Faith and Assumptions

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In the last post, I argued that faith-based beliefs are irrational.  To deepen this perspective, we will look at things from another angle.   Let’s compare the definitions of ’faith’ and ‘to assume’.

Faith: Belief without evidence or proof

To assume: to take as true without evidence or proof

‘Faith’ is a noun, while ‘to assume’ is a verb.  But, otherwise, these two definitions are nearly identical. There is a slight difference between believing in something, and taking it as true. Faith is more committed to an idea than an assumption needs to be.  But, faith plays the same role in the mind as assumptions do.  They enable reasoning.

Faith itself is not reasoning.  Faith is belief.  Belief is a starting point in reasoning.  Before we can question our beliefs, we must first believe.  Religious faith accepts its assumptions uncritically.  Faith is acquired and faith is passed on.  Faith is community-defined belief.  The group has a say in what the members profess.  Faith is not knowledge.  It comes without evidence or proof.  Faith does not know.  Faith merely accepts as true.

Faith can be wrong.  When there is evidence to support an idea, we can place more confidence in the idea.  Faith says, “I am true,” but without evidence.  Rationality is more skeptical.  A rational thinker realizes that faith could be wrong.  The rational person does not accept incredible claims without credible evidence.  It is rational to question faith.  It is rational to ask, “Is it true?”

Faith can be taken too far.

Delusion: A strongly held mistaken belief that cannot be swayed by evidence to the contrary

When we question faith, especially in the face of overwhelming evidence that its claims are wrong, we are behaving rationally.  When the faithful cannot change their thinking, even when their thinking can be shown to be wrong, they are delusional.  There is no problem in having faith in an idea before there is evidence to support it.  But ignoring evidence to the contrary is wrong.  Ignoring evidence to the contrary is not honest.  How strong is your faith?  Is it delusional strong?  A delusional person believes they are right when they are wrong.  And when we show where they are wrong, they still claim to be correct.

Rationality is a choice.  We have to choose to be rational, in order to become rational.  Faith happens to everyone.  We are all born into some form of faith.  We do not choose our initial beliefs.  Delusion is also not a choice. Delusion believes what it wants to believe, evidence be damned.  The delusional mind cannot help itself.

Rationality is not an easy choice.  Especially when faith can be so comforting.  It is comforting to believe that your beliefs are valid and true.  It is discomforting to realize they may not be. 

Rationality seeks to believe that which is true.  And to not believe that which is false.  Faith does not aspire to be true or correct.  Faith only claims that it is so.

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.

The Limits of Faith

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This has been in the making for some time.  I was inspired to write a book.  I was disturbed enough to try.  For the past few years I have been hard at work developing the themes and concepts I wish to discuss, and integrating them into a model of the book.  The book itself was too complex to write in one go.  I had to build a model of it, to help me see what I was trying to say.

In some ways, the book has been a healthy diversion from life’s problems.  I have a form of muscular dystrophy that makes things quite challenging.  Several years ago I was forced to quit the working world, and deal head on with this.  It took a lot of effort to learn how to live with failing strength.  But I have.  Recently I moved from Arizona to North Carolina.  Soon I will move from an apartment into a home.  This was unthinkable three and four years ago.  But think it I did and now here I am.

Last year, at the beginning of summer, I made my first road trip, on my own.  I went to the 29th annual Pima Writers Workshop, in Tucson.  I submitted a manuscript to be critiqued by an agent.  First time doing that.  The guy likes my writing, but not as a book.  This did not stop me.  But it got me thinking about the scope of what I am trying to describe.  I have an awful lot of material that contradicts our understanding of ourselves.

One of the goals I set for myself at the beginning of this year was to write for an audience.  Begin publishing.  This blog has been on and off the back burner since its inception.  It has been difficult to keep this up while dealing with everything else.  But when I found the home, it occurred to me that I had achieved a goal I had set when I first could no longer work.  I had gotten myself out of one living situation I could no longer handle physically, and into one that I could.  A couple weeks ago I met at the house with a contractor to get a quote on a wheelchair ramp and a front deck, to replace the wooden staircase leading to the front door.  Afterwards, getting back in my van, I had to pause for a vision.  Something was telling me that I could finally pick up the blog again, and sustain it.

We live in a world gone mad.  I have been following the problem of radical Islam with intense disturbed fascination.  My writing interests have converged with world events.  I have spent my life finding the words to describe a phenomenon that regularly now is making the news.  Then, in the past few days, news broke of the pending executions of 14 pro-democracy demonstrators in Saudi Arabia.  As a writer, I feel a need to do something.  It is time to put an end to this madness.

My goal is to stop these executions from happening, by bringing attention to their plight.  But this is a short term goal.  Long term, my goal is to challenge our understanding of God, so that radical Islam loses its power.  My method will be to counter the narrative of radical Islam by describing it in new terms.  Religions like Islam and Christianity present a false view of God.  I am building a case.  We need a new understanding.  Something rational.  Because we have reached the limits of faith.