PZ posted a bit from an obsessive loony yesterday. I won’t go into detail on the loony’s post, but one snarky part of the loony’s rant caught my attention because I hear it so much from non-loony (at least, to that extent) religious people.
You don’t want people thinking that they can just believe whatever the fuck they want to get them through the day :: and to cope with their own mortality :: and the mortality of those they treasure …
You’re dead right: I don’t want people thinking they can believe whatever the fuck they want.
So frequently religious people will say their beliefs about god are the most important thing in their lives, and then they causally say something like this, which dismisses any concern for whether or not those beliefs are true as though their beliefs are as unimportant as stale leftovers.
Can’t people believe whatever they want, regardless of whether or not it’s true? What if it comforts them?
Too. Fucking. Bad. There are outlets to comfort that don’t involve sacrificing our intellect at the altar of complacency. You can find peace without hacking down the fence between fantasy and fact.
What of the parents who prayed their daughter to death, comforted until her dying breath by the belief that trusting god over doctors would cause their child to recover? The solace those parents found in believing their daughter is in a better place (y’know, coping with the experience of their treasured daughter’s mortality courtesy of their shitty beliefs) does not unmake the fact that erroneous beliefs caused perfectly caring parents to murder their offspring. Surely the men who brought down the twin towers coped with death by imagining their existence beyond the explosions. The empty tranquility extracted from inaccurate/lazy beliefs is not without repercussions, nor is it a moral way to seek comfort. The idea that we shouldn’t care about the reliability of our beliefs is an evil concept that corrupts otherwise good people, yet it is a concept for which anybody who believes on faith necessarily stands in defense.
You may scream until you’re blue in the face that I cannot compare the pious parents in the above example to ‘normal’ believers, but you’re wrong. While unsupported beliefs are a crapshoot that produces several different behavioral outcomes, a way in which you can tie every single believer in Jesus together is that each and every one of them has no better reason to believe they’re right than the next Christian. The liberal Christian has no better reason to believe they are privy to the will of god than Fred Phelps or the parents of pure intent who watched as their daughter died unnecessarily. Every single Christian, Muslim, you name it, has failed to treat evidence or reason with greater primacy than the maintenance of their present beliefs. This is a failure that should be noted without apology and that should worry the believer, but instead they so often dismiss the importance of forging reliable beliefs with the immoral noise of, “Shouldn’t we be allowed to believe whatever we want?” with an unspoken “…without you pestering us about it?” at the end.
And the answer is an exasperated ‘NO!’, delivered with mountains of frustration that we are expected to answer such a stupid question. We can’t have people believing whatever they damn well please. Beliefs are the guardians of actions, and the inane beliefs that give religious people comfort often come with a lot of other baggage on an individual level and always come with baggage on the societal level. This is why religion is the chief catalyst in America for the suppression of minority rights and the social stigmatization of outgroups. This has resulted in non-believers burying who they are for fear of losing their jobs and/or losing their family (and if the atheist is a minor, losing their home) as well as a whole slew of other malicious shit.
Beliefs that do not incorporate reality often result in behavior that does not incorporate reality, and that’s a pretty lousy way of navigating compassionately through…reality. And since these people are my teammates here on Earth, with whom I must work to live a happy life and to foster a better world, their beliefs (as well as their lack of pious care in developing them) is god damn sure my business the second they step out of church.
The truth matters. Don’t get pissed at us for pointing out where you have failed in formulating judicious beliefs, stop acting like you shouldn’t have to try and make sense, and start fixing your failures – which is precisely what faith-based beliefs are. Faith is not beautiful. It is gullibility pursued. Believing things on faith in opposition to reason, like believing in people rising from the dead or walking on water, is an intellectual failure. It is something people should be ashamed of. This is the problem with religion, and it is captured in a single sentence atop of this post that we’ve all heard from believers.
Religion tells us that cheap comfort takes precedence over reason. In doing so, it tells us that being irrational is acceptable. It’s not.