Sunday, 23 February 2014

Why Faith?

You've got to have faith. Faith is important. You can't expect God to make you believe, you have to believe on faith. It's drilled into children by theistic parents and reinforced from the pulpit. Faith - it's the one thing you need to get into heaven.

Well...allow me to disagree. 

First of all I want to clear up what I mean by faith. For starters, I don't mean trust. Faith is, essentially, pretending to know something you don't. It's believing something is true despite lack of evidence or despite contradictory evidence. Trust is different. Trust is formed over time and is based on verifiable experience and data. For example when I drive my car I don't have faith that the brakes will work - I trust they will work. I trust this because I've had them work previously, I know they were manufactured to standards, and that they're maintained by qualified professionals. 

Faith is fine if you don't care about what's true. If you want to believe something whether or not it's true, whether or not you've got good reason to believe it, then faith is for you. But if you want to believe things (or accept them as true if you'd rather put it that way) for good reasons, then faith will not help you achieve that. 

The easiest way to demonstrate that faith is flawed is to point out that through faith alone, people can have contradictory beliefs and none of them can be validated. I think this point is crucial - you cannot validate beliefs based on faith.

Take Christians who believe - on faith - that 'Bible God' exists and he sent his son Jesus/himself to earth to save human kind. They also believe that Jesus was/is the messiah. 

Contrast this with the Muslims who also believe in an Abrahamic God themselves. Muslims think Jesus was a prophet of God but not the saviour. They also think that Muhammad was a prophet but the Christians think no such thing. The Christians think God had a son, the Muslims and Jews don't. The Muslims think the Qu'ran is the literal word of God as revealed to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel. The Jews and Christians believe no such thing. 

These three big players in religion - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - pretty much, kind of, believe in the same god, yet they differ on so many crucial points. Of course this is completely ignoring the various sects and branches of Christianity there are. I've heard estimates up to 30,000 different kinds. 

So the question which must be asked is this - if faith is a pathway to truth, if faith is valuable, how can it lead to so many different conclusions? There are so many assumptions, guesses, and, really, just making stuff up that I can't see how anyone values faith as a method for determining truth. The phrase 'I know because I have faith' is an oxymoron. 

If you put two people with opposing faiths together and asked them to come to a consensus, how would they do it? They wouldn't measure their faith and go with the highest, that's for sure. (How does one measure faith anyway? And what units would you use? As I've suggested before - Gullibles?). No, they wouldn't stay with faith, they would both start stating reasons for why they believe what they do. A Christian might point to story of Christ's empty tomb, a Muslim might point to the alleged scientific truths in the Qu'ran. 

What we see here is, essentially, people abandoning their faith. When faith is questioned, when faith is put under analysis, they don't turn to 'more faith', they turn to reason and evidence - even if the reason if fallacious and the evidence is flawed. 

Faith is not a pathway to truth, faith is often abandoned as soon as it's questioned and often abandoned for good when the pursuit of truth through reason and logic is embraced. 

Faith is dangerous, we all know the horrific and tragic consequences of people operating on faith alone and not reason, I don't need to detail them here. 

Faith is ignorance, it leads not to truth, but to bigoted, discriminatory, homophobic, sexist, and oppressive views.

I've called this blog entry 'Why Faith?' but I've not really answered it. Because when it comes to why people would choose faith over reason - I really have no idea. 

[i]  I say 'an' Abrahamic God and not 'the' because....well the God in the bible and the God in which the Muslims believe, called Allah[ii] are really two different Gods. I like to say that they have a common ancestor.
[ii] Allah is Arabic for 'the God' though it's common to see Allah being functionally used as the name of the god in question.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Why do people pray for others?

"I'll pray for you" something I get told quite often and I'm sure a lot of atheists get told the same.

We also see people praying for those who are ill, people who are looking for work, people who are missing and so on. 

