Truth is not inherited

Another recycled post, a short one this time. This was first published on this blog in April 2010.

DNASeveral religious friends of mine have, through the course of conversations, admitted that they are only members of their particular religions because that is the religion they were raised in. Because those are the beliefs their parents taught them. They recognize, or at least claim to recognize, that if they were born in another time or another place, they would probably have been followers of a different religious tradition.

For me, as an atheist, this seems like the endgame. If one’s faith is just an accident of birth, then it doesn’t reveal any special truths about the nature of reality, and one should leave that faith behind! But for some reason, this is not the reaction of my friends. They just nod and smile, and I imagine they are thinking that they are lucky to have been born into a family that knew the right religion to be.

If I were more brave, less worried about the social stigma that can come with positively advocating atheism, I would tell these friends of mine: When you say you are a member of a religious group, you are asserting that the ideology of that group is correct to the best of your knowledge. You are telling me that you agree with that group’s claims about the origins of the universe, about human consciousness and moral development, about what happens when we die, lots of claims about various aspects of reality. You are telling me you think these claims are true. But truth has nothing to do with the source of your genetic material, or the people who fed and clothed you as a child. (Surely you can think of times when your parents were wrong!) Truth has to do with what actually exists and what actually happens. Now that you are an adult, it’s high time to think about these issues and decide for yourself what you think is true. Start at the beginning, and question everything.

One thought on “Truth is not inherited

  1. As we’ve discussed before: I do think what I believe matches reality [smile]. And I agree that people who don’t believe their beliefs are in line with reality really need to start thinking about stuff [laughing].

    I don’t agree, however, that we must start at the beginning and question everything.

    My parents have been wrong before. …as have my pastors and passing Christians and scientists and politicians and philosophers and doctors and, yes — shockingly — even I. But that doesn’t mean I have to “question everything.”

    It is true that had I been raised in a different place or time or culture, I could very well believe something different than what currently I believe is true. And it is true that people who preach Islam have converted others to their faith while Christian missionaries have done the same (as have JWs and Mormons and Buddhists). I know people who have converted to Judaism, and I’ve met some awesome Hindus…

    So faith is highly impacted by ones birth and exposure to certain ideas (as with everything we know; indeed, we could have been born into a time of bloodletting or, today, mammorgrams … and any number of other ideas we have yet to discover are wrong). And if you merely go along with the flow of the milieu around you, your faith/approach to life will be a passive one. That’s why I like interacting with you here, NFQ. You question, challenge, and work to apply your beliefs and observations about reality to people’s perceptions. I appreciate that so much! But the call to “question everything” is unhelpful when 1. there are certainly things we can accept without much doubt unless those ideas are called into question, 2. the very mechanisms by which we find answers are so flawed, 3. we have limited time, so rehashing covered ground is not optimal (especially for, say, a young mother who is overrun with caring for her child).

    So I feel no compulsion to encourage everyone to question everything. Instead, if there is a topic of interest or an idea you hear about that causes you to wonder, look into it! Explore. Dig in. And I have. And one of things I try to teach my Sunday School class every year: These questions have existed for a long time, people have and are thinking about them, there’s disagreement, and so much more to learn. Keep learning!

    And definitely look for input from people who have more time and training in that field … because while they may be wrong, they also have a lot more experience than I do.

    If I could be so brave, I would — as gently as possible — point out that I think the stigma against positively advocating atheism is likely due to the assertion that you know there is nothing outside naturalism (of course, I’m assuming I know your stance on what atheism means, and I could very well be wrong!). Which, in many ways, is antithetical to your call here; you are shutting down the possibility of there being more to reality than what you believe/have observed/researched/accepted.

    When religious people do that, it is equally justifiable to call them (me) on it.

    …and this is why, I believe, agnosticism has far less stigma.

    We certainly don’t need people being culturally religious. Either your ideas line up with reality or you’re wrong. Either your beliefs impact how you live, or you really shouldn’t claim them.

    I’m afraid I’ve failed to communicate clearly — as you can see by this rambling comment [laughing]. Sorry about that. I’m happy to try to make better sense of my muddled thought if and as helpful/needed. But I’ll stop here before it gets any worse! [laughing]

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