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Friday, August 3, 2012

Fear and Loathing

I can think of nothing more toxic to the individual and society than the willing subjugation of intellectual curiosity, moral reasoning and sense of meaning to an imaginary being external to the self.  If a parent deliberately impeded a child's intellectual, moral and emotional development, a reasonable person would deem that parent a failure. Yet that is precisely what religion does. Externalization of judgment impedes the ultimate attainment of autonomy. The belief that we are but children deserving of no more that what a capricious celestial parent sees fit to bestow is a form of self-loathing that inevitably manifests itself as intolerance when the same standard is applied to others. It sells ignorance as valor, deprivation as justice and mystery as meaning.

Religion teaches detachment from the world. It sets up a duality between the sacred and the profane, placing before us an impossible standard to revere a world we can never know and despise the world we do. It debases engaged living is base and elevates detachment. The requirement of faith is inherently authoritarian, rendering doubt a thought-crime. Even the most innocuous banalities such as "everything happens for a reason" represent a rejection of an indifferent universe by sheer force of will. The refusal to accept the possibility of meaning in an indifferent universe is not only infantile but narcissistic.

Only rationalism, religious practice without supernatural faith, is exempt from a broad critique of religion. Rationalism, however, is guilty of obscurantism. Once religion is co-opted by those who reject supernatural beliefs, the target of atheist critique need only shift from supernatural faith to a tortured redefinition of religion. Humanism would do well not to fall into the obscurantist trap by avoiding the temptation to co-opt the meaning of "faith." Faith in a principle is not the same as faith in a truth claim. The former arguably represents a measure of valor, an optimism of the will. The latter is an optimism of the intellect, which may be provisional until the evidence is in. When maintained in the face of evidence to the contrary, faith in a truth claim is nothing more than wishful thinking.

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