Why faith is scary in ANY form, extremist or not.

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ExorcistExorcist Homosexual DemonsWhich of these images is scarier?

I’ll give you a clue: the one on the right isn’t fictional.

Autumn Sandeen over at Pam’s House Blend has this story about a gay exorcism at Connecticut-based Manifested Glory Ministries.  (You can also view the local news story or watch the original YouTube video.)

That’s right, the poor boy on the floor is being exorcized.  A whole group of faithful parishioners are present, committed to removing the evil from his body: his homosexuality.

I couldn’t watch the full video.  I started to cry and decided it was not worth it to see this poor boy tortured any further.  I might as well have been watching a tape from Guantanamo, if not something worse.

C’mon you homosexual demon, we want a clean spirit, get out of the way!

Pretty awful, right?  It’s no more awful than “Love the sinner, hate the sin!” It’s exactly the same.  The message is clear: You cannot be good and be gay.  It (literally) demonizes homosexuality.  This sort of religious abuse (that led to the kid seizing and vomiting) is just the playing out of that message.  It is hate.  It is intolerance.  It is unacceptable.  If you are so blinded by faith that you consider being gay a sin, then you can never properly love someone who is gay.  (This pathetic account from a 1997 Today’s Christian Woman is a clear example of how this point plays out.)

Right now in the name of Jesus, I call the homosexuality, right now, in the name of Jesus!

“In the name of Jesus.”  I want to make a very important point with this post.  Yes, this is a bizarre extremist group that does not represent the practices of most Christians.  But, it does represent the danger of all religious belief.  Incidents like these only happen because people put more trust in faith than in knowledge.  They put more trust in scripture than in human understanding.

When I hear Christians get all uppity-defensive and say, “Well, I’m not that kind of Christian,” (Scapegoat Meme) they are missing the point.  The principle is the same.  By enabling faith, they are enabling extremists.  Since faith (by definition) relies on no evidence, then there is nothing to distinguish the validity of one belief from another.  (Any distinction they try to make actually reinforces my argument for secular values!)  If you expect me to respect even your simple belief in God, I hear you asking me to respect the beliefs of these abusive people at Manifested Glory Ministries.  They think they are doing good work too; I’m sure they believe it with all their heart.

We are all capable of determining right and wrong.  We can learn how to respect each other, we can learn how to support each other, we can learn how to appreciate each other.  Charity, good will, compassion: these are human qualities, and no creed can claim exclusive ownership.  It is when we let belief systems hijack our ability to make these determinations for ourselves that we invite disaster.

If you, reader of my blog, are a person of faith, I really want you to think about why.  Why are your beliefs so different than those portrayed in this story?  How do you make the distinction?  Why is your set of beliefs more respectable than theirs?

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There are 21 Comments to "Why faith is scary in ANY form, extremist or not."

  • Jacob Wilson says:

    I disagree that enabling faith enables extremists. That’s like saying allowing people to drive is Enabling drunk driving. Extremists make decisions on their own and need to be educated. However, faith does many good things too. Many of these things have helped the LGBT community. With all do respect, you’re point is not well supported. Even in the science field, we take chances…follow our ‘faith’ that there is potential to find cures with experiments and so on.

  • ZackFord says:

    How would you educate extremists to not be extreme, by saying “my faith is better than yours”? What would that education look like? I favor education to realize that we don’t need beliefs and faith to figure out how to lead our lives; if anything, it holds us back.

    Technically, what they did in the video is not even illegal; exorcism couldn’t be made illegal because that would be a violation of the first amendment. Luckily, the right to drive CAN be regulated, because the state recognizes that there is a safety concern and can enforce it without violating freedom of thought.

    The faith community has done a lot of great things, but nothing that requires faith to do. A lot of unique bad things have been done in the name of faith, but not a lot of unique good things.

    “Faith” in science is a misnomer. Science ethics prevent dispensing a cure without validating evidence that it works. If a whole lot of “cures” were just administered in the name of faith without PROVING that they worked, there could be a whole lot of people hurt out there. Come to think of it, there are.

