Thursday, January 27, 2011

Faith is a Virtue

One question that everyone should be asking themselves is, "Does it matter to me if my beliefs are true?" or "Do I want to have as few false beliefs as possible?".  If your answer to either or both of the questions is "no", then I would consider this a problem.  Granted, I would support your right to not care and I wouldn't advocate forcing people to believe a certain way, however I would encourage people not to.  Not caring if your beliefs are actually true is demonstrably harmful to some people.  I would like to specifically look at religious examples of how false beliefs hurt people because of the nature of this blog, although examples can be derived from circumstances outside of religion.

The first example I would like to talk about involves the death of Madeline Neumann, an 11 year old girl from Wisconsin, in March of 2008.  Her parents were a sort of "Christian Scientist"; those who believe that God can heal any ailment through the power of prayer.  Madeline hadn't seen a doctor since she was three years old.  Madeline became extremely ill and spent 30 days in a deteriorating state (lack of eating, pain, etc.) until she ultimately died as her parents tried to pray for her to get better.  Madeline died due to diabetic ketoacidosis; a condition in which the body lacks insulin.  The remedy for this condition include simple insulin shots, allowing for a near 0% fatality rate if treated properly.  So, in effect, these parents killed their daughter.  Not only is it absurd that wishful thinking will heal the sick, but prayer has been shown to have no alternative effects from similar secular actions.  I add the caveat "from similar secular actions" because it is possible that knowing people are praying for you would make you feel slightly better, however this would be no different than wishing someone the best or hoping they get better (the secular alternative).  Again, this is an example of how a false belief (believing that wishful thinking can heal people) is damaging. 

Another similar example is the death of Ava Worthington, a 15 month old child from Oregon, due to neglect by her parents to give her appropriate medical attention.  She had a 4-inch, benign cyst on her neck that went untreated and she died from bacterial bronchial pneumonia and a blood infection.  Now you may be thinking to yourself, "these are only a few isolated incidents".  First of all, I would like to say that there shouldn't be any incidents to begin with.  Secondly, this "Christian Science" idea is more popular than you would think (in the hundreds of thousands; see  Thirdly, Ava's parents were of a nondenominational congregation called The Followers of Christ.  From 1950-1998, at least 21 children could have been saved from The Followers of Christ's graveyard provided they had sought proper medical treatment (see

My third example is the case of Laura Schubert.  When Laura was 17 years old, members of the Pleasant Glade Assembly conducted a forced exorcism on her in order to expel a perceived demon she had inside her.  Laura suffered cuts, carpet burns, and bruised wrists as the members of the congregation held her down despite her pleas for them to stop.  Subsequently, Laura starting having hallucinations, cutting herself and attempting suicide.   What proof did this congregation have to lead them to believe that a forced exorcism was necessary?  My overall point is to show that beliefs without reasons are potentially harmful, sometimes life-threatening, to the holders of that belief and, more importantly, others.

Ultimately, the foremost "reason" that Christians use for their belief in God is faith.  Even the Bible states, "Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." (John 20:29)  Furthermore, realizing that faith was one of the very few legs that Christianity has left to stand on, Christians often tout that faith is a virtue;  that you have to "just take it on faith".  Not only do I think that faith is not a virtue, I see it as a flaw in a person's character.  The excuse of taking something sorely on faith is only spewed in religious contexts.  I challenge you to find any other field in which accepting something as true based solely on the grounds that you accept that something on faith.  I think that what you will find is that none of the other fields have an "I accept it on faith" position.

So, what is the problem with accepting a claim as true based on faith?  As it turns out, there are multiple reasons.

    1.   Accepting a claim based on faith ends the pursuit and acquisition of truth

When you start accepting claims on faith alone, the incentives for discovery and scientific research are irrelevant.  Science is conducted to explore what we don't know in order to learn more.  When "faith" becomes an accepted reason for belief, science just stops.  This is the reason people try to say that God is outside of science.  They are so engulfed in the idea that a God exists that any evidence to the contrary is null and void. 

    2.   Faith is a non-reason

Faith isn't even a real reason for belief at all.  When is it acceptable to say, "I believe in X so strongly even though I have no evidence"?  Again, maybe this is alright with you if you don't care whether or not your beliefs are true, but for most people (and these people are correct) faith is not a justification for belief. 

    3.  False sense of security

Church leaders have to make sure that their congregants believe that "faith is a virtue".  If the congregants actually took the time to investigate the issue of whether or not their God exists, they would find that there isn't a single good argument for Him.  However, Christians just exclaim, "But I have faith!" as if they use it as a security blanket that exempts them from critical thinking.

Thanks for reading!  E-mail me at for any questions, comments, or if you just want to have a discussion with me.  Feel free to leave a comment below, I promise I'll answer all of your comments!  Have a great Friday!

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