The Power of Belief

September 5, 2007 at 5:11 pm 20 comments

9-11Ok, it took me a long time to get round to it, and I know the entire rest of the Western World did it ages ago, but I have just finished reading Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Whatever your faith is or even if you have none, I can thoroughly recommend this book. I chuckled my way through ‘The God Delusion’ even though one doesn’t normally laugh while reading science, logic or theology texts (not that those categories can adequately describe the book’s contents). It was a stimulating, entertaining, passionate, and challenging read.

Dawkins describes how after 9/11 in the US, and after 7/7 in the UK, many people agonised to find an explanation for the seemingly puzzling behaviour of the suicide bombers. That’s an issue many people in Germany are asking today following the recent revelation that at least two of the suspected terrorists were German citizens. But as Dawkins points out – in one sense the key to the puzzle is relatively simple. The people were simply acting out things that they really believed. They weren’t necessarily weird or strange people. They had just adopted a belief system and were then carrying it out in the best way they saw fit. They were following their religion.

The doctors who recently tried to blow up Glasgow Airport spent most of their working lives caring for the sick and saving lives. They were ‘normal’, compassionate people. What lead them to attempt mass murder was their faith.

The inconsistencies that many of us would feel uncomfortable with were not a problem to such believers. Unquestioning allegience (and of course, they are trained in unquestioning allegience) to a god or a holy book enables reason to be subdued so that the supremely inhuman (and ironically, arguable irreligious) acts can be carried out.

Although it is mainly faith inspired acts of terrorism make the big headlines, let’s not forget that acts of faith are leading to, what can only be regarded as, ‘counter-intuitive’ behaviour all the time. A group of Christians recently decided to follow their master’s commands to go and make disciples of all nations. They weren’t particularly fanatical, just wanting to do what the good book says. The problem was that the nation they tried to make disciples in was Taliban dominated Afghanistan. The 23 Korean Christians may have been sincere and naive, but surely they must have known that their mission was dangerous. Two of them were killed by the Taliban and the remaining 21 were eventually released. Both sides can claim they were just following their faith.

On a lighter note, I was dumbfounded to learn this week of the fate of two Nepalese goats. Officials at Nepal’s state airline were having technical problems with one of its Boeing 757 aircraft and had to suspend services. Two goats were sacrificed at Kathmandu airport on Sunday in front of the aircraft in order to appease the Hindu sky god Akash Bhairab. The technical fault has now been fixed and flights have been resumed.

The power of belief is such that people capable of understanding the science behind a modern aircraft engine can also tolerate religious practices attempting to appease a deity by a sacrifice of goats. Initially the juxtaposition of two worlds seemed so strange to me. But then I realized that to some people in Nepal it might seem odd that an educated Western culture still tolerates official religious ceremonies celebrating the appeasement of a deity by the sacrifice of his own son.

‘The God Delusion’ has helped me become more aware of my own blindness about the strength of religion in my own culture. It has also been a powerful reminder that ‘sincere’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘right’ – however much cultural pressure there is to confound the two.

- A Thinking Man

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20 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Tim Kurek  |  September 5, 2007 at 5:38 pm

    Check out “The Dawkins Delusion” for some answers to the questions he poses… Its quite amusing to see get the answers behind second hand info that Dawkins uses but has no real foundation. Check it out!

    tim kurek

    http://uriahministries.wordpress.com

  • 2. mel  |  September 5, 2007 at 7:16 pm

    It’s amazing how much resistance this idea gets, the power of belief. The faithful want to claim that faith can change lives if not move mountains but the moment an evolutionary biologist suggests that faith can lead otherwise good people to heinous ideas and acts … well, then that guy is suddenly speaking out of his ass.

    Jesus people, listen to yourselves and think about what you’re actually saying. And you want us to thing you’re not raving lunatics?

  • 3. Thinking Ape  |  September 5, 2007 at 9:43 pm

    Tim, you suggest ‘The Dawkins Delusion’, but have you actually read it? McGrath scrapes superficial surfaces and ignores much of Dawkins’ arguments. He goes mono e mono with Dawkins in polemics rather than substance. If you want to discuss something a little more specific in Dawkins work you think McGrath has someone worth talking about, then lets have it. There is little use plugging nonsense unless it is actually worth reading. I’ve read both books and found both philosophically lacking. Dawkins argument is weakened by his smugness and run by popshots at corrupt religionists, whereas McGraths focuses on Dawkins’ obvious lack of theological “knowledge,” and ends up ignoring many of Dawkins’ actual points.

  • 4. epicurus  |  September 5, 2007 at 10:50 pm

    Theological arguments against Dawkins (et al.) often come out as, “Well, why should I listen to him, when he doesn’t even know how many Angels were determined to fit on the head of a pin, as calculated by Martinus Scriblerus in 1483!” This style of argumentation completely misses the point, as it has no bearing on the truth value of the existence of god(s), the main point of Dawkins’ books. Show me that there *is* a God and I’ll denounce Dawkins as well! If you can’t do that you’re just wasting your time.

