Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Are You Smart Enough to Convert to Atheism?

Graduation Cap, Used under Creative Commons License
Theism is easy. Answers to all your questions are readily available.

  • Where did we come from?
  • What's the meaning of life?
  • How do I know what's right or wrong?
  • How can I be sure I'm raising ethical kids?
There's a great deal of comfort in believing that we have answers to all these questions. 

Yet if you ask the hard question, "How do you know that's true?", it becomes quickly apparent that we religion doesn't really know. Rather, it gives you a consolidated group of individuals willing to attest to the dogmatic answers, with each individual largely relying on the attestations of others in the group as validation for his own attestation. In short, religious answers arise from group-think, with core assumptions reinforced by weekly group recitations of the "creed".
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Creator of heaven and earth,
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
from whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.
This isn't to say that all religious answers to the life's hard question are necessarily wrong (that would be committing the "Genetic Fallacy").  There is no shortage of religious people who understand the origins of the universe and of life. And some churches may indeed have some good ideas about how to raise ethical kids. The United Church of Christ was quick to recognize the injustice of marriage inequality, and take legal action based on freedom of religion to advocate for equality. Many churches like the protestant one I grew up in are comfortable with skepticism about everything -- except of course the central creed.

In the end, church dogma and answers are subjective group-think opinions. If left unexamined, some of these opinions are damaging. For example, church inspired sexual repression leads to sexual ignorance and higher teen-pregnancy (http://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0024658) in religious communities.

So why do you need to be smart to be atheist? Well you don't really. You just need to recognize that the answers you are getting aren't really reliable and be willing to set out on your own to investigate the important answers as objectively as you possibly can. It takes mental effort and discipline to identify the beliefs that are unsubstantiated group-think and reconsider them. It requires a level of intellectual self-confidence and personal discomfort to admit the truth: "I don't know," and to qualify statements with phrases like, "it seems to me" and "as far as I can tell."  In the end, your statements and views are more accurate. Pretending to know something you've never validated is fundamentally dishonest. 

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