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FROM JASON’S SKEPTICISM —What would a psychologist call someone who talks to an invisible person, and believes that person talks back to them? Or who thinks there is a single being who controls the entire world, manipulating every event? Or who believes there are invisible demons all around trying to corrupt people?
Paranoid delusional schizophrenia. Crazy. Insane. Wacko. Bonkers. Batty. Cracked. Loony. Unhinged.
But instead, in polite conversation, we call it religion.
This has been increasingly rankling me of late: The religious people who surround me (I live on the fringes of the Bible Belt) feel their freedom of religion also balkanizes their beliefs against criticism. Personal beliefs are untouchable, they think.
A while ago, I found the above video of author Sam Harris speaking at ideaCity ’05, an invite-only sort of think-tank-con for 500 people each June in Toronto.
Harris argues in his short talk that respecting others’ beliefs is intellectually bankrupt. When was the last time, he asks, that you were asked to respect someone’s beliefs about math or biology?
We live in an empirical world. We respect data, not belief. We respect logic, not belief. We respect proof, not belief. If someone believes 2+2=5, we do not respect them. But when it comes to an ark that allegedly holds two of each animal, or fiery chariots sweeping prophets into heaven, we don’t adhere to the same standard.
We don’t call Christians and Muslims and Jews lunatics. Maybe we should.
This has been an issue I struggle with, because my father was a preacher for many years and is now a prison chaplain. I do not believe my dad is a bad guy. He’s very intelligent. I love him very much. But he believes in invisible people and monsters. He believes in a god of love, hell-bent on sending as many people as possible to eternal fiery torture.
I do not believe that. We don’t talk about it. Should I confront him, call him a crackpot, a delusional crank? In an intellectually honest world, yes. But I don’t. I’m too afraid of alienating and losing him.
I feel guilty either way.