Faith-based beliefs are fundamentally irrational

My brother sent me an article.  He is a Christian minister.  I am an atheist.  We sometimes argue matters of faith.  I was already looking for a way to highlight my philosophical differences with Christianity.  This article is the perfect jumping-off point for that discussion.

The Irrationality of Doubt is an opinion piece by a Christian writer named Cliff Goldstein.    Mr. Goldstein’s thesis is that, to him, faith is rational, and to doubt is not. But this is wrong.  My counter-thesis is summarized by the title of my post.  Faith-based beliefs are fundamentally irrational.  In another post, I will show the irrationality of Goldstein’s argument.  In this post, I will develop the foundation from which I will mount that challenge.

My issue with Goldstein is that he does not seem to understand the meaning of the word ‘rational’.  He mis-uses it throughout his argument.  He argues that his faith-based beliefs are rational.  I will show that, by the definitions of the words ‘faith’ and ‘rational’, this is not true.

At one time I was just as confused as Mr. Goldstein is about the concepts of rationality and faith.  I was raised Catholic.  There is not much rationality in the Catholic world view.  But at least the Catholic Church does correctly teach that science is the ultimate authority in establishing matters of fact.  Fundamentalist Christians should take a lesson from the Catholics on this.  When Christians deny science, they stand on the wrong side of truth.

Science would not be possible without rationality.  Science is not perfect.  But, to the extent that it does work at uncovering truth, it works because science is rational.  

Rational:

  • consistent with reason, or based on reason.  Logical.

Science is based on reason and logic.   This is why science can be called rational.  And scientists are generally reasonable and logical in their thinking.  At least within the bounds of expertise.  Here are two other definitions for rational.  These adjectives are often used to describe scientists and their thinking.

Rational:  

  • having or showing the ability to reason.
  • of sound mind; sane.

I can understand why Cliff Goldstein would want to call his faith rational.  Who wouldn’t like to be thought of as sane and reasonable?  Who wouldn’t want their beliefs to be judged as consistent with reason, or logic?  The trouble is, calling yourself rational does not make one’s self rational.  Don’t just call yourself rational.  Be rational.  Rationality is both a choice and a practice.  

A rational person is reasonable.  To be reasonable means to do form one’s opinions based on evidence or reason.  A rational person is in control of their faculties for reason.  They are sane.  A rational person says things for reasons that make sense.  They believe things for reasons that make sense.  They do things and say things for reasons that make sense.

Now compare these meanings with the definition of ‘faith’.

Faith:  

  • To believe something without evidence or reason

Faith is not rational.  Faith is almost a polar opposite of rational.  A rational person believes things for reasons that make sense.  A person of faith believes things for no logical reason.  Faith does not depend on reason.  Faith is to simply believe.  Faith inherits beliefs from the past.

Now understand.  I am not saying that it is irrational to engage in a spiritual practice.  I can’t say that practicing a faith is irrational.  But I am saying that faith-based beliefs are not rational.  A faith-based belief is a belief that is held without evidence or reason.  A faith-based belief is not a logical belief.  A logical belief is a rational belief.  And a rational belief is based on reason.  Faith-based beliefs persist for no apparent reason.

Salvation

Christian salvation makes no sense.  Supposedly, because we are all sinners, none of us gets to heaven, except through Jesus.  In order to be forgiven for our sins, we first need to accept Jesus into our lives.  He died on the cross for us.  We should be grateful for this act of love.

But is this how a loving God would treat us?  After all, God could have simply forgiven us for our sins.  So, why does He require an unblemished human male to be sacrificed, first?  And if he sends his only begotten son to his death, does he love His Son? If He loves his Son, and if He loves us too, why would He be pleased by this crucifixion?

Should we be angry at Pontius Pilate because he sentenced Jesus to die?  Pontius Pilate is portrayed in Christian lore as one of the bad guys.  But, in order for God’s plan for salvation to actually work, someone had to kill Jesus on our behalf.  If I accept salvation from Christ, does that make me an accessory to His murder?  Why would I want to be a part of that?

