Michael J. Rice: Eliminate the unreasonable act of faith

By Michael J. Rice


Michael J. Rice
Guilty of Reason

aith” is the word we use for the specific action of accepting something as fact without proof.

Most people never consider what that definition of “faith” is, or what acting on it means, because those who are taught to have faith are also taught that you shouldn’t question it.

But questioning, investigating and defining everything perceived is what our species specializes in — reasoning. Questions are the first step in seeking facts, increasing knowledge and improving ourselves. Humanity would be much better off without faith, if only for the fact that forbidding questions about anything circumvents reasoning and, by extension, being reasonable.

So, faith is, by definition, an unreasonable act.

Why do otherwise reasonable, rational adults accept, practice and teach an unreasonable act? Like most animals belonging to the kingdom Animalia, it is in our nature to be credulous. It is more expedient for everyone involved if offspring believe what they are told: Don’t touch that snake, eat that berry or play with that gun. Yes, it saves time, but, unfortunately, it also conditions people to accept unverified assertions as fact.

We need to learn to honestly and comfortably say, “I don’t know,” when that is the truthful answer. To quote Carl Sagan: “Better the hard truth, I say, than the comforting fantasy.”

There are many things to our nature besides being credulous. Killing, stealing and raping are acts committed by many animal species. However, it is generally unacceptable for the human animal to do these things, which means that just because something is natural does not necessarily make it practical, reasonable or acceptable.

I asked a friend, “If proof were provided that there were no gods, would you accept it?” The answer was no. The same question was asked of a sibling. Not only did my sibling flatly refuse to answer that hypothetical question, but the reply was, “What kind of person would ask a question like that?”

Neither of those reactions qualifies as reasoned. This is what the act of faith does — it allows people to be shamelessly arrogant and often times fanatical in not only their thoughts and words, but, unfortunately, their actions.

Reason is humanity’s greatest asset, its greatest ability. Reason has allowed us to extend our senses beyond our natural limitations and create a wealth of knowledge that allows us to do many unnatural things. We’ve seen more than 13 billion light-years into the past, recorded life on the microscopic level and traveled the land, water and air in unnatural ways at unnatural speeds, all because of our ability to reason.

Is there anything reasonable people cannot accomplish or amicably agree upon? For our species to survive, we need to exploit reason to its fullest. We cannot accomplish that without first recognizing and acknowledging those things that prevent us from becoming completely reasonable.

People must reject the notion that faith cannot be questioned — not questioning what is believed, but questioning the act itself. The fault does not lie in what is believed, the fault lies in the act itself. What greater good can come of anything, religious or otherwise, whose foundation is, and very existence depends on, an unreasonable act?

We cannot define what we cannot sense, and it is our sense, in concert with our ability to reason, that allow us to define what we perceive. For example, if a living human brain were placed in a box unable to hear, touch, see, smell or taste, would it observe anything? No, obviously not, therefore our ability to know anything is dependent on our ability to first sense physical data and then define the data in terms that are consistent with those observations. We cannot know anything which we cannot first observe, which means that anything relying on faith is not knowledge-based.

The use of faith is an admission that what is being espoused cannot be accepted on its own merits. People cannot simultaneously have both faith and knowledge of anything because where knowledge exists, faith is unnecessary. Because it can be proved, no one uses faith to know that “one plus one equals two.” No reasonable person disputes this equation. And if anyone could prove gods existed, faith in those gods would not be needed.

There are many atrocities done in the name of faith that no reasonable person would ever consider, much less do. And there are no good deeds done in the name of faith that could not or would not be accomplished by reasonable people. I can think of no instance or circumstance where choosing to be unreasonable is ever acceptable.

For a civilized society to exist, the act of faith needs to be shunned. Unreasonable acts, faith or otherwise, should never be practiced, taught or condoned. How positive would the repercussions be if, instead of teaching children faith, we taught them to always be reasonable in thought and action?

If we choose to act on and condone unreasonable acts, our species will not survive. With humanity’s ability to potentially exterminate itself, the only way our species will survive is to eschew faith and fully embrace reason.

FFRF Member Michael J. Rice, a former estimator for a mechanical contracting firm, was born, raised and retired in Tucson, Ariz.

