It is a well-known fact that attempts to refute or grapple with religio-political believers often end with either of these supposedly dialogue-ending utterances:
“Well, that’s what I believe, so stop attacking my faith!” (usually when in the religious end of the spectrum)
“I understand what you’re saying, but I just can’t believe it. I can’t see how it makes sense.” (usually from the political end of the spectrum)
Usually this is a sign that we have broken through the rationalizations of the believer (i.e. “apologetics”, “arguments”, experiences) and are getting to the core of his belief (why he started believing).
Most non-believers accept that this is “the end of the line” and stop the dialogue. However, I think that is a mistake. By doing so, we sanction the collectivist belief that faith is a “different way of seeing reality” and just as valid as reason. We are telling believers that we validate them in their immorality. Tolerance and validation of evil (however benign) is the same as playing with fire. Eventually, when a believer acts on his irrationality, someone will get burned- them, you, someone else.
More importantly, by validating their faith, we are sending them the message that doubt and critical thinking, the catalysts of deconversion, are pointless. This, to my mind, is by far the greatest detriment. We are leaving the person really no better than he was at the beginning. All we have done is argue his rationalizations, which changes absolutely nothing because the believer does not actually hold to said rationalizations.
From a memetic perspective, believers must feel assured that faith is the terminus for their train of reasoning. This delusion protects their beliefs from mainstream criticism. In this view of epistemology, there are two kinds of facts: the rational, scientific, material facts (the mundane, unimportant stuff), and the irrational, dogmatic, non-natural facts (the really important stuff). How people are cured from cancer is mundane, unimportant stuff, but “Heavens” forbid that you don’t use the right name for “God” or don’t believe in the correct arbitrary “divine” rules.
No rational, scientific reasoning can give us any insight in the “really important stuff”, at least according to this false dichotomy, thus shielding it from meaningful criticism. While a believer from one Christian sect can argue against a believer of another Christian sect using the Bible, say, an atheist is not allowed to question the faith of a Christian. All sects and religions, just like all states, look out for their mutual legitimacy. The so-called “dialogue” that we are fed by the media is little more than an Old Boys Club for exploiters and their fans.
But this false dichotomy is obviously based on prior premises. If materialism is true, there is only one kind of fact- material, natural facts. If it is true that there are two kinds of facts, then naturalism is false in some way. This is a rather crucial premise, especially as regards to worldview!
Another simpler way to point this out is this: if the believer claims that we must reject individual values or reasoning in order to serve a “common good” (whatever it’s supposed to be), then what is this “common good” composed of? Since the answer is not “individual values”, then what is left? Non-material fantasy.
Indeed, at every turn they soundly reject any naturalistic origin for their beliefs. They certainly reject individual values as a social plague and a corrupter of virtue. They reject the laws of nature and society as mere mundane concerns, that can be manipulated with enough brute force when needed. If that is not where “the people” are, where the “God-force” is, then where are they? Do they grow from our brains? Are they aliens from another dimension? Their answer, of course, is that we should stop applying mere naturalistic concepts on things so noble. Besides, how can you not believe in them, right…?
How, therefore, can we address faith? First of all, we must make clear that faith, if it exists at all, is dependent on reason in the first place. To know what one has faith in, one must use his senses. To understand what one has faith in, one must use logic. And to grasp and express what one has faith in, one must use concepts. Therefore, reason is inherently present in a faith-based epistemology.
But then believers turn around and deny the senses, logic and concepts. They claim that the senses cannot perceive their non-material fantasies, that logic is an unduly limiting constraint, and that non-concepts (such as “God”) are just as valid as real concepts. But this refutation also refutes the believer’s method, by extension- so it is in fact self-refuting.
So there are only two alternatives to the believer, if we press the issue: either he rejects reason altogether, in which case he must reject meaning as well, or he accepts reason and try to conform his epistemology to it, which is fatal.
From a moral standpoint, faith is equally deficient. To justify one’s positions with “well, I just believe it” or “I can’t believe it could be wrong” is dishonest, i.e. a refusal to confront the facts of reality. It is intellectual cowardice. It may be true that for most people the difficulty of admitting one is wrong outweighs the perceived benefits, but that premise is in itself something that most people are being dishonest about. It is in fact not very difficult to admit that one is wrong: it is a lot harder to live with that fact afterwards, especially when one lives in an unhealthy society.