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Confusingly, people often use the terms "belief" and "faith" synonymously with each other. I've provided definitions that I feel are useful and close to typical use. "Faith" isn't only a religious trait. For example, even nonreligious people might have faith in a doctor's choices because they don't have the time or motive to question or research such choices.
Both beliefs and faiths can potentially lead to harm, but faiths even more so than beliefs. This is precisely because of the unquestioning aspect of blind faith. If you have blind faith in something, and that something turns out to be harmful, you will continue to spread harm so long as you don't question what you're doing.
It should be recognized that people are limited in what they can make themselves believe/have faith in. If you were to provide a person with no faith in Santa Claus all the evidence you had to show that Santa Claus does indeed exist, that person likely still can't make himself have faith in Santa Claus. It's perhaps similar to God/s (or practically any other variables), some people might hear all the evidence for or against God/s but are unable to change their beliefs/faith. As Clarence Darrow said, "I don't believe in God as I don't believe in Mother Goose."
People sometimes define the terms "theism", "atheism", and "agnosticism" quite differently from one another. I've provided more popular definitions here. Though it might seem overly meticulous to some people, I like to see it in percentages. If you have 75% or more confidence in God/s then you are a theist. If you have 25% or less confidence in God/s then you are an atheist. If you have somewhere between 25%-75% confidence in God/s then you are an agnostic. There's the alternative definition of "agnosticism" in which you view something as unknown or unknowable, and this can apply to practically anything, God/s or otherwise.
Amongst monozygotic twins, the 2 personality and lifestyle traits that varied the most between them were social closeness and religious interests. (Bouchard et al., 1990) This suggests that nurture can play an especially significant role in religiosity.
"With very few exceptions, the religion which a man accepts is that of the community in which he lives, which makes it obvious that the influence of the environment is what led him to accept the religion in question."
- Bertrand Russell
"Since religious beliefs purport to be true all over the universe it is odd, to say the least, that which belief you hold depends so heavily on where in the world you were brought up."
- Richard Dawkins
"The American child who grows up to be a Baptist simply because his parents were Baptist and he never thought critically about those beliefs is not necessarily any more irrational than the Soviet child who grows up to be an atheist simply because his parents were atheist and because the state tells him to be an atheist."
- George Smith
Amongst adults who reported an insecurely attached childhood, they were more likely to be religious if their parents displayed low religiosity. Amongst adults who reported a securely attached childhood, they were more likely to be religious if their parents displayed high religiosity. (Granqvist & Kirkpatrick, 2004) Prescott (1975) found that there's a positive correlation between affectional deprivation (neglect), sexual deprivation/repression, religiosity, and violence.
"Whenever the 'natural' object of attachment behaviour is unavailable, the behaviour can become directed towards some substitute object. Even though it is inanimate, such an object frequently appears capable of filling the role of an important, though subsidiary, attachment-'figure'. Like the principle attachment-figure, the inanimate substitute is sought especially when a child is tired, ill, or distressed." (Bowlby, 1982, p. 313)
"Criticizing a person's ideas about God and the afterlife is thought to be impolitic in a way that criticizing his ideas about physics and history is not."
- Sam Harris
Religion is often thought of as deserving respect. "Respect" is often defined differently amongst different people and different circumstances, but in this case it's generally used to mean that there shouldn't be any debate or criticism of another's religious beliefs/faith. Functioning this way doesn't help make the world a better place. Ideas, especially ones that can potentially lead to harm, should be open to criticism, regardless if they're religious or not.
"We shouldn't respect ideologies. An ideology is a thing, not a person. People adopt ideologies. Ideologies are not what people are. Ideologies are what people hold. If these ideologies are proven to be unhealthy, illogical or unproductive, the people that hold them should be encouraged to let them go."
- John Armstrong
Hauser (2006/2007) introduced moral dilemmas to people to see how they respond. I'll summarize 2 of the moral dilemmas that seemed to provide the most insight.
