Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Why Non-Believers Need to Question the Reliability of Church Leaders

As we already know, religious believers are not likely to be skeptical of what they are told by church leaders. This is part of what sustains religious belief and the church as an organization, and it is part of what makes the church so dangerous. In many cases, the idea that the church leaders know what's going on - that their wisdom is the way to heaven, and should be heeded - is constantly reinforced, albeit subtly, by the church. Bible study and sermons are periods of instruction given by church leaders to the congregation. As the de facto head of the church, they are, as Jesus supposedly was, shepards of their respective flocks. Priests and Pastors (where did that title derive from, I wonder?), we are told, are people that we should go to when we have problems. They are tauted as confessors, counselors and teachers. The are often viewed as the wise men in the community, especially when it comes to religious doctrine. Have a question about religion? It's much more likely that you'll ask your pastor then that you'll try looking it up for yourself. And for many believers, the case is the same with regard to questions about morality, or difficult life issues. This is especially true in the Catholic Church. So when church leaders make a statement, the religious tend to listen, and they act accordingly. This can be dangerous, as not only does it compound the problem with faith - that of not thinking, reasoning and checking - but it can also lead a large group of people to think, speak, act, and vote as they are told to by a small minority of individuals.

The freethinking community needs to deal with this. The attack on faith is certainly a crucial step, but I think another step must be taken first. Before you can attack an individual's reasons (or lack thereof) for believing in something, you have to make sure that they are actually thinking and believing for themselves. If they are following their church leaders, your attack on their faith will be useless.

Think of it another way. I trust (as a result of past evidence) the leaders of the scientific community when it comes to science. I've also done some reading on my own about natural selection and evolution. I've looked at some of the evidence for common descent on my own (I didn't gather it, mind you, but I've looked at it). On the basis of this, I believe that evolutionary theory is true. Now, if you try to attack my reasons for believing evolutionary theory to be correct outright, you won't get very far. Why? Because I still have trust in scientists. I trust that they have gathered their evidence correctly, that they have tested and retested, and that they wouldn't hold evolution to be the basis of biology if they didn't have good reasons. So you might get me so far as to say, "okay, well my readings don't really give me sufficient evidence, but it's still there - the leading scientists have it". In order to get me to question my belief in evolutionary theory, then, you'll first have to put the ball entirely in my court. You'll have to destroy my confidence in the leading scientists of the day. That, of course, would be a difficult task, but it is what would have to be done.

The case is similar with religious belief. An attack on an individual's faith in god or religious doctrines is useless if their belief system is partially supported by an appeal to authority. The difference, of course, is that I have good reasons for trusting the statements of leading scientists, which is something that can not necessarily be said with respect to the believer's trust in religious leaders.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Artemis, I think many believers do question their church leaders. Why do you think there are 268 Christian denominations in America alone. What they don't question is themselves. Non believers tend to believe that most Catholics are very devout. Wrong. Most Catholics have no clue why they are in church every Sunday.They have no clue why they are bored to death. They just go, because it is what they always did, and never thought differently. They sit in the pews totally oblivious to what is going on. Protestant believers are not that devout either. They go to church because it provides them a convenient social club with only voluntary dues,good food, good music, entertainment from usually a good speaker, and great networking opportunities for their business.
You give church goers too much credit. And if they are going to church for all these reason other than true worship, then they are de facto atheists anyway, so you should not worry about them or about converting them. They are already there, and without much help from atheists. Your from Rio Rancho.