  • 5. athinkingman  |  September 6, 2007 at 2:44 am

    Hey guys, I’m almost wishing I hadn’t mentioned Dawkins. He isn’t the issue. What I was trying to say in the blog is that people do strange thinkgs because of religious faith. Surely that is true, whether Dawkins said it or not. :-)

  • 6. HeIsSailing  |  September 6, 2007 at 6:27 am

    I guess Dawkins is hot and controversial stuff, because he seems to be what people enjoy arguing about. But I guess now I am the last guy left who has not read his book.

    I am focusing more on the plight of the South Korean missionaries. Yes, people do bizarre things for their beliefs, but can we, as apostates, find any virtue in the Missionaries actions? Can we find any sympathy for them when they were kidnapped or killed by the Taliban? Remember, that two did not make it back home.

    I don’t know. I really struggle with that. On the one hand, having been on a couple mission trips myself (although none so dangerous as going to a war zone), I understand the sacrifices and commitments that must be made. I don’t know how heavily the Koreans focused on humanitarian as opposed to evangelistic efforts, but in my opinion the more humanitarian the better. On the other hand, I also know what shenanigans are pulled in evangelistic persuits and the effort to win souls for the Body of Christ. I guess converting to any religion other than crazy militant Islam is a good thing, but it will likely also get you killed in that region.

    Both sides can claim they were just following their faith.

    And this is the dangerous power of religion. On the one hand you have missionaries who are trying to save Islamic people from frying in hell by converting them to the true faith of Christianity. On the other hand, you have faithful Muslims who are trying to keep the Christian Satan out of their country for fear of being converted away from the true faith is Islam.

    What would you not be justified in doing to keep yourself from eternal damnation? That is the dangerous power of religion.

  • 7. Bad  |  September 6, 2007 at 1:40 pm

    This is a pretty good article listing all the ways in which McGrath’s accusations against Dawkins are full of misrepresentations and other problems.

    And don’t feel bad that you are late in reviewing it: Deepak Chopra was late to the party as well. I wrote up a post a little while ago about his review, which gets about as nutty as I’ve ever seen him: Deepak Chopra reviews the God Delusion

  • 8. ilblogical  |  September 6, 2007 at 2:22 pm

    I agree, faith can be a dangerous weapon in any category (religion, politics, sports, etc.).

    It seems the only safe alternative is True Christianity. Jesus said in the gospel of John, chapter 18 verse 36:

    “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”

    Anyone who claims to be “fighting” for God, is not a disciple of the real Jesus, just a pathetic counterfeit.

  • 9. The de-Convert  |  September 6, 2007 at 3:57 pm

    “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’

    - Jesus (Matthew 10:34-36)

  • 10. Bad  |  September 6, 2007 at 4:01 pm

    ilblogical, the issue is not that one cannot find peaceful versions and interpretations of Christianity. It’s that the Bible and Christianity are not a good basis for determining such things in the first place. The vast vast diversity of views of people who follow the Bible make any claim that there is a “true” version look silly. And the very fact that it allows so many different interpretations makes it hard to argue that it is a clear guide to anything.

    More importantly, if things like pacifism are justified, they have to be justified for good reasons: not just because some person in an ancient text said so.

  • 11. ilblogical  |  September 6, 2007 at 6:16 pm

    The de-Convert, touché.

    I think there is some context to that scripture that could be discussed, but I won’t argue the point here.

    Bad, those are good points, but where does that leave us?

    Everyone has faith in something. Whether it’s evolution, God or football, it will be something.

    Faith is not limited to religion, and acts of faith are not limited to religious fanatics. So by what basis do we begin to judge when some fanatic acts out by their faith, religious or otherwise?

  • 12. Bad  |  September 6, 2007 at 7:41 pm

    ilblogical, I do not agree with the idea that everyone has faith in something. Faith, at least as defined in any sense that distinguishes it from reason, is a different method altogether for determining truth.

    So by what basis do we begin to judge when some fanatic acts out by their faith, religious or otherwise?

    My first blush is to simply judge their actions directly. But in the deeper analysis, it is often the case that the very idea of having faith beliefs that are incompatible with evidence and rationality can be criticized as dangerous.

    Think of it as holding a gun, pointed at someone. Faith allows a person to pull the trigger if they sincerely believe that the gun is not loaded…. even though they do not KNOW that it isn’t loaded. That’s why its dangerous. A person without that sort of faith will simply admit that they do not know if it is loaded or not, and so will act more consistently with the actual situation: they wlll be cautious and not risk pulling the trigger.

  • 13. ilblogical  |  September 7, 2007 at 12:45 am

    in the deeper analysis, it is often the case that the very idea of having faith beliefs that are incompatible with evidence and rationality can be criticized as dangerous.

    By what standard do we determine that something is rational or not? What is the genesis of the rationality that we can begin to criticize someone’s actions as dangerous or not?

    Some consider a homosexual lifestyle as dangerous, for many reasons, and others do not. Who’s right? They can’t both be.

