Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Religion is LIKE a Crutch, But...

[Trigger Warning (TW) for depiction of hypothetical use of a racial slur.]

When I was growing up as a Fundagelical Christian, one of the objections to religion I would hear sometimes was that it was a "crutch." Actually, I would usually hear this FROM religious people as an EXAMPLE of a criticism of religion that THEY [claimed to have] heard. They would then instantly dismiss it without really saying why. I don't even remember hearing [at the time] a full explanation of what it would mean for religion to be a "crutch"—the implication is that religion is for "weak-minded" people who can't handle the fact that nothing happens when you die or whatever. In the process of becoming an atheist, on the other hand, I don't recall hearing this argument [nearly as often] from actual atheists or critics of religion. That doesn't mean that there are no atheists who [have] use[d] this argument in some form. It just means that, for example, this particular "argument" [almost certainly] had nothing to do with my "deconversion." It's just as well, because it's a bad argument. It's clearly a strawman. It's obviously not fair to assert that all religious people are weak-minded and need some kind of collective hive-mind to do [all of] their thinking for them. However, as I implied earlier, this "argument" is kind of a strawman in both directions: On the one hand, there is no criticism of or argument against religion that I would consider serious that would incorporate such an insult, but on the other hand, it would be disingenuous for a person to say that not all Christians are complete idiots and then pretend/insinuate that they had defeated a claim that was in some way foundational [or even relevant] to atheism or anti-theism.

I see this as similar to the case of using the word "delusion" to describe religious belief. RationalWiki defines "delusion" thusly [emphasis added]:
A delusion is an aggressively-held belief that is demonstrably false. It is commonly (but not exclusively) the result of a mental condition, such as schizophrenia
The article continues:
Richard Dawkins, [in] The God Delusion [...] asserted that the question of God's existence was tied to the question of special creation, and then argued that since special creation has largely been demonstrated to be false, belief in God is a delusion 1
Of course, it IS true that many religions do incorporate these "aggressively-held," "demonstrably false" [or at least unfalsifiable] beliefs. And I realize that the article does mention that "delusion" is not "exclusively" attributable to a "mental condition." I also realize that having a mental condition could potentially contribute to one's "delusional" [religious] beliefs. However, we should be careful about associating religion with mental illness. In our [justifiable] efforts to characterize religion as an unreasonable system of thought, we shouldn't contribute to the stigmatization of or misconceptions about the mentally ill. If anything, "delusional" religious/spiritual beliefs are a "testament" to the human ability to compartmentalize contradictory thoughts & beliefs, which is not a bug, but a feature of the human mind-brain. It is also evidence AGAINST "intelligent" design [unless God is The Ultimate Troll, which, "according to the scriptures," He conveniently is (emphasis on the "HE")].

Of course, there is substantial evidence available for one to make a case that the "delusional" charge is merely a response to the "blindness" charge that Christians [and their predecessors] have been leveling at skeptics since time immemorial! But for now, I'll just focus on one relatively recent example.

A lot of [the lyrics of] Christian music paints a rather bleak portrait of doubt and skepticism [about God/religion]. They tend to see it as a constant struggle to refuse to see/deny the sight of what's right in front of you, and assert that you'll be better off if you "surrender" this doubt to God. The band Jars of Clay and the song "Blind" from their eponymous debut album are no exception. I was just going to post a few lines, but I couldn't. The whole thing was just too "good."
Cynical, just your way
You play the doubting Thomas
Feel the scars and wipe the stains

So you fight, and retreat
And talk yourself out of believing
in any peace that you can't see

Blind words you call
Blind words will fall

You're logical, you can't find
any reason to believe in love
you are blind

Crucify, and deny, pass the blame and burn the mission
Till dust remains and wash your hands
Alright. So this is essentially bigotry against people who have rejected or are skeptical of Christianity:
"You're just PLAYING Doubting Thomas! Why are you so prideful!? Stop trolling and kneel before Lord YHWH, already! Or you'll be sorry! Motherfucker!"
Woah. Hey. What the fuck! Alright, so I guess you're not going to give me ANY credit for coming to the beliefs I hold [or don't hold] in any kind of thoughtful, rational way. Is that what's going on here? What would it take for you to drop that assumption? Seriously.
"You can't believe in love if you don't accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Master! (Because they're the same 'thing'!)"
Right. And "when I say 'I,' Rabbi, I'm saying 'God'!" It's actually difficult for me to imagine anything more insulting. I honestly don't think I would feel more insulted and dehumanized if Dan Haseltine himself called me a "spic" and told me to sit in the back of the bus—AFTER punching me in the face!
"You only believe in what you can see!..."
Um, you DO know there are other ways of sensing and detecting various phenomena, right? It would be much more accurate to say that I prefer to withhold belief and/or acceptance of claims until they have been empirically verified or demonstrated. Is there something WRONG with that?
"...but you're blind, so because you can't see anything, you must not believe in anything, either!"
OK, so this is where it gets REALLY interesting. Mr. Haseltine is obviously speaking metaphorically here, but that might actually make it worse. Blindness is a disability, whereas the type of "blindness" he's talking about is, as I said earlier, a denial or refusal. If it were a disability, it would only be fair to accommodate for it somehow. But religionists who use the language of disability still blame us for our "condition." That doesn't seem fair. I think they should at least choose one or the other.

This is where it kind of comes back around. "Delusion" is a response to "blindness," but the "opposite" of blindness [in the sense of not seeing what's right in front of you] is actually "hallucination," which IS generally the result of, if not outright psychosis, then at least some kind of altered mental state. And here, we're getting into the same territory we were getting into earlier in which I advised against using language that could contribute to the stigmatization of the mentally ill and/or disabled.

However, there actually is a sense in which religion is or at least CAN BE like a crutch. Religion usually tells people that ["bad news"], they're intrinsically flawed, but ["good news"], the church has some kind of magical solution to this "problem" that will allow you to be fulfilled and become the person God intelligently-designed you to be! I realize it's not the most original observation to say that this is bullshit—that it's like telling you your leg is broken in order to sell you a crutch [as someone said, for example, on a recent episode of "The Atheist Experience"]. But, [as Matt Dillahunty said on last week's TAE show], "There's no god to fill the not-god-shaped hole that's not in your heart." By the way, "God-Shaped Hole" is the name of another Christian song by the band Audio Adrenaline [which, incidentally, has the same syllables and meter as my made-up name. gasp!!!]. And just to show you yet another angle on this, here's a post by Dan Fincke of "Camels With Hammers" on how "sin" is a bullshit term/concept [so to speak].

Well, it would appear that I've tied up this post quite neatly, if I do say so myself. You might have been worried a bit there in the middle, but hopefully I came through all right. This paragraph is mostly to avoid such an abrupt appearance of the tag line, anyway, which I've had for the past 5 years, but it's not like it's something that's beyond questioning as to whether I still need it. Anyway, happy trials, Tyrion!

1I suppose I should point out that I haven't actually read The God Delusion, so I can only assume that Dawkins was referring to a belief in any kind of "special creation" [not just, say, young-earth creationism]. Maybe there are God-beliefs that don't incorporate any kind of "special creation," but that's not what the vast majority of people mean when they say or think about "God." I would argue that the "special creation" of Deism, though perhaps not "demonstrably false," would, at least currently, fall into the category of "unfalsifiable" or at least "not [sufficiently] clearly defined."

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