Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Speaking for God

I've spent over year now debating theology with Christians and Muslims. One thing that's constant is that they'll make a claim about God without an ability to back it up. Then they get upset when I tell them the claim is baseless. Yet they cannot point to an objective fact or means to validate their claims.

In a nutshell, this is one of the foundational problems with religion: In religion, the church is created to represent an absentee God for the believer. Since nobody can communicate with God, your church, synagogue, or mosque tells you what he is like and what he wants from you.

At this point, some religious believers might be thinking "that's not true! The [Name of holy book] is the word of God!" But of course, that holy book simply supports or is supported by the aforementioned religious organization. Regardless of the religion, there are many different interpretations of the holy book which quibble over details ranging from acceptance of gays to the divinity of Jesus or Mohammed. Of course none of the beliefs are based in objective evidence, so it's impossible to resolve these disagreements. The disagreeing groups simply aren't equipped with (or aren't willing to use) the critical thinking skills necessary to resolve their disagreement. They seem unable to even see the foundational epistemological failures that explain why their groups cannot agree.

The process by which churches make these claims about the nature and desires of God is gradual and subtle. It's done through sermons, songs, and discussions with other church members who also accept the dogma. Through this process, religion is helping to define the believer's expectations for what God is like. When the believer then communicate with God through "prayer," their mind forms plausible responses from this shared vision of God. Humans are VERY good at imagining conversations. The imagined interlocutor is convincing enough that people believe their imagined God might be real.  Of course they're prepared for this delusion by being taught they need to "listen carefully" and "God will speak to them." This handy guide provides a nice template for how the delusion is cultivated.

First, Christians should build relationships with other Christians
The belief spreads best if you're surrounded by people who support your belief.  Since there's no objective evidence, developing a social group is the best way to convince yourself.
A Christ follower should spend daily time reading the Bible, mulling over the messa and praying for ways to make scripture’s lessons into a lifestyle. 
Repetition and meditation helps solidify a common belief
By adding prayer for others and himself to this daily quiet time, the Christian will find it easier to turn away from their own self-focused desires, and advance God’s priorities to first place. 
Believing they're helping other people helps believers feel like this repetitive action isn't as selfish as it really is,
 Christians should actively seek opportunities to tell others about what they are learning from and about God.
The best way to follow through with a commitment is to publicly affirm it.  This makes the believer be more committed to the beliefs. Turning away from the commitment after publicly affirming it is socially awkward.  To avoid this embarrassment, a believer will tend to shun any self-doubt. or at the very least conceal this doubt from fellow believers. The end-result is a community which can more strongly reinforce the religious dogma of the sect.

It is through this mechanism that these God beliefs flourish. Each believer thinks theirs seems rational because they're surrounded by people with nearly identical beliefs. The belief which cannot be supported by any rational or objective means is supported by the echo chamber of the social group instead. When confronted with a differing belief or a different religion, there's no way to resolve the different subject of gods each group has independently created.  

So what happens? Christian theologians review Muslim work and find all the logical and factual flaws in their religion and say, "Ha ha Islam is false!" But of course, Muslim scholars do the same for Christianity. The leaders of each religion are capable of critical thought and logical evaluation of other beliefs. But for their own favorite belief, they're unable or unwilling to apply the same standards. This is the part that I don't understand.  

How can intelligent people be oblivious to their own double-standard? I suppose it takes effort to evaluate one's own deeply held beliefs, but that's an essential part of being an honest person.

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