These 2 moral dilemmas are so similar, yet people make such different choices for them. Such moral dilemmas were posed in different cultures and similar results were found. Furthermore, people often have great difficulty in articulating why they'd make such a choice. Also, Hauser & Singer (2005) compared atheists to theists on moral dilemmas and found no significant difference. What's the research suggest? It suggests that our morality is somewhat innate considering that we can make a moral choice so confidently long before we could articulate why we'd make that choice.
If we look at nonhuman animals, we can further see that it's possible to be moral without religion. There are many species of nonhuman animals that live happy and relatively harmless lives without religion.
Baier & Wright (2001) found that there's a negative correlation between religiosity and crime in general. Prescott (1975) found that there's a positive correlation between affectional deprivation (neglect), sexual deprivation/repression, religiosity, and violence. Eshuys & Smallbone (2006) found that there's a positive correlation between religiosity and sex offending. Paul (2005) found that there's a positive correlation between religiosity and murder, STIs, and unwanted pregnancies.
Dawkins (2006/2008) made an important observation, noting that parents will actually label their children as a Christian child or a Jewish child but they won't label their children as a Republican child or a Liberal child. (pp. 379-383) People generally don't think children have the ability or the chance to have lived long enough to decide their views on many things, yet when it comes to religion, parents decide for them regardless. While labeling children based on the parents' views is probably a trivial thing to do in and of itself, sometimes harmful customs accompany the labeling of children (e.g. genital mutilation). Furthermore, the views themselves might not be so trivial when taught to children. Beliefs on moral issues have the potential to incline one to good behaviors or to harmful behaviors. This should be kept in mind when raising children with beliefs on moral issues, regardless if they're religious based or not.
"Children should be taught not so much what to think as how to think."
- Richard Dawkins
"Children, I'll argue, have a human right not to have their minds crippled by exposure to other people's bad ideas."
- Nicholas Humphrey
"Being fondled by the priest simply left the impression (from the mind of a 7 year old) as 'yucky' while the memory of my friend going to hell was one of cold, immeasurable fear. I never lost sleep because of the priest—but I spent many a night being terrified that the people I loved would go to Hell. It gave me nightmares."
Multiple meta-analysis studies have found that either intercessory prayer has no correlation or a small positive correlation with recovery/healing from health conditions. (Hodge, 2007; Masters & Spielmans, 2007) However, it should be kept in mind that it's dangerous to rely on prayer/faith all by itself.
"A single hand at work accomplishes more than a thousand clasped in prayer."
Zuckerman, Silberman, & Hall (2013) performed a meta-analysis and found a negative correlation between religiosity and intelligence. Larson & Witham (1998) found that of American scientists elected to the National Academy of Sciences, only about 7% believed in a personal God, about 72% disbelieved in a personal God, and about 21% were agnostic/doubtful.
It's common for people of the same religious sect to interpret their religion quite differently from one another. It's a common argument amongst nonreligious individuals to say that religion is a bad influence on people, but it's quite possible that people already have a personality that's inclined to certain traits, whether good or bad, and it's often the case that they simply pick out whichever parts of their religion that suits them most comfortably.
Generally, only socially acceptable parts of The Holy Bible are believed by most Christians. Centuries ago in America, slavery quotes were used by religious people to justify slavery. When slavery ended, those quotes became ignored. Now, as homosexuality is becoming more accepted in America, an increasing amount of Christians either ignore or in some way excuse quotes in The Holy Bible that are against homosexuality.
There are a wide variety of memes, both good and bad, that religious people can use or not use depending on whether it suits them or not. This is not a complete list, simply a concise one:
"I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires."
- Susan B. Anthony
"If there is no God, everything is permitted," said Dostoyevski. He was only half right. Because if there is a God, everything is still permitted, the perpetrators of evil never failing to secure His blessings." (Szasz, 1990, p. 209)
"Every fool in error can find a passage of Scripture to back him up."
Why do we have to live in a physical life before we go to a spiritual life? Why couldn't we have just been born and raised in a spiritual life and never have to go to another life?