Christian theology is wrong.  God does not require a human sacrifice before forgiveness can be granted.  Christianity is based on a primitive and brutal understanding of God.  The path to salvation does not begin with the murder of Christ.

God and Time

Someone once said that we should think of God as the set of all true statements.  If that is all that God is — an infinitely large set of true statements — then I believe that God exists.  Because I believe in true statements.  I can’t argue with that.  But I am not sure that we should worship God either, if that’s all He is.  Don’t get me wrong.  I hold truth as the highest virtue.  And the set of all true statements would be of the utmost importance in society, especially if we could somehow tap into it.  But I don’t believe that a mere set of true statements can hear prayers.

There are different levels of infinity.  Some infinite sets are countable, in the sense that each member of the set could be associated with a unique counting number.  Other sets are uncountably large.  There are many more members in the uncountably large set than we have numbers to associate with each of them.  The set of all true statements is uncountably large.  If there are an uncountably infinite number of points between 0 and 1 ( — and there are —), then there is an uncountable infinity within set of statements that could be made about just those points between two consecutive integers.  Now extend that to how many true statements could be made about any given point within the space-time continuum.  Try to imagine a mind with a total and comprehensive awareness of everything.

I can’t do it.  I cannot imagine it.  I do not believe that such a mind could exist.  What is the mind of God made of, if everything that exists came after God?  How could the mind of God exist before anything that does exist was actually created?  How could a mind with no physical substance think everything that would need to be thought of in order to make the universe a reality?

If God had thoughts before the universe existed, then thoughts predate existence.  How can thoughts predate existence?  Before the existence of time, how did God think?  Thinking is a form of processing.  Processing is an action.  What changed in God’s thinking that caused Him to create the universe, if He had always existed before He created time itself?  What is the nature of a timeless eternity?  Why did God’s timeless mind suddenly change?  That would have had to have been the starting point of time itself.  That point where God’s thoughts were set into motion.

Letting Go

My resolution for 2017 was to publish something.  I failed to meet the deadline.  But this past February, I finally did submit my first manuscript for publication.  I had been working on this paper since about August of 2015, when it began life as the opening chapter of a book.  The last little bit of work was easy, and yet so difficult.  I had put a lot into this project, and a psychological block was preventing me from closing this chapter and moving on. I finally did.

Then, I took some time off.  I kept writing daily.  But nothing specific, and not very imaginative.  My mind needed a break.  I needed a break.  Sending off the manuscript felt like victory, even though I can’t really celebrate until it is published.  It has been two months, and I haven’t been rejected, yet.  My fingers remain superstitiously crossed.

One of the things preventing me from blogging more had been this paper.  I needed to finish it before I could say anything meaningful here.  Until it is published, I can’t really discuss it in detail.  But this manuscript was a personal thesis.  The more I put into it, the less there seemed to be to say here, until it was done.  Blogging about this unfinished project felt self-defeating.  Why?  I would ask myself.  Am I writing for this blog when I could instead be finishing one of my dream goals?

Now that the work is behind me, I have had a chance to re-orient.  The thesis is finished. Now I want to test it out.  I want to challenge how we see religion.

My parents raised their children Catholic.  I began life quite devout, but with a burning desire.  I wanted to understand my world.  I wanted to understand my faith.  Originally, when I began this journey, I began with the assumption that my faith was true.  This is what I had been taught as a child.

For years my mother defended Catholicism as ‘the one true faith.’  How could this be the one true faith?  I would ask.  How do you know which version is true Christianity?   I have met Protestants who steadfastly proclaimed that their own versions were true, and who condemned Catholicism as everything from misguided to the work of the devil.  I would ask them the same questions.  How do you know that your beliefs are true beliefs?  I could never get an answer that made sense.  People defend their faith in many ways.  I was looking for something rational.  When I realized that there was nothing rational about it, I let go, and my faith fell away.

