Short Stack #4

“Faith” is the belief in something for which there is no evidence. Breach the protective barrier in your mind, the barrier that keeps you from believing stuff just because somebody tells you to, or just because you want to, and all sorts of ugly side effects begin to take place. The first is that you become a sucker for the next 50 con men able to convince you of THEIR seductive lie.

When there’s evidence, nobody talks about faith. Faith only comes into it when we want to replace evidence with blind belief.

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It occurred to me recently that open-mindedness is really an expression of adult-like confidence in one’s ability to evaluate new information. And closed-mindedness arises from a childish fear of making new decisions or evaluations.

At some point in the life of the close-minded person, they say, “Okay, that’s it. I’m not letting anything else in. I will never ever listen to anyone else’s thoughts and ideas or learn anything new.”

So closed-minded religious people are really cowards, in a way. They’re so afraid of letting new information into their minds that they’re willing to lie, to hide, to hurt other people, to attempt to shut up people with new ideas, even to sometimes kill people (who might be doing something as innocent as trying to introduce a new dance into the common culture), to keep new stuff from getting into their lives.

This kind of cowardice has a price. Aggressive closed-mindedness is the core of prejudice, of repression, of persecution, of war, of all sorts of ugly things. And it all comes from the exact same mindset as that displayed by people who think THEIR religion is THE one right one, and all the rest are wrong.

For a species such as Man, whose real gift is the gift of mind, of rationality, aggressively closed-minded people are the worst sort of evil — vicious animals in human form.

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I think one of the main mistakes that a lot of really devout people make is that they somehow have to believe the whole universe somehow relates to their little personal lives. They can’t imagine objectivity, or immensity.

They have to believe this is all about THEM.

They face the world — the entire vast universe — and all its mysteries and wonderfulnesses, and their only response to it is “Me! Me! Me! It’s all about Me!”

This is their whole approach to life. Most of them can’t even manage to LISTEN to the things other people say. Their own voices are so loud in their heads that other people barely exist for them.

They can’t listen. Can’t think. Can’t give. Can’t let other people be themselves. They demand sameness in others, and the more radical ones want to frighten or kill those who are different. They have to try to rule them with their narrow, aggressive beliefs.

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Religious people say we atheists have to respect others’ beliefs. But that’s not quite right, is it? I certainly respect that we all have a right to believe what we want to believe. But the beliefs themselves — who ever said we had to respect THAT? A lot of what religious people believe is just flat-out wrong. And some of it is harmful.

Those polygamist Mormon clowns in Texas, forcing 13-year-old girls to have sex with 50-year-old men, it’s sure-enough their religion, but I damned sure don’t respect it. I not only think they should be stopped, I think they should be held down and kicked in the balls repeatedly by a volunteer line-up of former forced child brides.

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Looking for an all-inclusive term for religious people a few years back, a generic word for people who believe in gods, I came up with “godders.” It’s perfect. It describes them simply and shows just the right amount of comic disregard.

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Some of us think only religion contains truth, and good ideas about how to live. But you can find a LOT more truth and good ideas about how to live outside religion … and you don’t have to give away your mind to get it.

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Satanists seem to think they’re somehow different from all the run-of-the-mill religionists. Instead, they’re like dieters who decide that they’ll lose weight if they stay away from ice cream and candy and only eat Black Forest cake.

To me, Satanism has always had this element of children clamoring for attention. “Mommy, look at me! Mommy! Mommy, look! I’m a Satanist, Mommy! Mommy! See mommy, I’m a Satanist! Grrr!”

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Skepticism, doubt, is really about personal freedom. It’s an expression of the yearning to understand things on your own, without some authority figure telling you what’s real and what’s not, what’s true and what’s not.

Skepticism is a statement of belief in yourself, the wonderful idea that YOUR mind is every bit as well equipped to understand what’s true and real as the mind of anyone else.

Skepticism is also one of the simplest, most basic forms of self-defense. It’s the power to protect the contents of your mind from conceptual bullies — someone who would like to FORCE you to accept what they say, and not question it.

And it’s THE thing that no religious authority, no dictator, no con man, can afford to allow his subjects (victims) to have.

The people who use lies to control or enslave others know that honesty and doubt are poison to them, and skeptics are their natural enemies.

Throughout religious history, one of the most awful sins has been the simple asking of questions. For these people, if you attempt to defend yourself by expressing doubts, they will automatically claim that there’s something wrong with YOU.

Christianity once had the death penalty for asking questions, for doubting; there are totalitarian religions that still do. When you think about it, this is the same reason people say “If you don’t agree with the president, why don’t you go live somewhere else?”

To doubt, to be skeptical, to ask questions, this is one of the most basic of human rights in a free society.

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“Fundie atheist” is the fundie Christian’s way of saying “I know you are, but what am I?”

Hey, it wasn’t atheists who came up with “fundamentalist Christian.” It was the fundies themselves. It started to be an insult when the rest of us saw what nuts they are.

Were the Jim Jones flock fundamentalists? Well, yeah.

