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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Cynical Faith

Atheists are often charged with being cynical, but only because faith in a truth claim is confounded with faith in a principle. By extension, skepticism is viewed as morally suspect. Determined faith in a principle, against all odds, is rightfully considered valiant. Determined faith in an extraordinary truth claim, contrary to any and all evidence, is the product of indoctrination. Skepticism is met with scorn only in matters of religion. In all other matters, we all place more confidence in the objectively verifiable than in the speculative. 

The very notion of the sacred depends on the contrast with the material world as profane. This idea imposes self-loathing for engagement with the material realm. For this reason, Humanists see religion as anti-human. We find the very idea that there are doctrines that must not be challenged to be fundamentally authoritarian. We recognize that there is a spectrum of religious belief from literal to metaphorical in the interpretation of text, but find that even a metaphorical interpretation betrays religion's authoritarian purpose

Humanists are motivated to be moral because we posses the quality of empathy available to every human who isn't pathologically deficient.  We focus on life BEFORE death, because we understand that our consciousness is not independent of our bodies and will not survive our physical demise. We require no promises of eternal reward or threats of eternal punishment in order to access our natural human empathy. The Golden Rule has surprisingly broad moral applications. We wish for the religious faithful that they learn to embrace the human experience and shed the self-loathing imposed by religious despotism, so that they may partake of the full range of life's splendor and anguish. The religious faithful will not agree with all of these principles, but must concede that Humanists are not without principles.

In the endless struggle to uphold the separation of church and state, atheists are characterized as being without principles. The religious faithful seem to be the nicest people anyone might wish to meet until they are challenged on matters of faith. But, authoritarianism is a two-sided coin. Just beneath the surface of the compliant believer is a holy warrior on guard to pummel the opposition. Once the mind accommodates the belief that God's judgment awaits the skeptic, it is a short distance to reveling in that judgement or hastening it.

In Rhode Island, the evidence of God's standing army is abundant. The courageous teen who challenged her High School's prayer banner was vilified by the same people who hold up Daniel as a profile in courage for resisting religious coercion. Her Humanist family was accused of manipulating her, as if she couldn't have been motivated by any principles of her own. She received a scholarship from supportive admirers after suffering an academic setback due to harassment and it was assumed that money was her motivation all along. A person not inclined to look for a nefarious agenda easily might have imagined her family's struggle to balance their support with concerns over her safety. People of faith can be so cynical. 

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