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On Fish and Faith

Posted by on 04/02/2013

It may not be immediately obvious that faith is a bad thing about religion, but some thought on the subject makes it clear. We hear of someone being called a man or woman of faith, and that brings a certain amount of respect in religious circles. They may even be given that respect in secular circles where there is often the feeling that we should not mock or test someone ‘of faith’. Faith is thus given respect, as though a person of faith possesses some special quality, and people who challenge that faith are seen at least as iconoclasts, and often as the devil.

So the beliefs of the faithful are cherished beliefs, and they generally do not like those beliefs being challenged, no matter how absurd they may seem to the person of independent mind. In some countries, challenges to faith are seen as apostasy, and still merit the death penalty. As I have mentioned in other essays, even in Europe there are challenges to freedom of speech, with religious leaders trying to have a Europe-wide blasphemy law invoked. If that were to happen, this essay would be illegal, and our restricted rights would be the beginning of a ‘sliding slope’.

Freedom of speech is something we have to defend against erosion. Nobody, no government, and no religion should beyond criticism. Freedom of speech also means we should be able to mock whoever and whatever we like. There is a lot of humour in the hypocrisy of government lies; in the stupidity of religious beliefs, and in individual buffoons, religious, royal, governmental or otherwise. Humour, in fact, is the best weapon to use against those who will not be mocked. They should be mocked at every opportunity.

But back to focus on religion. Religious faith, like faith in the word of a politician, is nothing but belief without logical reason. It is the legacy of thousands of years of superstitious belief when people had no way of explaining the world except by magic. The things that happened to our ancestors needed explanation, so they believed that spirits or gods were responsible for events, good or bad; for natural catastrophes (punishment from the gods), for good luck in harvest or hunting (favour from the gods), and for the weather.

Today, this legacy still affects people of faith. They still attribute events in their life to the favour or disfavour of a god or prophet, and they seek to influence the object of their worship with prayer or symbolic sacrifice, hoping to gain the favour of a supernatural power that may influence their life in some beneficial way.

So, some people have faith… but where is the virtue in that faith? Faith is not kindness or loyalty or love—it is simply belief. How can there be virtue in a supernatural belief system? Believing in something—having faith, cannot itself make someone virtuous, for people can have belief in all sorts of things. Personally I believe that I will not turn into a fish overnight. That belief is strong enough to be called faith. However, it does not affect my virtue, because it is simply something that I believe. An example of a religious faith could be a strongly held belief that one day we will all turn into fish. This belief system could be based on a book, or on testimonials of people who claimed to have been told by someone that someone else witnessed a friend turning into a fish.

If you think such a religion would be based upon a far-fetched story, think again—it is no more far-fetched than any of the thousands of creation or transformation myths that abound, or the stories of supernatural entities talking to prophets, revealing things that we should or should not do, or fabulous stories about what will come to pass. Had someone the inclination, there are at least a few people that they could convince of the veracity of our fish destiny. Those who believed would have to convince others, because the nature of self-doubt is such that others who believe the same thing reinforce our own beliefs.

At that point a fish prophet should die by being lost at sea. Soon, people would be wearing bejeweled fish around their necks, and sects would diverge into those who still ate fish, and those who thought that the eating of fish was an abomination. One can imagine fundamentalist believers on either side fighting with each other. Probably, only the good and the faithful of a particular denomination would turn into fish. Perhaps eighty years after the fish prophet’s death, there would be stories of people who witnessed the prophet turning into a fish.

Ridiculous, right? No more ridiculous than a talking serpent persuading Eve to eat from the tree of life. No more ridiculous than Jesus’ mum being impregnated by God; the Scientology of L Ron Hubbard, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or the earth being just 6000 years old. In the words of Robert A Heinlein, author of Stranger in a Strange Land, “One man’s theology is another man’s belly laugh.”

Whatever we believe in, to have faith in that belief the thinking person needs reliable, verifiable, falsifiable evidence. We can accept as true many things until they are proven false, but to accept the tenets of a religion as true with no evidence is to be willingly self-deceived. To have faith is therefore to be willingly self-deceived, and that is a bad thing about religion.