I’ve been wondering for some time how it would be possible to end faith in a generation, and I’ve found some direction and hope.
I’ve just read Peter Boghossian’s ‘A Manual for Creating Atheists’. He is a teacher of philosophy and critical thinking at Portland State University. His approach is one I can learn a lot from.
He defines faith as pretending to know something you don’t know. Faith is a failed epistemology (study of knowledge). An atheist is a person who does not think there is sufficient evidence to warrant a belief in God(s) who would believe if shown sufficient evidence, so does not pretend to know things he doesn’t know with regard to the creation of the universe, the purpose of life and so on. Being atheist is not an identity because if it is, then not believing in flying unicorns, or a teapot orbiting space would also be an identity. He uses Socratic questioning to talk to people of faith. He asks questions such as: what would it take for you to review what you think you know about your faith?+ He is not antagonistic - he is simply helping people to become better thinkers. His aim is not to win debates, but to lead people to question what they believe and why. He is respectful of people, but not of sloppy thinking. Like a parent, you can be respectful of the child, but criticise the child’s behaviour. He says we need to model openness and that it is important to maintain good relationships.
There are lots of issues he raises. For example, the idea of identity politics. Faith is not to be regarded as a point of identity like other factors such as gender and race. He talks about relativism - epistemological (the idea that any way to come to knowledge is as good as any other) and cultural. He takes the academy to task, covering classical and social liberalism, multiculturalism, feminism, tolerance and Islam.
His direction forward is multi pronged. It includes challenging people about their faith wherever possible. We need to call out claims that don’t deserve respect. We need to call out faulty thinking. He wants our culture to include resources for children and adults that send the message that good thinking is a good basis upon which to make decisions and that it is OK to say you don’t know something. We should be comfortable with not knowing rather than believing things we have no evidence for. We need to value reason and rationality. We need to divorce morality from faith. We need to stop pretending people of faith are more moral. We need to stop treating religious groups as special. We need to treat faith claims with the same condemnation we treat racism. People who want to participate in making policy decisions who claim to know things they cannot know don’t deserve a seat at the table. Religious groups need to pay tax like every other group. We need to stop allowing religious groups into schools and running their own ‘educational’ institutions. In Australia we need to stop outsourcing government agencies to church groups - this is my addition. We need to adjust our use of language so that the word ‘faith’ is only used in religious contexts, and not as a synonym for ‘trust’ or ‘hope’. We need to stop using language that elevates faith, such as referring to gospel truth, God bless you, acts of God, thank God, in good faith etc. And we need to change the Diagnostic and Statistical manual of mental Disorders (DSM), which is published by the American Psychiatric Association, to include religious delusion as a mental illness. At the moment there is an exception for religious faith*. These steps are all possible.
And, of course, many parents are raising their children to use reason rather than pretending to know things they don't know.
Surely this will be a big step towards world peace, gender equality, and basic human rights (so long as we also revise Article 18 of the Declaration of Human Rights regarding the right to freedom of religion and belief, and the right to manifest that religion and belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance - I’ll ask Peter about this when I meet him).
+For example, what if the bones of Jesus were found? Would that change people’s knowledge that Jesus rose from the dead? (No resurrection = no Christianity) If that is a possibility, how strong can that knowledge be?http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/04/0418_030418_jesusrelic.html
And if the conversion of St Paul on the road to Damscus turns out to be caused by a falling meteorite, would that be cause to review belief in Jesus as saviour?
*DSM definition of delusion:
A false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everyone else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary. The belief is not one ordinarily accepted by other members of the person’s culture or subculture (eg, it is not an article of religious faith). When a false belief involves a value judgement, it is regarded as a delusion only when the judgment is so extreme as to defy credibility. (2000, p. 765)