I hope this will be as respectful a debate as possible. Here is the premise: many of us (most) seem to be ex JW's on this board. That means, whatever your motivation, for a time you bought into the theology of JW to one degree or another. Doubtless, we all had to have some faith in an unseen god, believing that he has revealed himself through the bible....
Since that time, (if you have left) you have re-examined what you believe, and why you do so. Many still believe in god upon leaving, others feel that they either can't or shouldn't. For my part, I consider myself an agnostic, and by that, I mean that I haven't yet ruled out god, but have seen no evidence put forth that would persuade me to believe in god. Does it matter what one believes or not? Do we have the right to believe whatever we choose to?
I would argue that we do not, esp if one believes and then ACTS based on beliefs that are indefensible and dangerous. That is what I want to talk about. I read Sam Harris book, "The End of Faith" several months ago, and am getting ready to purchase "Letter to a Christian Nation." I think that his arguements are very solid and respectful. After several months of thought, I do believe that his suggestion of a world that is no longer divided by religion truly is mans best hope in a time of terrorism and war. (btw, if you have read much of what Harris has to say, you will probably recognize much of what I write below as his arguements, but I think the arguements themsevles are so powerful that they merit some discussion for those leaving JW's)
His arguement, which I agree with, is that religous moderates are as much to blame for the fundamentalists and extremists that cause so much damage today. Moderates will acknowledge that they cannot defend everything they put faith in. Since most people consider themselves religous and Christian, they have no choice but to accept many propositions on the basis of faith. They were born and raised in a theological tradition that profoundly affects them on at least some level. But these believers are also moderates, so for example, they will not keep women down and deny them their civil rights, (rights that were denied to them until the 20th century because of religous traditions found in the bible...) or propose that disrespectful children be stoned to death, or that someone who commits fornication be stoned, as Dueteronomy commands. Why don't they obey the bible in these cases? Because it is offensive and non sensical. Could anyone who is a believer today make an arguement for stoning of children or that women should be viewed as the property of their husbands? Yet, you can't argue that it isn't in the bible. But moderates will disobey this passage out of a sense of enlightenment. What about other untestable claims that the bible and other holy books claim? What scrutiny and testing are they held to? That is a key question to me.
I think a good way to illustrate the power and danger of faith is what we see in the religion of Islam. For sure, there are moderates, esp in the West, who condemned tge 9/11 attatcks. But look at the terrorists and the jihadists themselves. Even Bin Laden. These aren't stupid, dumb, men. They are educated, often in the West, with billions of dollars. What caused them to hate the West, give up their fortunes, kill themselves and give up their fortunes and comfortable life? Their own holy book, the Koran. What caused 19 men on 9/11 to kill themselves and 3000 others? FAITH in a concept from an ancient book that gave them license to do what they do. FAITH that at the time of their death they would live again and have several dozen virgins take care of their every need in heaven..... Of course, Christianity has no freeness of speech here. They might be 3-500 years ahead of Islam, but it wasn't that long ago that because of their own peculiar faith and understanding in the bible, we had witch burnings, book burnings, and the supression of free and scientific thought (as Galileo famously experienced), all because of FAITH in an ancient book that described god exisiting in a certain way..... What about Christian terrorists today, who feel totally free to kill homosexuals or bomb the occasional abortion clinic. Why? What could motivate them to do such things? They are just as rephrehesible as Islamic Terrorists. And of course, you have to have your head in the ground to be unaware that the current Pres of the USA is so resolute because he has FAITH that the actions of the USA in the fight against terror is approved by Jesus.... WHAT? WHY?
I highlight FAITH because frankly, what other reason is there to belive that Muhammed flew away to heaven on the back of a horse, or that Jesus was born of a virgin, died for our sins, was resurrected, and will return to judge the earth? People believe in such things for a variety of reasons, but why? Isn't it a fact that we all assimilate the faith and culture of our land of birth? We have to be honest and say that if we were born in the middle east, we would likely be Muslim, and many of us would probably in all sincerity think Islam was THE way, and that Christians were pagan, desrving of death through Jihad. Those of middle eastern descent who are born here in the west and absorb western culture, values, and religous beliefs, so they too believe in the cause of the USA against terrorism...... Other then the accident of ones birth, how can one quantify claims to faith and truth? Look at the damage it causes.
I look forward to a lively debate on this. I think about it often. Please note that it is not my intention to attack believers, but rather, to ask believers to defend their beliefs. I hope that it will not be taken personally. I leave here with a quote from Harris that I hope will further stimulate this discussion. Thanks!
"It is time we conceded a basic fact of human discourse: Either people have good reasons for what they believe, or they do not. When they have good reasons, their beliefs contribute to our growing understanding of the world. We need not distinguish between "hard" and "soft" sciences here, or between science and other evidence-based disciplines, like history. There happen to be very good reasons to believe that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Consequently, the idea that the Egyptians actually did it lacks credibility. Every sane human being recognizes that to rely merely on "faith" to decide specific questions of historical fact would be both idiotic and grotesque-that is, until the conversation turns to the origin of books like the Bible and the Koran, to the resurrection of Jesus, to Muhammad's conversation with the angel Gabriel, or to any of the other hallowed travesties that still crowd the altar of human ignorance.Science, in the broadest sense, includes all reasonable claims to knowledge about ourselves and the world. If there were good reasons to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, or that Muhammad flew to Heaven on a winged horse, these beliefs would necessarily form part of our rational description of the universe. Faith is nothing more than the license that religious people give one another to believe such propositions when reasons fail. The difference between science and religion is the difference between a willingness to dispassionately consider new evidence and new arguments and a passionate unwillingness to do so. The distinction could not be more obvious, or more consequential, and yet it is everywhere elided, even in the ivory tower."