Moral Obligations: Reducing Faith, Increasing Understanding

Ever since I was very young I’ve felt an unexplainable drive to seek out , discover, and even defend truth, whatever that may be.  I think somehow this desire translated into a fervent religious belief through my teen years and a lengthy role in defending that belief.  That drive still exists, though my methods of determining exactly what is and is not true has changed entirely (from the view that truth was dictated by the Bible to the view that truth is dictated by the evidence is a pretty massive transition) and at this point I feel that the defense and propagation of that which is true transcends mere desire, but has moved into the realm of obligation.

For me,  it seems that the atheists, skeptics, Humanists, naturalists, rationalists,  and scientists of the world may even have a moral obligation to see that truth is not only spread (peaceably) but also defended in a world where the rational or empirical are often scoffed at – or worse.  When religious or otherwise irrational society largely dictates both social standards and the political environment there are some pretty severe consequences for virtually everyone that has to share space on this planet with them.  From homeopathy, to fundamentalists who refuse medical treatment for their children, to proponents of the Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell policy, and the denial of equal rights to homosexuals the majority largely decides what the rest of us can and cannot do, additionally these people will make victims of anyone and everyone in the name of their god.

As these things are clearly true and the victims of religion in many situations aren’t just the believers themselves, we – as rational individuals must have some sort of responsibility to humanity; to dispel the myths and lies of religion, and to defend those things that are empirically true from those that prefer the archaic.

How might we do this?

In my experience the best approach to introducing religious individuals to science and rational thought is by slow integration of the basic concepts of empiricism and the Scientific Method into daily discussion or discourse. Also, I find it beneficial to expose the Bible (or other holy book) as a flawed set of documents – planting seeds of doubt as to it’s veracity, this very process was tantamount to my leaving the faith.  Doing this may not destroy faith all together, but when it sets in it is very likely to reduce the occurrence of fundamentalism individually. Also, encouraging an understanding of the history of the Church and the canonization of the holy text is very beneficial for planting seeds of doubt, as it forces one to consider the possibility that flawed men – as opposed to god – were building the tenets of the faith and as such may have failed at some point or that those men were simply building a faith intended to fulfill their own purposes or desires.

Establishing and improving the standard of evidence in the mind of the believer is also of utmost importance. Helping an individual understand why is it more reasonable to believe in the observable and repeatable as opposed to the foretold or written is very important as a means of changing their approach to all things.

To conclude – I’d like to encourage my readers to find ways to insert skepticism into the conversation when at any point religion comes up.  When someone claims that they are being persecuted for their faith (Christmas time is the most common time for this to happen), challenge that claim. Make people think about the things they say – show people that words have meaning and that they will be held accountable for those words by rational society. No longer should we sit around whilst the majority decide the lifestyle of the rest of us; we must, if our world will ever move away from this affect change in the majority.

I look forward to your feedback on this one:  Do you agree? How do you insert rationality into the conversation?

  • So why in your opinion did the founding fathers think that the free exercise of religion should be protected from Congress making a law prohibiting it?

    • Matt

      Because freedom is fundamental to our way of life. I’m not advocating any reduction in free practice of religion.

    • RevOxley

      To protect that freedom….and I think that should remain unchanged.

    • j trice

      Because history has shown that church and political state had always been ONE. That the church/religion is a pawn of politicians and KINGS to control the masses. Mostly motivate them to war….like the Crusades. Our founding fathers finally realized since they had the ability to start fresh that they wanted no part of direct church control of government affairs …..so seperated them! Bravo

  • N. Justice

    I understand that you are an atheist and that it is your right to be so. I don't understand the burning desire that you have to have others leave christianity and join you in this crusade. I think that eveyone has to determine the path that is right for them and follow it, whatever that may be – whether, I agree with it or not. It seems as though, the love that you had as a christian, has now turned to loathing of christianity. I think that you should really think about why you would like for others to join you so badly. You are like the christian that is sooooo hell bent on seeing to it that everyone comes into their "light". Can't you accept that everyone has to find their own light and live in it? I don't try to convert you to christianity……. please, extend me the same courteousy.
    Aside from that, very well written though riddled with gramatical errors!

    • Matt

      I hate grammatical errors. If you point them out ill gladly fix them. I was up too late writing I guess, and my writing became lackadaisical. Ill respond to the rest of your comment this afternoon.

