Is religion honest?

September 17, 2010 | By | 37 Replies More

Most religious adherents would be aghast if one suggested that they, or their religion, were fundamentally and consistently dishonest. However I believe that is indeed the case.

I read a comment on a recent blog post by Ed Brayton (honesty vs intellectually honest).

Ed’s post argued about the distinction between honesty and intellectual honesty, and noted that intellectual honesty must recognize not only the arguments in support of a position, but also any evidence or arguments against that position.

One of the commenters (Sastra) then made the following case that faith was fundamentally intellectually dishonest:

[…] An intellectually dishonest person blurs the distinction [between being intellectually honest, and being emotionally honest], and seems to confuse fact claims with meaning or value claims. To a person who places emphasis on emotional honesty, strength of conviction is evidence. An attack on an idea, then, is an attack on the person who holds it. The idea is true because it’s emotionally fulfilling: intentions and sincerity matter the most. Therefore, you don’t question, search, or respect dissent. A person who is trying to change your mind, is trying to change you.

For example, I consider religious faith […] to be intellectually dishonest. It is, however, sincerely emotionally honest.

[…] “Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of what is not seen.” There’s a huge emotional component to it, so that one chooses to keep faith in X, the way one might remain loyal to a friend. You defend him with ingenuity and love, finding reasons to explain or excuse evidence against him. He cannot fail: you, however, can fail him, by allowing yourself to be lead into doubt.

Being able to spin any result into support then is a sign of good will, loyalty, reliability, and the ability to stand fast. The focus isn’t on establishing what’s true, but on establishing that you can be “true.” This emotional honesty may or may not be rewarded: the real point, I think, is to value it for its own sake, as a fulfillment of a perceived duty.

This is exactly the case with religion, and religious adherents.

Their faith in their god is entirely emotional, and no amount of material evidence will alter their belief.

They may be entirely honest in their belief, and may be entirely honest in their objection to evidence (cf Karl, Rabel, Walter, et al) but in doing so are being intellectually dishonest, because they refuse to recognize valid and entirely relevant evidence – they conflate with great consistency and verve fact claims with value claims, and deny any difference between them stating it’s all ‘interpretation’.

No, it isn’t all interpretation.

It’s dishonesty.

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Category: cognitive biases, Language, Religion

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I'm a technophile with an enduring interest in almost anything real or imagined. I suffer fools badly, and love trashy science fiction, plot-free action movies, playing guitar, and baking (especially scones. You haven't lived 'til you've eaten my scones. I've recently undertaken bread, and am now in danger of gaining in a matter of weeks the 60 pounds I've lost in the past 2 years). My wife & I are Scottish, living north of Atlanta, GA, with two children, one dog, and a growing collection of gadgets. I work for a living.

Comments (37)

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  1. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    One of the many behaviors of the believers that I find incomprehensible is the tendency to define the world through polarized static opposites. These opposites seem to me to be arbitrarily defined, and the definitions are often manipulated by politicians to secure ad leverage the backing religious groups for their political agendas.

    Most religious leaders, are dishonest.I say this because they are politicians first, hypocrites second and any adherence to their professed faith is a distant third. They use deceit to build a following that can be manipulated to push an agenda.

    • Tony Coyle says:

      The static good/bad perspective of the religious is indoctrinated at an early age – as is the inability (or inadvisablility) of deciding where something is on your own. Everything is either/or and you need the help of god (or a god-helper: priest, pastor or minister) to help you make sense of the reality and resolve the dilemma into good or bad.

      These two supporting components drive the strangely dogmatic, yet sheep-like behavior we see from many religious people. It also explains (cognitively speaking) their ability to hold multiple, otherwise strongly opposed, views. It also explains their seeming inability to recognize and accept nuanced positions (and their devotion to media that promotes and supports that narrow perspective… tabloid journalism, Fox News, and their ilk).

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