Faith Isn’t Rocket Science

Religion isn’t a scientific endeavor.  Religious beliefs don’t require proof or logic, and religious people can believe all kinds of things that conflict with common-sense reality.  Thirty-nine members of the Heaven’s Gate group killed themselves, thinking their souls would be taken aboard a spaceship flying in the wake of the Hale-Bopp comet.  Once on board, they expected transport, Star Trek-style, to a higher level of existence.  The idea sounds crazy, but no more crazy than believing we’ll be resurrected to the pearly-gates of heaven and live forever with family, friends, and pets, only this time without any conflict or drama.  Spaceships may actually be more plausible.

Religion is based on faith, not rationality.  People of faith trust what they’ve been told is true, often from traditions that are thousands of years old and beyond any confirmation.  No one alive today has ever seen Muhammad, Moses, or Jesus, but that doesn’t stop billions from believing in them.  Demonstrable facts are not necessary; it’s what separates religion from any form of science.

Science rejects faith; truth has to be proven.  Scientific people can be religious, but they can’t be scientific about it, because at some point they must choose to accept an illogical, unsubstantiated idea.  They must leap into irrationality and join the same enterprise as the folks at Heavens Gate, even if they believe different irrational things.

Simply believing in a Creator is a statement of faith, because God isn’t necessary.  Buddhism refers to the sacred as Nothingness.  Hinduism believes the Creator is an energy field.  The universe can be understood as a self-perpetuating system and the development of life as one of the statistical possibilities.  We got lucky, depending on how you define luck.

To believe in a loving, personally involved Creator is an even bigger leap.  For every experience that might point toward a caring God, there are many more instances of cruelty, pestilence, death, and misery.  The Hindus are realistic and worship Kali, the Goddess of death, who wears a necklace of human skulls.  How else do you square ultimate reality with human reality?  A loving God wouldn’t develop humans through a lineage of primates who rip off faces and throw their shit around.  Imagine how much more friendly we’d be if our direct ancestors were dolphins.

There is no more evidence for a compassionate, personal deity than there is for Starship Enterprise receiving the souls of lost comrades.  But that doesn’t stop most of us from believing in something.  It’s the hallucinatory nature of religion.

In the religious world, in the world of the irrational, there is no way to distinguish between what’s true and what’s not.  The testimonies left behind by the Heaven’s Gate suicidees make clear their commitment to the cause, and their belief that the two founders, named Bo and Peep, were higher intelligence extra-terrestrials sent to bring a lucky few on a starship ride to paradise.  They felt sorry for the rest of us left behind on dysfunctional earth.

I doubt it’s true, but who knows?  Maybe they’re sipping margaritas on Planet Xenu in existence level three.  There’s no way to tell.

Like it or not, believing in Krishna, Jesus, Muhammad, or Extra-terrestrials is entirely a matter of faith.  There’s no physical evidence for any of them.  People often pretend otherwise, as if their particular religion is more provable than the rest, but it is simply posturing.  Any religion that can be proven isn’t worthy of the name.

The only way to evaluate religious beliefs is not by surface claims, but by what those claims produce.  What are the fruits of faith?  Since the roots are forever hidden from view, you have to look at what happens above ground.  People can make all kinds of assertions.  Scientologists say it’s possible, with a sizable financial investment, to become clear of possession by body Thetans.  The money is for sessions with an e-meter, which is sort of like a spiritual lie detector machine.

Who am I to judge?  Show me what Scientologists actually do in the world.  If they love other humans, help the poor, and live in peace, I don’t know what there is to criticize.  On the other hand, if Tom Cruise is an example of Scientologist sainthood, we might have reason to wonder.

And that’s the way it is for all spiritual beliefs.  Where do they lead us?  Do they leave us flexible or rigid?  Do they include or exclude?  Do we forgive or seek vengeance?  Are we led to feel humble or superior to others?  Do we embrace all humanity or only some?

Whether we regard ourselves as religious, spiritual, or nothing at all, the practical results of our beliefs are what count.  Anybody can believe anything and no one can prove them wrong.  But you don’t get grapes from thorns, as someone once said.  It doesn’t matter what you believe.  It does matter what you do.

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About Bucky Dann

I teach religion, sociology, and psychology at Southwestern Community College in the Smoky Mountains. I have worked in the United Methodist ministry and in the substance abuse field. I possess a Masters of Divinity, a Masters of Philosophy, and a PhD in the sociology of knowledge.

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