in which i, an inveterate atheist, condemn faith.
no, really, i'm about to seriously flame some shit most of humanity will not want to see flamed. if you're in "most of humanity", this flaming will almost certainly piss you off. you have been warned.
religion is in the news again; some couple of demented fuckwits substituted prayer for insulin and passively watched their toddler daughter die. there's no point in my providing a link to the story --- if it's scrolled off of google news already, wait a few more weeks and another such case will come along, they're a semi-regular occurrence we suffer to happen in this "civilized" society.
meanwhile, this weekend (whichever one this weekend is) thousands of smarmy preachers will get up in their liars' pulpits and confidently tell their flocks of sheep that having Faith is a good thing, a virtue, and they should encourage it in themselves and in others. murderers by proxy, one and all, because faith kills. religious faith is a mind-killer, a poison of thought without any redeeming value, and whenever it is earnestly acted upon it leads directly to killing people bodily.
butbutbut, the faithful will be already blubbering, what about my harmless little gramma in the church pew who's never hurt a fly. her faith is surely harmless! those negligent child killers have a different kind of faith, i shouldn't conflate the two and i'm a meanie rude atheist for trying---
shut up, blubberers. the difference there is one of degree, not one of kind; gramma in the church pew is only less deadly, assuming she is, because she's more hypocritical and less religious. if she truly held that "virtue" her preacher so extols, she'd be as murderous as any of the worst of 'em. she isn't that, because no matter what she may profess, when it comes right down to the wire she will abandon the principles of faith and live in reality. so will almost every religious person, and to that hypocrisy we may owe our survival as a species for even this long.
faith is incompatible with reality by both their very natures. the best definition of faith i've ever heard was credited to Mark Twain --- "believing what you know ain't so". believing past the point of rationality and sense, at that. because if you had any reason to believe, it wouldn't be faith, but a sound and reasoned conclusion; if you were willing to abandon belief when it no longer served you or when it went past the bounds of the reasonable, it would be a mere working assumption. religious people will shrilly whine that "science is based on faith", but they know they're lying; no preacher ever climbed the pulpit to extol the virtues of the tentatively-held working assumption, nor did any swami ever praise the great value of empirical evidence as a basis for belief. everybody knows that the working assumptions and empirical pragmaticism underlying scientific thought is fundamentally different from, and dramatically superior to, religious faith; if it were not so, the shrill whiners would have no reason to try and drag science down to the level of religion by insisting they share a basis!
faith, once again, is believing what you know ain't so. the very purpose of "faith" is clinging to an idea even though you have no damn good reason to, or even (poison of poisons) when you have some reason to give it up. if you quit believing just because you had no good reason to keep on believing, you'd be an apostate in no time; and if you quit believing as soon as your beliefs were proven wrong, you'd be at most a "liberal" or "reformed" believer, forced to join one of the not-so-very fundamentalist denominations where they don't babble gibberish, handle snakes, or pretend the planet is younger than some recorded civilizations. both positions are hypocritical, because they each value something --- reason, evidence; the real world --- above faith, which makes religion either pointless, empty, or a sham. the very point of religion is believing in invisible friends, magic sky fairies, and assorted other nonsense any sane adult knows are not real. if you're not willing to take nonsense seriously, yet still call yourself religious, you're a hypocrite by definition.
the vast majority of religious people are, of course, profoundly hypocritical. these days, in the developed world, it's hard for them to be otherwise. the few that are earnest get selected against; their kids tend to die of treatable illnesses or preventable complications. people who really, truly invest in their religious beliefs end up clinging to nonsense like the notion that mumbling gibberish into folded hands can cure diabetes, to the point where visiting a doctor would be not only unnecessary but impious, which latter is worse than death. especially if it's somebody else's death, naturally, but the truly faithful can and do put even their own lives on the line. they'd be hypocrites if they didn't. they'd certainly be lacking in faith.
