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Justin M. Stoddard


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Faith is Not a Virtue
January 20, 2007 — 7:27 pm

I’ve re-read Tim’s post a couple of times and my thoughts continually went to this whole notion of “faith”. So, though I’m not really addressing Tim’s post per-say, I’m going to try to put into words something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

This whole notion that “faith” and “belief” deserve respect for no other reason than they are “faith” and “belief” is ludicrous. If, through some belief system, I had faith that the ritualistic act of cutting off my little toe ensured my place in paradise, people would rightfully think I was suffering from a chemical imbalance. But, if I were to say that my eight day old boy needs to have his foreskin cut from his penis (without anesthesia) so his covenant with God will be fulfilled, those same people would most likely say, “Well, OK. That’s your faith, I respect that”.

Faith is not a special privilege. You cannot expect to be immune from criticism simply for believing something to be true, no matter how sacred that belief may be. I think this is the fundamental problem with society today. We go far too much out of our way not to be offensive when it comes to belief systems. I can’t begin to recount how many times I’ve heard the phrase, “You need to respect my beliefs”. My internal response is always, “Well, no, I don’t”.

Something went askew with our society when people started to mistake respect in the right to believe something for respect in the actual belief. I have no problem with respecting your right to believe in leprechauns from a different energy level, for example. I’ll probably think the actual belief is insane, however.

Gore Vidal addressed religious belief in his essay, Monotheism and its Discontents. Here is a sampling:

Unfortunately, there are two subjects that we are never permitted to discuss with any seriousness: race and religion, and how our attitudes toward the first are rooted in the second. Thanks to this sternly–correctly?–enforced taboo, we are never able to get to the root of our problems. We are like people born in a cage and unable to visualize any world beyond our familiar bars of prejudice and superstition. That Opinion the Few create in order to control the Many has seen to it that we are kept in permanent ignorance of our actual estate.

I think that Mr. Vidal is making the point that by perpetuating the myth that belief is not to be criticized, religious faith has no real self correcting mechanism in place. Sure, there is the occasional Martin Luther or Bishop Spong, but the criticisms are rare, and unnecessarily painful.

This is why I have a problem with moderate Christianity. Like Tim said, fundamentalism is easy to understand, and pillory. Moderate Christianity poses a much more difficult problem. Not only do Moderate Christians not do enough criticizing, they have far too much tolerance in those who are hijacking their faith. And, it’s not just that. We secularists often don’t know what to think about moderate Christianity. If they don’t believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible, what do they believe? And, more importantly, how did they come to their conclusions?

If religious institutions were content with leaving everyone else alone, these questions would probably not be very relevant. But, when so much religiosity is being forced upon society, we have every right to know, and to harshly criticize any belief system that backs it up.

The very idea that faith is a virtue that demands respect is both silly and dangerous. It’s time society as a whole started letting go of such archaic notions. And, it’s also time moderate Christians began cleaning up their own houses before casting aspersions on us nonbelievers.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)

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