Thursday, February 21, 2013

Dharma Withdrawal

Many of my cohort have adopted conventional religious views, which feels funny--as the reigning rules of propriety dictate religious sentiments are not to be disputed.

Within a society functioning under that strong rule, people have no disincentive not to adopt ill-considered magical perspectives.

A polite way of pushing back against said foolish tradition:  To take people up on their religious views only when it is emphatically they who put religion on the table.

Were I to believe I'd found the keys to eternity, I'd feel a special moral obligation to communicate my discovery to others, always welcoming probing questions.  It would be important for me to let others know they should feel no need to hide their skepticism--it's essential we be correct in our new knowledge:  The costs of being wrong would be vast.

Instead, one encounters religious people who fracture upon the gentlest tapping:  They're incredibly bad at explaining why their decision to embrace their faith was based on sound reasoning.  Quite often you find, after gentle probing, the person simply has never entertained a moment's skepticism regarding his faith.  Their devotion to their religion is true because its true, because you can't prove it's not true.

They come up with very bad reasons--and so they direct resentment at the questioner.  It is rude when you show them their mission in life lacks foundation.  Bad, person.

A devout Catholic acquaintance recently expressed a Jesus-positive thought within a communication space.  Here are my several attempts--with my friend's words removed--at rousing him out of false belief:

We have found a rare point of disagreement, I'm afraid. People are leaving the Catholic Church because its central magical and historical claims cannot be supported with evidence. The Pope is just another global-hegemony-seeking alpha male, selected from within a political process, whose ideas Catholics too often deem 'above criticism.' Perpetual cracker worship has in fact been adequately considered--and found wanting.


Thanks C--I'm glad we now know that you believe in the Resurrection of Jesus 'based entirely on faith.' In other words, you don't consider any evidence for the event to be persuasive. (On this point we are in complete agreement.) 'Faith' = believing things with no evidence; you are correct in noting that I do not consider faith to be a virtue. If a person values truth and seeks to avoid falsehood, evidence is her best bet. The evidence for Jesus' Resurrection is precisely the same as that for Zeus' magical claims, i.e. zilch. Belief in Zeus no doubt formed a moral foundation for many individuals and families, at one time--though that in no way buttresses its truth value.


If you're suggesting it would be a good thing for me to throw evidence to the wind and adopt any old religion--then on what basis would I select Christianity instead of Hinduism? If you're not entirely sure that Catholicism is truthful--that you have no persuasive evidence on its behalf--why not just be honest and say so?


Thanks C. Believing in a religion might help some people overcome addiction or economic difficulty--I agree. Similarly, Hindus believe that aligning oneself with the dharma ('the universal truth that sprang from first Brahman' [Wiki]). While I don't at all accept the Hindu claim for the origin of dharma, I entirely accept that striving toward the dharma has improved many millions of lives. Adopting a religion can improve a person's life, whether or not the religion's magical claims have merit. Secondly C, you argue that Jesus' existence cannot be disproved. Let's be clear: I am not arguing that a historical person--Jesus--never walked the earth. I am instead arguing that no evidence undergirds the Catholic belief in the Resurrection of Jesus. The gospels were written long after the purported events described--and were not written by eyewitnesses or by Jesus' contemporaries. When you assert belief in the bodily Resurrection of Jesus, the burden of proof is squarely upon you: It's your job to provide evidence to back up the claim. By the same token, were I to claim the ability to fly, it would be odd for me to ask you to provide evidence against my claim: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, quoth Carl Sagan. Peace!

Upon rereading, this evening, I now perceive an error in my final paragraph, above:  I should have been more circumspect than to assert 'striving toward the dharma has improved many millions of lives.'  I don't know enough about Hinduism to say that for certain--and secondly I'm not sure how dharma might be intertwined with other less pleasant aspects of the religious tradition.

To demonstrate my point, imagine if a Hindu person without much knowledge of America were to write on her blog: 
While I don't at all accept the Catholic claim for the infusion of the soul at conception, I entirely accept that the belief in the Christian 'soul' concept has improved many millions of lives. 
 A moment's reflection shows me that we in fact do not know this to be true.  We simply don't know for sure that--had our civilization dispensed with the Christian 'soul' concept--we'd be any worse off.  Were we able to run an A/B test on global history--running our iteration against an alternative in which superstition long ago became rare, we cannot say for certain the general level of life satisfaction would be any lower.

So I've updated my view--and will try to avoid such excess, going forward.

And another blog comment of mine--responding to a particularly inarticulate loon:

By contrast, F, I take a somewhat less fanatically McCarthyite attitude toward the world. I have evaded no question, I stoutly defend your right to participate in civil dialog--and I always emphasize how intensely--as a gentleman--I will endeavor to avoid any babyish silencing and ejection of others. I extend the hand of friendship to all, simultaneously spreading the concept of non-McCarthyism, to a tribe heretofore unfamiliar with it.
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