Why didn't God create a world in which harm doesn't exist nor could be a possibility? Some people claim that without suffering there could be no compassion. However, it might very well be better to have no compassion so long as it meant having no harm either. Furthermore, it's common for theists to believe that Hell is torturous and lasts for eternity yet simultaneously believe that God is loving and perfect. Would a loving God really want people to suffer in Hell for eternity? Could you be happy if you have the thought in mind that people are suffering?
"He would say that God had given him a tail to keep the flies off, but that he would sooner have had no tail and no flies." (Orwell, 1946/1996, p. 26)
"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"
"Why is there something, rather than nothing?"
- Mortimer Adler
Some theists claim that God must exist and be the creator of the universe since the universe couldn't have come from nothing. However, if God created the universe, then who created God? If it's said that God is able to have come from nothing, then perhaps the universe could have come from nothing too.
Pascal's Wager suggests that an atheist might as well just have faith/believe in God/s. It's a logical fallacy of a false dilemma. It's misleading in having you think that whether you suffer in Hell depends solely on whether you believe in God/s or not. It's also a logical fallacy of appeal to consequences. Consequences are not reasons to have faith/believe in something. Furthermore, you can't necessarily force someone to have faith/believe in something.
Some people think that only their religion will go to Heaven and all people of all other religions will go to Hell. Some people also think that they'll go to Heaven no matter what, even if they lived a bad life, so long as they have faith/believe in God/s. As Matt Arnold sarcastically said, "Hell awaits those who doubt God's unconditional love."
Let's consider the "only 1 correct religion" view. How would you know which religion is the 1 correct religion? To try to figure that out you'd have to be skeptical and question all religions you could which is already against the "you just have to have faith" rule that many religions teach. That, or you'd have to have been raised in the 1 correct religion as a child and just stayed with it (which is potentially highly unlikely from a statistical perspective).
Now let's consider the "good people of incorrect religions go to Hell, bad people of the correct religion go to Heaven" view. Would Heaven really be a good place if that were the case? If murderers, thieves, rapists, etcetera, got into Heaven because of their faith/beliefs, then Heaven might not be so Heavenly. Some people think that in Heaven, all possibilities of bad things are removed. If so, where's the free will and fairness in that?
"Live a good life. If there are Gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are Gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no Gods, then you will be done, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones."
- Marcus Aurelius
Often times theists will challenge atheists to prove to them that God doesn't exist. However, it's only fair and logical for the burden of proof to be on the individual who makes an assertion. For example, if I claimed that Santa Claus exists, most people would recognize it as unfair and illogical if I told them to prove me wrong. This should be true for all claims, including those about God/s. As George Lundberg sarcastically said, "In God we trust. All others must have data."
Why does God use prophets? Why does God need middle men? Why can't God contact us directly? Some people would say it's due to faith. Why would God want faith to be a virtue? Furthermore, how do you know what to put faith in... which religion to have faith in, what people to have faith in, and what information in general to have faith in?
Some people have faith in God due to subjective experience. They claim to have felt God or even to have heard or seen God. Subjective experience is not a substantial reason to have faith in something. For example, some people have subjectively experienced a pink elephant, that doesn't mean that pink elephants actually exist. If there is such a thing as spiritual contact, it'd be difficult to distinguish it from hallucinations. Furthermore, while sometimes hallucinations/spiritual contacts come about "naturally", they can also be inclined by drugs or brain damage.
The Holy Bible was written more than 2,000 years ago, and it has been translated numerous times. Furthermore, many passages in The Holy Bible are likely symbolic. This has several implications. First off, things written more than 2,000 years ago could have had a different meaning than they do now. Secondly, what was originally written could have been altered during translation. Finally, you don't know for sure what's symbolic and what's literal, and even if you know for sure that something is symbolic you still don't know for sure how to interpret it.
