I’ve had many an argument with a believer as to the veracity of their beliefs and it always ALWAYS boils down to one thing once the validity of the accuracy of said belief has been trampled upon by my arguments. Now, I’m not the greatest debater in the world and I make great errors in my attempts to enlighten people but I never present a talking point or a rebuttal without having a reference based upon fact. My opponents on the other hand have the luxury of being able to ignore facts, logic, historical and scientific accuracy, or of throwing them out altogether in favor of faith. Any system of reason or skepticism is viewed as inerrant and evil in nature. Liberalism is viewed in a negative light by almost every faith system in the world. In the etymological root a liberal is one who defies the status quo and goes against the grain. Not necessarily a radical per se but certainly the outcast of society.
Once the views of that individual become the norm for the majority of that society then they are no longer a liberal. Those views and the defense thereof will then fall under the category of conservatism (etymologically speaking), or keeping the status quo and not wishing a change. However, and this is moving into a deep circle of semantics, if the true viewpoint of the liberal is based upon skepticism then even the conservative mindset of the liberal will still remain liberal while being a conservative in his own time. It is the unwillingness to change and challenge the mind, the stifling of intellectual progress, that leads to a backward progression of society. I blame that stifling upon faith. Unfettered zealous faith. Faith is dangerous and as such should be questioned. Here I shall address the shortcomings of faith.
Faith. The concept of faith is used in the religious setting to expose individuals as either good or bad. The good have faith. The bad do not. I was raised in a single parent home by my mother who was devoutly religious. The belief in the miraculous wonders was so ingrained in my sister and I that we dared not question if it existed or not, merely how it existed. Whenever there was no explanation it boiled down to “god’s will” or “faith”. Never content with those explanations I would always seek the “wisdom” (and I use that word lightly here) of a church elder or a teacher. Having received the same explanation again and again I assumed that it must be true. There was a problem with how I went about addressing this situation, however.
As I said I was raised in church. I had friends in church. Everyone I knew or had contact with was a member of some type of church. Mine, however, was much more radical than everyone else’s. We believed in spiritual healing, speaking in tongues, raising the dead (seriously), god’s divine protection against bullets (again, seriously), miraculous cures, instantaneous knowledge, and on, and on… I had been exposed to that from such a young age that it was normal to me to see other believers as “faithfully inept” compared to the people I went to church with. But they did believe and in that respect at least they were on the right track. HA! I laugh now…except the seriousness of it is that there are so many children stuck in that dangerous lifestyle. I am the exception to have escaped. I was a part of the dangerous evangelical fundamentalists (the 30%). We would go to camps, attend midweek services, show up for classes on weeknights, have studies on Friday before we went to Taco Bell or Burger King, and of course show up twice on Sunday (for morning and evening service). And we genuinely enjoyed it. These people were like family and friends to me. That’s not to say there was a lack of intellectual discourse involved with these people. They were for the most part very intelligent and we would talk about psychological, ethical, and philosophical ideals (perhaps unknowingly) all the while adding a religious twist to it (what would god think, what would jesus do, blah blah). Adults would be there to oversee us of course and ensure the discussion stayed relevant and focused on god, which many times I felt to be irrelevant because I was sure there was something else to be done by us puny humans (such as help the other puny humans). I was after all only a child so I deferred to the wisdom of the adults in charge.
I would have to say the first time I questioned faith must have been around the age of 9 or 10. Now, I was not one for open confrontation in those days. I dreamt of it but it was certainly not a part of my personality at that time. I also didn’t question the existence nor omnipotence of God. For if God could read our minds then the mere thought of him knowing that I had the thought of doubt was scary enough so I would push those thoughts to the back of my mind readily focusing on how I could conquer said thoughts because the spiritual puppet-master also “made me feel good inside”.
I was riding in the car with my mother (again who was so deeply devout that I thought it was unhealthy, as if there was no balance) when she told me a story of a British pastor she had once met. Her descriptions of the man gave him off as being one of the most pious men in the world. He laid hands upon people (for those of you unfamiliar with church this is where a pastor, layleader, or some religious individual will place their hand upon someone else’s head and pray for them) and would heal them of some uncurable disease or illness, he had visions of the future, he could prophesy about forecoming events, and most of all he never had a conversation not involving god! My mother was very adamant about that one part.
She expressed that to me during the car ride. The man was giving a sermon about one of the few times since he had decided to “follow the lord” that he spoke of something other than god. He was standing with his friend in Great Britain and they were talking about tennis. The conversation lasted about 45 minutes before the pastor turned to his friend aghast at what he had just done and then expressed his undying repentence, prayed, and asked god for forgiveness for not exalting him.
“If only I had that kind of faith,” my mother expressed.
