This friend is someone I haven’t known very long, but he is a seminary student, and I was drawn to his facebook page by the open discussion he has with theists and atheists alike about various topics.
I’ll call him CW.
His status updates often entailed provocative statements. He never deleted or moderated dissenting opinions and seemed to welcome open debate. This seemed like a good outlet for my desire to discuss religion with others so I joined in a few discussions.
They were good. The first few were about hell and the Bible and God, and many of his friends were skilled at apologetics. One quick thing I noticed about CW is that he was quick to ignore large statements I had made detailing an error in thought he had, and simply asserting that I had it wrong, or didn’t understand at all.
This puzzled me.
If I had it wrong, that’s unfortunate, but please point out specifically where I am wrong. He never could. One of the worst such occasions was “read your Bible”. That’s it. Implying that I had never read the bible or didn’t understand it, and this his understanding was superior, all without demonstrating it.
I felt that things we going well when CW was taking historical bible classes from seminary. He was learning a lot of things that I had already studied that were quite damaging to Christianity. The fact that the bible was likely not a literal transcribing of events. That the Torah was likely not written by Moses, nor was it likely that Moses ever existed in the first place.
Things were getting interesting on his facebook page as he espoused some of his professor’s teachings. It made some of the bible literalists on his page squirm. My friend was smart and I assumed that he was taking this knowledge in with the thirst for understanding that I knew he possessed.
But then something truly depressing happened.
I was distraught for almost a day over this. In one fell swoop, in one facebook status, he basically denounced everything his seminary professors had taught him in deference to “the God he knew to exist”. “How can anyone believe in a God that is weak like this” he said. As profound as that statement was, he failed to reach the natural conclusion of that statement. Oh, he denied belief in that God, but he embraced his own version of God, completely unsupported by anything other than what he believed to be true about his God.
“Blind faith at it’s worst” I commented shortly after. I was upset, and I didn’t feel like hiding my distain for what had just happened. This is the faith that is so damaging.
When reality sharply presses against your faith, you can either let it be squashed, or you can pull it away and protect it, ignoring reality completely.
When this happened with my friend, we had heated words. We both apologized, but he concluded that “I have just finally come to the conclusion that faith is not something someone comes to by an ascent of the mind.”
And that was that. The conversation is over.
To learn that there are people, smart people, in this world that will decide that furthering their understanding of a subject is not worth it if it threatens what they believe. That knowledge is somehow evil, stemming from the Garden of Eden perhaps.
This is the true power of faith. The true evil of it. Convincing you that your own mind, and the minds of other rational people are the true enemy.
This was a wake up call for me. Through my studies, I assumed that everyone would accept my position if I presented it in the way that I had learned it. If we carved away all but true statements. If we followed those true statements to their logical conclusions. My reasoning is sound so this should be a simple matter of explanation.
Boy, was my bubble burst. I was depressed about CW, who had lost something very valuable. His mental vigor. But I was more depressed about something else.
I had failed.
I did something wrong. I didn’t explain something correctly, or maybe I derailed a part of the conversation.
But, in a few days after reading the conversation again and again I realized that I hadn’t failed. There is nothing you can do against certain mindsets. The mindset that “I can’t be wrong about this one thing” is something you can’t win. I couldn’t have failed because there was no way to succeed in the first place.
This is something CW will have to come to without my prodding. That faith isn’t a path to truth. Believing something really hard, so hard that it’s above any criticism is irrational, and often leads to false conclusions.
I set my sights on the horizon though. Maybe this wasn’t a loss, but a push. And even if it is a loss, it’s not a reflection on my poor arguing skills or faulty logic.
And even if it were my fault, even if I drove this man into stubbornness, skepticism is growing worldwide. I side with the Beatles: