Confronting Irrationality

As a thinking person, it sometimes seems as if I am adrift in a sea of irrationality.  People believe so many crazy things for so many crazy reasons that it is impossible to keep track of all of them.  Though many irrational beliefs are seemingly harmless, many irrational beliefs have caused enormous damage in the world:

  • The irrational belief that black people are not human beings led to slavery, the American Civil War and Jim Crow.
  • The irrational belief in Aryan Supremacy led to World War II and the Holocaust.
  • The irrational belief in the divinity of the Japanese Emperor drove the armies of Imperial Japan to fight to the last man and pilots to suicide themselves into American warships during World War II.
  • The irrational belief that animal parts can be used to increase sexual performance has led to the near extinction of many species of wildlife.
  • The irrational belief that sex with a virgin can cure AIDS has led to children being raped in Africa.
  • The irrational belief that they are “due for some luck” has led gamblers to lose everything.
  • The irrational belief that God needs help dealing with sinful human beings has led people to commit acts of terrorism.
  • The irrational belief that they can stop at an time and are not doing anyone any harm has prevented alcoholics from seeking the help they need.
  • The irrational belief that human beings are not responsible for their behavior has led liberal criminologists to release dangerous criminals into society.
  • The irrational belief that the government can solve every social problem has led to enormous amounts of government debt and this must eventually have terrible consequences.

Looking at the incredibly high cost of irrationality in the world, some people have had enough.  “Stop the Madness!”, they proclaim, “Let us dispense with every irrational belief and just believe facts that are supported by scientific evidence!”  When they hear this, all those with irrational beliefs agree saying, “Yes!  That’s right!  Let us get rid of all those other people’s irrational beliefs!”  Life must be very frustrating for a believer in scientific rationalism.

While I am no longer an atheist, I am still extremely sympathetic with those who embrace scientific rationalism.  It is to reach people who want to live their lives in accordance with reason and evidence that I write this blog.  I am attempting to present the case for a “rational faith” that is based on sound reasoning and solid evidence in the hopes that I can reach people for Christ who would otherwise be inaccessible to the message.  Such a faith must emphatically reject wishful thinking and poor “you cannot disprove this so it must be true” reasoning and rely only on solid reasoning and empirically verified facts.  To tolerate irrationality of any kind compromises my message and betrays my fundamental purpose.

Recently, a Catholic correspondent caused me to do a great deal of soul-searching on this issue when he asked why I believed that praying to the saints was wrong.  The conflict was between the merciless, pitiless, remorseless and relentless requirements of reason and my non-confrontational personality which makes me want to tolerate irrational thinking in others rather than stand up for what I believe.  I finally decided that I would write a series of essays extremely critical of this error.  Some might say that this is intolerant, but I have decided that tolerance is only a virtue when it is expressed towards people and that it is not a virtue when it is expressed towards destructive ideas.  This is the first essay in the series and it outlines my overall objectives and purpose.

My primary objective is to answer the specific question in as thorough a way as I can.  I want to demonstrate that prayer to the saints is wrong and that it is based on irrational beliefs that are contrary to God’s purpose and destructive to the mission of the church of Jesus Christ.  A secondary objective is to take this opportunity to explore the true purpose and plan of God.  Sometimes the most effective way to communicate a truth is to rigorously expose a falsehood.  If a man under suspicion of tax fraud is thoroughly audited by the Internal Revenue Service, for example, then the truth about his dealings with money one way or the other will be more reliably established than they could without such a trial.  As I have alluded to above, a third objective is to reaffirm my commitment to rationality by examining some of the irrationality of the church of Jesus Christ.  A fourth objective is to examine the nature of irrational beliefs in order to help those who are interested identify and avoid them.

Over the last week I have started writing a number of different essays on this topic.  The subjects that I already know I am going to discuss are listed below.  Other topics may be added as I continue to explore these issues.

The Conflict Between Reason and Faith – In this essay, I am going to discuss the inherent conflict between rationality and faith.  I am going to describe how “blind faith” is fatal to rationality.  I am also going to discuss how a limited amount of faith is essential to a rational view of the world.  The essay will conclude with a discussion on what constitutes a rational belief vs an irrational belief.  These ideas will be used in the other essays of the series to demonstrate that the beliefs that underlie the Catholic practice of praying to the saints are irrational.

The Purpose of this World – In this essay, I am going to argue that a rational understanding of God’s essential purpose for the suffering and pain of this world is extremely hostile to the idea that created beings are worthy of the kind of respect demonstrated by those who pray to the saints.

A Matter of Priorities – In this essay, I am going to assume that prayer to the saints is an acceptable practice and examine the issue of where it should fall on the list of religious priorities for a practicing Christian.

Meaningless Warnings – In this essay, I am going to discuss God’s warnings and commandments prohibiting idolatry and ask some basic questions.  What is idolatry and why does God prohibit it?  I will then explore the issue of when “showing respect” for human beings crosses the line into idolatry and demonstrate that if the practices of the Catholic church do not cross that line, then there is no such thing as idolatry and God warned us against exactly nothing.

Arguments of Definition – In this essay, I am going to look at the definitions of the words “prayer” and “worship”.  I am then going to compare prayer to the saints with how we treat our own parents and use that comparison to determine whether or not prayer to the saints is appropriate or rational.

Magic Wand Theology – In this essay, I am going to discuss what I call “Magic Wand Theology” and why it is irrational.  I am then going to discuss why the Catholic practice of praying to the saints requires a belief in this theology and is, for that reason, irrational.

The series of essays I have outlined above is enormously ambitious and will take me a while to complete.  Some other essay ideas may occur while I am working on these and some of these may be consolidated into different essays than the ones I currently envision.  When I am done, I will have answered the question, “Why do you think it is wrong to pray to the saints?” as fully as I can and to the best of my ability.

About Robert V

Former atheist currently living in Toronto.
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