Saturday, June 12, 2010

Five Reasons Christians Give for Believing

People believe in God for different reasons. But I believe the most common reason is that they were raised that way. Religion has hung on so long despite having absolutely no empirical evidence to support it because it has become an ingrained tradition in families. Couple that with the lucrative church business, so that religious organizations are compelled to keep the believers coming in, and you have what we all see today: The majority of people in the world, even as adults who should know better, keep believing in an unproven father figure in the sky.

Since I was raised Christian, and most people who live in America call themselves Christians, I am focusing this entry on why people claim to be Christian, as opposed to, say, Muslim or Jew. But it probably works similarly for any of the other monotheistic religions, too. They all assume the existence of a single god in the sky.

1. So the first reason mentioned above, that people are Christian because they were raised Christian, most likely means that, as adults, they probably just haven’t given religious belief much thought. I’m fairly confident that if most people by the time they reach the age of 18 would sit down and make a pro and con list of why they should keep on believing the way they were raised to believe, they would discover there is no real reason to continue in the charade.

Of course, some people do just that. My son and my daughter both overcame the religious upbringing their mother gave them (and I went along with because I was one of those who had not paid serious attention to why I was a Christian). My son bolted first, when he was about 15 or so. My daughter’s rejection of Christianity came during college.

2. Having faith is a good thing. I’m often told, “You have to believe in something.” But why is it that religious faith gets a pass when it comes to critical thinking? We have freedom of religion in this country, so that means we have to respect other people’s beliefs, right? Well, no. It only means people have the legal right to practice whatever kind of silly superstition they want. It doesn’t mean I’m required by law to respect that belief. I respect their right to believe it, but not the belief itself. So there is no reason for me, or anyone else, to tiptoe around someone’s faith. Faith should be met head on with as much critical thinking as you would give a salesman hawking a vacuum cleaner for $1,200. And why do I have to believe in something, if that something has no evidence to back it up? I believe in what the evidence tells me, nothing more. Why should anyone else have a lower criterion for what they believe?

People often say that even non-believers have a certain faith, too: They have faith in their children to do the right thing; they have faith the sun will come up in the morning. Well, yes, I do believe those things. But I believe them because I have past evidence that it will happen. My children have always shown me that they are capable. The sun has always come up, every day. So why shouldn’t I believe it will come up tomorrow? It’s not really faith if you know it’s going to happen. And you don’t really have faith in your kids, you have trust in them. Trust is something that’s earned; faith is blind.

3. “I need a solid foundation on which to base my life.” Well, so do I. But why base it on a superstition? How is that solid? People tell me that God is always there, never changing, when everything else in the world, including science, changes. They say they need that sense of stability. I can respect that. But, again, the people who claim that having a solid foundation and stability is the reason they believe are misguided. It’s true that Christianity is pretty much the same now as it was 2,000 years ago in terms of its core doctrine. It’s also still just as bogus. People point to science and say that it changes too much, that they don’t know what is true. Discoveries made by science might, indeed, change as time goes by. But that’s the beauty of science; it corrects itself. Religion does not. Why bother correcting yourself it you’re perfect to begin with? But that perfection is only assumed. Christianity has not proven itself to be true; it relies on people’s gullibility to simply believe it is. So even if it is stable and unchanging, why would you build your life around a foundation that may be stable, but is still imaginary? Scientific theories may need tweaking occasionally, but the scientific method is stable. Base your life around the scientific method. Its only goal is to find the truth about nature. And the methods it uses to search for that truth are as stable as religion.

4. “Society needs a moral framework to keep from falling into chaos. The bible and our Judeo-Christian heritage provide that moral framework.” Would you really give your child a copy of the bible and tell him to use it as a guide for moral behavior? He would go around smiting every one of his friends who did not believe as he does, because that’s what God commands. He would grow up with the desire to own slaves. He would kill everyone he knows that is homosexual. He would disown his parents in the name of Jesus Christ because that’s what Jesus tells his followers to do (although that contradicts one of God’s commandments, so who’s to know).

