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Lying, and Why I Will Probably Never Be A Christian (Again)

Sam Harris has a new e-book out called “Lying”. He has a nice blurb about why he wrote the book here:
One of the most fascinating things about this course [The Ethical Analyst at Sanford], however, was how difficult it was to find examples of virtuous lies that could withstand Professor Howard’s scrutiny. Even with Nazis at the door and Anne Frank in the attic, Howard always seemed to find truths worth telling and paths to even greater catastrophe that could be opened by lying.

I do not remember what I thought about lying before I took “The Ethical Analyst,” but the course accomplished as close to a firmware upgrade of my brain as I have ever experienced. I came away convinced that lying, even about the smallest matters, needlessly damages personal relationships and public trust.

It would be hard to exaggerate what a relief it was to realize this. It’s not that I had been in the habit of lying before taking Howard’s course—but I now knew that endless forms of suffering and embarrassment could be easily avoided by simply telling the truth. And, as though for the first time, I saw the consequences of others’ failure to live by this principle all around me.

Intuitively, we all think it is wrong to lie even though we might tell little “white lies” every now and then. Maybe due to my own myopia I sometimes think lying is a necessity, but for the most part I try to adhere to a mentality of “better ugly truths than pretty lies”. This aversion to lying, even though there are bouts of akrasia (which is different from hypocrisy), is the main reason why I will probably never be a Christian.
 
I have firmly arrived at the conclusion over the past three years that the Christian religion is fundamentally structured around deception. Which is odd, considering that it is a religion that claims the value “truth”. Now, this isn't a belief that I have simply because I'm “anti-Christian” or whatever. I actually came to this conclusion due to two different lines of evidence: the history of early Christianity, and what I think is the nature of Christian faith.
 
If you don't know about it, you should check out the most recent book by Bart Ehrman titled Forged. This book sums up my historical argument for why Christianity is based on deception. In short, the majority of the books in the New Testament are written by people who were not who they claimed to be or are attributed to people who didn't write the books attributed to them. Matthew was not written by the apostle/disciple Matthew (same for Mark, Luke, and John), 1 & 2 Peter were not written by the apostle Peter, 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus (and Hebrews) were not written by Paul while Ephesians and Colossians were probably not written by Paul, the apostle John is more than likely not the same person who wrote those letters (though the letter writer never claims to be), and James and Jude who wrote their eponymous letters were more than likely not the same as Jesus' brothers (again, these writers never claim to be either).
 
While NT scholars title these works “pseudonymous”, that's just a fancy way of saying falsely named (i.e. Mark 14.57 has the phrase “they gave false testimony” which in Greek is εψευδομαρτυρουν or epseudo-martyroun). And as Ehrman goes over in the book, forgeries weren't taken any more kindly in antiquity than they are in today's world. Worse yet, even in the authentic letters of Paul there are insertions into the text that have Paul say things he didn't originally say; and Matthew and Luke are basically heavily interpolated versions of Mark. The worst, of course, is that the vast majority of sayings of Jesus were never uttered by Jesus.
 
As for the nature of Christian faith, philosophically (or epistemically) this seems to be nothing more than the equivalent of self-deception. The thought experiment I go over in that earlier blog post introduces the argument like this: 
Say you are in a steady relationship with a significant other. There have been the usual ups and downs of a relationship, but overall things are going pretty good. Let's say, however, that one day you do the one thing that your significant other would possibly break up with you over. What do you do? Let's say there's no chance of them ever finding out. What now? Do you risk it and tell them, being honest? Or do you keep it from them, so that they remain faithful to you?
 
I admit this is a pretty tough decision. But what is underlying this is whether you simply want to possess the person, or if you love and respect them.
 
Actually, don't even answer the question. Your particular character isn't what I'm trying to point out here. What I would like to know is: What would a person who values [your] faith over everything else do in this situation? What will they do necessarily? That's right; they would have no second guesses about lying to you to maintain your faith in them.
 
Now, what if there is no second party involed. No significant other. What if it is just you confronted with a decision to face something that might make you lose faith in someone/something or to ignore that thing? What would a person who values faith do? That's right. They would have no qualms about lying to themselves to maintain their faith.
 
