Faith, Religion, and Truth Claims: It’s Not Okay To Say “I Don’t Know.”

Societies functioning in such a way as to increase the well-being of their members generally have several things in common, and religion, though it can not claim all of the credit, did and still does offer (at least for its members or likely future inductees) some sense of community.  While it’s true that I am against the notion that religion is a net good for society (to minimize any collective backlash from possible emotional and psychological confusion, I do believe that we would do well to rid ourselves of it gradually, as it seems we are), I can admit that throughout our history as a conscious species, our self-invented (inflicted?) religions have offered us several things in the ways of comfort.  Some highly regarded religious figures say that religion has offered answers to the most compelling questions ever pondered by humans.  Of course, each religion claims to have the only correct answers, which they each refer to as the ‘Truth’.  And in turn, many people listen, and they believe, and they obey, and (sometimes not without harmful effect) they act.  Because these Truth claims, logically, can not all be correct due to being in direct conflict with one another at a fundamental level, religions have an obvious major problem to sort out amongst themselves.  And so ensues the long standing ‘My Religion is Righter Than Your Religion’ debate.

These disputes between religious members, at least from my own point of view, could be avoided by the simple means of admission in the phrase: “I don’t know.”  Apparently, this is a much less appealing phrase to some humans than I thought it could be.  Personally, I use it quite often, so I don’t really see the problem.  Wait.  Yes, I think I do.  At least part of the trouble is revealed when considering the arrogance of religious Truth claims, asserted sans evidence, and the rather copious amount of Faith required to believe such postulations as the truth of gods and their interactions with their creations.

Bolstered by Faith, the human mind may permit itself to believe literally anything at all and still feel as if they have their view of reality intact.  For example, the Truth claim:

‘Jesus was born of a virgin.’

This is a statement to which adherents of Christianity must pledge belief, taken directly from the Apostles Creed.  Christians must, in turn, believe that this statement is true.  What must one do in order to convince themselves that this notion is true and somehow represents reality?  In just this one claim, there are several boundaries that the rational mind must disregard to make this a possibility.  First, because we have no good evidence whatsoever for the validity of this assertion, the human mind must invent a reason in lieu of evidence (faith), in order to trust that these written words have a certain amount of credibility.  Once this is established as an acceptable possibility at least from the point of written history, the limitations of biology and the laws of physics begin to come into question.  One must then coerce themselves into either believing that a one-off biological anomaly occurred, rendering it possible for one Jewish girl to become pregnant without one of her eggs being fertilized by male sperm (which is not necessarily a divine notion, but very unlikely nonetheless), or that there was a single momentary suspension of the laws of physics, insofar God was able to breach the threshold of the metaphysical realm and our physical reality, and insert by some purity-retaining method, a God-human-embryo version of Himself into the womb of a Jewish girl.  It seems that the leaps required to clear the hurdles of non-common sense continue to increase in extremity the further we inquire into the validity of this one claim.

One would think that this ‘delving into’ of the nature of the claim would serve to slowly unweave the blanket of comfort received by any disciple who is steadfast in their position of belief.  Sometimes, fewer times than I’d wish, it actually does, the scrutiny acting as a means of exposing and exploiting the chinks in the armor of Faith.  But the Bible warns it’s readers against this deviant known as reason, and recognizes rational inquiry as an enemy.  Alas, this is the way religious Faith is designed, making common understanding of these claims amongst groups of like-minded humans more than just a possibility.  It makes these claims, even when they are appropriately analyzed, scrutinized, and pitted against rationality, capable of being True.  To be a Christian, one can not, must not say ‘I don’t know’ when considering the claim of Jesus’ virgin birth.

Personally, I do believe that it is more likely (at the very least, it operates within the natural laws of our universe) that the Jewish girl, under the influence of pressures imposed by society and conformity, simply lied.  This, apparently, is still up for debate, but I’m thankful that taking a definite position on this is not an actual necessity.  When one does not adhere to the confines of the Christian tenets, nor does one rely on faith to replace good evidence to warrant belief, one has no need to eliminate, or even minimize the amount of rationality from the process leading to, or away from belief.  The less comforting but more rational non-position of suspended belief serves just fine until proper evidence is presented.

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A Short Poem

While reflecting on the fact that I have a recently born nephew, who will most definitely be raised Christian whether he likes it or not, I was inspired to write this short poem.  Religious early childhood indoctrination is something that, though I personally find it intriguing, and though it can be benign, I do not think that the bulk of our species’ adults takes it as seriously as we should in those incidents when it does effect children and their relationships in harmful ways.  I plan to write much more on this topic, but for now, this short poem.

In this world of believers in God as redeemer,

They’ll claim Faith! and say you’re depraved.

And when conformity beckons, amidst fear of rejection,

The child who questions will be the most brave.

Thank you for reading.

Faith is Worth Nothing: The Bridge Continuum

Faith.  So many people claim to have it, are proud to have it.  People give respect to others for claiming that they, too, have it.  Some pious humans even idolize certain other humans who claim to have an overabundance of it.  Why is this?

First of all, allow me to define the faith that I am addressing here.  The word ‘faith’ is, in general, tossed around for some sort of all-inclusive pseudo-religious imposition, and is used to replace words that would otherwise better express the idea that the person is trying to convey.  These are not the usages of faith that I am addressing. For example:

Sally says “I’m not sure I can do this,” and her mother responds “I have faith in you.”

The word that is being replaced here is ‘confidence’.  There are a few other words and phrases that have commonly been (mis)represented by the usage of ‘faith’ in casual conversation, such as hope, trust, reliance, being loyal, having a belief, etc.  Again, these are not the iterations of faith that I am confronting.

