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An important issue – obscured by proselytizing fervour
on 6 February 2014
The arguments for atheism, naturalism and secular humanism are around for quite a long time. So why is faith so resistant against them and what can be done to address this problem?
You get some answers to this question when reading Peter Boghossians book.
Basically he advocates a Socratic strategy of making people doubt by simply asking questions pointing to possible inconsistencies of their views. That's not novel but always deserves a reminder. More important is the authors insisting claim that we shouldn't accept an intellectual and social preserve for religious faith, treating it as a no-touch private preference or matter of taste. Boghossian's attack on constructivism and epistemological and moral (multicultural) relativism as an academic and social aberration is justified and deserves support. So far the motivating aspects of the book.
But unfortunately there are severe flaws. The author has no empathy for religious people. You can't understand the comforting effects of faith by simply stating that there is no evidence for it. For example many people want to believe that there beloved ones still exist somehow and somewhere after having passed away. Wrong - but we should be able to feel some empathy for the emotionally comforting effect of such wishful thinking. Lack of that pushes Boghossian to demand that we should try to talk everybody out of his or her faith, people personally unknown to us, everybody, everywhere, in principle regardless of the personal situation (desperate life conditions, terminal illness, high age, psychological stability or instability?). And here things begin to turn unpleasant and even potentially dangerous.
When finally classifying religious faith as a mental disease which should be addressed by public health programs Boghossian risks to shift to sectarianism and make his whole principally laudable enterprise look ridiculous. Religions are out-dated ways of interpreting the world and finding orientation in life but they are no diseases (with violent fanaticism as a borderline case between crime and mental disorder). If not so a considerable part of arts and human civilization would just be the product of insane people. Sounds a bit ahistorical, doesn't it?