Continuing my review of this talk by Dr. Peter Boghossian about faith, he uses one word during his talk that will cause many to scoff at his assertions. He calls people of faith “delusional”. This isn’t a popular notion, but following the logic he offers during his talk, I have to agree with him again.
The use of the word “delusional” when referring to people of faith may seem unkind, but it’s not. It’s nothing personal at all, although I am certain it feels that way. However, at this point in time, I am no longer concerned with the feelings of those who believe, even though I have many friends and family members who do. I am concerned with the facts of the matter and they are this: If you make untestable and unbelievable claims about God or the Bible or matters of faith, the burden of proof is on you to convince me otherwise.
Boghossian puts it more plainly. He says there are three distinct facts about those who follow faith traditions:
- There are multiple and various faith traditions.
- People of the various faith traditions sincerely believe them.
- People make competing claims about faith traditions.
This much we do know about these various faith traditions: They cannot ALL be true. It’s not simply that these competing claims are false says Boghossian, but that these claims are delusional.
Delusions are defined by Karl Jaspers using three criteria:
- certainty (held with absolute conviction)
- incorrigibility (not changeable by compelling counterargument or proof to the contrary)
- impossibility or falsity of content (implausible, bizarre or patently untrue)
Certainly Jaspers criteria has come under much critique, specifically regarding religious belief in God which is excluded since it cannot be proven not to be true. Or can it?
Personally speaking, growing up as a Christian, I certainly believed that other faith traditions could be considered delusional. Mormonism is considered a cult by Christians. Seriously, how could anyone believe the story of Joseph Smith?
As pointed out by Boghossian, the Christian faith tradition scrutinizes the Mormon faith with reason and evidence, but doesn’t apply the same reason and evidence to their own faith. Why did I grow up seeing other faiths and their practices delusional but not my own?
Boghossian offers a couple of reasons:
- Conviction: The strength of my belief in my faith, not the truth of my faith. This is summed up simply with the Christian catch phrase: The Bible says it… I believe it… that settles it!
- Inerrant: One way to affirm that your religion is perfect, is to only read and endorse that which reinforces it. The Southern Baptist faith I grew up in saw this as a non-negotiable for good reason. Church attendance and indoctrination were a must.
The ultimate trajectory (as Boghossian calls it) is that a person raised like I was will grow to think that my faith is true (because I believe it) and I will think that my faith is beneficial to me (in other words, I’m no good without it). It’s the ultimate co-dependency in which most believers are trapped.
If there’s anything I’ve learned since letting go of my faith, it’s this: Faith in Jesus doesn’t make me a better person. Lack of faith in Jesus doesn’t make me a bad person. There is zero correlation.
This speech by Boghossian encouraged me to be more bold in my unbelief. He encouraged me to speak to people of faith and to be honest, blunt, direct and truthful. For me this is very challenging and I’m not sure why. It doesn’t really effect me that other people believe in things I no longer do, but when their belief infringes on my own I should not just acquiesce to them to save their feelings. To not speak up is to not be honest about who I am and that is someone who has moved beyond faith.
Boghossian closes by offering advice to people of faith to jettison their beliefs and just say NO to faith. The number one step to leaving one’s faith he suggests is admitting there are things you just don’t know.
I couldn’t agree more.