The Unexamined Life: How Dogmatic Religion Undermines Critical Thinking and Analytical Skepticism…

 

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STEPPING OUT IN FAITH

From The Bangladshi Humanist

The following brief essay was composed by our most frequent contributor and author, Adi Chowdhury.

It was with a welling emergence of fear and self-loathing that she reluctantly came to grips with the bitter realization that she was harboring doubts towards the beliefs that had molded and shaped her entire life, family, and childhood.

Doubts. The word stung her mouth like searing poison as it rolled off her tongue. Doubts. Her teacher’s voice echoed listlessly in the nooks of her mind: Questioning God is a trap, a sin, a crime perpetrated by the faithless and the godless, those who pay no heed to God’s grace and beauty. Was she a criminal? Yes, she was; in God’s eyes, she was amid a perpetration of a crime, and she knew it. She was a criminal, a degenerate, godless, faithless.

She was a traitor to her religion, her values, parents, community, and, above all–her throat closed up in a painful knot, an icy stab of guilt wrenched through her heart as she realized it–God.

She was a traitor, an apostate, an agent of the devil.

Satan had seized her soul, she opined in desperation and persisted in believing. Satan had suffused her mind with corrupt thoughts, thoughts of evil, thoughts of dishonesty and degeneracy, thoughts that would turn her heart to unloving stone and her mind to an empty tomb, at a loss for God-ordained compassion and faithful thought. She shivered as she envisioned the devil and his agents immersing her soul in their juices of sin, that would awaken within her love for all things ungodly, all things worldly and devoid of divine grace;

She bit her lip and silenced her mind, suppressing the skepticism that had taken root, muffling that little voice in a nook of her mind that persistently asked questions, stabbing viciously at her faith. That was above all: her faith. “Faith can move mountains,” she had heard persistently throughout her childhood. “Above all, have faith, have trust in the Lord, and everything will sort itself it out.”

Was she allowed to challenge faith? Was she permitted, by God, to question Him? Was she deserving of punishment if she tiptoed innocently beyond the sphere of her religion and logically analyze it all, rather than simply…buy into it?

These kinds of questions found a home in her flurrying hive of a mind, yet she would not have dared to even entertain such thoughts a year ago. She would have “blocked those thoughts out”, as her pastor exhorted (he couldn’t possibly be wrong, could he? After so many people go to him for help?), she would have opened her Bible right up and found the verses that affirmed that faith easily outweighed reason, and the matter would be settled right there.

What had happened in one year? What had happened, that had shaken her belief in the most fundamental of truths, the most obvious of beliefs? What had watered the seed of doubt that sprouted into skepticism, slowly strangling her faith in the ultimate Word of God? Why is it that, now, simply reading a verse from the Bible wouldn’t settle the matter for her?

She was a traitor, an apostate, an agent of the devil, and her tears failed to decimate that fact.

***

The brief and generalized excerpt above does little justice to the internal inferno one has to endure when leaving a religion that had once dominated their ways of life and thought. The road to unburdening oneself of religious faith is marred treacherously with arresting guilt imposed by religious doctrine, family, community, and–above all–yourself. This is surprisingly unsurprising, given that organized religion sports an ideology that claims to grant the key to paradise to a certain group of people simply for believing in that ideology. Religion burdens you with the conviction that faith trumps good works, that there is an entity that is concerned more with the intensity with which you pray and your sexual prudence, rather than your substantial contributions to the well-being of society and the maintenance of healthy skepticism.

Skepticism has oft served as the blunt of denigration and demonization at the hands of the dogmatic and intellectually suppressive nature of religion. Masquerading as “confidence” and “conviction”, the essence of blind faith has morphed into a virtue, whereas in reality it is nothing short of a vice. Blind faith is nothing short of a mindset propelled solely by relentless yet empty belief, unsubstantiated and unjustified conviction in an idea that crumbles in your fingers when examined under a genuinely analytical lens.

What exactly lies in the nature of religion that so portrays skepticism as a vice? Amongst a myriad reasons, the core attribute of organized religion is the necessity of faith, the necessity of suspending reason in favor of irrationality. The preservation and maintenance of unsupported faith is the backbone of religious belief. The act of suspending the voice of reason is what makes possible the grand entrance of faith and its captivation of one’s mind and thoughts. Accepting and embracing unsupported faith as a virtue (as many have apparently attempted to justify, and posited quite circular arguments for) paves the way for the warding away of rationality as it attempts to dissect the validity of your belief. Religious texts find no lack of verses singing appraisals to adopting “unshakable faith” towards the god whose existence and grandeur it espouses.

It is not altogether surprising to encounter believers who go so far as to flaunt and take pride in the notion of “blind, unshakable faith.” They may compare it admirably to “taking a leap of faith” or “having a faithful relationship with God”, successfully misconstruing, misusing, and undermining the sanctity of faith. The respectable manifestations of “faith” are those meant in the regard of “self-confidence” or “maintaining trust in a loving partner”, not “submitting to a dogmatic idea backed up by little evidence.” Glorifying such an inherently irrational and intellectually un-respectable position, simply by embellishing and adorning it with misleading sentiments and connotations, only serves to denigrate faith as a spiritual aid itself.

So, is placing faith in an unsupported paradigm anything to take pride in? No, not when this position is logically and honestly evaluated. This question can be translated roughly to, “Should I be proud for accepting any idea in the lack of verifiable evidence in favor of it?” Such phrasing more neatly exposes the abhorrent lack of frank reasoning devoted to the support of such a sentiment.

A signature effect of adopting unshakable faith is the reluctance to engage in genuinely thoughtful and open-ended discussions pertaining to religion. There simply is no point to debating someone who has already refused to ever change their mind. A doctrine espousing undoubted submission manifests itself in adherents unwilling to adapt their position in the face of emerging evidence, and persists in such naive refusal. Religion, in particular, utilizes the concept of eternal torment in Hell to shepherd believers into dismissing any contradicting evidence in the fear of divine punishment for disbelief. I would personally say that the most abhorrent notion furthered by unshakable faith is the perception of refusing to change oneself’s mind as a virtue.

Does that mean, however, that all religious people are dogmatic, dumb, anti-rational, sheep-like followers scrambling blindly to follow imaginary beings of their preference? No, of course not. I strongly hope that that’s not the message you glean from my writing, for that wasn’t my intention in the slightest. My agenda doesn’t include denigrating and unfairly generalizing all people of faith–it takes little to no effort to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that many, many religious believers are perfectly intelligent and reasonable people under most circumstances. Claiming that religious faith inherently makes you blind and silent is akin to accusing atheism of inherently making people immoral and dishonest. Both are intellectually dishonest and baseless claims that only divide and denigrate human beings needlessly.

So if I refuse to accuse religious people of being intrinsically naive and irrational, what is the point of this essay? My point is to expose organized religion as a force that suppresses and antagonizes skepticism towards itself. A myriad of religious organizations and institutes will not hesitate to admit that rationality and skepticism are positive intellectual influences, yet most will disapprove of any expression of doubt towards religion itself. I myself had a first-hand encounter of such self-contrarian irony when an evangelical schoolteacher summed up the value of skepticism by simply saying, “It’s good to question things, and be doubtful, except when it comes to God. God is someone you should never question.”

Clearly, the hypocrisy had been lost on her.

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