  • 14. mel  |  September 7, 2007 at 5:08 pm

    Anyone who claims to be “fighting” for God, is not a disciple of the real Jesus, just a pathetic counterfeit.

    No true Scotsman, eh?

  • 15. Bad  |  September 7, 2007 at 6:17 pm

    We determine it by the standard of rational debate, wherein people have to provide evidence for claims like “homosexuals are dangerous” and back it up by supporting their claims, rather than just insisting that they are correct and spreading the word.

  • 16. societyvs  |  September 7, 2007 at 7:31 pm

    I think ‘Thinking Man’ raises some good observations in the blog – the power of belief can be seen as something ‘dangerous’ (this is all too well known). I think we need to continue to address that idea within our society – and talk about rationality within our countries concerning faith systems and actions. I sure don’t want to see Christians blowing up an abortion clinic because they justified their own hatred somehow – and I am a Christian. I think this type of convo needs to occur more and more until we start finding those ‘faith nuts’ are forced to deal with their irrationalities.

  • 17. StaCeY  |  September 8, 2007 at 7:17 pm

    “What I was trying to say in the blog is that people do strange thinkgs because of religious faith”.

    ” I agree, faith can be a dangerous weapon in any category (religion, politics, sports, etc.)”.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Faith can be a dangerous weapon– blind faith–
    as the one eyed king(s) rule the land of the blind.

    We are a pirated humanity.

    People do STRANGE thing over ANY kinds of faith they put in men. (like giving up all their remaining ” rights” at the remote control “wands” of spin doctors and the “programming” of high teck media magick shows)

    How in hell can you have a “war on terror” anyway!
    WAR IS A TERROR! doublethink reigns.

    No leader will I follow but God and God alone…
    no life will I lead but the supernatural one I know in Him.
    Men tell us we should worship Y’shua.
    Yet Jesus Himself was always…
    and ultimately pointing to God the “Father”.
    To Follow Jesus… would really translate…
    into KNOWING God intimately and living in His Power…
    as a rebel to the ways of the world.

    In this article…
    When I see “the Power of Belief”…
    right next to the flaming towers
    (of babble on and on and on)
    just as they were about to be taken down
    at free fall speed by demolition (explosives)…
    (as silverstein even admitted about bldg. 7)…

    it is a picture of what exploded and plumed and pummeled
    all the last vestages of my formerly held “faiths and beliefs”.

    Faith and Belief in the mainstream–
    mass–media… in the govt…. in the churches…
    religions… belief in the ways of society….
    the mainstream systems of education… science…

    all pummeled once and for all …as dust in wind… in the wake of the “attack” on my sense of reason… and human dignity…and my ability to THINK FREELY AND SEE FOR MYSELF… instead of being FED some ILLUSORY “reality” by the MASS “MEDIUMS” and “white coats and black robes” owned by the puppet masters behind the sceenes of the world stage.

    The whole world sceene(seen)…
    is nothing more than a GIANT SCREEN
    stage show.

    I have faith in no man…
    and belief in no system…

    screens and programming do not interest me.

    For me… FAITH… is a WAY of living…
    PLUGGED into God.
    Connected with the very source of my being.
    It has nothing at all to do with man’s doctrines or theories…
    religious, political, social, scientific, or otherwise.

    I guess I just BELIEVE in living life alive.
    plain and simple.

  • 18. Tim Kurek  |  September 9, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    All of you argue points about religion and quote the Bible way out of context. The point is I respect that you have chosen to believe what you believe, but you guys don’t respect that I have chosen to believe what I believe, and to know what I know. If you are so above religion and the crap you believe it creates, then stop stooping to the level you are fighting against… “Can’t we all just get along?” and on behalf of every Christian, I am sorry for the crusades, for the people that have alienated you throughout your lives, and the generally poor examples of Christ-ians that you have encountered. I do not much like Christians either, for that matter. Or many of the modern day churches. A lot of churches and Christians are a big joke to you, but I assure you that within any group that believes something there will be idiots.

    Your Theist Friend,
    Timothy Kurek

    http://uriahministries.wordpress.com

  • 19. lostgirlfound  |  September 9, 2007 at 3:22 pm

    StaCeY: You are a wordsmith for me today!

    “We are a pirated humanity…” simply a beatiful picture.

    “Men tell us we should worship Y’shua.
    Yet Jesus Himself was always…
    and ultimately pointing to God the “Father”.
    To Follow Jesus… would really translate…
    into KNOWING God intimately and living in His Power…as a rebel to the ways of the world.” Thank you! Seems that most “churches” forget that simple fact!

    “For me… FAITH… is a WAY of living…
    “PLUGGED into God.
    Connected with the very source of my being.
    It has nothing at all to do with man’s doctrines or theories…
    religious, political, social, scientific, or otherwise.

    I guess I just BELIEVE in living life alive.
    plain and simple.” I believe like you.

    Thanks again for giving me such beautiful pictures today!

  • [...] highlight, rarely was it Richard Dawkins ramming logic down someones throat with something like The God Delusion that resulted in someone’s de-conversion. De-conversion appeared to occur when people [...]

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

de-conversion wager

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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