Saturday, February 27, 2010

Belief in a God: The Height of Inanity

It came to my attention the other day that the popular definition of the word inane has evolved over the years. Originally it meant empty, void, or insubstantial, e.g., the vast and inane reaches of outer space. Today it more often means asinine, pointless, or devoid of intelligence. It occurs to me that either definition works just fine to describe the phenomenon of belief in a supernatural being as lord of the universe.

All manner of philosophers, scientists and historians have attempted to explain why it is man appears so predisposed to religious belief. (Recent archeological finds in Turkey have unearthed what appear to be temples predating the Great Pyramids by thousands of years. These findings seem to indicate that before building any other kinds of structures, man built houses of worship! History In the Remaking, Patrick Symmes, Newsweek, Feb. 19, 2010) It has been said that more than ninety percent of the world's population believe in a god. Can that many people be deluded? The short answer is yes.

No matter which side of the faith/reason, theist/atheist debate one finds himself, it is generally accepted there is no rational justification for religious belief. That many theists will nonetheless lay claim to the existence of a god being logical or intelligent is both unimpressive and beside the point. It is much easier to respect someone who makes a leap of faith in the absence of evidence or reason than it is to respect someone who rationalizes his faith with nescient intellectualism.

As the irascible Bill Maher might ask, What's so difficult about saying 'I don't know?' Whatever it is that makes this modest concession so painful to articulate, it plainly has the power to sustain people's delusions. It matters not that the more temperate among believers—however few they are—might be a force for civility; they are nonetheless complicit in the crimes of the intemperate by advancing their most fundamental claims. In short, moderately religiously people have elevated irrationality to a respected art form. It really is a neat trick.

Will the next millennium bring with it a new Age of Enlightenment? One can hope, but evidence both affirming and denying this possibility is strong. On the one hand, atheism—characterized mainly by its reliance upon rational thinking—is now seen as less a taboo and more an acceptable and popular worldview than ever before; on the other hand, religious fundamentalists of all stripes are not going quietly into the night—to say nothing of the nihilistic extremists they spawn.

Religious faith is not likely to disappear any time soon, if ever. Perhaps it is not necessary that it does. What is necessary, however, is that those who do have such beliefs practice their faith without injecting it into the social machinery that must be acknowledged by everyone, most notably government.

Believing in a supernatural god—there may be no greater manifestation of the inane.

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