    Don’t confuse hope with faith, charity with religion, or values with beliefs. That’s exactly the privilege I am trying to unpack.

  • Tom says:

    Read a book. “Catholicism and Reason.” Faith, reason, and intellect go hand in hand. Next time, as you’re being blinded by emotion, wipe the tears and realize what is really to blame. Faith is a vitalLy important part of every aspect of life, especially religion.

  • ZackFord says:

    I can’t imagine why an avid Catholic apologist, Catholic educator, and Catholic textbook writer would be inclined to write such an objective look at the interaction between Catholicism and reason. Oh wait… Yeah, none of the topics in that book are actually about reason. According to the book description on Amazon (http://is.gd/16KOn), it’s about

    the existence of God, the historical reliability of the Gospels, the humanity and divinity of Christ, proofs for the resurrection, the founding of the Catholic Church on Peter, and the signs or marks that point to the Church of Jesus Christ today. Also discussed are infallibility, ecumenism, the Blessed Trinity, original and actual sin, grace and the virtues, heaven, hell, and purgatory, and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

    None of that is about facts, scientific method, or actual reasoning skills. It’s just a book designed to reinforce what people already believe. That’s hardly critical thinking. Nice try, though.

  • Marc Malone says:

    I don’t necessarily believe that enabling faith enables extremism…There are extremes of every belief. They just exist by virtue of the continuum. My religious beliefs do stem from faith which can’t be proven however my beliefs that stem from an acceptance of all people do not condone actions that are considered medically and psychologically damaging (i.e. gay exorcisms, or any sort of “gay changing”). I would say that we need to educate the muted populations that suffer at the hands of extremist faith. The problem isn’t necessarily that there are extremists who will do those things (although, believe me, I hate it and I repudiate them for it) but that there are people who don’t know any better than to turn to them. We could stamp out that particular brand of religious extremism simply by cutting of the proverbial oxygen supply to the fire. That’s solving the problem in another way…because you aren’t going to convince everyone that all religion is inherently evil. Religion in society today isn’t perfect, but it isn’t evil. And religions may not necessarily do things that are “uniquely good” but they certainly do good things that wouldn’t have been done otherwise. Good is good, you can’t classify it based on where it came from. Religion is problematic, I agree. And I know that I sit in a place of privilege when I write that but so far everyone who has written here is from a place of privilege. Economic, racial, and perhaps most importantly, the privilege of being able to sit on our asses and think about these issues. At some point you have to realize that there are the privileged and the muted and you probably fall into both categories. Attacking a core belief system of over half the country isn’t going to get any good work done.

  • ZackFord says:

    I maintain that the only way to distinguish between “extreme” and “not extreme” is with secular moral reasoning. If that’s what we’re using anyway, then why are we entertaining different variations of the same baseless faith?

    There is a difference between attacking and challenging. The very problem is that belief systems go unchallenged. If they can’t withstand the challenge, then they shouldn’t be protected by society. If they can, then let them try. But just because people don’t like having their beliefs challenged doesn’t make me the bad guy. It’s not my fault if they can’t substantiate their worldview without evidenceless faith, but I think it’s time we start holding beliefs to some kind of intellectual accountability. That is my very point with posts like this one.

    If we have the privilege of time and education to sit around and think about these issues, then don’t we have a responsibility to make something of what we come up with? Simply saying “Well, some people won’t like hearing it,” doesn’t suit me. Let’s raise the level of discourse instead of succumbing to it.

  • Jacob Wilson says:

    Zack, I encourage you to raise the level of discourse. However, I believe you are going at it all wrong. The phrase you attract more flies with honey than vinegar comes to mind. When you go beyond sharing your views to slam the beliefs of virtually every person of faith, you are weakening your platform and credibility. I would say that you are an extremeist, in the sense that you are not willing to even TRY to listen to others, but rather you reject them wholeheartedly. I really believe that your posts go beyond trying to raise a point and start a dialogue, but rather, to get attention…positive or negative. Not sure why this is, but that is the perception I get, as well as others I have talked to about this particular post. As someone who has gone through hell at the hands of a few religious extremists, I also know there are some amazing people of faith, intelligent and kind, who are changing the way our culture perceives differences. I don’t believe you are valuing the differences that make our country what they are. I sense that you are projecting your views with NO intention of trying to learn where others are coming from. Even the comments above have been in good taste, yet you don’t even try to acknowledge the good in them.

