Many people present and justify their religious views by appealing to their backgrounds, the way they were raised, or by their religious affiliation. "Well, I'm a Catholic, and we believe." or "I was raised Lutheran, and we believe....." or "My family has been Buddhist for centuries, and the views we hold are . . . . . "
There's a mistake lurking here. Imagine if someone said, "Well, I was raised as a serial killer, and we believe that more pain is better." "I come from a long line of pedophiles, and we have always done . . . . " and so on. My point is that merely pointing out that one was raised in some fashion doesn't give you any justification whatsoever for its being a reasonable, just, sensible, or moral thing to do. Whether or not the belief is reasonable is an entirely separate question from how you were raised. The comment stems from a fundamental confusion between the causes of belief and the justifications of belief. Analyzing your own belief as an effect of some external causes makes you a helpless machine--you can no more help what you are, in this sense, than a dog can change its breed.
The dangerous side, of course, is that many people feel that appealing to their family or cultural background like this is all the justification they could ever need for believing whatever they believe. It's as if the fact that you were raised that way effectively eliminates any further discussion of whether one should actually believe it. Even if you were caused to believe by your environment, finding that belief in yourself as a result doesn't entitle you to say or think that the claim is true. Only epistemic justification will do that for you.
I think part of this trend arises from our reluctance to criticize religious beliefs and practices and from our concerns to be respectful and honor the rights of individuals. That's fair. But in fact, we'll all benefit more and a person will be respected more if you take the belief seriously and try to understand why it is true (or false) or reasonable (or unreasonable), and not be satisfied merely with "I was just raised that way. . . ." We shouldn't let that go in ourselves or in others. These matters are too important.
Monday, March 23, 2009