So what exactly is the difference between faith and self-deception? I don't think there is any difference. If a person cares more about faith than honesty (or “the truth”) then any other option is necessarily some form of deception. 
So it seems to me that faith, specifically Christian faith, actually positions itself sternly in opposition to “truth”.
 
As it stands, I actually think that this second observation explains the historical situation that created the NT in the first place. The dogma of the new faith in early Christianity was more important than what “actually happened”, whatever that was. So it was necessary to deceive with these works that eventually formed the bulk of the NT. I also think that this second observation about the nature of Christian faith has completely corrupted the Christian religion making it morally bankrupt; why I become even less and less shocked every time I find out that Christians are lying for Jesus. The most recent example I read was how a Christian group claimed that homosexuality has a positive correlation with pedophilia. That is just despicable… but, I'm guessing, what's a “little white lie” to prevent people from viewing homosexuality in a positive light? I assume that's the mentality of those particular Christians, anyway. Would it be a stretch to say that the claim of Jesus being predicted in Jewish scripture is also a lie? That one is probably a bit more fuzzy. But it probably suffices to say that Christianity was exceedingly unpopular among Jews and only gained traction among non-Jews; non-Jews who were free to read the Jewish holy book in a non-Jewish way.
 
It was Jewish arguments against Christianity that convinced me that Christianity was false. It is the nature of Christian faith that makes me almost certain that I will never be one again on moral grounds.
 
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Posted by on September 27, 2011 in faith

 

Why Faith Is Not A Virtue

Let’s look at a thought experiment to see what the nature of faith is.

Say you are in a steady relationship with a significant other. There have been the usual ups and downs of a relationship, but overall things are going pretty good. Let’s say, however, that one day you do the one thing that your significant other would possibly break up with you over. What do you do? Let’s say there’s no chance of them ever finding out. What now? Do you risk it and tell them, being honest? Or do you keep it from them, so that they remain faithful to you?

I admit this is a pretty tough decision. But what is underlying this is whether you simply want to possess the person, or if you love and respect them.

Actually, don’t even answer the question. Your particular character isn’t what I’m trying to point out here. What I would like to know is: What would a person who values [your] faith over everything else do in this situation? What will they do necessarily? That’s right; they would have no second guesses about lying to you to maintain your faith in them.

Now, what if there is no second party involed. No significant other. What if it is just you confronted with a decision to face something that might make you lose faith in someone/something or to ignore that thing? What would a person who values faith do? That’s right. They would have no qualms about lying to themselves to maintain their faith.

So what exactly is the difference between faith and self-deception? I don’t think there is any difference. If a person cares more about faith than honesty (or “the truth”) then any other option is necessarily some form of deception.

Hope vs. Faith

What about hope? Isn’t that the same thing as faith? Wouldn’t that mean that hope is also self-deception? Let’s look at another thought experiment to see if there is a subtle difference between the two.

You have just taken a math test. You’re not sure if you did well or did poorly. When you get back to your dorm, your roommate asks you how you did. How do you respond?

“I hope I did well on the test”. This, to me, seems like approaching the uncertainty about the math test from a point of humility. It acknowledges the doubt inherent in your uncertainty on the math test. It fully embraces the uncertainty. As in, “I hope I did well on the test, but I might not have”.

“I have faith I did well on the test”. This, to me, seems like approaching the uncertainty about the math test from a point of… well, no uncertainty at all. From an arrogant perspective; a perspective of [self] deception about the state of uncertainty you earlier had about the math test. 

Faith vs. Trust

If faith is such a negative virtue to me, how do I go about navigating the world and maintaining interpersonal relationships? The key difference is between faith and trust. Who are some of the people in your life that you can say that you trust? Chances are, these are people that you have known for a long time, and know their character very well. In essense, this sort of trust is an inductive inference.

Induction, in logic, is making a prediction about future behavior based on past behavior. Your buddy Joe has always been a person of integrity the entire four years that you’ve known him, so you can trust him to maintain his integrity the next time it is put to the test. He almost certainly will hold on to your prized collection of Star Wars die-cast collectibles while your apartment is being fumigated.

In essense, you can think of induction as a statistical argument. If Beth has gotten hammered 89% of the times that you two have went to the bar, the chances are the next time she goes to the bar with you she will get hammered. You can trust her to get completely wasted and have to carry her home.