the demented fuckwits who allow their children to die needlessly are not aberrations of religious faith. they are paragons of faith, because they not only genuinely believe (as most religious people only claim to) that their gods can do anything, but they're willing to actually act on this honest belief. most religious people will look at a dying child and lose their intellectual game of chicken; they'll abandon their religious tenets and get the kid to a doctor. they will do this, because on some level they damn well know the doctor can do things prayer cannot, and they're not willing to keep believing in prayer at the cost of a child's life. it is the negligent child-murderers who truly take the tenets of their religion, and the faith with which they cling to those tenets, seriously. they, and their faith, win their game of chicken... their children lose.
and if some rude, meanie, atheist then comes along to call these spades for the dung-shovels they are --- why, then, watch the indignant believers spit fury back at him! how dare he criticize their faith! doesn't he know faith is a virtue, that it does all these wonderful things for us, like... like... well, hasn't he heard of them all? and besides, our faith is nothing at ALL like those other people's faith, those ones who ended up killing their child like that. nonono, completely different, and it's very very rude of him to imply otherwise! he shouldn't be allowed to be rude to our faith like that!
faith is faith is faith is poison. one of the ways faith poisons minds is by insisting on being respected needlessly, without earning respect. in this, all faith is the same. whether it be an overage eunuch in Rome thinking his opinions on matters sexual deserve anything other than derisive laughter, or some illiterate goatherder in buttfuckistan confusing being made fun of for killing words, religious faith is constantly arrogating to itself respect it has not earned and does not deserve. once any such respect is granted, faith proceeds to abuse it as a cudgel for the silencing of dissent. mere disagreement with any point religious or faithful is read as being by necessity disrespectful, and the response is anything from a politico-religious pundit slinging mud at your name in the media (Bill Donohue, you're a disgraceful shyster who every honest man should spit in the face at every opportunity) to rioting and murder (Theo Van Gogh is still unavenged). faith has no rightful claim to any of this!
faith has no claim to such, but perhaps it must by necessity pretend to it regardless. perhaps this arrogation of respect is what religion needs to hide the essential emptiness beneath its foundations; maybe there's no other way to cover up the craziness of "believe this nonsense for no good reason". credo quia absurdum est --- Tertullian was surely no theologian, nor did he believe a word of that rot for a heartbeat; he must have been a politician. his credo was a foreshadowing of Gibbon's famous words, not something which anyone smart enough to come up with it could have ever taken seriously. it was the insight of a manipulative bastard to whom religion is useful, no matter which religion it may be, and its truth is immaterial.
even so countless preachers stand up in their pulpits and preach the "virtues" of faith every weekend. by far most of them probably delude themselves into thinking they believe it, but most of them in turn would never believe it to the point of watching a child die just so they could cling to mere faith. they're hypocrites, and we're all better off that way. a few of their peers know damn well they're preaching mind-rot, but don't care, so long as the money (or fame, or adulation, or whatever they're getting out of it) keeps rolling in. they're hypocrites, and shamelessly lead their flocks into self-destructive self-denial for their own personal (usually monetary) benefit; nobody's better off that way, except them, but at least their hypocrisy is usually blatantly obvious even to most other religious believers. a very, very few of them are actually serious. those are murderers in potentia, and more dangerous than all the rest put together; they would murder your mind first, and your body later, for the sake of maintaining the primacy of their faith over everything else --- even, and especially, over reality as we know it.
faith has no business pretending to be reality. but faith which does not presume to be more real than what's real, is no faith at all, it's mere hypocrisy. living in a self-deluded dreamworld, however, is unsafe, because actual reality will not oblige your fantasies no matter how earnestly you may believe them --- diabetes is not cured by prayer, no matter how much you may wish it were so. earnest faith kills; religions are safe to indulge in only to the extent you remain an unbeliever, and therefore a hypocrite, at heart.
[post scriptum: WTF, i can't nest lj-cuts?! what kind of wimpiness is that?]
- contra fides