  • ZackFord says:

    Again, I feel I’m being accused of “slamming” or “attacking” when my intent is an intellectual challenge. I am willing to listen to others, but I am not willing to respect beliefs. It is exactly my intent NOT to, a point I’m happy to expand upon.

    I am not approaching this as a diversity issue, but as an intellectual argument. I completely respect different cultures and people’s RIGHT to believe, but I am outright proclaiming that beliefs do not have intellectual merit and entertaining them is a dangerous proposition for society (regardless of how much good might come along with the bad). Perhaps your description of extremist is somewhat merited, as I do not seek positive change within religion; I promote having no religion. If you wish to argue against these claims, then let us have those conversations.

    I am challenging an entire paradigm. The Zeitgeist says that we should automatically respect people’s beliefs. I am defying that principle. If that offends you, I feel no guilt for it. I am not attacking people or cultures, I am challenging ideas and norms. My point goes beyond all social issues (such as gay rights and abortion) and gets to the very core of the notion of belief entirely. I understand that people’s beliefs are very personally important to them, but that does not seem reason enough to not pursue my intellectual purpose.

    The dialogue I wish to have is with those with differing opinions. If I am wrong, please disagree! Please offer why beliefs deserve respect, how they are substantiated, why they are a reasonable construct for social interaction. I feel I have responded appropriately to the points that have been brought up, but find that further argument is not made. If it is your feelings that are hurt by the depth of my challenge, then I encourage you to think about why and how those emotions affect your ability to interact with the intellectual point I am trying to make. While it may not serve our discourse to say so, I suspect that the very nature of your reaction and concern is, in fact, evidence of the very privilege or “undeserved respect” that beliefs have in our society. It is such privilege that would lend itself to accusations of “attacking,” “slamming,” “getting attention,” “not listening,” and not “trying to learn.” I have not humored any faith-based points of view because I have not yet been offered intellectual substantiation for why I should. The mere fact I would demand such substantiation might certainly be perceived as outlandish and disrespectful, but the important question is: WHY?

    I do not know what points I have ignored or insufficiently responded to, but please, point any out so that I may address them.

  • Marc Malone says:

    Beliefs deserve respect because people believe and people deserve respect. Any form of intellectual development that doesn’t respect the people who it affects is dangerous. Let’s go back to the scientific / medical field that you brought up earlier–if people search for medical results without respecting people then you get Hitler who had very few qualms about broadening the medical field at the expense of the people he was testing on. And I would appreciate it very much if you could not jump to “that is an unfair equation.” May I remind you of the defense of marriage advertisement that a gay couple redesigned to equate its actors as Ku Klux Klan and Nazi Party members. You seemed to be in full support of that.

    If you want to talk about good then there is good work that needs to be done. You didn’t address Jacob’s comment that, “[w]hen you go beyond sharing your views to slam the beliefs of virtually every person of faith, you are weakening your platform and credibility.” It is illogical to claim in one post that you want to do good work for muted groups–for the queer community, for the atheist community, etc.– complain about the work that isn’t being done, write “poetry” about disappointment, and then turn around and pursue a dangerous line of intellectual thought that severely weakens your credibility to do any sort of good work. Separating “social issues” from intellectual pursuits isn’t nearly as cut and dry as you seem to think.

    I would seriously consider pulling this blog from your resume. If I were hiring someone to act as an advocate for any community I would not hire someone who is so willing to discount entire groups of people on the way. That is the very antithesis of humanity.

  • ZackFord says:

    I will not jump to “that is an unfair equation,” I will simply say I disagree.

