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Meditation 914
Critique of Religious Faith
Religious Beliefs Are Harmful (Part 11)

by: Fred Leavitt

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People of faith are told who created the world, when He did it (in some religions, to the day and almost always by a He), and what happens when we die. Believers are taught when to pray, how to dress, what not to eat, which books to read, and the appropriate circumstances and positions for having sex.
We humans take pride in the giant forebrain that distinguishes us from other animals by giving us the ability to think deeply. Nevertheless, many people form their most important beliefs as young children, before that forebrain is fully developed. Later, they speak with certainty about what happens after we die and which one particular bible, of the more than 1,000 available around the world, speaks the literal truth. Answers to such questions stumped the likes of Aristotle, Einstein, and Bertrand Russell, yet these people "know"-- typically within a few years of being toilet trained and disabused of the reality of Santa Claus but before learning the multiplication table. Then they ignore or even actively avoid information that would challenge any of their long-held beliefs. The more important the belief, the more desperately a person clings to it despite disconfirming evidence. People's overall worldviews are especially resistant to change.

Religious faith does not require supporting evidence. Faith is belief by decree. In the beginning was THE WORD. The faithful know the truth. Their bible, pastor, rabbi, imam, or personal mystical experience tells them so. Parents, having learned THE TRUTH from their parents, pass it on to their children. But parents and other teachers are fallible. Their sources might have erred. Even if bibles were inspired by miracles, they were transcribed by fallible humans.

Bertrand Russell wrote, "When there is evidence, no one speaks of faith. We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence." In a similar vein, Ambrose Bierce defined faith as "belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks, without knowledge, of things without parallel." Nietzsche defined faith as not wanting to know what is true.

Faith is not merely belief in the absence of evidence--it's belief despite evidence. That's peculiar, as people normally seek evidence whether serving on juries, investing in stocks, or choosing nectarines. If new evidence supplants the old, they typically discard or amend their beliefs. If they bet on a wrong horse, literally or figuratively, they revise betting criteria. But charismatic politicians and religious leaders have enriched themselves by persuading constituents to disregard intellect and sense.