Saturday, July 7, 2007

A response to patrickimo's comment

Patrickimo left a comment to an old post, Acknowledging the Absurdity of Religion. His comment in full:

From my reading of Dawkins, it would seem that he agrees with your statement that only ridicule can effectively deal with something as nonsensical as religion. I'm not sure that I agree with such a strategy. If we were all rational, and we all understood the rational arguments against religion, then it seems to me that religion would be quickly relegated to the outer fringes of society. Yet, it thrives. I'm thinking that perhaps we're not putting as much stock in rationality as we should be, and that's a big part of the problem. Would be interested to know your thoughts on this.

It was a pleasant surprise to receive such a thoughtful and on point comment to a post. I perused and skimmed some of his blog. I don't really have anything to report as of yet. I'll go back and read some more over the next few days.

The contingency of reason and rationality is a fact that most of us living in the 21st Century live with. What do I mean by the "contingency of reason and rationality"? The results produced by reason and rationality are dependent on presuppositions, unspoken feelings and beliefs inherited from one's parents, and are most generally dependent upon a person's place and history in the world. The practical upshot for someone who values reason and rationality [incidentally, I am one of these, since I fancy myself clever and all.] is that reason itself cannot guarantee the truth or falsity of any starting point to rational deliberation.

The truth or falsity of starting points for reason and rationality can only be found out through empirical investigation. Empirical here is taken in a broad sense of verifiable. Or alternatively, there are questions that you answer by going out into the world. Then there are questions which cannot be answered by any kind of empirical investigation: how much does a soul weigh?

How much does a soul weigh? Have you stopped beating your wife, yet? It's easy enough to come up with other examples. There are a large class of propositions and ideas which are neither true nor false because they are nonsensical. Souls are not physical entities and since weight is a property of physical entities, it is nonsensical to ask for the weight of a soul. This doesn't mean that souls don't exist. Songs aren't usually thought of as having weight either, and no one makes bones about their existence.

I digressed slightly. Christians try to evade the problem of the (non)verifiability of starting points by claiming revelation. God gave them the right answers. Revelation is not a rational process or experience. Consequently, any believer will attribute blindness to overly rational reason-loving atheists who use rational argumentation against their flavor of Christianity.

The fall back position of all Christians is God's self-disclosure to Humanity. It is important to understand that this self-disclosure is non-rational and completely experiential for human beings. The Christians who claim to be able to prove God's existence or the truth of Scripture aren't persuading anybody except themselves and their wives/mistresses/girlfriends. Firmness of conviction of the Truth of Jesus' Resurrection does not come through strength of reason, but through the strength of habit.

Consequently, even the strictest and most rigorous evisceration of Christian Conviction by and through reason and rationality will only make an impression to the extent that The Religious Conviction is made to look irrational, wacky, insane, primitive, and the like.

As a social matter, it is well-known that many otherwise reasonable people strongly associate regular church attendance with respectability. If being a Christian were to take on connotations of silliness, church attendance would begin to decline.

In line with that thought, consider an aphorism from Nietzsche: "Every so often someone comes along who is convinced his reason is strong enough to refute once and for all the doctrine of the immortality of the soul." [from memory and I think it is from The Gay Science. The point being that Christianity and its web of lies, deceptions, half-truths, and craven absurdities has been refuted, debunked, and shown to be false in all essential particulars many times over. The hypocrisy intrinsic to Christianity and organized religion can be found in Chaucer and later writers.

That some people -- Christians for example -- insist on playing their game of make-believe in spite of all truth and reason strongly suggests that neither truth nor reason are essential to human survival. Further, the existence of Christians is strong empirical evidence that human beings have no innate drive for truth, logic, reason, or even mental health. Stupidity is immune to correction by appeals to experience and to reason.

But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness. 1 Corinthians 1:23
. And who are the Greeks? Lovers of reason, rationality, and generally anyone who thinks the world around them is worthy of investigation and is amenable to human understanding. In other words, Evangelicals in particular are proud of their hatred of reason. One does not reason one's way into Heaven.

Anyway, short of extermination -- which would be bad idea for lots of reasons, all that is left is to make fun at the expense of the fools. I recall reading once that seriousness and an inability/unwillingness to laugh is symptomatic of some forms of mental illness. Or considered socially and politically: If laughter at something is forbidden, rational inquiry "uninformed" by revelation is also forbidden.

So, by all means never let up with reason and rationality, but don't expect them to be particularly effective in most cases. After all, we don't understand some things the "right" way. But laughter, laughter almost always hits a nerve.


  1. Hi Bob,

    Thanks for addressing my comment so thoroughly! I'm with you all the way, I guess my only remaining concern is one that I was well-trained on when I was a Southern Baptist growing up here in Dayton. Christians are indoctrinated that their faith will come under vicious assault, that they will be persecuted constantly. So, they expect the ridicule we direct their way and come quite prepared to defend themselves. It seems like making fun of them only makes them dig in deeper. If reason won't work, does there not exist some other way by which we can challenge their "faith"?

  2. Patrick,

    We may also have a slight misunderstanding. By making religion appear "ridiculous" or "making fun of it" I am thinking of making religion appear foolish, childish (not childlike), and really just plain silly.

    Dogma--if you haven't seen it, you really, really should--Silke's response to the Blasphemy Challenge are both very good examples of what I mean. The time is long past for the prettification of Christianity.

  3. Good to see that there are some creative and "light-hearted" replies to the Blasphemy Challenge out there. It's just unfortunate that it took such a ridiculous tactic to get online atheists to come out of their closets in the first place. I liked the idea of the Challenge in the beginning, but not now. It's not, in my opinion, a "rational response" to anything.

  4. Patrick,

    Isn't that how it always is? First something is "cool." It's only known by word of mouth and rumor. Then more people become involved. Then before you know it, it seems everybody and their brother is "doing it."

    Of course, now, I've got 2 or 3 really funny ideas for a blasphemy challenge, but who cares? It's been done to death.

    I still occasionally watch Silke's video every now and then.

    The trick is to move on before the mob takes over. As I told my almost 5 year old about cooking: I never cook something the same way twice, there's always something different and something new to be tried out. Creativity is a way of life.


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