Monday, March 28, 2011

Letter from a christian friend - Belief, faith, and Santa Claus

This post is actually written as a response to a friend of mine. I thought that I would post it here as it's a topic that relates well with this blog and it's been awhile since I've talked religion. I will try to write it in a way that you don't need to have a back story. I'm going to reference things that have already been said, but only in ways so that it's not necessary to know specifically what was said. I'm not attacking my friend's position, just giving my opinion of it (at his request actually), and I'm sending him an email with a link to this post, so if he feels that he needs to defend himself, he can. Friend, you know who you are, and if you wish to identify yourself, please feel free to comment as yourself, or if you would prefer, you can do so anonymously. It's been a few months since I've written this, and it's rather disjointed, and doesn't flow smoothly. I've been trying to rewrite it, but my heart just isn't in it. As many ideas as I have on religion, I just can't put much effort into discussing it, especially in the written word. I feel like I've seen behind the curtain at the magic show. I know the magician is just an illusionist, but no matter how I tell people about it, they still believe it's actual magic. I wouldn't mind people having the illusion if it was just a harmless magic show, but I think we all know that religion is much more dangerous than that. I could probably extend this post out to a book, but I don't think that it would be worth writing. There are already so many books on the subject written by brilliant people. So here is what has been written, sorry for the sloppiness of the writing. Maybe a comment would spark the creative part of my mind and get it back in the mood to write on the subject again.


It is common for believers to talk about atheists and use the words faith and belief. It is either a misunderstanding of an atheists position, or a semantic game with the words. While I do have faith in order to reach many of my conclusions, it is not the blind faith that religion requires (more on that later). The faith I have, is that this life and all my experiences are not all a part of some contrived joke, or experiment. There really is no way to know if we are in some kind of matrix, or in a dream world like in inception. Everything that we see, feel, smell, hear, etc could all be artificial and pushed into our brain from some self concealing source. Hell, our brain could be fake as well, and we could all be some kind of computer program that is being lied to. So how do I know that's not the case? I don't. I have faith that the things I experience are real based on their consistency, and the fact that I know nothing outside of those experiences. If it is all a lie, its a rather convincing lie, and there doesn't seem to be anything that I can do about it. Apparently I am not "the one" that can see the code. So I have faith that the this is all real, or at least that if it isn't, then anything I do in relation to this reality, is also apart of this reality and so therefore at least relevant to this reality. I may wake up and realize that I have been dreaming, but until I wake up, I will refrain from jumping off cliffs. I think you'll agree that we all have this type of faith because we exit buildings through the ground floor as long as we have the will to live. This faith is not the same type of faith that religious people have towards their religion.


There is also a common misconception that people that think evolution is true have faith. I do not have faith that evolution is true. I believe that with the mountains of evidence that it is the most likely explanation for how we got here. The theory of evolution is constantly being fine tuned to more accurately reflect what the evidence is telling us. Sometimes mistakes are made, or evidence pops up that contradicts an idea, and wait for it, this is big....scientific ideas change! Things that we erroneously thought are figured out to be wrong, and whatever was wrong gets replaced with a more accurate idea. There might be some people unwilling to change, stuck in there ways, but overwhelmingly the scientific community accepts those changes. Biologists don't argue about whether or not evolution happened, anyone with knowledge of it can't dispute it, there is too much evidence. Instead they discuss the finer points of how it specifically happened, in what order, and when. It is also completely false that evolution replaces a belief in god. There are plenty of people that are religious and also believe in evolution.


That is the major difference between faith, and science. Science is based on evidence, and faith is based on a decision. Once you have decided to believe in something, you believe in it without any evidence, even in spite of evidence. You can't prove that there is a god, or which one is real, you just have to believe. Otherwise we wouldn't have these discussions because it wouldn't be a faith based religion, it would be knowledge based. In fact, the more that you encounter contrary evidence to your belief, the more faith that you have to have to keep that belief. So the most faithful, doubt religion more than anyone else, but are stubbornly holding steadfast to their beliefs!


Pick any faith you don't believe in. What is different about their faith, compared to yours? They can't all be right, unless they are all partially wrong. There are millions of believers that have real true faith. If they can get comfort, be happy, be moral, do everything that you do, but in the wrong religion, then what difference does it make which religion you choose? The only thing that matters, is which one gets you into heaven or hell when you die. But there is no way for you to know who was right, since all of the dead people don't come back and tell you. What if believing in Jesus is blasphemy to the "true" religion and every christian has gone to hell and is burning to this day and into forever? There is no way to know. If it doesn't matter which religion, then why bother with religion at all?


Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby. Seriously, think about that. How can not believing in something be a religion.


The majority of religions challenge people to be a better, moral person. It's just an extra step though, you can challenge yourself to be a better more moral person without religion. You also won't blindly do what an ancient text says, and actually be immoral.


Finally, we get to Santa Claus! I believe that you specifically referenced the easter bunny, or maybe the tooth fairy, but it's all the same. We both agree that they are fabrications of the imagination, and if they are based  on reality in anyway, it is so exaggerated and distorted that it's not worth mentioning. The magical claims are universally known to be false to anyone over the age of 10. If I believed them to be true, no amount of talking to you would convince you of it's veracity. Every bit of contradicting logic or evidence that you bring into the conversation could easily be explained away with some form of magic or another. As a child gets a little closer to the age at which they will stop believing in Santa, they start asking tougher and tougher questions, the truth gets harder and harder to evade. The ones that really want to believe, come up with fantastical answers to cover up any incongruities. The solutions become more and more fantastical, requiring more and more magic to believe, until at some point, for whatever reason, the magic stops and it all comes crashing down like a house of cards. It's a great idea that you can get rewards for doing good. That the world is fair, and some jerk kid out there will get just reward for being an ass by receiving coal instead of a shiny new bike. Just because it's a great idea doesn't make it true, no matter how much you wish it were so.