    A belief is an idea like any other idea. No matter how passionately or how widely it might be held, it is still an idea. Like any other idea, it should be open to scrutiny, open to debate. This is the debate I wish to have, and I welcome your response to it.

    I have made a bold challenge: that beliefs do not hold up to intellectual scrutiny. It flies in the face of many norms in society, I admit. That does not make it inappropriate or disrespectful.

    As I did mention in response to Jacob’s post, I strongly support practicing ethics in medicine and research. I think any group that promotes hate or intolerance is quite unfortunate, whether it is the Nazi Party, the KKK, or Prop 8 supporters. Surely you do not respect their beliefs? Or maybe you do? I would hope that you don’t respect such beliefs that discriminate and condemn, but the question becomes how do you distinguish between which beliefs you respect and which you don’t? Where do you draw the line?

    So far, I have not discounted any group. I have challenged ideas, admittedly, ideas that many people share. I actually find it further disconcerting if individuals are so attached to those ideas that they cannot critically think about them without feeling personally attacked. Do you think that is reason enough to not challenge them? Why?

  • Marc Malone says:

    What is funny is that in pursuing this intellectual argument you, yourself are “promot[ing] hate or intolerance.” It is also convenient that rather than responding to my assertion that intellectual arguments that do not care where they fall in terms of the people they affect are dangerous, you simply turned it around to accuse me of supporting the Nazi Party, the Ku Klux Klan, and Proposition 8.

    When you say that anyone believing in a god supports gay exorcisms, you made a direct accusation that my beliefs are harmful to the gay community. I can speak for myself when I say that assertion is false. On a meta level however you discounted an entire group of people–those people who hold strong (albeit unprovable–that is after all the definition of faith) beliefs in a higher power or order and yet still are strong supporters of the gay community.

    I do not disagree that unpacking the Christian privilege is an important task, I merely question–as I have when you have made other large blanket statements about entire groups of people–your rhetoric in doing so. Why is it necessary to rhetorically throw all believers under the bus to pursue this argument? Can you not muster respect for those people whose beliefs are different than your own?

  • ZackFord says:

    My goal is not to unpack Christian privilege, but the privilege of belief itself. I respect people, and have not meant to suggest otherwise. The greater problem in our society is not that some beliefs are destructive, it is that we entertain beliefs at all. I do not have different beliefs; I do not have beliefs (referring to holding “truths without proof”).

    I do not expect that you support any of those groups Marc. My point is the question of why and how you don’t. Somehow, you make a distinction between what beliefs you respect and which you don’t. My argument is that no belief has any more intellectual merit than any other belief; by their nature beliefs do not have foundations of evidence.

    I did not say that anyone who believes in God believes in gay exorcisms. But I would say anyone who demands respect for a belief also demands respect for a belief in gay exorcisms. Yes, there are believers who support the gay community, but I contend that they are in many ways chasing their tails. For how do you argue that one belief is better than another? If none of them have any evidence, how do we distinguish which is acceptable and which is not?

    I imagine a society where beliefs are not respected as truth. What would that look like? I doubt I’ll ever see it, but it’s the goal I have in mind. Free thought would still be allowed, but people would not automatically respect people’s beliefs. Surely, it would be much more difficult for such groups to have such followings, because the expectation would be that they have to offer good reason (beyond mere belief) for their practices.

    I do not believe working towards that goal requires “throwing all believers under the bus” as I have been accused. I believe it requires through all beliefs under the bus that can not be intellectually substantiated. I want people to actually THINK about what they believe and hold ALL ideas to a higher intellectual standard.

