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Meditation 914
Critique of Religious Faith
Religious Beliefs Are Harmful

by: Fred Leavitt

I teach at California State University, East Bay and have taught as a visiting professor at universities in eight different countries. I have written books and articles in psychopharmacology, research methodology, philosophy, and medical practices. I have given frequent talks to physicians for their continuing medical education credits

This article was originally published on the Yahoo Contributor Network and is republished with the permission of the author.

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The Origins of Religious Faith

Within days after birth, helpless infants recognize the caretakers who provide food, warmth, and shelter. Babies and young children not only recognize, they also trust their parents. When told about a fairy who exchanges money for teeth and a fat man laden with presents who slides down chimneys, children have faith in the stories. They accept the version of reality foisted on them by their parents, peers, community leaders, and humble servants of the church.
We often trust authorities, and we should. I believe that the earth is round and smaller than the twinkly things that light up the night sky, not because I deduced those facts on my own, but because others told me so. Authorities have also convinced me that enormous reptiles once roamed the earth and Saudi Arabia gets hot. They have earned the right to their authority: Astronomers spend years learning how to interpret stellar data, archeologists do the same for fossils, and both types of scientists test their hypotheses with observations and controlled experiments.

But the public and private beliefs of many authority figures do not always correspond, as when prominent athletes hawk products on television or politicians open their mouths. With respect to religion, although theologians may be experts in interpreting a bible, they don't know any more than lay people whether any particular bible tells the truth or whether there is a supreme being or life continues after death. How does one become an expert on life after death?

If the evidence for religious beliefs were trustworthy, preferences would be independent of time and place of upbringing. They are not. More atheists live in Azerbaijan than Atlanta, more Baptists in Biloxi than Bombay, more Catholics in Cincinnati than Calcutta, more Jews in Jerusalem than Jakarta, and more Muslims in Malaysia than Monaco. The demographic details reflect the obvious fact that people living within a broad general region are exposed to the same newspapers, TV shows, films, and books. For the same reason, football fans from Cincinnati are more likely than Chicagoans to root for the Bengals whereas Chicago residents prefer the Bears. (But Bengal fans do not claim that their team's playbook is the only true one or that Chicago fans worship false idols.)

Do you believe that Jesus turned water into wine, walked on water, and rose from the dead? Did God turn Lot's wife into a pillar of salt? Do you stick pins into dolls of your enemy? Are you convinced that pairs of each of the more than two million animal species assembled and sailed peacefully in an ark? Will you be reincarnated? If you are a man who dies a martyr, will 72 virgins welcome you to paradise?

If you answered "No" to at least one of the questions-- and I'd like to meet anyone who gives "Yeses" across the board-- how do you account for the "Yeses?" Are the "yes" respondents lying? Ignorant savages? Psychotic? Stupid? Delusional? Undoubtedly, each category is represented, but there must be a more inclusive explanation.

The belief that life has meaning makes it worth living-- even if life has no meaning. Whether or not the universe is ruled by a loving God, faith in a higher power helps millions get through each day. In the event of tragedy, faith consoles. To envisage a recently deceased loved one in a better place, to anticipate a heavenly reunion someday, is analgesic.

Continued > Religious Faith is Beneficial