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.

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.

 

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.

Saudi Arabia and the Islamic State

Morally speaking, is Saudi Arabia any better than the Islamic State?  The Islamic State is our enemy, and deservedly so.  They use Islam as justification for violence.  The violence is meant to silence their critics, and to intimidate the masses.  Saudi Arabia is our ally.  They are set to execute 14 men for attending a pro-democracy rally.  The youngest of the group, Mujtaba’a al-Sweikat, was only 17 when he was arrested at an airport in his homeland, on his way to study at Western Michigan University.  He never got there.  Instead, he was tried and sentenced to death for attending a rally.  He is set to be executed for exercising political speech.  What is the difference between ISIS and Saudi Arabia?  Why are we allied with one and against the other?  Do they not represent the same form of evil?