November 24th, 2006


No More Free Rides

Last night, at my family's stomach-busting Thanksgiving dinner, the conversation turned to the works of author Daniel Dennett, in particular his book Breaking the Spell: Religion as Natural Phenomenon.

One of the main theses of the book is that most everything in our lives is held up to certain standards -- for instance, if a product doesn't work, can you return it for a refund? -- everything, that is, except religion. Religion is like a get out of jail free card. Why do you believe a particular thing to be true? Because you're Catholic, or Hindu, or Jewish, etc. Scientific and social beliefs can and should be questioned via standards and the search for empirical proof. Is it wrong to hold religious beliefs to the same standards? Or is it okay to say or do certain things simply because the book of your faith says it's okay to?

This resonated strongly with me. I've certainly been in my share of conversations that were stopped short by the invocation of religious belief. "Well, that's just what my people believe." "Oh, okay then. I guess you have a right to believe whatever."

I'm not going to do that anymore. I'm not a prick, I want to respect people's religious beliefs when possible, but there won't be any more free rides. "Because it's in the Bible" is no longer a good enough answer. You must now tell me why you believe something.