Even after more than ten years of blogging on this here Church of the Churchless, I continue to be surprised by how often visitors to this site believe that religious belief shouldn't be subject to ridicule.
Um, didn't they notice the word "churchless" in the blog name? Or the tag line, Preaching the gospel of spiritual independence?
Today a comment interchange on a recent post pointed to this inability of true believers to recognize that their worldview lacks a solid foundation. Here's what "x," a religious skeptic, said:
I don't preach anything...I just comment on preachiness...like yours. You think you're right because you believe you know what's right. But I don't believe, so for me, right and wrong have meaning only with regard to realities, not religious fantasies.
This got a response from someone who has a very loose view of reality.
You say you "don't believe" but you certainly do believe in what you call "realities". These realities are according to your own belief system. I won't be exchanging words with you again. There is no point. You "know" everything.
When pushed to defend an indefensible world view, religious people often run away, aggrieved and irritated that someone has asked the excellent question, "What proof do you have for a supposed supernatural reality?"
I've got plenty of experience with being asked that question.
In 1990, after a divorce, I married a woman who, though we had a lot else in common, didn't share my spiritual/religious beliefs. She supported me in mine, yet kept asking me what evidence I had for certain assumptions.
Such as, that the Indian guru I followed really was "God in human form," or that only those who practiced a certain form of meditation would be able to achieve God-realization. Which implied, of course, that some entity known as God actually existed.
At the time, my wife's questioning was irritating.
Looking back, I'm thankful for her challenges to my belief system. After several years of not being able to respond with convincing answers -- convincing either to her or myself -- I began to recognize the flaws in the general philosophy of Sant Mat, particularized in the Radha Soami Satsang Beas teachings.
That's one reason I started this blog a decade or so ago: to support people who have started to free themselves from indefensible belief systems, and to challenge the assumptions of religious dogma.
Last Thursday my now-atheist wife (she used to have some New Age'y beliefs of her own) and now-atheist me went to a Salem brew pub's Science Night. A chemistry professor talked about Thomas Kuhn's famous book, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions."
His PowerPoint presentation naturally simplified this dense book, making it accessible to his beer-drinking, burger-eating audience. When he finished his entertaining talk, I asked the first question.
Which pertained, without my mentioning it, to my experience on this blog. I said something like:
It bothers me that people will use the notion of a "paradigm shift" in science to justify weird religious ideas at odds with our scientific understanding of reality. Sure, sometimes large changes in understanding supplant previous theories, as quantum mechanics did with Newtonian physics. But doesn't this all take place within science, not outside it?
After all, there never has been a scientific revolution that undermined the foundation of science itself, as seemingly would be the case if solid evidence existed for a God who intervened in worldly goings-on. So it doesn't seem to me that Kuhn's notion of "paradigm shifts" in any way supports those who consider that science is a flawed way of understanding reality.
The speaker agreed with me. Later I went over to his table and talked with him for a while longer. I thanked him for giving me insights into Kuhn's book, which I've never read.
This diagram from a web site that talks about The Kuhn Cycle looks pretty accurate to me, based on what I've learned about Kuhn's book. If you go to that link, then click on the "live" diagram, you can read descriptions of each part of the cycle.
What's striking is how religious belief, as contrasted with scientific understanding, never goes through the sort of cyclical paradigm changes that occur in science.
(Again, all of science doesn't go through a paradigm change, just part of science. I spoke with the brew-pub speaker about this. For example, when the earth-centered solar system paradigm was overthrown by the sun-centered paradigm, the biology, chemistry, and such of the time remained intact, by and large.)
In The Kuhn Cycle, factual anomalies in a model of understanding accumulate that can't be adequately explained. This creates a crisis where people begin to question the current model. If a new model of understanding is demonstrably better than the old one, a paradigm change/shift occurs -- which then becomes the normal science, and thus subject to model drift/crisis/revolution itself.
When does this occur in religious thought? Never, in my opinion.
Sure, theologies evolve. The Christianity, Islam, or Hinduism of today isn't the same as it was when the religions came to be. But the basic tenets of a religion never are overthrown by anomalies accumulating that can't be explained by the religion's teachings.
The reason is this: Religions aren't concerned with explaining reality. If they were, we'd call them "science." Instead, religious belief is an exercise in making up supernatural stories that will appeal to people.
Like, we live after we die. God loves us and is looking after us. There is a cosmic purpose to suffering. Etc. etc.
There's no possibility of a religion's belief system being overturned by conflicting evidence, since the system is founded on faith, not facts. Thus whereas scientists welcome intense debate, discussion, questioning, skepticism, and such, religious believers shy away from it.
They just want to keep on repeating what they already believe, being unwilling to consider that they could be wrong.
As "x" said above, those of us who don't subscribe to a supernatural belief system can't be accused of being dogmatic. We are open to understanding reality as it is, not as how we would like it to be. I'd be overjoyed to learn that God, life after death, heaven, soul, and spirit actually exist.
However, I've gone through my own personal "paradigm change" after having observed how anomalies in the model of reality I used to believe in couldn't be adequately explained. So I overturned that model, choosing a better one.
Thus even though religions don't go through The Kuhn Cycle like science does, religious believers certainly can. Meaning, deconversions are common. People come to realize how shallow and out of touch with reality previously accepted dogmas are.
My hope is that this blog has helped some people to do this. I'm pretty sure that it has. So let's keep on questioning religious belief systems, even though people who believe in them don't like to be challenged.
This is the scientific way, the way reality is revealed.