I thought she was delusional. I couldn’t believe what she was saying. I also thought the preacher was lying. Church, faith, and spirituality were good and all (I thought at the time)…but that was going a little overboard. In my 10 year old mind I saw this man as an overzealous creep and almost wished the exact opposite. I didn’t say anything for fear of hurting my mother’s feelings, though not for fear of repudiation. I never feared my mother turning away from me for me not agreeing with the specificities of her belief system…I did fear disappointing her however. I wasn’t good at very much as a child and so I put all my efforts into being as good a “church boy” as I could because it felt great to receive compliments as they were far and few between for accomplishing any other feat outside of anything god-based. I also had very few close friends. I was an outcast in the church community but held strongly to it which also made me an outcast in school.
As I sat there I wondered what kind of a boring life that pastor must lead. If everything must exalt god what would one do with their time? Would you get to play chess? Because that certainly couldn’t exalt god (although I figured you could spin it into a godly fashion by pretending to be a war between god’s angels and satan’s angels so you would be figuring out tactics for an upcoming holy war…but then I came to the conclusion that was stupid because you could spin anything into a godly context by that manner–little did I know I was onto something). Would you be able to read a fiction book? What about a non-fiction book that had no relation to god? My mind kept going on and on. I quickly came to a conclusion that that guy was WAY OFF and that I had to figure out how to tell my mother. If there is a god, then certainly he created us to enjoy some of these mundane things in life. Because basketball and baseball didn’t just invent themselves. What kind of progress would there be if we had only to rely upon god for everything? Who would help the sick and dying? Who would discover cures for disease? I thought about the modern marvels we had: the telephone, railway systems, buses, cars, democracy, airplanes, NASA, scientific models of discovery…all of which would disappear before our very eyes if our only mindset was to think about god all the time. I realized then and there in the passenger seat just how much my own faith differed from my mother’s.
I said nothing. The conversation ended and I never brought it up again.
Tearing back the blinders…
I never have expressed to my mother the fact that I no longer believe. She figured it out via the social media spectrum as she mentioned it once on the phone. Perhaps it makes me a coward in that respect. I wouldn’t argue that. She knows I don’t believe (now) although perhaps not the reasoning behind it and it’s very hard to articulate in person as to the specifics behind it without going into a great amount of detail and an even greater amount of time. Maybe it’s worth the time and effort. Maybe one day soon I’ll do just that. Maybe…As mentioned earlier I grew up in a single family home. My father wasn’t around and not for a lack of trying. Something he said to me once really hit hard:
“It hurts so much that I can’t see you. I know fathers that live down the street from their children who want nothing to do with them. I live so far away from you and it’s the only thing I want to do. I hate fathers like them and would trade places in a heartbeat.”
I have three memories of my father before I was a teenager. I saw him for two weeks during two different summers as a teenager and aside from that he was entirely unknown to me. At the age of 18 I made the decision to move to where he lived and get to know him. When I told him that over the phone he maxed out every credit card he had to move me there. He is still paying back those bills (11 years later) for which I am forever grateful. At the time, however, I was afraid. I didn’t really know the man and all I had were images and stories from second and third-hand accounts of who he was.
My reasons for moving were many but faith was not one of them. Had I stuck by my faith that would have been the last of my reasons to move in with my father. Rather this move was out of desperation. I was homeless, broke, and hungry. That in itself is another story for another time (perhaps another lifetime, even).
The little I knew of the man led me to fear him greatly. There were many stories I heard of him and about him that led me to have a rousing supsicion as to the type of person he was. He was suspect in my book. There were adults (it always seems to lead to adults from my childhood) that knew him from before I was born and during the early stages of my childhood (prior to Kindergarten) that gave me a sour impression as to his character. He was angry and mean all the time. He treated others with disdain and disrespect. He was going to hell because he didn’t believe in god. He was abusive-physically, emotionally, and mentally. He smoke and drank which was the devil’s handiwork. All these stories either came to me (or I overheard them) through many different family members and adult friends of the family. Some were very vague stories and others went into specifics. But it filled me with fear.
The only reason I had for doubt of some of these stories were the two summers where I got to spend two weeks with unrestricted access to my father. Never once did he raise his hand in anger or yell or curse at my sister and I. Never once did he degrade or tear either of us down and never once did he fulfill all the stories of my youth. So in my desperate situation, after the adults of my youth failed me (as I said—homeless, broke, and hungry), I called him.
I remember that moment, on the phone with my father, as I let go of the faith I had placed in the adults of my childhood and told him the entirety of my situation. I paused, waiting for his response, unsure of what to expect. He told me he’d call me back. When he did return the call he gave me his credit card number and told me to move into the Super 8. It took a couple months to work out the details of the move so I was required to live in a hotel for two months. At the end of that summer I flew to meet him and he picked me up at the airport.
In the following years I grew to know the man and dispel every rumor and misconception I had held for him for the better part of two decades. He was a loving, caring man who had had his children stripped from him without his knowledge. A man who came home to an empty house to discover his entire family moved in a day. A man who played chess, read fantasy books (he had a parrot named Gandalf), and worked on cars. A man who knew religion and political science. A man whose family had emigrated from Germany after the fall of the Nazi regime because they valued liberty above ideology. A man with a sense of character, pride, and above all else a love for his fellow mankind. He was not godless (like I am now) as my childhood had taught me but he merely just held a more liberal belief not in line with the hardline fundamentalists. All of this and more that I had missed out in knowing during my childhood. I had been robbed…by faith.