  • Jacob Wilson says:

    So, I’m not sure, but I think my last post went into cyberspace’s version of the Bermuda Triangle

  • Jacob Wilson says:

    So, to assert that Marc and I are not able to think critically about issues of faith is absurd. It is not that I feel personally attacked, it’s the fact that I don’t think you are showing an intellectual basis. An intellectual basis would show that LGBT people of faith have to think critically in order to reconcile their faith and sexuality quite often. An intellectual basis doesn’t make views black and white with no room for grey, as you are doing. An intellectual basis requires putting yourself in other’s shoes to gain a sense of empathy. You act as if you are trying to be a hero for a muted group, but no successful reformer goes about his/her business by insulting people and refusing to ‘respect their beliefs.’ You don’t have to share, understand, or agree with my beliefs or anyone else’s; however, they are still my beliefs. In order to get respect Zack, you must show respect. It’s as simple as that. You are hurting your platform, as I stated earlier, by your extremist rhetoric. I think this is also an intriguing glance into your time here in Iowa. I’ve never heard you say one positive thing about Iowa/ISU. It’s always that people don’t ‘get you.’ Did you ever consider it might be because you don’t try to get them? Relationships go two ways, and if you aren’t showing respect to others, you are not going to get it in return. Zack, you act as if no one else has ‘correct’ beliefs unless they happen to align perfectly with yours. This is dangerous. The faith community is vastly where heterosexism lies; however, just like the civil rights movement and abolition movement, it takes members of the privileged group to speak out on behalf of those disenfranchised and help affect change. Many allies, people of faith, are speaking out on injustices to the queer population as well as stereotyping of other religions. Your posts are alienating them. Who would want to join a movement where they are told their beliefs are ridiculous and NOT respected? No. I was hopeful that you would try to partake in a positive dialogue, but it seems that you are not going to be satisfied until everyone accepts your point of view. I respect your lack of a belief system and support it whole heartedly, however, I am saddened that you are using intolerance and bigotry to advance the causes of muted populations. That is ignorance at its peak. This arrogance and ignorance is why I will no longer continue replying to your blog post. It’s pointless with a person of your ‘intellectual basis.’ My last words are these: You, sir, are NO Jed Bartlet.

  • ZackFord says:

    You have done well to attack my character, which is certainly your right. I fear you do not entirely understand my point of view, which is no fault of yours. I wish to continue trying to frame it in such a way that you can, though if you no longer wish to pursue this discourse, that is your choice.

    Let’s say someone believes in gay exorcism. That person’s belief is an idea ze hold as truth. Hir belief in the power to exorcise the demon of homosexuality out of someone means that to hir, there is gay exorcism. It’s true; it’s real. I do not hold such a belief, so to me, the idea of gay exorcism is just a question to be tested like any other. Either there is a gay demon that can be removed or there is not a gay demon that can be removed. This is a yes or no question which can me measured. I have insufficient evidence to disprove gay exorcism entirely, but that is irrelevant, since the burden of proof is not upon me. I do have sufficient evidence to doubt gay exorcism, including evidence about the nature and prevalence of same-sex orientations and an inability to measure for the presence of a demon, nor experimental data that such exorcisms are proven to accomplish their goals. Thus, when ze claims there is gay exorcism, I have sufficient evidence to refute it. If ze makes a good argument and offers evidence I have not seen or considered, then I am quite likely to reconsider my argument. If ze does not have any evidence to support hir belief, then I do not see reason why I should respect it.

    Now, I’ll offer the same perspective for believing in God.

    Let’s say someone believes in God. That person’s belief is an idea ze hold as truth. Hir belief in God means that to hir, there is a God. It’s true; it’s real. I do not hold such a belief, so to me, the idea of God is just a question to be tested like any other. Either there is a God or there is not a God. This is a yes or no question which can me measured. I have insufficient evidence to disprove God entirely, but that is irrelevant, since the burden of proof is not upon me. I do have sufficient evidence to doubt God, including evidence against proofs of his existence and the claims made in his name and the very fallacies and inconsistencies used to describe him. Thus, when ze claims there is a God, I have sufficient evidence to refute it. If ze makes a good argument and offers evidence I have not seen or considered, then I am quite likely to reconsider my argument. If ze does not have any evidence to support hir belief, then I do not see reason why I should respect it.

    So ultimately, my point is simple:
    1) We have no reason support truths that we cannot support with evidence (i.e. supernatural beliefs).
    2) Thus, we should not rely on beliefs to determine how to treat each other in society.

