Why Don’t You Just “Believe?”

I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because notice it always coincides with their own desires – Susan B Anthony

I get many different reactions from people who discover that I’m not a religious man, which is an understatement. These words are uttered in a gamut of emotion from surprise to anger, depending on how long the person has known me. No matter what has led to our conversation and often ensuing debate on matters of religious belief, their exasperated finale usually ends up with something close to, “Why don’t you just believe?

They don’t seem to understand that they are requesting me to abandon or discount everything that I have learned about the sciences over the past twenty-five years.  This is completely unthinkable and I find it quite ironic the philosophical trade that I am consistently asked to make. I am not a superstitious fellow. I am an Atheist.  My opinions about religion are based on reason, not doctrines, dogmas, superstitions or other sectarian authorities.

I pay no homage to messiahs, creeds or holy books, nor do I consider mystical revelations or blind faith as valid. I pay homage to truth, and obviously I understand truth a little differently from Christians.  For me, truth is how any given statement corresponds with rational thought and empirical evidence. Reason is my ally and it is a powerful one, at that. Critical thought is my main tool for how I comprehend the world around me, and this comprehension is then confirmed only through the strict tests of the scientific method. Truth must be testable, and by virtue, must require evidence and repeatable experiments to confirm it. The explanations of the results must be in it’s simplest form and free of contradictions. But most importantly, truth also requires continued attempts to falsify it. 

My resistance to religion is simple. There exists no empirical evidence to support the existence of gods, goddesses, devils, demons, spirits, jinns, ghosts, spooks, specters, apparitions or anything else that has been tagged with the illogical term, “supernatural.” Religious belief defies reason and cannot be tested and as the good Dr. Dawkins often states,

“I believe you [believers] are sincere, but I also believe you are hallucinating.”

There is no advantage to believing a lie and there is no excuse for sacrificing logic and reason in favor of superstition. This is inscrutable to me. I think religion is more harmful than it is worth,  as it has been used to justify almost every war ever fought and is responsible for horrific blights on our society. Only through religion have we come to know slavery, sexism, racism, homophobia, mutilations, intolerance and the oppression of millions of minorities. The totalitarianism of religious absolutes choke progress. If you think good deeds are an argument for the existence of religion, consider that even militant terrorist organizations have social programs available for their followers.

The thing is that many believers would be good people even if they had no religion. Religion has no monopoly on good deeds. In fact, the lion’s share of the progress we enjoy is the result of work done by those who are not religious. Edison, Einstein, Darwin, Stanton, Curie, Freud, Russell, Dawkins… The list goes on and on. Contrasting this is the fact that religion has a history of consistent resistance to progress.

I keep my mind free from religious dogma.  I test ideas and then retest them and then either adopt or discard them based on evidence.  I’m not without emotion, but I am suspect of what contradicts science, refutes reason and is not open to question. Religious belief is  blind obedience to bronze-age superstitions based on ignorance, and propagated by divine tyrants and was borne out of the terrified infancy of our species.

It is an insult to the collective knowledge of human thought.  It misrepresents the origins of humankind and the cosmos. It demands unreasonable suppression of human nature, inclines people to violence, requires blind submission to authority and is hostile to free inquiry.

Only the freethinker is truly free. 

  13 comments for “Why Don’t You Just “Believe?”

  1. TX_secular
    October 9, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    Well said.

  2. Richard Simons
    October 9, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    I’ve never understood people who say, “You just need to believe in . . .” Are there really people who can control their beliefs like this? Is it a form of self-hypnosis?

  3. Tom Clark
    October 9, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    Amen!

  4. 'Tis Himself, OM
    October 9, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    As a corollary to the Susan B. Anthony quote, I’ve noticed when people claim god talks to them that god has exactly the same opinions and prejudices as his mouthpiece.

  5. Phill Marston
    October 10, 2011 at 3:30 am

    I’d recast that a little as “I keep my mind free from dogma. I test ideas and then retest them and then either adopt or discard them based on evidence.” A clichéd counter argument from the religious is that ‘atheism leads to Stalin or Hitler’, to oppression and eugenics. I find it’s more productive to counter dogma in all its forms and to recognise that the ‘cults’ that grew up around the communists under Stalin, the Nazis under Hitler, the Khymer Rouge under Pol Pot and so on were very similar to religions and complete with rules, structure, hierarchies and charisma.

    • Blizno
      December 12, 2011 at 8:06 pm

      5. Phill Marston says:
      October 10, 2011 at 3:30 am

      “…A clichéd counter argument from the religious is that ‘atheism leads to Stalin or Hitler’…recognise that the ‘cults’ that grew up around the communists under Stalin, the Nazis under Hitler…”

      Sigh…
      It sounds like you are unaware of the oft-repeated fact that Hitler was Catholic his entire life and devoted himself and his Reich to “the Creator”.
      Hitler and the extremely Christian German nation of his time have no place among the typical Christian list of genocidal “atheist” regimes.

      I hope I am mistaken and that you understand that Christianity was very important to Hitler and one of the, if not the primary, causes of the Nazi genocide of the Jews.

      • Phill Marston
        December 13, 2011 at 3:41 pm

        No need to sigh, I understand only too well that it’s a specious argument. That’s why I said it’s a cliche.

        • Blizno
          December 13, 2011 at 5:03 pm

          Phill Marston, I skimmed through these responses too quickly.
          I mistook your argument that blaming atheism for Nazis fails. I thought you were defending that bit of fantasy.

          You were holding the door open and I felt compelled to fight my way through the door. My mistake.

  6. October 10, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    A “friend” offered this argument for “why don’t you just believe?”, with the object changed from God to Levitation.

    http://bit.ly/pIHmZV

  7. davidct
    October 11, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    You mean skeptic – you let Tinkerbell die. I’ll bet you cannot even hear that bell from the north pole anymore either. If you could only accept faith everything would be wonderful.

    The “why don’t you just believe?” statement shows that the believer is so invested in his/her world view that they cannot understand that another view could possibly be correct. We often underestimate the strength of this delusion.

  8. amazonfeet
    October 13, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    I was just graduating from high school when I saw what could happen when you “just believe”…over 900 people did, and ended up committing mass suicide in the jungle, in Jonestown.

  9. connor carpenter
    October 24, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    Is it really possible to go through life without believing? In an inclusive look at everything in the universe, what we understand is far outnumbered by the things we don’t (existence of the universe, man, miracles). There are things you just can’t explain through the sciences and empirical evidence. At that point you’re forced to make a decision as to what you will believe until valid evidence becomes available.

    Placing your faith in life’s creation by an invisible God seems as valid to me as deciding you’ll believe in creation by an unknown scientific process, even when there’s no empirical evidence for it.

    Believing has been part of the human race since we’ve become thinking creatures. Was that just a coincidence? A logical result of our race’s lack of a scientific method?

    Belief has been bad to humanity. And it’s been good. So has the sciences. I think it’s a bit harsh to discount all belief so quickly just because of that.

    • Blizno
      December 12, 2011 at 8:19 pm

      “…you’re forced to make a decision as to what you will believe until valid evidence becomes available.”

      The entire point of this thread is that one cannot “decide” what to believe. It’s impossible.

      Can you decide to believe (assuming that you do not) that Santa Claus causes the sun to rise each morning and the tooth fairy causes the sun to set each evening?

      The only reasonable position when faced with the unknown is to say, “I don’t know.” Creating gods or other supernatural beings to explain the unknown does nothing to explain reality.

      When faced with something beyond human comprehension, the only reasonable thing to say is, “I don’t know.”

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