    • RevOxley

      The only burning desire I have is to see reason and empiricism instituted as the most common determiner's of truth. The result of that desire is the action of breaking the cognitive dissonance and ignorance found within religious society.

      You may not understand WHY I feel this is necessary, but if you reread my post here, you will receive a few clues.

      In regards to the grammar, I wrote this way too late last night – if you'll provide corrections I'll make them.

    • j trice

      The only thing people like you (still religious) ie believe in superstitions….can say in the face of a real understanding of historical events and rational thought is……"leave me alone"! You have alot of nerve using the term crusade….a christian word of western europe origin to retake holy land from infidels and by the way the Pope insured the participants that if they died or where wounded they and their family would have a more direct route to heaven. Christianity only survived the roman empire and middle ages because kings felt they had a better chance fighting wars (to plunder, take prisoners to sell into slavery) if they had the right god on their side. Since the Enlightenment man has known that religion dogma is a myth….just like santa clause. Sorry I had to break your sweet bubble but it is better to believe nothing than to believe something that is clearly wrong. The shoe is on the other foot! All christians ever did was send out fanatical missionarys 'christian soldiers too" to convert the pagan or infidel. Your political correctness defense is no good. Christians never extend courtesy. Belief was always mandatory or you were out!

    • Ms. Justice (forgive me if I'm mistaken on that), while I can't speak for the author or for all atheists, I can present my own view and that of many with whom I've conversed.

      Most atheists I know don't care what you choose to believe . . . as long as your beliefs are not used against others. However, we (Americans) live in a country where it is virtually impossible to be elected to high office without espousing religious faith; where religious groups work tirelessly to create laws based upon their religion's laws (their religion being Christianity, in the US), not upon what is most beneficial or least harmful to society or what is fair and just; and where the rights of those who do NOT share your beliefs are regularly trampled.

      The American religious right has fought long and hard against women's rights, against the civil rights of homosexuals (I don't mean gay marriage; I mean the right not to lose a job, the right not to be evicted from one's home, the right not to lose custody of one's child, the right to privacy in one's bedroom without arrest), and, historically, to maintain segregation and previously slavery based upon the Bible.

      Today, the religious right is tirelessly promoting ignorance through attacks on science, introducing Creationism and its kissing cousin, Intelligent Design into school curricula; attempts to rewrite American history claiming that the Founders wanted an exclusively Christian nation; and pushing again and again to bring sectarian prayer into schools by any means necessary. Their goal is to indoctrinate children into Christianity, with taxpayer dollars behind their efforts.

      Meanwhile, foreign policy decisions regarding the Middle East send billions (yes, billions, with a B) of US taxpayer dollars to prop up Israel, all in the hope that enough Jews will move there to trigger the End Times. (No, really. http://www.secularnewsdaily.com/2010/06/07/christ

      For you, personally, your religion may be a personal matter. For many, if not most Christians, it is part of their political identity, and it shapes how non-Christians are treated and how MY tax dollars are spent. I find that offensive beyond words.

      If you value religious freedom, so should you. It's not a long leap from "Christian nation" to "Christian Reconstructionist nation", in which ALL of "god's law" will be enforced. Including, for example, the stoning of anyone who proselytizes for another religion.

    • Caprise

      I think it's sort of ironic that you say "burning desire" to have others "leave Christianity and join you in this Crusade"

      So… who did some burning and crusading? Atheists?

  • personman2

    When I think about the purpose of my life, or even the purpose or goal for humanity at large, I think about things like this. We must keep collecting and storing knowledge. It's the best hope for our species.

  • First you have to get Chri$tian$ to actually READ THE BIBLE, (which the majority doesn't) until them, they are just doing what their Pastor or TBN tells them to do.

  • Test135

    What your suggesting is worse, if not as bad as, religious people push their own beliefs. The problem with religion isn't the core belief in god, and certainly not the core moral stance of the religious, but the structures that are built by those that follow religious organizations. Having a mass of people all following an infallible leader, with legions of "perfect" local leaders who have almost as much sway on their mindset is a dangerous thing. But that's not what you're talking about.

