Lou and I have had an ongoing discussion for the past eight or nine months about the topic of religious belief. He posed the question: “what is the harm if someone has a religious belief that makes him feel good and isn’t hurting anybody?” His position is that such a scenario is a net positive because it harms no one and is beneficial to the believer.
There was a time in the not too distant past that I held the same opinion and would have agreed with him. But that is no longer the case.
Of course, the easy knee jerk response is that the beliefs have no evidentiary support and are therefore unlikely to be true; and that means that those beliefs are intellectually dishonest. But that’s a pretty pathetic argument for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the arrogance of assuming that one’s intellectual approach is unassailable and always correct.
But the most important reason is this: nobody lives in a vacuum.We all interact with the world and the people around us. And as such, we impact in some way, to a greater or lesser extent, all of our surroundings. So the basic assumption that the believer harms no one or will harm no one is not necessarily a valid assumption.
If our hypothetical believer has children (a likely scenario since active procreation is a major tenet of most religions), he/she will raise them to have the same delusions that he/she does, and to bow to authoritarian dogma – rather than develop independent critical thinking skills and accept an evidence-based reality. When he/she votes, they will be much more likely to vote for candidates who profess to harbor the same delusions that they do. Consider the popularity of Ted Cruz among the fundagelicals in Iowa, even though he has shown himself to be totally inept at actually governing and is despised by nearly everyone who has ever worked with or for him.
Then, of course, there is the matter of the delusions themselves. The very fact that our delusional believer has chosen to believe nonsense over evidence, to believe fairy tales over an evidence-based reality, means that he/she prefers to believe what he/she wants to believe rather than what the evidence shows to be the likely truth. And this propensity ultimately translates into support for false beliefs about all sorts of things that DO affect the entire world, things like anthropomorphic climate change, like human rights for those with alternate sexualities, like human rights for those who are “not like us”. Or even basic things like birth control, which has been proven to be beneficial to societies.
So yes, in the hypothetical scenario that Lou has posed, the humanist position would be to accept that the believer’s delusions are not harmful to me or anyone else. But the reality is that such a hypothetical scenario does not, even can not, exist.