I’m not writing this out of spite or anger. I’m over that by this point in my life. I love everyone in my family, and perhaps yes all to varying degrees. But faith destroyed my family. A faith I believed in which showed my father as a villainous evil man was unfounded and based upon the perception of fundamentalism. A faith that once placed against the fabric of reason and experience was proved illegitimate. This is the folly of faith. Faith is dangerous. Faith leads people to blindly follow without question.
People come to me arguing that it is extreme faith that leads to this amount of abuse of the religious. Perhaps, but without the religious existence in the first place people would not have this fundamentalist mindset. If you ask a moderate religious individual whether or not the fundamentalist evangelicals are evil they will, of course, say “no.” When you cite specific examples, however, they will state that those people aren’t “true christians” or “true muslims” or “true believers” of whatever sect it is and that that is an exception to the rule. However, you cannot deny that the faith involved in present-day stories of religious horror do match stories from thousands of years ago. How many cities and towns were desecrated in the name of god? How is a tale of myself being ripped from my father in the name of fundamentalism any different from the tales of yesteryear? Simple—my father wasn’t killed for his non-belief (even though he believes in god, just not their version of God). It’s better today than it was a thousand years ago with mass-murder (although it does happen), at least in the mainstream media. But “faith” is still just as dangerous as ever.
This does not mean I don’t associate with the people of faith who had a great impact in my life. On the contrary! I even asked for one of them to officiate the wedding between my wife and myself. He declined to do so because I no longer was a Christian. I was not too taken aback by this but my wife, however, was. I knew about the horrible effects of faith and it didn’t really surprise me all that much so I moved on with it within a few moments and made it passing news to my wife. She didn’t take it so lightly and nor would I expect her to. I did not cut him out of my life and, contrary to what many people who have felt similar rejection from the religious have done, I have done more to reach out to those people blinded by faith. I still stay in contact and am respectful to them as individuals but am by no means respectful towards their petty belief system. I would say that makes me more “christlike” than most of them. Lol…
Nonetheless, that experience (or life, as you will) did not lead me away from faith. If anything it brought me closer to it, sadly. The story of losing my faith is much less interesting. It is perhaps better told at another point in time. I only wished to share just how dangerous faith can be…and this is on a non-violent level. We’ve all seen the reports of violent faith. It is, in my opinion, nothing short of child abuse. If they are given a choice that is another matter which we can also discuss, but many are never left with a choice. Most children are required to accept the belief system of their parents in fear of ostracism or worse.
I prefer to teach others skepticism and allow them to apply that to their faith. If they still believe so be it. But never revere faith as something like an honorable trait. You may as well call the faithful fodder for the charlatans. As the saying goes: Those who believe in nothing will fall for anything. We non-believers are accused of this often. I always have a retort. I don’t believe in nothing. I believe in reason and skepticism. I also believe in helping my fellow man. The following is the Supreme Court Definition of Atheism:
“Your petitioners are atheists and they define their beliefs as follows. An atheist loves his fellow man instead of god. An atheist believes that heaven is something for which we should work now – here on earth for all men together to enjoy.
An atheist believes that he can get no help through prayer but that he must find in himself the inner conviction and strength to meet life, to grapple with it, to subdue it, and enjoy it.
An atheist believes that only in a knowledge of himself and a knowledge of his fellow man can he find the understanding that will help to a life of fulfillment.
He seeks to know himself and his fellow man rather than to know a god. An atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An atheist believes that a deed must be done instead of a prayer said. An atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death.
He wants disease conquered, poverty vanquished, war eliminated. He wants man to understand and love man. He wants an ethical way of life.
He believes that we cannot rely on a god or channel action into prayer nor hope for an end of troubles in a hereafter.
He believes that we are our brother’s keepers and are keepers of our own lives; that we are responsible persons and the job is here and the time is now.”
That is the creed I live by. Atheism itself is the lack of belief in anything. In America it means so much more than that. By the decree of the highest court in the land anyone who proclaims to be an atheist proclaims that as their way of living. But it is not faith. It is the opposite of faith. It is the ability to question doing something simply because that is the way it has always been done.
I abhor faith today, and I feel sorry for the faithful. Even the moderate faithful give me cause for fear because what is to stop them from becoming extremists? A simple emotional experience? A single sermon? What would it take to bring a catalyst that will push them to that edge? Because, even by the holiest of holy books (take your pick of the three most prominent monotheistic religions), atrocities in the name of god are still looked upon as holy. The only reason they are unacceptable today is because The Brights (intellectuals, liberals, individuals who adhere to the age of reason) have exposed it. But the religious continue to take credit for the hard work of exposing the very savagery that is central to their god culture. They are “enlightened by god” and have stopped such things. Sure…
Faith. How dangerous thou art!