When I propose that faith is worth nothing, I am referring to Faith, as in the main tenet of Christianity.  This is the Faith that one must necessarily claim to have in order to consider oneself a true believer in God.  Belief, trust, and confidence can not be at all synonymous to Faith, and at least trust and confidence are indeed in conflict with it.  Belief is a brain state in which you reside in a certain position in any situation.  Trust requires at least some inference, or previous interactions (and even trust can be misapplied…think con artists), and it is usually a gradual process.  Confidence is also attained after certain criteria are met through past experience.  Notice that Faith is suggested in place of trust.  Only when there are no inferences to warrant trust or experiences in which to gain confidence, Faith is required to attain the same (false) sense of security.  To claim to have Faith, and to mistake it for trust or confidence is not just folly, it is nonsensical, ignorant, and quite possibly dangerous.

To illustrate this, I use a tool that I call the ‘bridge continuum’.  This imagining consists of only a few elements:  1.) You.  2.) A treacherous gorge, the likes of which would mean certain death if you fell into it, extending to infinity in either direction, and much too wide to leap across.  3.) A bridge connecting the paths on either side of this deadly gorge.  4.) Faith.  To make proper usage of this tool, a person must consider themselves reasonable (even within the context of your favored religion), rational, and above all, one must value their life.  If you find that one of these three categories does not describe you, then read no further, as this tool is of no use to those that are irrational, unreasonable, and who have no will to live.

So, with our values agreeably in tact, we press on.  At one end of the bridge continuum, there exists a bridge that is, by any person’s account, the safest bridge one could possibly imagine.  There may be many people, cars, busses, etc. crossing this bridge before your eyes, safely arriving at either side of the gorge.  There may be obvious signs of architectural ingenuity in it’s design, rendering any question of safety a ridiculous notion.  The steel may be extraordinarily thick, or perhaps the bridge’s construction is of the earth itself, a solid mass of incredibly solid stone connecting either edge.  Whatever particular bridge you picture here, you have absolutely no doubt that you would make the journey across this bridge.

On the opposite end of the bridge continuum exists a bridge that is, by all means, impassable.  From the looks of this bridge, taking even one step out onto it would cause it to collapse, sending you free falling to the inescapable chasm of death below.  Perhaps this bridge has hopelessly rotted wooden planks held together by thin, frayed rope.  Perhaps this bridge is clumsily and hastily constructed, and the stones are now obviously deteriorated and crumbling.  Perhaps there exists no bridge at all, just the remnants of old steel and wire left to hang down the sheer slopes of the gorge.  While it’s possible that here, at one time, there was a bridge to assure safe crossing, this bridge is no more.  You would not attempt to cross this bridge.

So we now have our continuum established, with a perfectly safe bridge, and a perfectly unsafe bridge at opposite ends.  It may seem obvious that at some point on the bridge continuum, there exists a transition (of your own judgement) at which the ‘safe’ bridge gives way to a ‘questionable’ bridge, and again where the questionable bridge gives way to an ‘unsafe’ bridge.  Realize that this same transition exists for everyone, even though the transition may happen sooner or later, or more abruptly or more gradual, than your own on the continuum, but somewhere on the continuum, assurance becomes a matter of question for every rational human.  This is the way the properly functioning human brain works.

Enter Faith.  Not trust.  Not confidence.  But the Faith I’ve defined previously.  Bring yourself now, to the point on the continuum at which you begin to question the safety of your bridge.  Based on what you know about your past experiences with bridges, you may think that you would be able to cross safely, but you just aren’t sure.  Just a small bit of Faith would allow you to be certain of your safety (and reach the other side you may).  Proceed just a bit farther along your continuum to the point where you have given up all reasonable assurance of making it across.  The observation and experience-based inferences one uses for attaining trust and confidence have greatly diminished at this point, and you realize that the unfortunate reality is that if you attempt to cross, you most certainly will die.  You must now rely on something else in place of confidence or trust.  A large amount of Faith has now become a necessary factor to grant you a (false) assurance of crossing safely.  When you reach the point on the continuum where there is no bridge at all, the Bible suggests that Faith is not just necessary, but useful and functional, for “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).  I personally suggest that should you allow yourself to heed the words of this ancient text and allow Faith to act as ‘substance’ and ‘evidence’, unless the laws of physics are temporarily suspended in your favor, you will step out into only air and plummet to your death.  Notice now, the perversion that presents itself.  The further we travel down our continuum, from what we are sure is true, past uncertainty and questionable belief, into the realm of absolute disbelief, the more Faith is required to bolster your confidence, and lead you to believe, mistakenly, that you will not die if you attempt to cross.

Faith is nonsensical, for the less you believe something to be true, the more Faith is required in order to sway your belief.  And the more difficult something seems to be to believe – in fact, when something is absolutely and obviously unbelievable – the harder Faith works to wrongly convince you that this thing is actually true.  Faith necessarily works  against what we, as humans, have to come agree is our one observable reality, indeed it is nothing more than a tool designed to provide a false sense of security, and to manipulate one’s mind in order to contort what one observes as truth.  This is a dangerous notion.

So, while some people are revered for their possession of great faith (and perhaps you commend yourself for having it as well), we must conclude that the more Faith one claims to have, the less likely their beliefs – the beliefs which necessarily require faith – the less likely these beliefs are to represent observable reality.  The notion of Faith is the perfect solution for the reconciliation for holding obviously false beliefs that are void of any real evidence whatsoever, while simultaneously convincing oneself that they are maintaining a consistent inference-based-belief reality.