Misunderstandings

Continuing my new series about misunderstandings, I want to address an issue that has popped up in an on-going debate I’m having on Facebook. Unlike in my last post, I won’t be linking to anything because it’s all happening on a personal page of a friend (which is probably private anyway), nor will I give out any names.

So, the debate I’m having is wide-ranging and there’s a lot to address in it, but I want to focus on one specific area: whether religion is a force for good or evil. I had a twopart post back in November where I argued that people do good things because of their human nature, but what allows for evil acts is the scourge that is faith, otherwise known as belief without evidence:

If a large premise of religion (and belief in God) is that one doesn’t need to use reason and rationality to come to bold conclusions, then what stops a person from going a step further and saying that God wants his followers to take x’s land, or oppress y’s people, or kill people of belief z? Indeed, arguments leading to these conclusions have all been made using religion – Christian and Muslim invasions, Christian-based slavery, 9/11. It may be argued that these are incorrect conclusions, but 1) there’s no objective way to determine that and 2) if the religion says faith is a virtue, then there is no need to enter something as wacky as reasons into the debate, is there?

Faith is simply not a valid basis for believing anything by virtue of its very nature. This is what underpins religion and, thus, undermines our good nature.

The misunderstanding of this came when I was accused of implying that human nature does not lead people to do bad things. Of course, I never argued such a thing. Just as our evolutionary history helps to explain why we might be motivated to do good acts, it also helps to explain why we’re sometimes outright bastards. After all, sometimes being greedy can pay off. Theft occasionally pans out, whether it happened 100,000 years ago on the African plains or 10 minutes ago at the local gas station. Some people manage to commit murder, not get caught, and actually improve their lot in life (again, whether tens of thousands of years ago or yesterday). However, none of this undermines my argument that religion is an influencing factor for bad deeds. People still believe crazy things on the basis of the nothingness of faith, thus allowing and sometimes even encouraging them to do heinous things.

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3 Responses

  1. While I agree Religion has been the basis for much evil doing in the world, your arguement against faith represents to me ,at least, the bitterness of the hate religious people feel about atheist. I’m an atheist….a humanist agnostic..but I have Faith.. Not a religious faith by any means, but Faith in the spirit of mankind that if we allow ourselves to continue living on this planet we will increase our knowledge of where we came from and why we are here. I have faith, not in my atheism as I can’t prove God does or doesn’t exist, but in the higher power of man to find, with evidence, where we came from and why. So, I am a man of faith who happens to be also an atheist. I think we atheist fail to send out that message. An athiest is seen as a negative term to most people while faith is perceived to be positive term. We shouldn’t disdain faith itself….religious faith always for reasons you describe..but not faith itself.

  2. Your use of the word “faith” doesn’t seem to mean “belief without evidence”. I would say that it’s closer to “trust” or “hope”.

  3. Oh I don’t know…I think it is faith. We certainly have sufficient evidence that man is capable of the cruelest activities possible, including the possible destruction of his own environment for profit… which precludes any evidence man will achieve recognition of his own natural greatness.The evidence is completely lacking for the latter because of the former.I think it is is “belief without evidence”..But I agree it my faith could be intrepreted
    as “trust” or “hope”. I’m trying to put faith in a context that will put atheism on a more acceptable par as religious beliefs…..what we both have in common is a belief without evidence.

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