    All religions, as a core value set, hold that you should treat people kindly, and respect all life. When a religious person comes to try and covert you, they are trying to save your soul — what they perceive as 'you' — from eternal pain and suffering. Belief in god has nothing to do with any stance on science, any stance on education, or any stance on right or wrong (Hell, history has shown it doesn't really have much to do with moral stance, but that's not what you posted about). What does, is general lack of knowledge on the subject, leaders who tell them what to think on these subjects, and no interest in learning about them by themselves. Their concern, again centered around saving souls(you), is that using rational thought will lead to the demands for proof of god, and a general explosion of atheism due to the impossibility of said proof (which, to repeat myself, sends you and everyone who thinks that way to hell).

    You want to convert them to atheism .. why? So they are more willing to learn? So that they are more willing to understand new subjects? Chasing after and breaking down belief systems is not the answer. Education is, and they either don't want it, or they don't trust your sources. More, they don't trust the atheist scientists to not do something that will lead to their destruction, or that would lead to a dissolution of morals. As an atheist, you've rejected their god and by extension their moral values, so it's difficult to trust you. You have to prove you're not evil to them, and trying to disprove god or convert them to atheism, means you're trying to trick them into going to hell, which is evil. You want to convince them to be more open, to be understanding, to learn, you need to help them do that. Trying to push them away from religion is so far away from the answer that it will only make things worse.

    • RevOxley

      I'm fairly certain that what I'm suggesting is education.

  • wonderingpilgrim

    Rationality and empiricism are excellent tools that have served non-religious and religious well. Ironically, fundamentalism as we know it today is a product of the Enlightenment. I would be interested, however, to know your views, RevOxley, on the role of intuition and aesthetics on discerning and responding to "what is real?" In the light of these, is there ever room for "cognitive dissonance" and ambiguity in the response that moves us closer to personal integrity?

    • RevOxley

      Of course there is room for those things. What there is not room for is when these remove us from integrity all together.

      I'm not advocating any sort of extremism, simply the introduction of doubt to the regular conversation. Something as simple as "why do you believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God?" is all it takes to make the brain function ever so slightly more….Questions make us think, thinking makes us more reasonable (generally)

      I find this method necessary because for the VAST majority of believers, belief is just simple and done with no real thought being put into it (most faiths discourage doubt with the ideas of flames licking the feet of the doubter). Introducing a thought process into the conversation simply gives the individual a greater chance of thinking later on down the road.

  • wonderingpilgrim

    There are many churches that insist on parking the mind at the door and they are concentrated in certain areas. The best of Christian tradition gives a high and respectful place to the pursuit of intellectual excellence.
    Doubting Thomas is much maligned. Whether one takes his story literally or metaphorically, he is the thinking man's disciple. His quest doesn't always find as definitive answers as the one he received.
    Healthy faith communities encourage and nurture questioning for the excellent reasons your response articulates. A faith (whether in science or God – a false dichotomy?) that is unquestioned is a faith that is untested.
    It's why the Pharisees and Sadducees always come off second best in their verbal jousts with Jesus.

  • JB (lone ranger)

    You've simply traded one in for the other, Matt..

  • Rick

    Great post. I couldn’t agee more.

  • Citizen G’Kar

    "If I take a lamp and shine it toward the wall, a bright spot will appear on the wall. The lamp is our search for truth … for understanding. Too often, we assume that the light on the wall is God, but the light is not the goal of the search, it is the result of the search. The more intense the search, the brighter the light on the wall. The brighter the light on the wall, the greater the sense of revelation upon seeing it. Similarly, someone who does not search — who does not bring a lantern — sees nothing.”
    “What we perceive as God is the by-product of our search for God. It may simply be an appreciation of the light … pure and unblemished … not understanding that it comes from us. Sometimes we stand in front of the light and assume that we are the center of the universe — God looks astonishingly like we do — or we turn to look at our shadow and assume that all is darkness. If we allow ourselves to get in the way, we defeat the purpose, which is to use the light of our search to illuminate the wall in all its beauty and in all its flaws; and in so doing, better understand the world around us.”

  • I agree with N. Justice. I'm not sure why you are so determined to gather others in to your beliefs. This country was founded on freedom of religion. I wonder what has hurt you so badly to make you turn your back on God. I would suggest some more prayer before fully deciding your are against him. It seems to me that you are trying to convince yourself otherwise.