- "Rational arguments don't usually work on religious people. Otherwise, there wouldn't be religious people."
- -Doris Egan, House M.D., The Right Stuff, 2007
I haven't done a nice long insane rambly sea ranty in a while, and tonight I inexplicably find myself in the mood. Perhaps being stuck in Fort Bragg for three weeks in a row where there is nothing much to photograph has something to do with it, but perhaps also I can lay the cause on the doorstep of religion, my favorite whipping post.
For those of you who are facebook friends of mine, this is no surprise; other than my photo of the day, about all I've been doing over there is posting links to anti-religious videos, blogs, and news items. I've been feeling up for a fight lately. The problem is that my adversaries, those who put authoritarian belief in front of rational discourse ain't got much fight in 'em. You can't have a dialogue with those people because they haven't got a brain to stand on. Perhaps that is not fair; they do actually have brains but they've been quite thoroughly trained not to use them. I should know, I used to be a member.
In order to believe in the existence of God, any God, one must have faith. Faith is the belief in something for which there is no evidence. Fine. When I wipe my bottom after disposing of bodily waste, I use the first knuckle method. Since you will never witness this yourself, you'll have to trust me that it's true. You might not even know what the first knuckle method is, but what's important here is that it exists. I know, because I made it up. BELIEVE me when I tell you, I've felt it's presence. So you see, I have belief in certain things which can only be witnessed by an individual on a personal basis. However, if you choose to ignore my account of my VERY personal ass-cleaning method, I'll completely understand. In fact, if you want to pretend I never said it, so much the better. That's exactly how I feel about your god damned religion.
So, by expressing a belief in God, for whom there is no evidence, you've put yourself in an awkward position. More awkward than the first knuckle method in fact, difficult as that may be to imagine (don't imagine it!). You've aligned yourself with those who wish not to believe in reason. Reason, of course, is the primary tool of the mind. But this is the nature of faith, the very definition of it. "Set aside your reason, saith the lord, and believeth in this shit in this book right here. And do this not by your own impulse, but because these dudes who got that book from some other dudes, who are now dead, tell you it's the truth." Can you feel the presence of the lord in that logic? Amen!
I must say that my own progress towards rationality has been long and hard. I believed, and the illogic of the Lord did not sustain me. I searched for the Lord, and did not find him. Instead I found some used book store philosophy which slaked my thirst better than vitamin water for a time, until that too became as coca cola. Then, after discovering Carl Sagan and Joseph Campbell, I settled into a comfortable agnosticism where science was the only possible language of God, if he existed. I spent a while there, but all it took was a logical argument by a friend I've never met to convince me of the liberating joys of atheism.
If there is one thing I've learned from all of this, it's that one side will almost never convince the other. An atheist speaks the language of reasonable discourse and the religious speak the language of authoritarian "knowledge". An atheist can be convinced to change his mind on a subject through strongly reasoned logic and hard evidence, and a theist can be convinced by an impassioned emotional plea and hypnotic crowd techniques. Never the twain shall meet, as reason and faith go 'round and around and around.
One of the most overused and incorrect arguments against atheism is that one is simply switching a belief in God to a belief in no God. This is a false understanding of the situation. Atheism, in it's strongest sense, is a lack of belief. Were actual, hard evidence to come to light that God truly existed, atheists would still not become believers-in-God, they'd become knowers-of-God. In other words, we don't believe in an all-knowing deity for the same reasons we don't believe that thunder is really Thor going bowling. Because it's nonsense and there is far more evidence against religious dogma and a creator than there is evidence for it. In fact, there is NO evidence for it.
When I was a member of the Christian cult, there was a lot of talk about "knowing God" and "feeling his presence" and "answered prayers". I always wondered why, as fervently as I prayed to Jesus and as badly as I wanted to be on the side of Heaven, why did I never feel or sense those things? Why did Jesus talk to the crazy old cat lady, or the Pastor who had an affair with his daughter's best friend's Mom, or the self important and exceedingly boring old usher guy, but never to me? I was earnest, I was in need, ready to be called to battle in the old "Onward Christian Soldiers" sense.
Finally I figured it out, when I reached a certain age and began to fumblingly learn how to utilize the logical part of my brain. None of those people feel or sense those things. They want to, they try to, they convince themselves with certain self-hymnotic techniques that they do feel them, and then they go to church and Praise Jesus or Allah or David Koresh or Fred Phelps loudly in order to continue to convince themselves and those around them that they are one of God's chosen. It was the biggest scam in history, perpetuated mostly in ignorance by it's own victims; the true meaning behind my favorite fable, The Emperor's New Clothes.