Sunday, July 11, 2010

Clinging to a Thread

Over the past several weeks I have had a series of brief, unintelligible, meaningless conversations on faith with religious believers.

One was with a dogmatic Mormon who didn’t want to listen to anything I said, but was more than happy to spout out the greatness of Mormonism and attempt to proselytize me after shutting me down at every chance. After two or three tries to voice my rational, well reasoned, educated opinion only to be interrupted and cut off before I even finished the first sentence, I decided to end our chat during the middle of the Mormon’s lecture; and just log off. He kept talking and tried to egg me back into the chat by claiming I knew I had no defense and so was giving up, but I was through trying to reason with such a religious-retard.  If one is predisposed to dismiss all questions in this way, they have been relieved of the burden of thinking through their faith.

I am a post-theist  atheist after all—who has a firm grasp on religion. If you want to have a discussion, then I am all for that, but if you just want to hear the sound of your own voice which you are so in love with, then please, go tell it to somebody who cares.

Not soon after, I had a sit down conversation with a good friend who just so happens to be a believing Protestant. I recognized many of his evangelical convictions as being fairly mainstream, so I was wondering what branch of Evangelical Christianity he was raised in (after all I was an Evangelical Christian for nearly three decades). I simply asked him his denomination and he retreated into a defensive, “Protestant Christianity is basically all the same. It doesn’t really matter what denomination you were raised… but I take my beliefs seriously, so be careful…” Of course I'm paraphrasing what he said, but the additional warning to be careful made me *smile inside.

I used to find such warnings a threat… as in… be careful of what you say next, or I’ll have to get medieval on your ass. But that’s merely Fundamentalist  special pleading… hear what I have to say because it's important (whatever you say is wrong so shut up)... yet what my friend was saying was more akin to, “Please be careful not to challenge my faith… because it’s hanging by a thread.” This privatization of faith is not much better than the fundamentalist strain if only because this sort of faith is akin to the Sermon-on-the-Mount style of faith where Matthew instructs us to hide any religious devotion from the approving or disapproving eyes of others.

Mike D. over on his blog The A-Unicornist has raised a good point:

There's a place for serious discussion, since religious belief does have some serious implications; but we shouldn't hesitate to remind the faithful that their beliefs, and indeed their entire basis for understanding the world, are ridiculous.

I have some immediate family members who have also made the same defensive plea for me not to challenge their sacred beliefs and cherished convictions. They have said things along the lines of “It hurts me deeply to have this discussion,” and “It’s too painful for me to talk about it with you,” or “You’re only going to try and prove to me that my beliefs are wrong…” etc. My point is: But what if your beliefs ARE wrong?! As painful of a revelation as that would be, wouldn't the truth be worth knowing? Nobody seems to want to take on the burden of testing their faith.

The reason I challenge people on their religious beliefs, and try to do so respectably, is because I take it seriously. If you don’t take your beliefs seriously, then why the defensive attitude whenever someone asks you to qualify or defend your position? Being critical and holding one’s beliefs, faith, or religion up to scrutiny is necessary if you want to test the validity of such. If not, then you can’t claim to me that your beliefs mean anything—because you haven’t tested them! How could you possibly begin to know?

As Robert M. Prices elucidates in his book The Reason-Driven Life, this form of faith, the type where loyalty to Christianity overrules loyalty to family even, is problematic at best:

...the loyalty one properly feels for one's partners in Christian fellowship comes to overrule one's duty to consider intellectual questions with the necessary impartiality. If a person is to be intellectually honest with himself, he needs to set aside his preferences, what he would wish to be true, and consider matters as objectively as possible.

Admittedly, if you are serious about your faith—then the weakness of these three forms of faith, such as 1) ducking the question because you boast of your certainty (Fundamentalist delusional certitude), 2) privatizing your faith as to make it discrete enough to evade critical inquiry (Sermon-on-the-Mount reclusive moderatism) or 3) showing favoritism without having considered any other possibilities first (party-line adherence akin to obstinacy in belief), should make you, as a believer, want to defend your weary and tired faith so as to protect those personal beliefs from fading away altogether. 

Strangely, it is clear to me that the majority have taken the opposite tactic, of sheltering their faith as if to safeguard it—either behind a pretense of white noise or a penitent silence. But if you ask me, a once devoted Christian, this is no faith worth having at all. Still, I am glad they are keeping it to themselves, because whatever else they may believe, their faith doesn’t really matter in the grander scheme of things… and they’ve only proved my point for me.

Faith seems to be receding, dwindling away, at a record pace and a secular worldview is slowly, but surely, replacing it. This doesn’t mean religion will vanish from the face of the Earth, hardly, but it does show that religion is becoming diminished. These recent conversations, the one with the defiant Mormon with deep convictions in his certitude about  the truth of Mormonism, the one with my strangely silent Evangelical (???) friend, and my tight lipped family members who’d rather not even bring it up because it’s just too much of a bother… is proof enough that for many… they are clinging to a thread.

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist