What would compel an otherwise rational person to dive head-first into a cesspool filled with shit, piss, garbage, and bacteria?
Why — religion, of course!
On PBS tonight, there was a documentary program about the Ganges, a.k.a. the Ganga River, located in India. This is a vast tributary of life (and potentially death) for hundreds of millions of people, living in both Bangladesh and India. It’s also one of the most polluted rivers in the world, a breeding ground for sickness and disease — not just to humans, but animals, as well. And it’s that way almost entirely because of indifference from religion, and specifically Hinduism, which continues to promote the loony notion that bathing in feces-encrusted waters somehow makes gullible believers “spiritually” whole again.
[Palm slapping forehead]
Which brings us to the question: Why do we revere such absurd, not to mention dangerous, religious practices?
By the looks of me and the things that I do, one would assume I’m a Christian believer.
Every year, I put up a Christmas tree and hang up pretty lights and decorations. I’ve committed most of the verses of popular Christmas songs to memory. I attend Christmas shows, even those held inside churches. I send out Christmas cards to friends and family. I buy presents. My heart is filled with joy. I even get sentimental.
Fact is, I am not a Christian. I’m an anti-theist. That means I’m opposed to theism. I don’t discriminate. I’m opposed to all religions. I actively seek to expunge religion’s deleterious influences on society, culture, politics, and economy. I speak out on the false notion of faith, its demands for blind obedience, and enslavement of the mind.
So, how can I be ideologically consistent and remain true to my beliefs while engaging in the practices of faiths that I do not share? How can I celebrate Christmas? That’s the basis of this essay, the second in a two-part series.
When it comes to celebrating Christmas, the secular humanist community is divided.
We aren’t Christians. To us, the Bible is nothing more than historical fiction. We don’t believe in the so-called “miracle” of a virgin birth which supposedly occurred 2,014 years ago on this very day under the Star of Bethlehem. We don’t bow our heads in prayer, because no one is listening. We certainly don’t adhere to ancient belief systems lacking tangible evidence, which were forged during the Bronze Age by ancestors prone to mass hysteria and superstition. In short, we believe the traditional version of Christmas is entirely bogus.
I don’t want to sound ungrateful or anything. I really appreciate that you answered my prayer a few weeks ago, letting me win my $500 bet when that fighter Vasquez beat Cruz to bloody pulp. That 8th round was beautiful. I owe you one. I’ll give $2 to a homeless guy and we’ll call it even, okay?
So, it really pains me to have to write to you this time, begging your heavenly holiness for another favor.
Faith and trust are often used interchangeably, as though they’re one and the same.
They are not one and the same. In fact, FAITH and TRUST are two entirely different things. One may even argue convincingly, faith and trust are contradictory.
Faith has been called “the substance of hope.” Faith requires no evidence for belief nor practice. The very nature of faith surmises that tangible evidence doesn’t exist. Otherwise, there is a manifestation. On the other hand, trust is based largely on evidence that is real according to the senses and to human reason. Trust is the core conviction of judgment based on knowledge, instinct, and experience.
To further extend this point and the distinction between faith and trust, consider a common everyday experience:
Imagine walking down a city street. At one point, you step onto a well-marked crosswalk. In doing so, you unwittingly place enormous trust in other people. You trust the drivers of cars and trucks, presumably complete strangers to you to behave safely. They are expected to obey the traffic laws. You trust these drivers will be skilled and sober enough to observe you walking in the middle of the street and will come to a stop, thus allowing you to pass safely.
Based on volumes of evidence — including traffic fatalities which happen frequently in crosswalks, railroad crossings, and the like — placing this trust may be ill-advised. After all, you know nothing about these drivers. They could be drunk or distracted or sending texts and quite possibly not see you. Should that misfortune happen, the end result could be a serious injury, or perhaps even death. Nonetheless, we all step out into crosswalks anyway, usually without even thinking about the risk we are taking. This is because trust is a fundamental provision of daily life and living. We have no choice than to trust other people.
Now in another scenario, let’s suppose you were to step into that same unlit crosswalk — but this time during the night. Let’s assume that most drivers wouldn’t be able to see you crossing until perhaps it was too late, and then you’d be run over. Nevertheless, your decision was made to cross this street in the night based on some wayward faith. Your faith tells you, you’re protected, perhaps even invincible. One can readily see by this fantasmal make-believe scenario that faith is an utter act of stupidity, if not outright madness. Faith has become dangerous. Not only does faith have no actual basis in truth, it also lacks a common utility.
Society would be much better off with more trust, and less faith. The late writer and polemic Christopher Hitchens shared the following perspective. He had little regard for faith, writing much to the rancor of conventional thinkers:
Faith is the surrender of the mind, it’s the surrender of reason, it’s the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other animals. It’s our need to believe and to surrender our skepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something, that is the sinister thing to me. … Out of all the virtues, all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated.
Indeed, it’s peculiar that we regard faith as a virtue at all.
Faith is the abandonment of scientific principles. Faith is the refutation of tangible evidence. Faith, in all its many forms, is a wild jackal roaming the global Serengeti, steeped in the poverty of superfluous instinct, seemingly without cogitation or purpose. In short, faith confuses things and makes the search for actual truth more ambiguous. It clouds judgment.
Unfortunately, faith is too common. The best example of faith in practice is religion and all its intended and unintended fall-out. Billions of global citizens claim to be believers adhering to one faith versus another. Certainly, we’re entitled to believe in spiritual Easter Bunnies and Magic Men and even Flying Spaghetti Monsters if we so choose to. Everyone should have his or her right to believe in Tarot Cards or Santa Claus and have faith that flying reindeer will arrive once a year bearing a new plasma television. But problems do occur when the faithful try to impose these illusory fantasies onto others, often by rule of law, or by force. Even bigger problems occur when the faithful try to inhibit the actions of the faithless. When this occurs, human advancement and scientific progress, so naturally intertwined, come to a screeching halt.
The hurdles of science are challenging enough without the added pitfalls of superstition. Consider how faith has altered and often shaped human history, which continues to the present. Consider the manner by which those claiming to be faithful incite biases against the discoveries of modern science. Whether it’s believing in angels or denying evolution, faith is folly. Faith is not only wrong — but also bad. The very notion that we rest “in God’s hands,” enslaves greater human pursuits. What’s the point of working tirelessly inside a laboratory trying to cure a disease if prayer actually works? Why not toss all the test tubes away and just pray harder? Why have trust (in science and mankind) when there’s faith (in the supernatural)?
Secular-humanism has been defined as “the application of reason and science to the understanding of the universe and the solving of human problems.” To this end, we must trust in the insatiable desires of our most gifted and dedicated to continuing the ways of discovery which benefit us all, and those who follow. Trust becomes a largely positive ideal not only giving life purpose but reaffirming human value.
This stark contrast between faith and trust illustrates the way religious believers and secular humanists look at the world and life differently. While the faithful place their lives at the supposed goodwill of a theoretical supreme being, we secular-humanists are forced to rely on each other. Accordingly, we are required to have trust in each other — which is actually the noblest of virtues.