I’m Wasting My Time on Religion

Two things that apparently just don’t go together.

I just got off of Skype with my good friend Dan, who I’ve known for a long, long time.  We met on an online forum a number of years ago and while we initially were “enemies”, we’ve become very good friends over time.  I’ve never met him face-to-face since he lives in Georgia, but we e-mail and Skype at least a couple of times a month.  The thing is, Dan is a Christian, and if I had to label him, I’d say he’s a fundamentalist Christian.  He’s also a working physicist and outside of his religious beliefs is probably one of the most intelligent, rational people I know.  That’s why I thought he was probably the one I should ask about my quest to find intelligent theists.

He thinks I’m just wasting my time and unfortunately, I’m inclined to agree.

See, the nice thing about Dan is that, if you know how to push him, he can apply his critical thinking skills to his religious beliefs to at least a certain extent before he runs face-first into that faith wall. He’s perfectly willing to admit that he has no good reason to believe what he believes.  He has no evidence, he has no well-reasoned arguments, he has nothing to support his claims, he believes because he wants to believe and there’s nothing anyone can say that will change that.

So I told him my criteria.  I want to find theists who are not solely faith-based, who don’t believe solely out of emotional comfort, who are not just indoctrinated into their faith.  I want people who have rational reasons to believe, who can lay out those specific reasons why they came to their faith and can evaluate their reasons rationally, critically and have evidence that it’s actually so.  In short, I want people who actually give a damn if what they believe is true and can hold an intelligent conversation on it.  Essentially, Dan told me not to bother, no such critter exists.

Honestly though, it shouldn’t be that hard to find.  There are plenty of college-educated, scientifically-minded, intelligent people out there who hold religious beliefs, is it so absurd to ask for any of them to have applied the critical thinking skills they learned in college to their religious beliefs and be able to discuss it intellectually?  If none of these people exist, you know what it tells me?

That religion is killed by rational thought.  Anyone who was willing to do what I describe above is almost certainly not a theist any longer.  This is the path taken by many atheists away from their religious beliefs, actually caring about reality, actually testing beliefs, actually questioning faith.  Most people who are capable of doing these things or who are willing to do these things have almost certainly already done these things.  At best, I might catch someone just on the cusp of rolling from theism to atheism, but I’m never going to find anyone who can do these things and still maintains a strong religious conviction.

Unfortunately, I think Dan is one of those people I feel the sorriest for.  They know that what they believe is irrational, they know that what they believe has no evidence, they know it’s just an emotional crutch, yet they can’t throw off the shackles of irrationality to just deal with reality as it is.  I don’t know if he struggles internally with this, he says he doesn’t, but I can’t imagine a high enough brick wall that would keep me from applying my scientific thinking to everything that goes on in my head.  It’s sad to see someone with the tools, yet lack the will to use them.  Luckily, it doesn’t get in the way of our friendship, but somewhere deep inside, when we talk, I know he can be a better person, he just chooses not to be and that’s sad.

7 thoughts on “I’m Wasting My Time on Religion”

  1. It sounds like you may be running into the fact that denial and self-deception can be powerful things. An intelligent person, like Dan, can be religious and can recognize that he or she has no valid reasons for his or her faith without experiencing the sort of inner conflict we might imagine. They can rationalize it, deny it, and even opt never to think about it. Worse, they can persuade themselves that it really isn't problematic and simply go about their lives. I continue to be amazed by how completely we humans can deceive ourselves at times, constructing half-truths and lies that we ourselves come to believe over time. At best, this ability can shield us from uncontrollable pain; at worst, we begin to lose touch with some important aspects of reality to the point where our ability to function in the real world is impaired.

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    1. The problem is, while I know that denial and self-deception are powerful, they're really not something that I can personally identify with because I just don't have the kind of addictive or fanatical personality that most of these people have, thus I don't really know how it feels to be that fixated on a particular thing or belief. Maybe it's me that's miswired, such that I cannot understand the desire for an all-consuming belief in a god, but I'm with you, I just don't get it. I don't think people should be shielded from pain or anything else, we live in a real world and we all ought to be prepared to deal with it head-on, both the good and the bad. Not doing so is a failing, not a strength.

  2. I've maintained for a long time that a large number of theists are simply "bandwagon believers". They pretend to believe so people will think they're good people but deep down, they don't really believe. They don't practice the tenets of their faith, most of them, and are intelligent and rational in other areas.

    I have a feeling that Dan may be one of these types. He knows the beliefs are bullshit, but he's afraid to admit to being atheist because of the bad reputation that word has in our society. It can cost him relationships, jobs, etc. Best to go with the flow and conform. That's the only reason I can think of for intelligent rational scientific people to hold such absurd beliefs.

    If it was popular and normal and good for humans to believe in unicorns, I bet he'd be a unicornist, just to fit in. But I bet he'd laugh at the notion of unicorns now if you asked him.

    1. It's the same thing I've called "social Christians", people who claim to believe because they think it makes them look good to the neighbors, but in reality they don't have much of a clue what it is that they're supposed to believe or why, they view sitting in church as a social activity, just a bunch of talking they have to sit through until they can get to the coffee and donuts and talking outside afterwards. Now Dan isn't that kind of person, he really does believe. He knows what he believes and is very knowledgeable about his religion. If anything, he's a prime example of the human ability to compartmentalize, to keep religion and reality completely separate, but as I've said, if you twist just right, you can make enough of a gap between those compartments so that rational thought and religious belief start to mix, if only for a little bit. I just wish there was a way to open the floodgates completely, that would be an interesting thing to see.

    1. Like I said, if I push him the right way, he'll admit that blind faith is a bad thing, I'm sure the vast majority of the reason he believes is emotional, he likes the way the belief feels. I have another friend who started off as a pretty liberal Christian and we went through the same process until he finally admitted that Christianity has no basis (I suppose it helps that he's a historian and knows the absurdity of the Bible) and today, he's not even a nominal Christian but it took more than 20 years to reach that point.

      I don't know if Dan has it in him to go that far but we'll see. He's a "work in progress" I guess. 🙂

  3. Since he is a fundamentalist, you should test his faith. Ask him how many Commandments are to be followed and point to the fact that there are 2 sets of the 10 Commandments each with different rules and that is ignoring 2 more rules Jesus added to one of the sets. On a similar note ask him why it took yahweh a whole month to create the commandments but only 6 days to create the Earth.

    Ask him: If yahweh is all powerful then why can he not defeat iron chariots even though he was fully with the Israeli tribes? If yahweh is all powerful then why does he lose a wrestling match, even after cheating, to Jacob?

    If yahweh is all knowing, why create Satan and allow evil people to be born only to torture them forever? If yahweh is all knowing, then why test Abraham's faith as he should already know how faithful Abe is?

    If yahweh is all good, why create evil, demand or allow human sacrifice (Isaac & Jephtha's daughter), command genocides against rival tribes, flood the whole Earth, damn people to hell for eternity, allow for various religious (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) and the numerous sects in each one with constant blood shed between these groups over which one is correct?

    Either he believes due to his mind being unable to let go of the concept of a god and/or fear of Hell.

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