Though daft amounts could likely be written just on possible symbolisms or meanings in The Holy Bible, I'll simply go over some more important possibilities that might help people think more critically about The Holy Bible. The terms "forever" and "eternity" are used a lot in The Holy Bible, but do they have to be literal? Even in current language usage, people will use "forever" in simply an exaggerated way. For example, "This assignment is going to take forever to finish!" Murder and death is spoken of a lot in The Holy Bible. Look at how death can be used in today's language, "I'll just die if he finds out I have a crush on him!" Finally, consider the phrase, "I'm caught in a pickle." That phrase implies that you are in a tough situation. Imagine people reading that phrase 2,000 years from now and thinking there were giant pickles that people could actually get caught in.
"The reasonableness of what is said is more important for determining its truth, probability, or plausibility than its source or inspiration."
- Richard Garlikov
"Why would God grant us a curious mind with the power of reason (of which, critical thinking is an essential component) only to expect us to suppress this gift? It's typically seen as a compliment to enthusiastically use a gift we are given and an insult to ungratefully destroy it."
- John Armstrong
"I do not think it is necessary to believe that the same God who has given us our senses, reason, and intelligence wished us to abandon their use, giving us by some other means the information that we could gain through them."
- Galileo Galilei
Some religions make individuals feel guilty for questioning their beliefs. I'll provide a thought experiment on this issue. If you lived with blind faith, and some parts of your life were harmful, is God going to be happy about that? Will God say, "Hey, you lived your life harmfully in some ways that you could have easily fixed if you would have simply been more questioning, but I know you were just living in faith so you'll still go to Heaven."? What will God say to skeptical, open minded, free thinking people? "Hey, you made your life and the lives of others better by being open minded, free thinking, and skeptical, finding harmful errors, and fixing those flaws. That seems good, sure... but you questioned your faith. You're not supposed to do that. You're going to Hell now."?
People might also be actively ignorant because it can be so uncomfortable to doubt or question what they've had faith in their whole life. Change, or even just the thought of change, can be difficult. As James Randi said, "They don't only want it to be true, they need it to be true."
I find it interesting that religious people are more likely to believe in free will and actually need free will to be true for congruity with their religion, yet they're also more likely to contradict free will than nonreligious people are. For example, imagine a religious family that gets in a car crash, if their child lives it's by the grace of God, and if their child dies then God has plans for that child in the spirit world (or "God works in mysterious ways"). What about the person that crashed into the car? Did he not have free will? Perhaps the crash didn't need to happen at all if there's free will.
"To believe in a God who intervenes and who will protect an individual, you have to also believe in a God who will reject the appeals of others."
- Barbara Mikkelson
Centuries ago there were princes that weren't allowed to be disciplined by anyone other than their father. Therefore, if a prince did something bad, and his father wasn't around but his friend was, the prince's friend would be punishment for what the prince did. Most people recognize this as unfair. However, it's actually quite analogous to the story of Jesus Christ.
Related to this issue is that of natural disasters. Some religious people claim that natural disasters are caused by God/s as punishment for a certain society being immoral. However, it should be considered that many natural disasters can be predicted, and even when a natural disaster wasn't predicted, it can often be explained how it happened after the fact and could have been predicted if the variables were recognized beforehand. Furthermore, some climates are naturally more inclined to get disasters than others, regardless of the morality of the society within that climate.
"Moral justice cannot take the innocent for the guilty, even if the innocent would offer itself."
- Thomas Paine
A common question theists ask of atheists is, "if you don't believe in God or the spirit world, what's the purpose of your life?". In response, it can be asked, "if you believe in God and the spirit world, what's the purpose of your life?". The point being that it shouldn't make much difference.
Some theists question if atheists are more scared of death than they are, and if this fear might make their life more debilitating when they think about it. The thought process is that a theist believes he'll live on in the spirit life after he dies, and presumably in a good place (e.g. Heaven), whereas an atheist believes he will cease to exist entirely after he dies. It probably varies from atheist to atheist, but anecdote suggests that most atheists don't think about it often. Furthermore, it should be considered that some theists have reason to be scared about death too, especially if they worry they, or ones they love, might go to a bad place in their spirit life (e.g. Hell).
"I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it."
- Mark Twain
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