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Respecting belief: why should you? And why shouldn’t you?

21 May 2014, 07:42
I read the comments on my dear, dear friend Merry Martin’s article entitled “Atheitis – Go well, old friend” with some interest and could only shake my head, not knowing if I should laugh or cry – or bang my head against the wall.

Without belabouring things, let me relate to you the gist of the Christian position with regards to the article, at least the way I saw it: “Atheitis was a horrible person who was constantly spewing venom and hatred of us and our religion, and as such, he got what he deserved when News24 banned him. Such venom and vitriol should not be allowed here. We’re glad he’s gone!”

Am I more or less in the ballpark? Please do correct me if I’m wrong.

To substantiate their position, the christians point to various posts Atheitis made in which he challenged christians to factually support their claims, and then, when such evidence was not forthcoming, proceeded to tell them their positions are weak.

I happen to agree with that. The christian position when compared to atheism is a weak one. I’ll expand that to include all religion.

Now before Dumbwin and the like again accuse me of being a biased atheist, let me once again state that I’m not in fact an atheist. Nor am I christian. My spiritual views are closer related to pantheism. I’m a neo-pagan, and what is known within the pagan community as a solitary practitioner. I don’t belong to any particular group. My spiritual convictions are particular to me.

Now, earlier I said that the religious position is weak when compared to atheism. Do I include my own religion in that view? Of course I do. Faith is not a very strong position in the face of evidence. That is a fact. Those of us who do hold religious convictions must face up to this. Their position is stronger than ours. Why do I say that?

What is atheism? Atheism is the philosophical position that there is no god. What is this position based on? On the lack of evidence for any kind of deity. Is this an intellectually defensible position?

In a word, yes.

There is no evidence for god. There’s no scientific evidence for your god, or my gods, or Allah, or Krishna or indeed any kind of spiritual entity. Based on that lack of evidence, a lack of belief in god can be intellectually justified. There’s no point in claiming otherwise.

Now let’s look at faith. On what do you base your belief in god? I’d really like some christian input here. It’s been about eight years since last I read the bible and saw the inside of a church, so I may be a bit shaky on christian motivations, and I don’t want to put words in your mouths. On what do you base your belief in god? How do you justify it to yourself. When someone asks “why do you believe in god?”, what is your answer? Is it because the bible says so Because your parents say so? Because god came to you in a dream and spoke to you? Why? Why do you believe?

Once you answer that question, ask yourself this: is my answer intellectually defensible? If I went and had to testify in court, would my answer be acceptable beyond a reasonable doubt? Can my position be defended to such an extent that a judge would rule that yes, my position is defensible?

“God spoke to me in my heart,” is not intellectually defensible. There’s no way to prove that beyond doubt to another person. “The bible says so” is not an intellectually defensible position because the bible cannot be verified as the word of god. God can’t come to testify and say “yes, I inspired all that. It’s absolutely true.”

Let’s face facts here. Faith is not intellectually defendable, and as such, it’s pointless to argue with atheists about that. The claim that faith is truth is...well, in a word, it’s stupid. To accept faith over evidence is stupid. The only court in which faith would be accepted as evidence is a kangaroo court. Or a religious court. There’s no real difference between the two. From a strictly logical, intellectual point of view, a position based on faith can legitimately be called stupid, if said position is held in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. That is stupid. Ignoring evidence is stupid.

They don’t have to respect our beliefs. There is no need to respect beliefs, because beliefs are not based on anything concrete. If I told you that the sky was green, even though you could see that the sky is blue, would you have to respect that belief? A Muslim believes that it’s his absolute right to stone a woman to death. Will you have to respect that belief? What if he tried to apply that belief to you? Would you still have to respect it? Just a wild guess, but I’d say no, you wouldn’t. On what basis would you not respect his beliefs? On the basis that it’s utter rubbish, right? If you can say to a muslim that his beliefs are rubbish, why would an atheist not be allowed to tell you that your beliefs are rubbish? Because your beliefs are true? On what basis do you believe that? What evidence do you have that your faith is true and every other faith is false?

Face facts here. You have nothing. No evidence. No proof. What you have is faith, and faith is not evidence that is going to hold up. If you are going to assume the position that your faith is the only correct faith, and then try to enforce that faith on others, how do you think they’ll react? How’d you react if a bunch of Islamists came to you and told you that their faith is the one true faith and tried to enforce it on you?

