Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Last Shred of Faith

I think I may understand a piece of the religious mind. It seems to me that many religious people profess faith, but in their heart of hearts, hope is their true refuge.

For instance, I've never understood why religious people cry at funerals. They profess the belief that their loved ones still exist beyond death and may have even achieved eternal bliss! Still they mourn. Why? Because they fear their loved ones are in hell? Do they weep from selfishness, wishing they could have just a few more days together? What's the point? We'll all be together again soon enough. Or perhaps they weep because they fear eternal punishment for themselves?

I think these reasons are all very unlikely. I think religious people cry at funerals for the same reason I do, because, deep down, their hope fades a little, their false piety melts away, and they think "I will never see this amazing person again"

I remember thinking it seemed very revealing that one of Matt's questions early on in our religious conversion discussions was something to the effect of, "Well let me ask you this: what's wrong with believing just to be safe?" Of course, Pascal's Wager is so intellectually vacuous that I need not refute it here, but I think for many, maybe even Matt, it is a convincing argument.*

But if you accept Pascal's wager, that's not faith, that's hope.

So here's my personal experience, which I believe may offer a window into the mind of the religious. Way back in high school, I remember reflecting on my parents with full scrutiny and thinking "No way. Someone must be unfaithful. How could anyone go so long like this?"

But very quickly, I tied that doubt into a little knot and buried it way down deep in my head. I reasoned, "Well, maybe they've found transcendental love. Maybe their sex drives have slowed. Maybe there's something I don't know" and after all that justification, I just stopped thinking.

I had hope and that hope allowed me to shelve my doubts in some forgotten library of the mind. I developed a sort of faith-based reasoning for my parents' spousal bliss. In my mind, my parents were okay because I hoped they were okay, and that was enough to stop thinking about it. Not only that, but I reasoned if I thought about it too much, the truth might hurt.

A year ago, my faith was shattered. And as of two days ago, my parents have separated. My studies of life have prepared me for the inevitability of change and death, so getting too emotional is difficult. Even so, I find myself fighting against change. And like the religious at a funeral, I cry.

* Matt also admitted that he never understood Darwin's despair about the staggering amount of waste and violence in the natural world. I also found this very revealing; for me, it was the final nail in the coffin as far as the flimsy case for faith was concerned.


SuiginChou said...

This was a good blog update in and of itself, but its scope changed from "wanting to discuss the falseness of professed faith which is really just a mixture of being in denial and hanging on to hope" to "actually, I just wanted to let you guys know that my parents separated." I've tried writing responses based around this last part, but they come off poorly in a digital medium. (They're not likely to be bad questions over dinner at a Steak and Shake, but somehow they seem too nosy or patronizing online instead of sounding comforting and sincerely sympathetic.) Well, just know that you do have friends and family who love you -- and that from everything I've ever seen in your home, both of your parents love you and care about your happiness very much. I'm sorry that two such nice people, who have always been very hospitable when I've visited, have had this happen.

As for your (pseudo)main focus in the article, yeah, a few points:

1) I definitely agree with you on funerals! :) This is one of the earliest memories I have of my developing lack of faith. I don't think I ever entertained doubt until my grandmother died, and it wasn't just because she died, but because of what I observed all around me -- devout Muslims and Christians alike mourning; Christian friends callously telling me on the school bus that they were sorry for my grandmother's lost immortal soul since she was not a Christian; so and so forth. I think the latter was a much more convincing argument for me since, to this day, my grandmother is the only person I have ever met in person who I would dare to use the charged word "holy" to describe (she was literally PERFECT, and the kindest most awesome person ever; beautiful when young, a brilliant mind, great humor, pure compassion, not materialistic at all, very generous, etc. etc.). However, the former -- which is what you focused on here, this aspect of "Christians in mourning", is a respectable silver medalist in young Ryan's list of reasons to doubt the verity of the Christian faith. I asked many of the same questions you did and had many of the same tart answers. :)

2) I hate it when so-called "Christians" use the Pascal's Wager argument! That was one of the final straws that broke the camel's back for me, sometime around 9th grade. I realized that a lot of false Christians -- observably false, i.e. they were 15 yet they drank, did pot, had premarital sex, etc. -- were using this line of thinking. And I realized, "You know, if God is as omnipotent as He is said to be, He can't be very happy when people try to get past St. Peter using this argument. :\ This isn't true faith. This is just scheming." Whenever a Christian uses the Pascal's Wager argument with me, it tells me one of two things:
a) if they have long been a Christian, they are using this argument as a desperate last-attempt to hold on to their faith; they are afraid of admitting they're agnostics now, and so they rely on this logic (since faith will not serve them, for it is missing!) to justify their continued psychological obeisance to God or
b) regardless of the length of their faith, the use of Pascal's Wager proves that they are a false Christian, period. No true Christian would ever use or justify the use of Pascal's Wager for their faith, and an intelligent-enough of a true Christian would also tell you, as I have, that Pascal's Wager isn't going to fool God.

3) I would caution you to not boast so highly of "oh, my faith was shattered by these catastrophic events." You may want it to sound as though your eyes were opened by these tragedies, but many a religious person (be he falsely religious or truly religious, as we have discussed) is going to scold you and say, "Look, you have allowed this tragedy to introduce doubt, but did not God warn you of this? And did He not say to you that He works in mysterious ways? Question not the ways of God, even when they bring misery and misfortune upon your home. His is a greater plan, and all the tragedies you may experience are being given to you to make you a better person and to bring you close to Him." There may be some sick actual truth to those last few words -- just as tragedy displays the power to agnostify humans, it also displays a (gross) tenacity for bringing people into the religious fold. I can't tell you the number of people who have "found God" that we've met at medical school so far -- from amputees to former drug abusers, I've heard quite a few testimonials already. People want to be loved, and the Christian fairytale offers them exactly that, and then some. It is very, very attractive, and people in the right state of mind, however logical they may be, can fool themselves into being suckered into it all and, once trapped inside, it's difficult for them to escape back out, on their own or even with the assistance of others.