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Rational Inquiry -Volume 7 Number 2

On Belief

By Richard Miller

I recently received a telemarketing call promising a digital camera and two nightís stay at a hotel on Catalina Island. My name had been selected; all I had to do was call an 800-number for directions. Simple. But as is nearly always the case, the catch was to give several hours of my time listening to a sales pitch of some sort. And the prizes? Well, they were available only to the first few guests, not to everyone who attended the presentation.

Thereís always a catch. In early February I attended Revelation of Hope, a Bible prophecy seminar touting all the typical rhetoric and promises you can imagine: "Thereís hope in this lost world of ours;" "Thereís no need to despair; all the horrible things seen by the prophets and clairvoyants will come to pass, but your protection is in salvation from the Lord." The seminar was basically (as I see it) an attempt to give comforting feelings of hope and a sense of well being to the attendees in light of still fairly recent events. An attempt to have those who would listen to believe what they were saying was true, factual, reality.

Mark Finley, the main speaker, touted Edgar Casey and Nostradamus as credible prophets who foresaw the "end-time" events that the world is experiencing now. Then he asserted that only the Book of Revelation offers peace and hope in these "end-times," and that all one needs to do to be spared is believe in God. To a former believer of "end-times," the subject matter that night struck a momentary chord of doubt: "What if they are right?" The familiar sense of fear and confusion I learned as a Catholic instinctively returned. When I was young it had been so easy to believe. Why not now?

Because I remembered the catch. When I was ten, my mother told me offering up my suffering from a headache would bring me Godís graces. In my teens, literature convinced me that God would chastise the world with fire for not following the One True Faith. After every copped feel in college, I prayed a rosary for penance. I believed all this without serious question because I believed that to even question fundamental tenets was sinful. I lived in fear.

The catch, then, is something many of the attendees and presenters refuse to see. By clinging to their coveted worldviews they receive emotional comfort for their fears without any rational effort on their part. They gloss over glaring contradictions either because of fear or of leaving their comfort zone. But what sort of consequences are the believers experiencing as reward for their belief? At best they waste time seeking emotional comfort; at worst they kill others who do not share their views of reality.

Itís lamentable how many resources are spent supporting and justifying why oneís belief is correct. All of this effort reduces to simply believing a claim to be true. But believing doesnít make it true. As Carl Sagan points out in Demon-Haunted World, believing that an invisible dragon lives in my garage does not make that creature exist in my garage. Now, if your neighbor tells you that the invisible dragon in his garage is better than the invisible dragon in your garage, wouldnít you have every right to use force to defend your position? Certainly not, but thatís what we see people do every day in the news.

I finally realized that biblical stories and Catholic teachings were not too dissimilar to Easter Bunny tales. The Tower of Babel was how languages arose? A man was capable of walking on water that wasnít frozen? Or as I recall from "end-times" literature, UFOs were really Satanís vehicles to carry his dark agents around the globe. But fairy tales do not suffice in a world desperately in need of real facts, and rational, clear, balanced thinking to solve its problems. Fairy tales have no tangibility. They are merely musings or metaphors on how reality seems. They provide no concrete proof for how to perceive the world, or offer practical solutions to its problems. Only knowledge founded on measurable evidence can accomplish these things.

As I write this I hear on the radio of a young Palestinian girl in Jerusalem who blew herself up and killed a few people around her. She left a letter explaining her motivations; she believed that Allah needed her to commit this act against His enemies, the Jewish people of Israel. Another story reported that Muslims leaving a mosque threw stones at Jewish worshippers praying at the Wailing Wall, inciting a riot. These actions donít sound like rational ways to solve problems to me! They donít sound like a "do unto others" sort of approach to me! And gee, all those people simply believed in their God and knew they were right.

According to the participants of the prophecy seminar and all our friends in the Middle East, itís clear that believing is all that is necessary to know God. Itís like the door prizes; you think youíre going to get something cool, but it turns out to be much less than you thought. So those people at Revelation of Hope got promises of fabulous door prizes, but I wonder if they will ever figure out thereís much less to that reward than meets the eye.

Richard Miller has been a SDARI member since August 2001. This is his first contribution to Rational Inquiry.

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