Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Why Do You Believe?

I often get into debates with people about religion, sometimes heatedly (usually when the person I am speaking to is being arrogant and thick-headed), other times for the simple reason that I am curious as to why they believe what they do (when the person is nice, non-judgemental and otherwise seems quite intelligent). Recently I have had two such discussions with two people, which started amicably enough with me pointing at all the places the bible contradicts the “free will”, “god is love”, “justification for baptism” etc. arguments, which brought us directly to the central question of why the hell do you believe anyway? It always comes down to that, as it is impossible to continue the conversation without first establishing a sans-goal-post-shifting basis for the argument. They both happened to respond with an answer that is supposed to be a conversation stopper, an “oh well, this is where we agree to disagree and amicably go our separate ways” response.

I believe because I feel it, I feel something inside me when I pray

How shocked were they then, when all of a sudden I got a little frustrated with them, not only not accepting it as an end of the conversation, but rather answered

That’s not a fucking answer!

I was amazed that this was the first time that they had someone not accept that ridiculous answer. While I am sure many of you are fully aware as to why that is, but for those of you who have not thought too much about it, let me elaborate for you as I did for them:

Here we need another pinning down of what you do and do not believe. Do you believe in ghosts? Do you believe in aliens visiting the earth? How about vampires? No? Well, trust me, there are people that do. Many of them believe because they feel it. They feel the presence of their departed mother or spouse or pet, and therefore believe that their spirit is still walking the earth and keeping them company. There are people that are absolutely convinced that they were abducted by aliens and there are people that are sure vampires really exist, because they feel it. Why then, do most people in the world not accept those personal feelings as proof of the existence of ghosts, aliens or vampires? Because personal feelings are subjective, of course they are. You need external, objective evidence to back up these things in order to be justified in believing them. Personal opinion has no bearing on reality. Without objective evidence you can find other more plausible explanations for these feelings: that you’re grief over losing a loved one and being in the house you shared with them causes you to feel like they’re still there, that you suffer from sleep paralysis, that you really want live to be a little cooler.

If you accept someone’s personal feelings about what they believe, then you’re not allowed to scoff at ghosts, faries, aliens, vampires, or any other such fantasy. Going even further, if “I believe it exists because I feel it” was a valid argument, any hallucination a schizophrenic person has ever had exists too, from the voices to the people they see. This is why “I believe in God because I feel Him” does not qualify as a good reason to believe in God, not by a long shot.

And anyway, this personal fuzzy feeling you have inside is not only a terrible reason to believe in a god, but how in the hell did you jump from “warm fuzzy feeling” to “the God of the bible as interpreted by the Vatican”?! How do you know that your personal feelings are “evidence” for that specific god, and not Zeus, Thor or Buddha?

One of them did not have an answer, mostly because she is swaying away from theism and is honestly trying to identify the source of this “feeling” that is keeping her from really calling herself an atheist. The other one used “it’s a matter of faith” as the centre for all the circles he began to spin in. But that’s a whole can of worms for another time.

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