Letting go of my faith was perhaps one of the most important decisions of my life.  It forced me to confront my own spirituality more directly.  I was changing my thinking by challenging my assumptions.  I wanted to be able to defend my words.  This meant discarding indefensible beliefs, in order to speak truthfully.

Significant Finding — The Interbrain

The Science section of today’s edition of The Telegraph features a story about how a form of  ‘wi-fi’ connects human brains.  This phenomenon is known as The Interbrain, and is based on the research of Professor Digby Tantum, a clinical professor of psychotherapy at the University of Sheffield.

Reading this article helped fill in some blanks on my own theory of culture, and how it manifests within people.  I would like to develop a paper, after putting finishing touches on a different (current) thesis, that comes at this very same idea from a different angle.  I already believe that we are wired together, and I have a lot to say on this subject.  This only confirms some of my suspicions.

If you have not read today’s article from The Telegraph, do so.  It helps to explain aspects of our social nature.  Here is a passage I found particularly pertinent.

Prof Tantum believes that the communication between brains may happen as an ‘inadvertent leak’ and it may be linked to smell. Areas of the brain which have the most activity of neurons are located in the prefrontal cortex, and are linked with smelling. They also are situated where they follow the gaze.

Our social nature may be linked to smell?  I am willing to go out on a limb with a detail of my own theory.  I think the word ‘may’ is not necessary.  But in order to explain this, I will have to first explain how similar we are to social insects.  In my younger days, before i lost my strength, I was a beekeeper (among other things).  I had the chance to study bees, and later ants, up close and personal.  Those experiences have remained with me.  I look at human behavior through a lens formed during those years.

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I have not abandoned my NaNoWriMo project.  I have only set it aside for the time being.    When i finish the project i started 36 years ago — only days from doing so — I will have more time for that, and this blog, and maybe talking about some things that Professor Digby Tantum is introducing to the world.  His ideas allow me to begin discussing my own.  Many of which bleed over into spirituality and its various forms of religious manifestations throughout history.

Have a wonderful day.

 

 

A new direction

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What I originally envisioned as a book has instead become a project to occupy me until my death.  Instead of a book, I have decided to begin publishing papers and articles.  The last few years left me with a lot of time to think about what I wanted to write.  I have so much more than a simple book.  Eventually, (hopefully), a book will come.  But my goal at the moment is to stir the cultural pot.  I seek to challenge conventional religious thinking.  I am convinced that Christians and Muslims see the world incorrectly.  I am convinced that for many, faith has become an obstacle to thinking.

Without rationality, we are socially controlled by a dynamic system of opinions.  Without knowledge to compare with our beliefs, we cannot know whether our opinions are actually true.  A correct understanding of the world allows to make correct decisions.

My goal is to marry rationality with our collective spiritual practices, by challenging the idea that Christians and Muslims speak for God.  I am an atheist who believes in God.  My goal is to demonstrate that within Christianity and Islam, a false understanding of God is being taught.

How do I know Thee, father?

As a former Catholic with a more naturalistic understanding of the world, I have long suspected that many Catholics, maybe most?, must have priestly ancestors.  There was a scandal in my own community that was kept hush-hush when I was a teenager.  A priest had become a real father with a girl from the church.  She was my age, +/- 1 year.  No one talked about it.  Years later my mom brought it up.  For some reason, we didn’t discuss these things as a family while they were an actual threat.  Ah, but that is the Catholic way.  We were kept ignorant by our own inability to speak about sexuality without feeling shame.

Now we have strong evidence that children fathered by Catholic priests is a worldwide phenomenon.  Thousands of people around the world have strong evidence that they were fathered by priests.  They are pressured not to speak about these things.  Why did I leave Catholicism?  Because the ideology does not allow for open and honest communication about things that matter.  Plain and simple.