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Deceptive Conversion: Religious Promotion Versus Reason And Reality

So the Pope says it is wrong, evil even, to promote religion by means of violence, but is this true? If the Pope said it, then it must be right, right? Don’t we need religion to tell us the difference between good and evil? And isn’t the Pope the highest religious authority? Well… maybe we’d better decide on our own. Just to be safe.

It is interesting, however, that the Pope, in his controversial speech (The Regensburg Lecture), resorts to other authorities to get his point across, using quotes from a Byzantine Emperor condemning “violent conversion” or “spreading faith by the sword,” when His Holiness’ word should be sufficient. But that is somewhat derogatory, I guess, since it appears religious authorities are not what they used to be.

At first, the Pope’s condemnation of “violent conversion” seems almost self-evident. Most civilized people tend to think violence or the use of force is wrong in any situation — except for self-defense, of course. And if one examines the issue a little closer, violence in this particular situation is counter-productive. What’s the point in converting dead people? What’s the point in scaring or threatening people into saying or acting as if they believe in God? Put a gun to my head or take over my government and I’ll say or do whatever you want me to say or do.

But what if we look even closer? What if instead of going by the common wisdom that violence is wrong; what if instead of just taking a “moral authority’s” word for it; what if instead of consulting the Gospel; what if we actually attempted to use our own minds to determine the best way to promote religion? Then we would know whether or not promoting it by means of violence is a good approach or not.

First we need to get down to the fundamentals. There are many different religions and they all have their own methods, but we’re trying to find the best method of promoting religion as such, not any particular flavor. At root they’re all the same, which is why they’re classified as “religions,” and have one characteristic in common: faith in God(s). Essentially, then, religious promotion is convincing a nonbeliever that God exists. How can we do this?

The way I see it — and if God disagrees I urge Him to speak up at any time — we have two options: persuasion and coercion. Well… maybe not coercion.

In this case, coercion would mean physically forcing someone to believe in God and this is not possible. If I may quote myself as an authority on the subject: “Put a gun to my head or take over my government and I’ll say or do whatever you want me to say or do.” How can we force a mind? Outside of a science fiction novel, it just can’t be done.

Well, already we see that His Holiness appears to be right. It is wrong to promote religion through violence because it doesn’t work. Somehow I don’t think this is what his quotation from the Byzantine Emperor meant, but I give credit to those who deserve it. Incidentally, the Pope is also right that “violent conversion” is evil. No sense in killing and blowing up people for no reason, right? I’m still curious, though, as to what is the best way to promote religion.

Okay. The way I see it — and if God disagrees I urge him to speak up at any time — we have but one option: persuasion. Well… maybe not persuasion.

Persuasion is changing minds by means of reason, which in this case would mean proving the existence of God. And since there is no scientific, empirical, logical proof of God’s existence — and to be clear, I mean there is absolutely no evidence in reality at all — then persuasion is out of the question. Sure, with the standards of evidence of most people today it would not require much “proof” to persuade them to believe in anything, but all of these people already believe in God — if they believe in anything. There remains no proof in God.

Even the Pope admits and addresses this in his speech, which is really about equalizing faith and reason as valid means of gaining knowledge. He says, “only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific” and “by its very nature this method excludes the question of God.” He says there is no place for religion (and faith) in science (and reason), and since science is “simply inadequate” to “construct an ethic,” we must “overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable” and “once more disclose its vast horizons.” We must restore theology, which he defines as “inquiry into the rationality of faith,” to its “rightful” place “in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of the sciences. “Only thus,” he continues, “do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today.”

Presumably, then, assuming only consistency, His Holiness would say there is another form of persuasion: changing minds by means of faith. He says reason is excluded from “the question of God.”

The problem is, in reality, faith and reason are not equal. Simply put, reason requires proof whereas faith does not. And they certainly can’t coexist! As proof, just consider an argument over the existence of God between a faithful believer and a reasonable nonbeliever. It’s worse than the Tower of Babel. So as a means of persuasion, using faith amounts to saying: “Trust me. There’s a God. I can’t prove it but it’s true.” This method is not very persuasive, if you ask me — a reasonable nonbeliever.

Of course, it might work on the weak-minded, those who are not confident in the efficacy of their cognitive faculties, but what about the others? What happens when this approach doesn’t work? And history — the Enlightenment, the Renaissance, the modern technological world — has proven the efficacy of science and reason, and that, when given a choice, an overwhelming majority chooses reason over faith — regardless of whether they drink or go to church on Sunday or thank God at awards shows or curse God when their babies die. The competition between faith and reason — made possible by the separation of Church and State — is really no competition at all. One works and the other, to put it mildly, does not work.

This leaves religious promoters only two courses of action, both of which, in my view, are coercive and evil: Either they destroy reason or they destroy nonbelievers.

Destroying reason is the approach of so-called “moderate” religious leaders, such as the Pope, who have found allies in philosophers like Immanuel Kant (who was anti-reason) and Plato (who was anti-reality). The Pope doesn’t want to see “reason and faith come together in a new way.” He wants to manipulate and deceive people into believing in God and following His Will, by showing that reason is not enough, i.e., by showing that reason is not man’s only means of gaining knowledge, i.e., by showing that reason is not reason, thus destroying it. He’s not promoting faith; he’s attacking reason. He’s not mediating disputes between Western cultures and religious subcultures; he’s presuming to — if I may paraphrase His Holiness — “inculturate both anew in his own particular milieux.”

As an atheist fully dedicated to reason and reality and recognizing no authority higher than my own mind, I condemn this approach as “deceptive conversion.” Moreover, when it comes from an ecumenical authority like the Pope, it is pure fraud.

So-called religious “extremists” use the other approach. They don’t bother with pretending to promote their religion; they simply seek to enslave or kill nonbelievers.

And this means there are two key, very important facts that men, who are at war with reason and reality, like the Pope (and most American leaders), fail to recognize — or, at least, they fail to acknowledge it — when they condemn “violent conversion” and the “cowardly” methods of religious “extremists.”

  1. There is no real means of promoting religion, neither peacefully nor violently.
  2. Religious “extremists” know this and thus don’t bother attempting it.

For instance, Islamic Fundamentalists, the “extremists” of the moment, are not preaching their religion. They are practicing it.

So there we have it. Religious promotion is evil. Its only possible methods are to deceive, enslave or kill nonbelievers. But with this question answered, one remains: What are we going to do about it?

Posted in Articles
on Wednesday, October 4th, 2006
by Michael Island