Religion doesn’t seem to work like that

“Now, the invention of the scientific method and science is, I’m sure we’ll all agree, the most powerful intellectual idea, the most powerful framework for thinking and investigating and understanding and challenging the world around us that there is, and that it rests on the premise that any idea is there to be attacked and if it withstands the attack then it lives to fight another day and if it doesn’t withstand the attack then down it goes. Religion doesn’t seem to work like that; it has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. That’s an idea we’re so familiar with, whether we subscribe to it or not, that it’s kind of odd to think what it actually means, because really what it means is ‘Here is an idea or a notion that you’re not allowed to say anything bad about; you’re just not. Why not? – because you’re not!’ If somebody votes for a party that you don’t agree with, you’re free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it, but on the other hand if somebody says ‘I mustn’t move a light switch on a Saturday’, you say, ‘Fine, I respect that’. The odd thing is, even as I am saying that I am thinking ‘Is there an Orthodox Jew here who is going to be offended by the fact that I just said that?’ but I wouldn’t have thought ‘Maybe there’s somebody from the left wing or somebody from the right wing or somebody who subscribes to this view or the other in economics’ when I was making the other points. I just think ‘Fine, we have different opinions’. But, the moment I say something that has something to do with somebody’s (I’m going to stick my neck out here and say irrational) beliefs, then we all become terribly protective and terribly defensive and say ‘No, we don’t attack that; that’s an irrational belief but no, we respect it’.”

Douglas Adams

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Ragged Clown

Based in San Jose, California

6 thoughts on “Religion doesn’t seem to work like that”

  1. I have never heard of this ‘light switch on a Saturday’ bit. What I find hallarious about it is that it is an OBVIOUS man-made religious rule. Most other rules can be fudged around and possibly be proven to be man-made a thousand years ago or something, but light switches are rather recent. Who decided that light switches could not be moved on Fridays? That’s just bizarre! I think I am going to blog about what religious rules I would invent to torment my followers.

  2. Aye, Captain! Ye get no guff from me o’er that!

    You wouldn’t need to look far for good examples to support your position. In fact, you’d even have the Bible on you side on this one.

    In the Garden of Eden, whether you believe it fact or fiction, the story goes that God said to Adam and Eve that they could eat the fruit from any tree accept one. According to the writer of Genesis, Eve soon turned “Do not eat” into “Do not touch” then broke both rules.

    God hadn’t mentioned anything about touching the fruit. That part was added by humans.

    Other examples are easy to find. I think the light switch example was a reference to the 4th commandment – to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. The commandment goes on to say you should do no “work” on that day. For some, that would prohibit the moving of a light switch.

    Regardless of how literally you choose to keep the 4th commandment, if at all, it seems, sadly, that making up rules in the name of God has been part of human nature since the world began … whenever you believe that was. 😉

    Blog on, Captain!

  3. I think the Scientific Method is part of the answer to Mr. Adams question. One person looks at the data and says, “See, that proves God does not exist.” Another can look at the same data and say “See, God does exist.” Or, maybe, “God exists. So your data must be flawed.” Or, even, “God exists. Your testing method (i.e. the Scientific Method) doesn’t work with God.”

    Religious differences are not easily reconciled. Discoveries at archeological digs are debated, as are the latest studies on the healing power of prayer, as are reports of various “miracles”. And all sides of the debate would rather question the data’s validity, or the testing process, or the study’s repeatablitiy, or even the applicability of the Scientific Method rather than change what they believe about God.

    When it comes to using science to prove or disprove God, the science (and the application thereof) is more on trial that is a person’s perception of God.

    Combine this with the fact that concepts like Hell are involved, (and where the other person is going if they don’t agree with you) and you have the potential for ending up with few changed minds and a lot of broken relationships. So, oftentimes, it’s better to just not go there.

    It is regrettable how so many theologies preach the importance of relationships, but so many relationships are strained and broken in questionable attempts to convince others of the truth to that religious viewpoint.

  4. I think the point that Mr Adams is making – also the point of the 2+2=4 post – is that it’s not culturally acceptable to ask questions of religion. In every arena of modern thought, if make an assertion, you should expect someone else to question your assertion or ask for a reason or an example. In every arena except one.

    If you state your position on economics, the environment, where to put the curly braces or the best way to cure a hangover you can expect someone else to have a different opinion and – this is crucial – to explain the error of your ways. Except on matter of religion. It’s almost as though religious ideas are somehow sacred.

    If one group says that you must cut pieces from baby boys or that it’s forbidden to cut your hair or for women to show their faces the rest of us must say ‘fine. i respect that’.

    What the New Atheists are saying is, why are religious ideas so special that we are not allowed to question them the way we question gravity and color theory and the rules of soccer?

    For a wonderful – and respectful – treatment of these ideas, I highly recommend “Breaking the Spell” by Daniel Dennett.

  5. I think I’m agreeing with your point. If what I believe about God can be proved wrong, by the Scientific Method or any other approach, then I want to know about it because I don’t want to believe in something that isn’t true.

    But if we aren’t allowed to object to religious viewpoints, then I’ll never know that my position can be proved wrong.

    It would be great if our society could somehow get past ‘fine. i respect that’ (i.e. no argument presented) and get to “I have a different opinion. Here it is in a respectful way.”

    I am unfamiliar with the term “New Atheist”. (Sorry for being so out of the loop.) But I do believe that what might be the other side (call them the Old Fundamentalist) needs to discover a way to assert their position (even the position that theirs is the only true way) in a manner that recognizes and respects the existence of other points of view.

    I do appreciate the book recommendation. I have a far better chance of getting through a single book that was recommended than starting in on a list of books.

    Thanks.

  6. The term ‘new atheist’ popped into existence about a year ago after a string of books by militant atheists like Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris and (mostly) respectful atheists like Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins.

    The Dawkins book is a little more aggressive but an easier read. The Dennett book is a bit of a slog and you can get the essence from the first chapter.

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