Honesty about Religion

I know that people are supposed to “show respect” to religious belief–that that’s a widely held position. But I don’t have any respect for it. I have precisely the opposite. It seems to me breathtakingly ironic that religions make claims to truth and characterize dishonesty as a sin and yet are fundamentally dishonest. They involve people lying to themselves and others about what they understand and know. Believers today no more know the ideas that they promulgate as truths than did folks living in ancient Norway when they spoke of Odin and Frigg, but at least those ancients had the excuse of living in a superstitious, prescientific time. Superstition is, of course, superstition no matter who believes it. It’s not made any more credible because it is believed by someone who is in other ways discerning and knowledgeable.

Yes, I know that giving up one’s invisible friends can be hard, but it’s long past time for that.

Here’s a tell: people are actually so unsure about this religious stuff that they pretend to certain about that they have to build walls around it, make it out of bounds, taboo, or impolite to criticize it. Suppose that I were to say to you that Chicago is the greatest city in Indiana. You would feel no compunction about pointing out to me that I’m wrong, that Chicago is in Illinois. That proposition about the world is false, and no one would think it wrong, at all, to say so. But if it’s a religious claim–prayers are answered, you can only be saved by grace, you go to heaven (or hell) when you die, a human sacrifice had to be carried out to erase people’s sins, Christ died and was resurrected after three days, a virgin gave birth two thousand years ago, wafers turn into God’s body, Joshua told the sun to stop in the sky and it did, Satan is at work in the world, there are witches, you shouldn’t suffer a witch to live, and so on–the claim, no matter how childish, how ludicrous, how like the other crazy things that people used to believe thousands of years ago in a credulous age, supposedly must be treated with respect. Why? Because if you treated any of any of these fundamentally silly and sometimes morally obtuse religious claims as you would treat any other claim about the universe, you would dismiss the stuff out of hand. Religious ideas can’t stand up to scrutiny, and that’s why questioning them in public is treated as taboo, as a faux pas.

Here’s another tell: When people talk about their religious ideas, they use the term belief. Even though they make the claim that their religious propositions are knowledge, are certainties, are things they know to be true, they use the term belief: I believe that Christ is my savior, I believe in the power of prayer, and so on. But consider this. If you think it true that there is beer in the fridge, if you consider it certainly to be so because you just put a six pack into the fridge, then you would NOT say, “I believe that there is beer in the fridge.” You would just say, “There is beer in the fridge.” People simultaneously claim that religious knowledge is the highest and surest type of knowledge AND use the term belief to describe it, a term we otherwise reserve for describing uncertainties. Why? Because we use the term belief when we are making claims that we are not actually sure about. What this shows is that people don’t actually know the things they claim to know via their religions. They are LYING about their certainty, to themselves and others. And ironically, the major religions all teach that lying is bad.

Here’s the thing: I take seriously the notion that you shouldn’t tell falsehoods and shouldn’t claim certainty about that which is at best totally fanciful and speculative, like a fairytale. I’ll go even further and say that perpetrating falsehood is really damaging, that it undermines people’s ability to think clearly. And I think that telling falsehoods to children as part of their training for adulthood is particularly egregious. It’s simply not acceptable.

Enough. Enough. It is far, far past time that we threw over these superstitions from the infancy of our culture before these become, again, via our fundamentalist Extreme Court and various state theocracies one of the primary vehicles for propping up murderous autocracy, which has been a major function of monotheistic religion since its inception in the ancient city-states.

We should stop, I think, pussy-footing around people’s religious “sensibilities.” Why? Because the truth actually matters.


About Bob Shepherd

interests: curriculum design, educational technology, learning, linguistics, hermeneutics, rhetoric, philosophy (Continental philosophy, Existentialism, metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, epistemology, ethics), classical and jazz guitar, poetry, the short story, archaeology and cultural anthropology, history of religion, prehistory, veganism, sustainability, Anglo-Saxon literature and language, systems for emergent quality control, heuristics for innovation
This entry was posted in Epistemology, Metaphysics, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Honesty about Religion

  1. I use the term “faith belief” to distinguish religious dogma from rationo-logical skeptical thought, i.e., scientific thinking. For me it is the faith part that is the problem as one has to believe through faith alone that what you cite are true. . . and like you say, that is not a reasonable excuse for absurd thinking which, again as you say, shouldn’t/doesn’t merit our respect.

    Hey, faith believe anything you want, you know like the faith belief that the FSM lives in Russell’s Teapot-Ramen!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Darhlene says:

    I believe you are right! We do need to stop pussyfooting around religious sensibilities but must be mindful of showing respect where we can. Where we can’t, it behooves us to take others down a notch with your addendum, “Truth actually matters,” because it does tremendously.

    Liked by 2 people

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