Sunday, November 04, 2007

It's the religion, stupid!

Last week a photo came out of a new “Bigfoot” sighting (I couldn’t find the article again online, but trust me, it happened). Sometimes I feel kind of sad we live in a time without any real contemporary mythology. I guess that’s the nature of living in an era where mankind has conquered in one form or another most of the unknowns of the world (probably why science fiction has come to replace sword-and-sorcery as modern fantasy). But it’s nice to see with the Bigfoot phenom that some people at least are still attempting to insert something of the mythic into their everyday lives. I often feel that it’s not so much people actually believe in Bigfoot as that they want to believe in Bigfoot.

That paragraph was really boring and poorly written. But it serves as a segue to talk about something that I’ve actually wanted to talk about for a while now: why I dislike religion. Sure, there are lots of reasons. The hypocrisy. The incessant need of some believers to institutionalize and impose various tenets of their religion onto the population en masse. Any basic sociohistoric examination which would demonstrate that it’s far more likely this is a man-made phenomenon than anything grounded in Truth.

But my dislike for religion actually goes deeper than that, to a fundamental level. For a long time I didn’t know why, and I was sort of afraid I’d essentially morphed into a Chris Hitchens and was simply yet utterly bigoted against religion. It’s only been within the past year that I’ve come to intellectually understand why I dislike religion on a basic level.

Religion is essentially a belief based on a lack of evidence…or, at best, insufficient evidence. In a religious debate a believer once told me that he actually saw evidence of God’s existence in several places. But he didn’t specify, so I’m not exactly sure to what he was referring. The smile of every baby? The various statues of the Virgin Mary in that have “cried” tears in Latin America? The realization that tropical fish and the human eye* are too complex to be the product of anything other than an intelligent creator?

* This is an example of the glass half-full or half "the other thing." When I hear creationists talking about how the eye is proof of God because it’s too complex and amazing to have occurred randomly, all I can think to myself is, “Are you kidding me? The eye is terribly designed. It’s easily damaged, it doesn’t repair itself, it’s effectiveness deteriorates over time, it can only see within a limited distance, within a limited spectrum of light, within a limited range.” Maybe needing corrective lenses gives me a different perspective on how amazing the eye actually is.

Regardless, it seems to me that that many religious tenets would agree their belief is founded ultimately on a lack of sufficient evidence; hence the phenomenon they praise as “faith.” Christianity, at least, seems to assert that its belief is in fact that much more special and sacred because it is, admittedly, based on insufficient proof. Faith is, after all, the “substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen”...or, as my father more derisively refers to it, “believing in something you know just ain’t so.”

So here’s why I don’t respect religious people. You’ve made a decision about a fundamental aspect of the world in which you live (the existence of God) based on admittedly insufficient evidence. What else in your life do you make critical decisions on despite insufficient evidence? Because I think this all bleeds over into the political sphere. It’s what Stephen Colbert has so effectively mocked Bill O’Reilly for: truthiness. “I don’t like facts; they get in the way of having opinions.” Indeed.

The quintessential example, once again, is the war in Iraq. Fiasco documents pretty well how the Bush Administration made a decision early on that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and had connections with al Qaeda. They just decided it. And any evidence that refuted that belief was ignored (and sometimes those analysts who pushed it were punished); any evidence that supported it was puffed up…when an objective analysis of the data available would have shown that the likelihood of Saddam having WMDs was actually fairly slim.

Another example is global warming. I truly don’t understand this demographic of society that has just decided they won’t believe in global warming, no matter how much evidence comes out to support it. I find it very bizarre. This is the undisputed consensus of the international scientific community, yet some still refuse to believe. I don’t get it. I mean, I get why the boys at Shell Oil don’t believe in global warming (or rather, “don’t believe in global warming”). But the common folk, the Everyman. Why don’t you believe the scientists on this? You believe the scientists on lots of other stuff. Gravity. Astronomy. Electricity. Nuclear power. You get on airplanes, you use cellphones and personal computers. So why do you so adamantly believe that, on this one issue, all these scientists have so forcefully lodged their heads up their asses? It’s all very bizarre.

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