There are hundreds of millions of people in the world who do not believe in any god. The vast majority of them are not rapists, murderers, or thugs. Most of them live in civilized Western Europe. We do what’s right by each other because it is evolutionary beneficial for us to do so. It is how our society evolved. Of course there are those who go against society for personal gain. But there are no more atheists in that group than those who are Christian. In fact, a disproportionate number of locked-up criminals are believers.

5. “Jesus died on the Cross for my sins, so that I might have eternal life in heaven with him. How can I say no to that?” Well, first of all, there are almost no records outside the bible that Jesus ever existed. He probably did. And he might have been crucified; lots of criminals were at the time. But one would think that with all the miracles Jesus supposedly performed, with the earthquake that happened during his Crucifixion, with the sun being darkened at that time, too, and with all the hoopla that surrounded his Resurrection and subsequent appearance to thousands, that someone outside the framework of the biblical story would have at least made a footnote for the history books about the events. But no, during Jesus’ lifetime, he was a virtual nobody. He wrote nothing, not even a diary. He had some followers, but so did a bunch of other self-proclaimed messiah figures in those days. But, outside of one brief mention a century later by Josephus, no one wrote anything historical about this man who is supposed to be the savior of all mankind. Isn’t that strange?

But even supposing that he did die on the Cross for us, how does that make him so great as to deserve our worship two millennia later? We have, today, soldiers laying down their lives, some of them dying, for their country or for a way of life. Jesus was doing the same thing. So maybe he deserves our admiration and respect, but not our worship. Besides, what did Jesus really give up? He, according to the Gospel of John, is God. So God came down from heaven and manifested himself as a mere mortal for a few years just so he could be put to death and go back to heaven where he was to begin with? Where’s the sacrifice? He was God in heaven, then God on earth, then God in heaven once again. He’s still God! There was never any sacrifice. And what about the idea that God did it so that he would understand the suffering of mankind? He’s GOD! He’s supposedly omniscient. He knows EVERYTHING, including what it’s like to be human, especially since he supposedly made us.

I’m sorry but I can’t buy into any of it, and it amazes me how anyone who has actually given it some thought can fall for this hoax. The problem is, very few people have actually given it any serious thought. Some want to believe so badly that they are afraid to give it any deep thought because they fear they might actually lose their faith. That frightens them. But isn’t it better to live knowing the real truth than to go through life believing in superstitious nonsense? There are different ways to socialize than by going to church. There are many secular organizations that do wondrous things for people for you to donate your money to. These organizations don’t have the overhead of most churches, so more of your money goes to the actual charity. And your time spent praying and worshipping might be better spent in social activities with your family or your friends.

There are lots of other reasons people believe. It gives them comfort. They are afraid of going to hell. They believe the New Testament is historically correct. But there are alternative methods of seeking comfort. There really is no such place as hell; anyone who has graduated from a seminary knows that. And the bible was written by anonymous writers decades after the events described by people who were not eyewitnesses. The accounts are not even second-hand or third-hand. The earliest manuscripts we have were penned more than a century after Jesus’ death. It’s easy to make a claim that Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy from a perspective of hindsight. Couple all that with the fact that the claims of Christianity are based on the supernatural and you’ll see how a modern adult human should be very skeptical.

That’s easy to imagine. You already believe that other religions are wrong, maybe even silly. You don’t for one minute believe that Mohammad was a great prophet sent by God. You most certainly don’t believe that a guy from New York named John Smith met up with an angel named Moroni who led him to gold tablets filled with the wisdom of Jesus Christ in America. Mohammad was a charlatan; Smith was a hustler. You might even believe these religions are just nonsense. And you would be right. But people who were raised in these faiths and who strongly believe them also believe that your religion is incorrect and that you are misguided. If you rely on only faith, and not evidence, then one person’s faith is a good as another’s. As author Christopher Hitchens wrote, “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” But there is evidence, and it all falls against religious belief.

Imagine no religion. What a great world this would be if it were so.

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