    If you disagree with these two statements, then please, feel free to offer your reasons and let that be what the debate is about. I fail to see, though, how my point amounts to “attacks,” “intolerance,” or “bigotry,” as I have been accused. The attacks on my character have perhaps sufficiently demonized me, but they do not seem to have addressed my point.

  • Marc Malone says:

    As I said before it is not your argument or your beliefs that I find offensive, it is your rhetoric.

  • Marc Malone says:

    Sorry, I should have said “lack of beliefs.” My mistake.

  • Michael says:

    God is a myth and Jesus is a fable. http://www.thegodmovie.com/. Anyone who puts their trust in “faith” is a fool and a liar. Scientist do not use Faith to prove anything, they use the scientific method. If you don’t know what that is, go back to high school.

  • Marc Malone says:

    In your opinion Michael.

  • Neil says:

    People deserve respect. People have the right to believe whatever they want. That does not necessitate that anyone should actually respect their beliefs.

    “Beliefs deserve respect because people believe and people deserve respect”

    People deserve respect -> People have beliefs -> Beliefs deserve respect is a non sequitur. The belief that the Mongol’s military success stemmed from Genghis Khan’s excellent use of cruise missiles is not a belief to be respected, regardless of the necessity of respecting a person’s rights. It is hardly intolerant to criticize the belief that Genghis Khan had access to cruise missiles whereas it certainly would be intolerant to restrict the rights of the believer like passing a law that states: Genghis Khan Cruise Missile proponents may not hold office. Unfortunately there seems to be a widespread stance that criticism of religious beliefs is offensive and therefore disrespectful. If the believer is under that opinion, then there is no way in which to actually question the extent to which their belief has any basis in reality without being considered intolerant or disrespectful. However, criticism is NOT intolerance. To put religious beliefs on a high ground unassailable by any reasonable criticism is in itself a belief that has no basis in the reality of the world or any justification in realm of honest intellectual discourse as it does nothing but stifle reasonable criticism under the claim that such reasonable criticism is intolerance.

    It seems that those arguing against Zack have come into this discussion upholding a double standard in which it is tolerant to criticize his beliefs as intolerant and bigoted whereas any criticism aimed at religious belief is intolerant. So then we are to conclude using there arguments that it is tolerant to criticize regular beliefs, but once the word religion is involved it becomes intolerant. This is inconsistent. We must conclude that this can’t possibly be the case. Is it tolerant to not tolerate intolerant beliefs? If intolerance is truly a valid criticism against a belief, then isn’t intolerance a valid criticism against the criticism of intolerance itself? Is it just me or is this line of thinking fundamentally idiotic? We must do away with this double standard and address ideas and criticisms of those ideas on their merits rather than political correctness because political correctness paradoxically protects politically incorrect ideas as untouchable.

    “…but no successful reformer goes about his/her business by insulting people and refusing to ‘respect their beliefs.’”

    That’s categorically false. Every civil rights movement was, without a doubt, the application of disrespecting peoples’ beliefs. Blacks sitting in the front of the bus and refusing to move is the absolute refusal to respect the opposition’s beliefs.

    Nor are the accusations of arrogance or ignorance particularly well founded. As far as I can tell, there have been no reasonable arguments as to why religious beliefs or beliefs in generally are to be respected on the very basis that they are beliefs rather than on the basis of their merit. Standing by your point after weak arguments against is not arrogance. It would seem rather that the arrogance would be in the expectation that Zack abandon this argument without a valid argument to the contrary. To then accuse him of ignorance because he ignores that, “LGBT people of faith have to think critically in order to reconcile their faith and sexuality quite often” and, “make[s] views black and white with no room for grey” or, “putting yourself in other’s shoes to gain a sense of empathy” is largely beside the point. Understanding of why people want their beliefs respected regardless of merit does nothing to explain why those beliefs should be respected in the first place, and serves as nothing more than an appeal to emotion.

  • Scamper says:

    Zackford, keep up the good work. I am glad to see you question the whole arena of beliefs!

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