Barbara G. Walker: Bible presents God as monster of vanity, cruelty

By Barbara G. Walker

Barbara G. Walker

Nonbelievers are often asked, “Why not accept the idea of God as a harmless one, a force for good, an inspiration to bring out the best in people?” But when I read the bible as a teenager, I found a lot of reasons why not. The biblical God is hardly harmless. He is incredibly cruel, irrational, vain, sadistic and untrustworthy.

In spite of saying “Thou shalt not kill” at one point, he orders endless massacres — whole cities to be wiped out, including men, women, children, animals, all. He demands that raped women must be killed, a brutality still carried out in certain Muslim countries. He orders you to murder any members of your own family who don’t sufficiently respect him (Deuteronomy13:6-9). He sends wild animals to kill children (2 Kings 2:23-24).  He is a jealous God, full of vengeance and wrath (Nahum 1:2). He brags that he has destroyed many nations (Zephaniah 3:6). He even admits: “I create evil” (Isaiah 45:7). 

In Genesis, he kills almost every living creature on Earth because a few people failed to praise him enough. He is the ultimate embodiment of male egotism; his appetite for praise is insatiable. He demands it every minute, from everybody, for all eternity. We have been told that one of the components of heavenly “bliss” is that we will join the choirs of angels in singing God’s praises forever and ever. Well, that might be entertaining for half an hour, but for all eternity? More like hell. The pagans had a better idea, that heavenly “bliss” would be like an eternal orgasm; but, of course, the prudish God would not allow that.

As a child, I was told about one of God’s worst crimes. He arranged to have his own son murdered, to induce himself to save some of the people from the hell of eternal torture that he created to punish the sins he knew they would commit, because he made them that way.

What kind of a father is it who kills his own allegedly beloved son? And why should it be so pleasing to him? But even this death would not eliminate God’s hell altogether, because the blessed ones in heaven needed to enjoy the sadistic pleasure of a perfect view of the tortures of the damned, according to St. Thomas Aquinas and other godly folks.

As a child, I wondered, “What was the point of killing Jesus?” If the all-powerful God wanted to save people, couldn’t he just do it, without all the folderol and pain of sacrifice? But no, hell must never be eliminated.  Apparently, God really wanted to intimidate his poor subjects with that vision of endless agony that only really sick minds could create, and that same imaginary fear made enormous profits over the millennia for God’s ever-greedy minions on earth.

I find it incredible that people can read what the bible says about this God’s character and still think him harmless, benevolent or anything close to lovable.

The bible presents him as a monster of vanity and cruelty, the “jealous God” that people were commanded to fear. The men who created and developed his character were like schoolyard bullies, relishing their ability to make others tremble.

They made a god that I found hugely unworthy. I wanted neither his heaven nor his hell, and felt much more comfortable after dismissing them. My future may be limited, like that of every other life form on Earth, but that’s better than either of God’s alternatives.

Barbara G. Walker is the author of the award-winning Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, Man Made God, Belief and Unbelief, The Crone, The Skeptical Feminist, and 20 other books, and is a Lifetime Member of FFRF.

Emma Green: Politics the new religion for progressives

This story originally ran in The Atlantic on Oct. 11 and is reprinted with permission.

By Emma Green

FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover speaks his mind during the Women’s March in Madison, Wis., in January 2017. (Photo by Chris Line)

The voters who are most amped for the 2018 elections look elite in nearly every way. They are Democrats, college-educated and largely secular. They are likely to be women, but they’re not necessarily white or particularly young. These are the people who might post rants about Donald Trump on Facebook or harass their friends to donate to Planned Parenthood. They may sign petitions on Change.org or follow the Facebook page of the U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke, even though they don’t live in Texas. Maybe they attended the Women’s March two years ago, or the March for Our Lives this spring.

This is the sketch that emerges from a new poll by The Atlantic and the Public Religion Research Institute, which looks at Americans’ civic engagement in the lead-up to November’s midterms.

“Whoever is in the losing party tends to be more energized,” said Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, the director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University. “They have something to win back.”

It’s the segment that’s surprising: Religiously unaffiliated voters, who may or may not be associated with other civic institutions, seem most excited about supporting or donating to causes, going to rallies, and expressing opinions online, among other activities. Political engagement may be providing these Americans with a new form of identity. And in turn, they may be helping to solidify the new identity of the Democratic Party.