I've been told by a Christian friend of mine that when she prays she's asking for guidance, for strength, and to be 'shown the right path'. I really don't mind this as I see it like meditating. Like focusing. I think it probably does work because the person is convinced going in that they'll get what they need from the prayer - I just think they give it to themselves and they mistakenly call that part of themselves God. 

When a theist tells an atheist they'll pray for them, a common comeback is 'And I'll think for you'. It's not bad...but not helpful either. I've sometimes replied with 'Good, if you're praying for me, it means you're not on the street corner shouting crazy at everyone.' Again, not helpful, even if truthful. 

These days I tend to ask why. I want to know what they're going to say and what they're expecting to achieve. I don't often get answers but on the rare occasion it's something like 'I want to ask God to make himself known to you' or 'I want Jesus to come to you so you can know his love.' Words to that effect. 

This seems to fly in the face of what I'm constantly told which is that God has granted me free will and it's up to me to then believe in him by faith alone. If a prayer to God or Jesus asking them do something in my life to cause me to believe in them is answered it removes my free will. It's no longer possible for me to believe on faith alone. What then for my free will? 

It also appears that the pray-er assumes they can change their God's mind or make him aware of something he was not already aware of (so much for omniscience). I would really like to know what they expect from that... 

'Hey God? It's me Bobby-Jo. I'm praying to you because I spoke to this atheist and he doesn't believe you exist so can you please make yourself known to him so he can know the love of Jesus? Thanks. Also - have you seen my car keys?' 

And his office or wherever he hangs out to receive prayers gets a New Prayer notification. He sees it's from Bobby-Jo and it includes a request to make himself known to an atheist. Does God then say 'What? There's someone who doesn't believe in me? Really? Well..this just will not do! Yes, Bobby-Jo I will make myself known to this person! Wow, thanks for letting me know I had no idea!'. Is this really what the Bobby-Jos of the world think is going to happen? I'm really not sure but when I'm told that I'll be prayed for I will continue to ask why and will continue ask what will be said and what is expected. 

The other kind of prayer I mentioned is the praying for others in a time or tragedy or hardship. 

After a natural disaster there is, without fail, a massive cry for prayer. 'Pray for the victims of <insert natural disaster location here>'. 

I have replied to this with this: 

The first thing I think of when people are praying for the victims of a natural disaster (and I'm sure many other atheists think similarly) is 'Aren't you just praying to the very God that caused the disaster in the first place?' Similar to the above, are they saying 'God, I know you sent this cyclone/flood/earthquake for a reason, but if you could make it so it was really easy to recover, that would be just great!'. It's just ridiculous. 

What about praying for someone who is ill or missing. I've seen it on twitter, on Facebook and in the real world. Sometimes it's just an individual 'Praying for my brother who's having a kidney operation.' Okay, fine. If that makes you happy. Sometimes it's a request for a bunch of people to pray 'Please pray for my friend who's having heart surgery'. 

My question on this latter version is this - How many people need to pray for the prayer to work? If the fictitious friend in this scenario doesn't survive is it the fault of the people calling for prayer? Is it their fault for not getting enough people to pray? Does god sit in heaven with a counter clicking it up one each time a new prayer comes in and when it hits the magic number he (somehow) intervenes on Earth and does whatever it is a God needs to do in order to make sure the friend survives the surgery? Has anyone ever died because not enough people prayed for them? Is that what's going on here? When this person's friend gets to heaven and stands before god, will they remember this and say to God 'Why did you let them die? What did I do wrong? I prayed, I got my friends to pray too....why did you let my friend die?' And God looks at them and says 'Well you had 47 people praying for your friend. But I needed 50. It's a shame. I had big plans for your friend but you just didn't quite make it.' 

As I said in my previous post about prayer, The Prayer Challenge even when I was a believer I couldn't understand the purpose of prayer. It seemed so redundant. 

So maybe there is some point to prayer as a person reflecting, or a focusing of your thoughts and energy. But praying for me to no longer be an atheist? Praying for people who are victims of natural disaster or a group of people praying for a sick or missing person? It's clearly pointless, even if a God does exist.