Faith vs. Doubt

Some have said that faith seeks understanding. But after looking into the above thought experiments, I cannot see how this can be the case. Doubt, on the other hand – by its very nature – seeks understanding. Look at how all of our “knowledge seeking” statements begin: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? These words are all “doubt” words. They are “uncertainty” words. “Question” words. Without these words, we would have no straightforward means of discovering knowledge about the world we live in.

Every single modern convenience is built on the foundation of doubt. This is because every single modern convenience follows from some sort of rigorous methodology, which only functions because of doubt. This is why there are peer-reviews, double blind studies, external controls, independent verification, etc. They are all predicated on the concept of doubt.

The entire school system is built on doubt. This is why we take tests. This is why we defend theses. We don’t get end of year exams because our professors have faith in us, we get end of year exams because of the concept of doubt. We don’t stand in front of boards and present an oral defense of our thesis because of faith. It is presented under the pretense of doubt.

We’ve been conditioned to think of doubt as a negative virtue. But doubt is the only reason why we even know anything to a high degree of certainty. Well, doubting and then testing; but we would never test something unless we doubted it first. Conversely, we’ve been conditioned to think of faith as an across the board positive virtue. But it isn’t. From the starting point of faith, we have no reason whatsoever to test something. This is because test implies doubting.

If I have faith that it is 9:31am, does this mean that I actually know what time it is? Would this faith prompt me to actually check the time? Of course not; actually checking the time implies doubt on my part.

“Embracing uncertainty is one of science’s great strengths–it allows new information to modulate judgments and correct mistaken beliefs. The skill is in distinguishing between what is certain and what isn’t (or at least what lies closer to one end or the other of that spectrum). Editorial, SCIENCE NEWS Dece. 4, 2010

A system built on doubt is a system that encourages self-correction. What system of self-correction is there in one predicated on faith? Self-correction itself implies doubt; I do not see how any faith system can self-correct without outside influence.

The Role Of Faith

It seems as though faith really only has currency in religious discussions. But why even allow it currency there? Liberal religionists try to distance themselves from their more fundamentalist or conservative bretheren. But would this even be necessary if faith was not seen as a virtue? Liberal religionists who recognize that faith is a virtue are the springboard for the fundementalists. “See?”, say the fundamentalists, “Faith is a virtue, and I am exercising my virtuousness just like you are”. It is only a difference in scale.

It seems the easiest way to rob the extremists of their power would be to remove the idea that faith has some sort of inherent value. Unfortunately, it seems as though even the most liberal religionists believe the same – so they would in effect be removing their only reasons for believing. Faith is the common thread between the liberal and fundamentalist religionist.

As long as faith is seen as a virtue, we can continue to encounter people who think that faith based actions such as 9/11 are virtuous.

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2011 in faith, self-deception

 

Philosophical and Intellectual arguments

Here are two lines of arguments that Christians haven’t given me a satisfactory answer to:

Philosophical
Let’s say that you are married to a guy/girl for 10 years. Would you prefer that your spouse lie to you so that you stay faithful to them, or would you rather them tell you a truth that might make you lose faith in them?

What would your spouse do if, above all else, they wanted you to be faithful to them? They would lie.

If any system of beliefs, philosophies, religions, etc. place faith on too high a pedestal, then this system of beliefs will necessarily lead to deception. If the overvaluing of faith necessarily leads to deception, how can someone tell the difference between faith and self deception?

Intellectual
Some Christians claim that Christianity isn’t a “religion”, it’s a “personal relationship” with Jesus. But this equivocation was always suspect in my eyes. In every single “personal relationship” I’ve been in, I could always enumerate things I knew about the other person that I didn’t read in a book or had someone tell me. On the opposite side, I can’t name anything about say President Obama that I didn’t read in a book or had someone tell me.

So, the challenge for Christians – if they indeed have a “personal relationship” with Jesus – is to list some things that they know about Jesus that they didn’t read in a book or had someone tell them.

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2009 in deception, faith, personal relationship

 

First Post

This is my first blog entry. I made this blog specifically for documenting my study of various religions.

