that cannot be answered definitively, yea or nay, even asked meaningfully, by any sort of empirical or rational means, despite seemingly clever theological arguments and claims of evidence put forth by believers over the centuries.

Unfortunately for that, the atheists are the ones with all the really compelling arguments, and the evidence, as such, is nowhere to be seen.

At best, reason serves only to justify belief where it already exists. Faith itself would require an emotional leap I’ve not made and which I may never make.

I think that it is not just belief, but the extremes of belief, that’s the issue at hand. Almost nobody, save the most brutally honest of us or those with low self-esteem views themselves as extremists. I find those of extreme views frustrating, and hence annoying, regardless of the nature of their views because in my experience, they’re just so damned difficult to reason with.

You can’t argue even politely with some people, because their automatic reaction is to act as if you were personally attacking them in the most scathing way imaginable. The lengths people will go to to protect their beliefs from criticism vary in almost direct proportion to the extremity of the belief held. This is especially true with those ideas and claims that make the least sense.

After all, which ideas need the most to be protected from ridicule but the ridiculous?

When I discuss things with people, particularly on the subject of extraordinary claims, I do so to challenge my own beliefs and assumptions. After all, what better way to do so than by listening to and examining the arguments of those whose views differ from mine. Those are the seeds of much pondering and good blog posts.

I would much rather, however, that someone’s most confidently held beliefs be much more than those which merely agree with their personal prejudices and just feel good whether they’re really true or not.

But what can I say? People are people. The best I can do is to inform them.

Most people are not particularly rational beings, despite their capacity for it, which is one of the reasons that logical fallacies combined with outright falsehoods can be so persuasive in an argument. Just watch a video recording of an evolution – creationism debate, and note the audience’s assessment of the ‘winner’ after it’s over to get some idea of just how persuasive that can be.

It is often put forth by believers that “None are so blind as he who will not see,” and this has a corollary from my own experience, “None are so dazzled as he who sees that which is probably not there.”

No one should ever force or legislate belief, or a lack of it (We know how well that went over in the former Soviet Union.). And I won’t ever advocate suppression of others’ rights, or censorship of unorthodox ideas. I feel that those things one accepts as true should be those which are best arrived at through reason and a real understanding of all the relevant facts.

If those who would elicit the belief of others through force or deception put forth fallacious arguments and baseless assertions (which they must do by definition), then rationalists have the obligation to put out better, sounder and more compelling arguments in ways that neither insult people nor go over their heads.

I think that this can be done through effective education and communication to the public, though we should never convince ourselves that we must “stop the madness,” a quixotic, and I think as individuals, impossible task. It’s also a good way to experience burnout. As long as humans remain humans, irrationality will always be with us.

What matters, I think, is fitting our approach to the situation and to the person spoken to and in being rigorously honest with both ourselves and the one spoken to.

Can we afford to do anything less?

(Final Update: 1:40 am, 2010/09/07, Finished At Last!)