Monday, September 19, 2011

Why I haven't heard a good argument against religion yet

By argument against religion I mean an argument against religion in general and not against a specific religion. This is something I have been thinking about for a while, but I was inspired to write this post after reading an opinion piece on the BBC that dealt with the same topic.

Most of the arguments against religion that I come across generally consist of "This particular proposition about religion is either false, unfalsifiable, unprovable or I consider it to be silly, therefore religion is false." In other words, the arguments treat religion as a series of propositions, or logical syllogisms, that can be proven or disproven through rational argument. But as the commenter on the BBC put it,
"The idea that religions are essentially creeds, lists of propositions that you have to accept, doesn't come from religion. It's an inheritance from Greek philosophy, which shaped much of western Christianity and led to practitioners trying to defend their way of life as an expression of what they believe."
What it comes down to is there is an attempt made to disprove some key aspect of religion (i.e. God created the world, Jesus' resurrection, the ex nihilo creation, the immutability of God etc.) and then conclude that religion is therefore wrong. But despite all the arguments, some in depth and intricate, others not so much, there are still rational, logical, well-balanced, well-educated, people who still believe and follow a religious way of life. Perhaps the most common response given by critics of religion when these kinds people are encountered is, "Well they must be crazy or delusional or both, because I proved [blank] and disproved [blank] and they still accept religion. They must be ignorant."

But these people, such as myself, are not ignorant. It's just that religion to us is not just a set of propositions that must be logically proven in order to be acceptable of belief. Religion is more about a way of life than it is about being able to accurately and completely describe reality in a set of well formed philosophical propositions. It is something that inspires us to become better people and to do things we would not naturally do. So when ever I come across arguments against religion I realize that the people making the arguments think they are attacking the core of religious belief by forming their best arguments, but in reality they are only attacking the inconsequential philosophical fluff that is mostly wrong anyway.

The core of religious belief is (or should be) a morality that guides our interactions with others. From my perspective, and experience, most arguments against religion are not ultimately motivated by philosophical doubts, but are instead are arguments against moral systems in general. When ever I am confronted by arguments against religion, my thought is not, "Hmm. I will have to think that one through to consider how this argument fits with all the other propositions of my religion." but I think, "Why would I have to give up being nice to my family, and other people just so all my logical propositions can 'fit together', based solely on my current understanding of the world (which will definitely change)." This is because religion for me, and many other people as well, is about how we treat other people. So an argument against religion is essentially a statement that we should not have a consistent set of rules that govern how we treat other people. From this perspective, religion is an effort to avoid moral and social anarchy, and it would be illogical and irrational to reject religion simply because of some esoteric philosophical argument (which ultimately may or may not be valid anyway).

So while those who bring up arguments against religion may think they are being quite cleaver, they are unfortunately missing the point of religion and the basis on which it stands. Religion works not because it has a complete set of philosophical propositions that have been rigorously argued and logically thought out, but because its moral system is self propagating and allows for stability and happiness.

I believe because religion allows me to find comfort when I feel sorrow, find help when I need it, find peace when the all around me have none, and inspires me to treat others better than I naturally would. Why would I give up all that because of some philosophical argument to which there is no real answer? That is why I haven't heard a good argument against religion yet, and probably never will.

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