My Secular Journey
In my Hub Pages profile, I mention that I am someone "in search of the truth." Some who I have interacted with and debated with on Hub Pages have criticized me for this: how can I be open to wherever the facts lead me, if I have already identified myself as a "secularist"? Don't I have a preconceived worldview already in place, before I have even looked at the facts?
It is important for me to make clear that I am secular because of where the facts have led me. My intellectual confidence in this area is relatively recent. I have never been religious in my life, unlike many others who were raised in a particular tradition and then rejected it, sometimes for emotional reasons. But neither was I particularly attached to secularism or secular philosophy for most of my life. Nevertheless, from a young age I had my suspicions about religion. Two fundamental realities undergirded my lack of interest in religion. These two facts, recognized by a child, still pose a problem for anyone claiming religious certainty.
The first thing that I realized was that there are many religions, each claiming to be absolute truth. They can't all be right. Long before I even understood in detail what the various religions of the world believe, I understood this reality. In a moment reminiscent of "Spartacus," the neutral observer is anything but swayed toward one direction or another. Instead, if anything he is made even more skeptical than he was to begin with by the overabundance of belief systems that, without any particularly unique or essentially different arguments or ideas, nevertheless each passionately make the exact same claim.
The second thing I realized was that people generally believe in whatever religion happens to be dominant in their place of birth. In Saudi Arabia, the vast majority of people grow up to be Muslims. In India, most people become Hindus. Someone born in the interior of the United States is most likely to become a Christian.
Had I been born in any of these places, chances are that I probably would have grown up to believe in whatever religion happens to have won the historical battle there. What is clear is that for almost all believers in the world, their belief is not essentially determined by a reasoned analysis, an earnest reflection or a weighing of the claims made by various religions in the context of a marketplace of ideas (although this process certainly plays a role for some).
Rather, their belief is primarily a function of where and when they were born. In other words, an accident. To the neutral observer (which I was when I was young) accidents of birth are hardly dependable foundations for truth claims. Since religion is mostly an accidental and random phenomenon, it is no more meaningful than language, hair color, fashion tastes or anything else that has been mostly predetermined for us by history and geography.
Neither of these two facts constitute proof that religions are false or useless. But they are more than enough to sow significant doubt as far as a neutral party is concerned. To someone who has no vested interest in the truth or falsity of any particular religion, the basic cultural and social realities of religion render it highly suspect vis-a-vis knowledge, understanding and morality.
More recently, I have pursued and continue to pursue a more rigorous understanding of exactly what the merits of religious belief are. What I have learned and continue to learn, and the critical arguments I have looked at on all sides, lead me to secularism. Secularism for this purpose is the belief that human action and understanding should be based on naturalistic evidence and reason alone.
Some of my key ideas on the topic of religion and secularism include:
- There simply is no legitimate evidence--scientific, logical or otherwise--for the existence of God, gods or a supernatural world, and all evidence that has ever been offered has been refuted for one reason or another
- Religion has two original, basic functions: (1) to explain the unexplainable, and (2) to provide moral guidance
- Religion is unequivocally not needed for the first purpose anymore (which was its most important purpose for almost all of history); instead, modern science, history, economics and other fields are more than sufficient to explain the world
- Religion is not needed for morality, either, as is indicated by the fact (among others) that tens of millions of people around the world are not religious, yet are not sociopaths, and lead productive, happy lives
- Religion nonetheless can have some serious negative effects, including violence and intolerance. But the worst effect of all, in the grand scheme of things, is the narrowing effect on the human mind and the human pursuit of knowledge.
- By acclimating people to blind faith, blind acceptance of "revealed" knowledge, tradition for the sake of tradition and unquestioning obedience to authority, religion at a fundamental level has always inhibited the productive, dynamic and fertile generation of knowledge through doubt and reasonable skepticism.
These points are either self-evident or eminently defensible. Thus far, my search for the truth has led me to secularism.
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