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One of my strong feelings about science — well, and just rational thought in general — is that it’s desirable because it’s evidence of something new on the evolutionary scene … and very, very useful. I tend to see science/rationality as something very HUMAN, something especially worth doing because it’s the foundation of free will.

Religion/superstition, on the other hand, is probably older than language. And it’s so limited, so automatic and mindless. Seems very ANIMAL, if you ask me.

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If there really was an “ultimate evil” that wanted to get as far as possible before being slapped down, I doubt that it would just appear as the very image of pure evil. No, it would dress itself up as something good. Satan wouldn’t walk out of a sulfury cloud as a 30-foot-tall red-skinned demon with horns and a pitchfork. No, he’d look like a smooth-talking evangelist with perfect hair and nails.

If there really was a Satan, the most likely place to find him would be inside a church. Or on Christian TV.

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I know why the Bush White House wanted the Middle East so bad. It was to provide a place for the rabid conservatives to retire to.

Think about it. It’s the perfect conservative homeland. The women are kept in their place. There’s no dissent. No drugs. No gays. And if you decide to leave the church, or talk back to your spiritual leader, they can kill you. All the neo-cons have to do is work out that teeny problem of Islam and they’re HOME.

Somebody like Jerry Falwell could’ve moved to a Middle East address and lived like a prophet. He could have monthly burnings of books, weekly beheadings of sinners. What a paradise!

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About Hank Fox
  • Cuttlefish

    Nice, as always.

    A pet peeve of mine lurks in your first two here. Not what you said, but what others have twisted from these concepts. First, your second bit: An “open mind” should be willing to follow the evidence and say “ok, this notion has been tested enough; I’m not wasting any more time on it. I’m closing the door, locking it, taking the key off my keyring, I’m through with it.”

    But if we do, and say “look, dowsing (say) has been tested, and it’s bullshit; I’m not wasting my time on it any more”, we are accused of being closed-minded. Look, a door that can’t be closed isn’t a door any more; it’s a hole in your wall, and if the evidence says, you should close the damned door.

    Which brings us back to your first bit: if someone actually did come up with good, hard-replicable evidence for the effectiveness of dowsing, they don’t need my mind’s door to be open. They can kick it down. As you say, we only talk about faith when there is no evidence. Faith can’t move mountains, but evidence can.

    So yeah, being open minded can include some stances that can really appear rigid. If it turns out we’re wrong, we’ll be happy enough looking at the evidence, that we’ll get over the embarrassment soon enough.

    • Hank Fox

      Preaching to the choir! I agree completely. There’s so much of that stuff that I don’t even think about anymore. So many of the mystical questions have been asked and answered, and I’ve moved on to a place where I never think about them anymore. If some new answer slaps me upside the head, sure enough it will get my attention, and I’ll reconsider.

      One side aspect of open-mindedness is this: You’re open to the idea that you yourself can be wrong. Which is the safety valve that prevents you from being rigid … like the REALLY closed-minded are.

    • Jim Baerg

      I’m inclined to say in such cases:

      “It’s been tested to death & it never works. Why is your mind closed to the possibility that it’s garbage?”

      • Hank Fox

        Ooh, good one! Definitely stealing that.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    No, [Satan] would dress itself up as something good.

    Agreed. I’ve thought that the best stratagy for Satan wouldn’t be to convince people that he doesn’t exist, but to convince people that he was good an worthy of worship – convince them he is god. An interesting question to ask a Christian is “how do you know that God isn’t really satan in disguise?” The old testament has a lot of support for that hypothesis.

    • Chrisj

      I’ve always liked the Blackadder approach to this:

      Heaven is a place for people who like the sorts of things that go on in Heaven – singing, watering potplants, stuff like that.
      Whereas Hell is for people who like … the other sorts of things. Adultery. Pillage. Those sorts of areas.

      (Which is not to say it’s any more plausible than the standard-issue bible-basher version, but it does at least make more sense than saying “Satan disagrees with God, so he likes hurting other people who disagree with God”. Also, it’s funnier, especially when Rowan Atkinson says it.)

    • sunnydale75

      I completely agree!
      Are there any miracles attributed to god that satan could NOT have done? Given how powerful satan has been portrayed (at times), it seems to me he could have believers fooled. Heck, some religions make MORE sense if the object of worship is evil.

  • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ Lou Doench

    (who might be doing something as innocent as trying to introduce a new dance into the common culture)

    Wow… I didn’t realize the Fooloose remake was going to be so harsh… ;)

    • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ Lou Doench

      Drat… That would be Footloose…

  • Richard Simons

    It occurred to me recently that open-mindedness is really an expression of adult-like confidence in one’s ability to evaluate new information. And closed-mindedness arises from a childish fear of making new decisions or evaluations.

    Over on Pandasthumb a few months ago (sorry, I don’t have a direct link) a regular commenter who claimed experience in assessing childhood mental development described the developmental stage of two fundie contributors (e.g. being unable to express concepts in their own words) as something most people grew out of in their early teenage years. Meanwhile, his comments were interspersed by comments from the fundies illustrating precisely the points he was making. It was really quite instructive.

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