Don’t for a second try to pretend that you’re not doing that. Every time that you say “this country should return to god’s ways”, that’s exactly what you’re doing. Every time you deny scientific evidence, that’s exactly what you’re doing. Every time you refuse to let your child be taught science in school, or when you try to exclude evolution from the curriculum, that’s exactly what you’re doing. Every time you deny someone else a basic human right based upon your religious views, that’s exactly what you’re doing. How can you possibly blame Atheitis for calling you mentally challenged? When you take science, which is backed by solid research and evidence, and reject it in favour of faith, you can’t be called anything but stupid and morally bankrupt.

If you want to be respected, keep your beliefs where they belong.

Don’t get me wrong. In my opinion there’s a place in the world for faith. We must just try to keep that faith in perspective, and acknowledge where that faith does and doesn’t apply. Faith cannot hold true universally. No matter how strong my faith is, the sky simply isn’t green. There must come a time when we acknowledge that. Science can tell us things about the universe, about how it works that we can’t know through faith. Faith cannot give us all the answers we seek. Blindly following doctrine is no substitute for thought.

There is nothing wrong with holding certain beliefs. We all have faith in something. It’s how you arrive at them that matters. Every day we have faith that we are not insane. We operate on the base assumption that reality is real, and not a very powerful delusion generated by your own minds. I know a solipsist, and talking to him makes my head spin, but I can’t refute him. I can’t prove that reality is real. No one can. Once you can accept that notion, that reality might not actually be real, it becomes much easier to examine other notions. Maybe god is real. Maybe god isn’t real. Once you enter into that realm of self-honest speculation, you can begin to question not just the world around you, but yourself as well. Why do I believe certain things? Why don’t I believe others? What kind of evidence would it take to convince me? Do I have the courage to go and look?

It is in this process that faith can find a meaningful outlet. Beyond the realm of logic lies pure speculation, a whole world of what if, and what you ultimately draw out of that will be what you believe in. Science tells us, and have proven that no god was needed to create the world. Very well. Could god be other than what the bible describe? What if god was the universe, and life a manifestation of his thoughts? Possible, but not provable. What if we simply haven’t imagined what god is? Possible, but not provable. What if no god exists at all? Possible, but not provable.

Most of us who are of a spiritual mind have had certain religious experiences, which we accept as real. An atheist will look at that and see hallucination, or a brain misfire, or a release of chemicals, and they could be entirely correct in that. When I first met my spirit-twin, I might very well have been hallucinating. I might very well be insane (easy to accept once you’ve had extended discussions with a solipsist, believe me :P ) or malfunctioning. However, I’m of the view that if the experience doesn’t lead to further pathology, such as psychoses, or erratic behaviour or harmful behaviour, then it cannot be said to be insanity. If there’s no harm in my spiritual encounters, and I don’t harm anyone else through accepting those experiences as valid, then it’s a benign insanity. As long as I don’t go about forcing others to believe as I do, or threatening them, or verbally abusing them, or preventing them from living their lives in ways that are meaningful to them, then my belief, my faith is harming no one else. As long as I apply my faith only in my own life, it wouldn’t matter what anyone else thought.

Do you have to respect my beliefs? If you want me to respect your beliefs, then you damn well better respect mine. That’s the thing about respect. It goes both ways. If you don’t want your kids to be taught my religion in school, don’t expect teachers to teach mine about yours. If you expect me not to proselytise to you and your children, stop doing so to me and mine. Respecting someone’s beliefs doesn’t mean you let them practice theirs on you. It merely means you let them practice it in private. If I brought my faith out in the open and challenged you about yours, then I’d have opened myself up to scrutiny, and I’d have to defend my faith because I was attacking yours. This is what you are doing with the atheists. By attacking them on the basis of faith, you open up your faith to scrutiny, and quite frankly, you don’t have the firepower to defend against them on a level playing field. You have faith, but in a debate, you’ll find logic wins almost every time. Why? Because logic can be backed up. Faith cannot. That is why they will always win and you will always look stupid. Faith is not logically defensible outside of the realm of speculation. Faith only works in the world of the unprovable.
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