I guess I should start with a little about myself. I recently graduated from Penn State with a B. S. in Information Sciences and Technology. Right now I’m waiting on the Army to give me a security clearance so I can start work… sometime soon. Anyway, I’ve been interested in religion since I first started seriously and critically thinking about it – which was around when I was 14 or 15. I was wearing a crucifix on the 4 train in NYC and one of my buddies asked if “I really believed that stuff” pointing to my crucifix. I said “I dunno” and then he poignantly rejoined “So why are you wearing that?”.

After that incident, I decided that I wanted find out what I really believed. Since I was (and still am) such a science-minded person, I wanted to verify Christianity – but well aware of human beings’ tendency towards Confirmation Bias (only looking for things that confirm our a priori assumptions and disregarding information that discredits it) I figured that the only way to prove something true was to try to prove it false. If that sounds strange, I’d like to point out that all of us follow that methodology to varying degrees (except when we have an emotional attachment to the outcome). Buying a TV, trying on clothes, doing our homework – the entirety of our school system is designed around the process of doubt. We wouldn’t have tests if that weren’t the case. We wouldn’t have to sit through job interviews if that weren’t the case. Antibiotics, house shopping, doing laundry… anything that we require some form of knowledge about, we go through a process of skepticism prior to arriving at our conclusion. The study of how people know what they know is called “epistemology”. I had no idea about even the existence of such a word in high school, but I did want to know “how people knew what they knew” and the most consistent methodology, as I just wrote, is examination through doubt.

So after high school in 1997, I joined the Air Force. At this time, I was an agnostic about my Christianity and the existence of god(s) in general. It wasn’t until I had full access to the Internet (1999) that my “verification” really started to go full steam ahead, and Christianity unfortunately, didn’t stand up to scrutiny. Most alarming about the concept of epistemology in the Christian paradigm is this concept of “faith”. You have to first have positive belief, and then you know. Which is a wacky epistemology to follow and downright dangerous if utilized in the wrong context. External critique and verification is absurd if “faith” is the ultimate arbiter of knowledge.

As an example of the profound epistemological deficiency of faith, here’s a less dangerous example. Let’s say two students are taking a math test and they finish at the same time. Someone who expresses some healthy skepticism might say “I’ll go over my test again to make sure I made all the right calculations”. Proponents of faith would simply say “I know it’s right, it feels right and I’ll hand in my test” without checking their answers. Naturally, the person who checked their answers before handing in the test would be doing the more rational thing. Most people would agree as well – mainly because there’s no emotional investment in a math test.

A more dangerous example of the intellectual bankruptcy of faith, let’s say two people have guns pointed at their head. The person of faith would say “I have faith that no harm will come to me if the trigger is pulled”. A more reasonable person would say “I want to check the gun first and make sure there are no bullets in the chamber or in the clip before pulling the trigger”. Obviously most people would still side with the more skeptical person and follow their example – except when it comes to religion!

As of this day, that’s always the final answer as to what Christianity boils down to – faith. Which is odd considering that fideism is frowned upon in at least Catholicism. Anyway, I’ll post more about Christianity in subsequent posts, since I’m constantly digging ever deeper into the history of Christianity. But after Christianity, I studied a bit about Islam (ironically in basic training I went to a Muslim church only because it met twice a week as opposed to the other churches that met once a week), some Judaism and eventually moved on to the religions of the “East”. Religions like Shintoism and Buddhism were more intellectually satisfying since they didn’t concentrate on a cosmic entity that cares that you touched a woman while she was menstruating, and more about living harmoniously with your surroundings.

While in the Air Force I became more of an Ontological Naturalist and most religions didn’t stand up to scrutiny once they posited the supernatural. But still, even eschewing the supernatural from Eastern religions didn’t hinder their message, while in Western religions the supernatural is where they derived their power from – right from might. As of right now, I consider myself an Ontological Naturalistic Pantheist of the Spinoza-Einstein variety and do meditate. My meditation, while it might sound sort of woo-woo supernatural-like, there’s definitely a verifiable change in my physiology while doing it, that other friends have been able to take note of.

As for the name of this blog, I named it “five” in Greek (pente – πέντε) because my last name means “five” in Latin, and my website is called deus diapente, which is Latin-esque for “fifth god” – which is ironic because a lot of the information in my website is incompatible with the [Western] view of god.

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2008 in Christianity, faith, naturalistic pantheism, skepticism

 
 
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