Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Faith & Loathing in Religious Apologetics

I have been told multiple times, by multiple believers that the challenge and criticism of faith is acceptable and even welcomed. However this free exchange of ideas more often than not ends with an admonishment of the atheist by the believer for some offense. Recently I was accused of being condescending for the following “offending” statement:
“I'm not going to pretend that I do not have a problem with the overarching concept of faith, but my level of "give a damn" would be very much reduced without the complete irrationality of those that think their faith is best for others and will do anything to preserve their own no matter how ridiculous.”
Aside from being dangerously close to a run-on sentence; I am no longer surprised that a so-called moderate, liberal believer immediately got defensive over this wording and the idea behind it. In this case it was my “tone” that was found to be offensive and intolerant. I am unsure as to how my "tone" here is deemed offensive. Now I probably should have used term "illogical" rather than "irrational," but I don't think this makes a big enough difference to most people. If it did in this instance I could (and should) have been called on it then. However, I am not committing any personal attacks or using harsh or vile language. I am simply critical of a religious concept; which I thought was welcomed. First of all, I was simply being honest and upfront stating my objections to the concept of faith. Second, the “tone” is clearly directed towards those that wish to impose their religious beliefs onto others. The accusations of “offensive tone” and “intolerance” of other people’s belief’s are thought terminating clich├ęs. It’s a way to smooth cognitive dissonance, suppress dissent and end a conversation. I also think it can be a form of an ad hominem attack.
In any case, no matter whom it is directed towards, I will not apologize for that statement or its tone. Religious faith is a personal, subjective belief that is held with no confirming evidence or held in spite of contradictory evidence. At least own that. If your god is your god because (s)he has revealed themselves to you in some way then at least own the fact that this experience is not objective and not based on evidence and reason. I reject the religious apologist line that religious faith is rational, reasonable, or logical. The faith concept is based on premises that are, by definition "not based on proof." This is always "not logical" and very often "not rational." 
"Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable." 
H.L. Mencken
Of course, I think this accusation of “tone” is all a smoke screen of insecurity which leaves me wondering what open, honest, and unfettered criticism is considered not offensive by the religious. There should be nothing offensive about the statement: "I do not believe that any gods exist." None. After all, it can be no more or less offensive than the statement "I do believe that god(s) exist(s)."

For something as important and as integral to our shared existence as that claim, you must have at least one fact about that grand existence that is objectively, provably true. So...what is this one, even small, objectively true piece of evidence I have previously been unaware of that billions of people have? I'm sure nearly anyone can identify with the slippery slope of rejections to various beliefs that this simple question for evidence would cause. Obviously most people have. They have their one specific religion that they adhere to, usually adamantly. They do not find evidence for the other gods. These gods are considered laughably false, offensive themselves, or in the case of some—usually liberal monotheists—projections of the one god onto different cultures. Quick! Someone go to church and tell everyone that the Hindus are right!

As is often repeated by atheists everywhere, we are not responsible for proving a negative. Even still I think that negative evidence is circumstantial evidence for the baselessness of religious claims. Adam has previously discussed the scope of the god concept as A Natural Agent and how it would be highly improbable that there would be no evidence of an all-powerful creator throughout the universe if “It” was so integral to existence. This is often dismissed by religious apologists as easily explained since the god they are defending exists outside of time and space and/or “hides” their fingerprints for some mystical purpose. After all, we humans cannot possibly understand the divine will. This is simply special pleading. This baseless argument is used to make a claim that is only possible through exceptional excuses. It is not an adequate defense of a position, but it is the only position that faith allows. However, it does not offend me.