It’s an argument made by Sam Harris and others: The religious fundamentalists, crazy as they are, are the most dedicated to following their faith the way in which it was always intended.
It is the religious moderates who shape and mold their faith to fit their way of life. (And if you’re going to do that, why claim to be religious at all?)
That the world was created by an invisible deity, that He later impregnated a virgin who then bore a son who was His own father, that we have immortal souls and will live for ever in Heaven if we are good and love Jesus – how can anyone who has even attended high school believe such things?
And how can agreement with this nonsense be a prerequisite for winning the support of the American electorate? It defies belief.
The real test for genuine belief is not what people say, but what they do. To believe something is to be disposed to act upon it. The vast majority of Western Christians fail this test. Imagine this. Recognising that many people find their children an unwelcome burden, the Government creates a network of slaughterhouses. Each year, about a million unwanted children are dropped off for extermination.
… To do nothing while millions of children are murdered would display despicable moral complacency.
Yet British Roman Catholics allegedly believe that such slaughter is really happening. They claim that humans have immortal souls from conception, and that killing a foetus is no less murder than killing a ten-year-old. From the Catholic point of view, abortion clinics are slaughterhouses for children.
Is the lack of anti-abortion militancy — at least in Britain — not then strange? If they believe what they claim to, they are no better than those who turned a blind eye to Nazi atrocities. But I do not think they are that wicked. It is just that they don’t really believe the things they say about foetuses and immortal souls…
And what about death and the afterlife?
Suppose you believed that Heaven exists and that only some of us will qualify to live in it for ever, as the vast majority of Christians claim to. How would this affect your behaviour?
It would depend on what you thought were the admission criteria for Heaven. But whatever you took these virtues to be, they would utterly dominate your life. When everlasting bliss is on offer, nothing else matters at all. People who believed in Heaven would surely act quite unlike those who do not.
Yet the expected behavioural difference is not to be observed. The vast majority of Christians display a remarkably blasé attitude toward their approaching day of judgment, leading lives almost indistinguishable from those of us open non-believers. Put simply, they fail the behavioural test for belief.
This isn’t necessarily hypocrisy.
It’s a mix of ignorance, wishful thinking of what a person thinks his religion ought to be, and a re-interpretation of what the person’s holy book says.
Is this wrong?
Should we at least be satisfied that religion is less potent than it could be?
Should we encourage more moderate religious positions given the alternatives for a religious person?
Let’s not forget: This type of thinking is not just reserved for the religious,
For example, we all know we’re going to die. We’re always told we should live our lives as if we only had 24 hours to live. And yet, we ignore that and waste away plenty of hours each week.
Does that make us hypocrites?
Or does it just mean we need to get away from the seriousness of it all every once in a while?