Democrats have traditionally had a strong base of religious voters. A decade ago, more than 80 percent of self-identified Democrats were affiliated with some sort of religion, according to the Pew Research Center. The party was nearly one-quarter Catholic and nearly one-half Protestant, including mainline, evangelical, and historically black denominations. By 2014, those numbers had shifted significantly: Pew found that 28 percent of Democrats identified as religiously unaffiliated.

More enthusiam

This year, the God gap also seems to be an enthusiasm gap between religious and nonreligious voters. In the new PRRI survey of 1,811 respondents, conducted this year in August and September, religiously unaffiliated Democrats were more than twice as likely to have attended a rally within the past 12 months compared with their religious peers. During that time, they were significantly more likely to have contacted an elected official or to have donated to a candidate or cause. And nearly half of religiously unaffiliated Democrats said they had bought or boycotted a product for political reasons or posted political opinions online, compared with roughly one-quarter of their religious peers.

“Culturally, this is the subgroup of the Democratic Party that feels most at odds with the direction of the country and what the Trump administration is doing,” said Dan Cox, the research director at PRRI. “These secular Democrats also tend to be the most liberal.”

The data on religiously unaffiliated Democrats combines with other statistics to form a rough picture of the voters who have been getting the most civically involved over the past year. Across the board, college graduates were significantly more likely than their nongraduate peers to have signed petitions, volunteered for or donated to a cause, attended rallies, liked a campaign online, called their representative, or changed what they bought for political reasons. Women were also more likely to have done many of these things than men, and they were five percentage points more likely to say they had become more civically engaged over the past two years.

In general, Democrats beat out Republicans on a number of measures of civic engagement, especially when it comes to online activism: They were twice as likely to have signed an online petition, encouraged friends or family to get political online, or posted about issues they care about.

So what does all of this mean for the 2018 elections? While many Democrats seem to be more politically fired up than Republicans, it’s not clear that this will translate into big wins at the ballot box: Eighty-one percent of Democrats said they’ll absolutely or probably vote in November, compared with 82 percent of Republicans. But this wave of political energy may say something about the identity of Democratic voters — particularly those who don’t have strong religious or institutional ties.

“There’s a sociological story you can tell about this community,” said Eitan Hersh, a political scientist at Tufts who is writing a book on what he calls “political hobbyism.” “This online world of political identity . . . is basically acting as a replacement for people who maybe a generation or two before would identify as Catholic or as Jewish or as Irish or Italian.”

New identity

This new identity of voter is largely elite, politically plugged-in, constantly discussing the Republicans’ latest political shenanigans at dinner parties, and more focused on national problems than local affairs.

“You see Democrats who will say on surveys that their most important issues are the environment or racial equality, and they take absolutely no interest in voting in local primaries or local municipal elections, where a lot of those issues are worked out,” Hersh said. “It’s a lot more gratifying to be talking about the Kavanaugh hearing.”

This sketch doesn’t necessarily capture what’s happening on the ground in Democratic and progressive organizing circles, said Lara Putnam, a professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh.

“I have met more churchgoing progressive women in the world of . . . political organizing than I had ever met in my previous 15 years of living in basically the same communities,” she said.

It may be challenging to understand these people through a national poll: While it’s easy for Democrats to talk about their angry Facebook posts, it’s more difficult to capture the kind of political transformation that Putnam is seeing among local groups in Pennsylvania. “The spark may have been about Trump,” she said. “But that story . . . stopped being about Trump a long time ago.”

Perhaps the takeaway from this data, then, is that the Democratic Party is going through a transformative moment of both sentiment and identity. Many liberals are feeling anger, and finding ways to express that. The elite part of the party, especially those who are well educated, is most engaged. And for these people, progressive politics may offer a form of meaning making, especially if they are disconnected from other forms of ethnic or religious identity.

“The Democratic Party is undergoing a fundamental transformation. It’s not going to occur over one election cycle,” Cox said. “So much of this is wrapped up in people’s ideas of who they are and where they belong. And that reflects on what kind of country they want, what kind of leaders they want, and, perhaps even more importantly, what kind of leaders they don’t want.”

Emma Green is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where she covers politics, policy and religion.