Christianity and the Virtue of Unreason

"I can't believe that!" said Alice.
"Can't you?" the Queen said in a pitying tone. "Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes."
Alice laughed. "There's not use trying," she said: "one can't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." -Alice in Wonderland
Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
John 20:29 (ESV)
Recently I was talking with a friend about her experience as an atheist who has relocated to (according to the Pew Research Center) the 3rd most religious state in the U.S. – South Carolina. She said the thing that struck her was how much pride religious people seem to have in taking things on faith. “It’s like the less evidence that exists for a certain belief--the greater their triumph for still managing to believe it.” She said. “It seriously amazes me. The less you think, the more virtuous you are.”

Even though it is somewhat shocking when we encounter someone who blatantly rejects reason and evidence, in favor of a subjective belief, fundamentalist Christianity does much to foster this mentality.

The John 20:29 quote above, has Jesus placing a higher value on those who believe without evidence, than those who are able to verify by sensory evidence.

Let’s state plainly what Jesus was saying: “To believe based on what you can personally verify is ok, but if you make a leap of faith and believe based on hearsay, then you are truly blessed.” This is some of the worst advice that one could give, seeing as how all sorts of nonsense from bogus cancer cures, to Nigerian email scams, rely on people’s unquestioning acceptance of claims without proof. Essentially, Jesus is placing a spiritual premium on being gullible and na├»ve. Credulous acceptance of any and all claims is a virtue. Mindlessness is next to godliness. P. T. Barnum’s sucker-born-ever-minute had just been granted sainthood.

The Old Testament also promotes this attitude, as evidenced in this popular Bible verse:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
Proverbs 3:5 (ESV)
In the New Testament, the writers of the Gospels shrewdly muddy the waters by claiming that people refused to believe despite witnessing Jesus performing miracles. This of course, goes hand in hand with the Christian refrain that atheists know God exists, but simply choose to deny this. Why provide evidence if some people aren’t going to believe anyway?

In Luke 16, Jesus tells the story of a rich man who ends up in the torments of Hell and begs Abraham to send someone back from the dead to warn his brothers so they don’t end up there too.

Abraham replies that the man’s brothers have the writings of Moses and the prophets, and that should be enough. The rich man, recognizing the value of evidence in persuading people, insists that if someone is raised from the dead that will make his brothers take notice. Abraham replies that even then, the brothers would still not be swayed. In other words, why give them evidence, if they won’t believe anyway.

Of course Abraham’s assertion that a book is all the evidence needed is ridiculous, but this is how it works in the fantasyland of Christianity. Christians have a Bible filled with miraculous, unprovable claims and they believe those claims, simply because they are found between the covers of that book.

The Apostle Paul does his part to promote evidence-free belief:
For we walk by faith, not by sight.
2 Corinthians 5:7 (ESV)
And, let us not forget the unnamed author of Hebrews who devotes the whole of chapter 11 to the praise of mindless belief.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Hebrews 11:1 (KJV)
Who needs evidence when belief itself becomes the proof?

In a revealing admission, after enumerating the assorted exploits of the heroes of the Jewish faith, the author of Hebrews says:
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised,
Hebrews 11:39 (ESV)
Get that folks? All these people died (some of them in horrible ways) without ever seeing the result of what their faith promised them. The golden carrot on the stick dangled just on the other side of death, as it still does. And, since Father Abraham doesn’t like the idea of sending anyone back from the dead to verify the state of the afterlife for us, you just have to devote your life to your religion and its invisible god, in the hope – or should I say in ‘faith’ that there will be a life after death, and that heavenly carrot will be waiting for you.

In the Christian faith, mindlessness is next to godliness. To trust reason and require evidence is to imperil your very soul. Blind belief becomes a feat of spiritual strength to be admired and emulated. Strap a Bible to your head and send your brain on a suicide mission for Jesus; become a mind-martyr for the cause.

I have both seen and experienced how Christianity encourages people not to ask too many questions and not think too deeply. There are certain invisible boundaries and if you stray beyond them, you will reap the negative social consequences. Faith provides pseudo-certainty and doubt is a disease. Voice your doubts aloud and you soon will become a leper to be avoided in the city of faith.

The fundamentalist believer is happy to make use of reason, and science selectively in service of promoting their religion, but the moment these tools reveal flaws in their belief system, they slash the ties and float free, soaring on the wings of faith, unencumbered by rationality.

Critical thinking does not always provide easy answers, let alone soothing ones. For the believer, the retreat into dogmatic belief is like a warm, soft security blanket they can wrap themselves in when facts and reason provide cold comfort. Doubt is disparaged and demonized by religion, but doubt is actually a valuable tool, guarding against self-deception and delusion.

Recently, I was discussing with a family member, the tendency of the Bible’s god to kill children for their parents’ ‘sin’, “Do you think it is ever right to kill a child because you are angry at their parents?” I asked.

“Well, uh, ummm… God knows what is best, and I trust him,” was the response.

Later, another family member wondered aloud why humans have body hair. I gave a science-based reply. Their response? “That’s not the answer I was wanting to hear.”

To me, that was very telling. Fundamentalist dogma has decreed what truth is and the mind must be subjugated to this dogma. Alternative evidence and answers must be rejected, using the ‘shield of faith.’ You see, faith is the immune system that protects the God virus from potential threats which might cause it to weaken and die. Despite all the technological and scientific advances in our world, it would seem that the Queen of Unreason is still the tyrant who rules supreme in the Wonderland of religion.

Written by J. M. Green

0 comments: