Thursday, June 13, 2013

Faith

One of the things I think about a lot since leaving the mormon church and becoming an atheist is how devoted to the religion I once was.  The driving force of that devotion was always faith. Faith was the most important part of the church's message. I was taught from a young age that you have to have faith.  God rewards those who have faith.  In fact, only those who have perfect faith can get into the highest level of heaven and live with their families forever.

Faith is the keystone of religion and is the singular object that keeps people from opening their minds to other possible truths besides the teachings of their church.  Faith is what keeps people rooted to their beliefs despite a sea of conflicting, often incontrovertible evidence. I went to church, performed my calling and served a mission, all to prove that I had faith.  I want to talk a bit about the reasons why faith is key to religious groups and how it manipulates people into radical behavior.

Growing up in the Mormon church, I learned many primary songs in Sunday School and would like to share a verse from one that I memorized as a kid.  It is called "Faith".

Faith is knowing the sun will rise,
Lighting each new day.
Faith is knowing the Lord will hear
My prayers each time I pray.
Faith is like a little seed,
If planted it will grow.
Faith is a swelling within my heart
When I do right I know.

I never really liked this particular song as a child, but I think that was mostly due to not liking the lady who led the music in primary at the time.  As an adult I find this song offensive and completely misguiding, the epitome of what religious groups do to young members to indoctrinate them.  The first four lines of this song were constructed the way they are to confuse and convince children that faith is the only answer to all of life's mysteries.

Lets break it down for those who don't see the awfulness of this simple tune. The first two lines take something that is completely known and understood scientifically, but being a difficult topic for kids to understand, manipulates it to make them believe that without Faith it would not happen.  That well known subject is the rising of the sun every day.  We completely understand why this happens.  The earth spins, pointing our particular continent towards the Sun every 24 hours.  Nothing mystical or otherworldly is occurring other than that, but young children often don't understand why the Sun rises and sets. It's not simple to understand as we do not feel the earth moving.  For years people believed it was that Sun that moved, as that is how it appears. The song directly ignores any facts about why the Sun rises.  Simply stating that if you believe it will, you have faith.

The next two lines of the song root into the child's mind the fact that Faith is what makes the Sun rise, by creating a direct correlation between the Sun rising and prayers being heard. This innocent little children's song is manipulating children into a false understanding of the world around them.  What is faith? Oh, well faith is knowing that the sun will rise in the morning.  Well, I definitely believe that will happen.  So that is what faith is, its believing in things that really happen.  Oh, faith is also knowing that God is going to hear my prayers too.  Well, since I believe the Sun will rise because I have faith, that means God will hear my prayers too.  It's the same thing!

We know that the Sun is going to rise every day. The Earth is just spinning away and will not stop just because we stop believing it will.  But a prayer being heard and answered by a loving God has no such assurances.  You may feel like someone is listening when you kneel down and discuss your feelings and fears, but it is in no way the same thing as the Sun rising.  By making that correlation in children's minds the church is directly trying to deceive children into believing that faith is the same as knowledge, when faith is the exact opposite of knowledge.

In fact, I'm positive that faith is the opposite of knowledge.  Faith is defined in Webster's dictionary as: firm belief in something of which there is no proof. There is a big difference in the Sun rising and a prayer being answered.  One of these things does in fact require faith.  There is no proof that God is listening to you when you pray.  There is plenty of proof that the Sun will rise each day.  This is directly misleading children about what faith really is in order to make them become more solid believers.

The final lines of the song just solidify the manipulations further. If you continue to have faith it will grow, and faith is the feeling you get when you do right.  So, by believing in things you can't prove, you will continue to believe in other things that you have no proof of and disregard any discovery or new knowledge of a subject that directly conflicts with your current understanding. 

Faithful people do this all the time.  Lets look at evolution as an example.  Evolution is a completely understood and confirmed scientific principle that is acknowledged as fact by every scientific entity in the world.  But, here in the U.S. especially, it is refuted constantly by people of faith.  There are schools that are required to teach alternatives to evolution, not because there is evidence to the contrary, but because the parents of the students were raised believing in a young Earth and they're are unwilling to accept scientific principles that conflict with that idea.  Their faith requires them to refute the evidence, directly influencing the classroom because they refuse to put their faith aside.

The other reaction of people who find their faith conflicts with new evidence is excuse making.  They bend their faith just slightly, or chalk it up to some unknown, as if that is any better.  They make excuses as to why the evidence conflicts with their beliefs, often claiming God behaves in a way that is observable as natural processes.  Yes, we did evolve, but God was the driving force of that evolution.  By allowing their faith to bend around new knowledge, they can avoid direct contradictions.  That's the thing about faith, it's a belief in things of which there is no proof.  So when proof about something is found, faith can easily discover a way around that knowledge, or to incorporate that knowledge.

That last thing the song does is misleading kids to believing the feelings that they get when they do good are a reward from God for having faith.  When you are kind or helpful to someone you feel good.  This happens to people who have faith and those who do not.  But, if you have faith, you will recognize those feelings as coming from God.  Kids like to feel good, and this just allows them to believe that God is also happy with them, which again we have no direct proof for, as even those who do not believe feel good about helping others.

Faith's true power goes even deeper that this small tune.  Faith is the most essential piece to the religious puzzle.  It is the foundation, the keystone of religion.  Faith is knowing things that you cannot prove.  But more than that, God is testing us to make sure we believe him, not by knowledge, but by faith.  God put us here to test us, to see if we would believe in him, even without observable evidence.  Faith is the only way we can prove to God that we really are devoted followers of his gospel.  In fact, God rewards only those who have faith.  This "fact" discourages members from asking questions about things that don't make sense, or conflict with their beliefs.  It often turns them into an army of passionate believers who will stand up and fight any idea that conflicts with their beliefs. They do this because God will reward them if they stay firm and ignore direct evidence.  Because even if the evidence turns out to be true and acceptable, God will not reward you for believing due to evidence.  God wants you to believe without evidence.

This is the damning truth about faith.  Faith is the most sacred part of religion because it is the only way to show God you truly believe.  Rather than accepting new truths that have direct evidence, many faithful people fight or avoid the knowledge, simply to show God that their faith is greater than any knowledge that man can discover on his own.  Faith impedes progress and closes minds, rewarding blind devotion by making it the key to proving your devotion to God.  God doesn't want to you know things, he wants you to believe them unquestionably. 

These faithful zealots will scoff at knowledge that scientists discover and even refute direct evidence in order to prove their faithfulness. That's how they show their devotion. That is faith. You have faith in God, faith in the bible, faith in your religious leaders, and if you question any of those things you are showing God that faith is insufficient.  You are losing blessings and moving further from God, even damning yourself by learning and discovering.

To me the most important things we can do in this life is to discover the wonders of universe around us. This means opening our minds to all possibilities. We need to question everything. Nothing is sacred, nothing is beyond scrutiny. Churches are telling people it is not okay to question, to discover or to learn, you just need to have faith. Faith binds people to the teachings of their church, disallowing anything that would conflict with those teachings.

I want to share a few quotes.  The first is from one of my favorite shows of all time, The Magic School Bus. Miss Frizzle, the eccentric science teacher, has a phrase she says in almost every episode. She encourages the kids to do something we could all benefit from.  She tells them to "Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!" A similar sentiment is given by Dr. Scott the Paleontologist in PBS's Dinosaur Train.  Every episode he gives kids this healthy advice, "Don't forget to go outside, get into nature and make your own discoveries."

How vital these sentiments are. By exploring, questioning and discovering we can grow as a species and as individuals and open our minds to the mysteries of the universe. Faith will only impede us, making a world of unquestioning, uneducated zealots who are blind to who we are and what we can become.

I also want to share a quote by Sam Harris:

"Pretending to know things that you do not know is a profound liability in science. You get punished for this rather quickly. But pretending to know things that you do not know is the lifeblood of faith-based religion."

If I said I knew there was an asteroid headed our way and that we were all going to die, you would ask how I knew. If I couldn't provide direct evidence, you wouldn't believe me. I may reference books showing asteroids hitting the Earth in the past. I may have a picture of an asteroid that was a near miss that was recorded recently, but you would probably still balk. But as soon as someone says that if you have no faith you will burn in hell, or be punished, with references from an old book that has dozens of different translations and versions, suddenly people begin to believe.

It's not love of God or truth that makes people faithful. It's fear. Fear drives people to believe whatever their religious leaders say. We are going to die, and nobody knows what happens when we do. But these people say that it will be good if I believe in these things. Not only that, they say that if I don't believe these things unconditionally there won't just be a lack of reward, there will be punishment. I will show God that I deserve reward. I don't want to risk it.

Death is frightening. It is scary to think that one day I will no longer exist. Many deal with this fear by moving to faith. Religions tell us what will happen next. They have a list of rewards and punishments ready for all to see. All that is acquired from other people, just like us. How do they know these things? From an old book written by other unknown men? From a voice from the sky or in their minds? Why are their beliefs so widely accepted, when its obvious that nobody can truly know what happens after we die because nobody here is dead!  Its because science has no clue what happens. There is only death. We end. We cease to exist, and that is terrifying. People will believe a comforting lie over the truth just for a small hope at eternal existence. If I have faith there is a chance that I will live forever and be happy doing so. The alternative is an unknown, and that is frightening.

Rather than putting our minds to discovering who we are and what we can become, we rely on faith. We put our fears aside, hide our curiosity and believe. Because that's what God wants. And who are we to argue?

Faith is bullshit. It stops human progression and advancement and limits our potential through fear and manipulation of our lack of knowledge about our existence. Faith gives people hope through ignorance. It disallows and discourages learning and growth.

We are on the verge of some amazing discoveries about our world, our universe and our existence. I can only hope that those with the potential to make those discoveries will be willing to question what we know. If they are bogged down by faith, we may lose out on knowledge that could advance us to a clearer understanding of our vast and mysterious universe.

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