Sunday, November 02, 2014

Why is Faith called a Virtue?

Suppose you needed some work done on your house so you get an estimate for repairs: $1,500. Now suppose a stranger comes up to your door and offers to do the repairs for only $1,200 payable in advance. Would you hand him the money and tell him to get busy, or would you at least do some research, read his online reviews, check his references first?

We all know the obvious answer. The same is true of every aspect of your life: You don't blindly trust random strangers with anything important. Yet people of faith do it all the time. Faith is a virtue, they say. You have to believe in something. But what reason can anyone give to support that contention? If you don't have faith in random strangers why would you have faith in anything at all that hasn't been tested and proven? Why have faith in God or the bible? Neither have been proven. Neither have earned anyone's trust. It's fine to have faith in people you know well or in yourself. It's fine to have faith that is based on tangible evidence. But it's foolish to have faith that ancient traditions are real.

I know, you might say that you don't have faith in strangers because they are humans and humans are fallible. But God isn't fallible. But you are starting off with an assumption that you don't know to be true. How do you know that God isn't fallible, or that he even exists at all?

You will probably say that it says so in the bible and the bible is God's word. But let me remind you that the bible was written by humans, thousands of years ago. And as we all know, humans are, indeed, fallible. They were also quite superstitious back then.

But you may say the bible is God's word and that God is the one that either dictated the bible to the humans or at least inspired them to write certain things. But again, you are assuming that God inspired them or that God dictated his message. The only way you know that this is true is because these same humans who wrote the bible also wrote in it that it was God's word.

Any way you slice it, your faith in God has to start out with faith in humans, humans who are dead now and that you didn't know personally, humans with agendas and who were very superstitious. These are the human beings that you have put your faith in - the bible writers, many of whom aren't even known.

This is the most puzzling thing for me about Christians and other religious followers. Most of them are smart enough to realize that the bible, or any other holy book, can't possibly be corroborated by any other external source. Oh, sure, there are mentions of real places and real events, but that occurs in most other ancient books of fiction, such as Homer's Iliad or Odyssey. The only difference is that these books have always been taken to be fiction whereas the stories in the bible were passed down as being true. But, again, they were proclaimed to be true by ancient superstitious men whose religious beliefs twisted their grasp on reality. In other words, they had an agenda.

So people grow up being told these stories over and over. They are told by pastors and parents that these stories are true. They don't give it much thought even as adults. That was me. I was a science major who called myself a Christian because I never gave it much thought. Of course I believed because I was supposed to, and most people I knew believed as well. I never attended church so it was never front-and-center on my mind. But then, when I did start going to church following my father's death, to be closer to family who also attended, I eventually started paying attention to the stories. I finally realized that they were all just legends. No one who reads the bible from a neutral perspective could possibly believe all those stories are true. They are based on legends and superstitions. The majority of Christians today know that the bible is not to be taken literally. But why take it at all? Every story in the bible is fiction. Some of it might be based on real events or places, but they have been highly embellished by agenda-laden authors. I can say this with confidence for many reasons, but mostly because I know that the many claims of miracles and acts of god magic remains completely unverified by neutral sources. The only way I can accept any of these stories as being true is to just simply believe it because I want to. And that means I would be dishonest with myself. I would be denying reality based on what I wanted or hoped was true.

Some people go through a period of grief, abandonment, even agony when they finally realize that their cherished beliefs are based on false claims and legendary accounts. My transition was much easier, because as a man of science, I always relied on facts and empirical evidence to guide my thinking. So when I finally realized that the bible has nothing important to say to me and that the existence of God is unlikely, I was fine with that. It made more sense than having to make up excuses for why God seems to act randomly most of the time, and why a perfect and good god allows suffering.

I would be fine with people who still believe in the bible and in God if it weren't for the fact that they make decisions based on those beliefs. They elect politicians and school board members who believe as they do, who then try to pass laws based on their perception of religious morality instead of based on what is truly best for society. The laws they pass are always restrictive and tend to trample on the rights of others. But laws based on secular values tend to allow for greater individual freedom. And that is why I will continue to be an evangelical secularist. It's all about whether we want to allow for personal liberty or whether to quash it.

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