I don't mean an inkling that it's false, or that you believe it to be so because you believe yours is true. I mean, say, proof that it's false. Proof that, say, the founder lied and made up stuff, that none of it is true. Or other things like that, things that you can show to someone.

Do you then tell someone who follows that religion? Would it be right to destroy their beliefs because of facts? Or should you just let them go on believing it? Is it better to let them keep their belief system, so that their life isn't shattered, even if it means they'll likely spread the belief to others, such as their children?

Is a happiness based on lies better than truth?

My suspicion between the large schism between the two sides that seems apparent here is that there's a more fundamental issue that is influencing peoples' choices.

I believe it all comes down to whether someone places faith, or truth, as the most important for these situations.

People who feel faith is most important seem like they would not be likely to encourage telling someone if their religion is false. That the act of having faith, even in something untrue, is somehow worthwhile on it's own.

The ones who think truth is more important seem to be completely on the side of divulging the information, so that someone may make a more informed choice.

There are, of course, a few responses rooted in practicality, and a few others questioning the basic question asked in this node. Obviously, a mental exercise isn't going to yield anything valuable if someone doesn't accept the basic assumptions.

If you were to destroy the fundamental basis of knowledge of these said people, what would you offer as a replacement? People find comfort and security in their religion; for the followers of the tenets, the religion offers them a place to soothe their souls and ease their fears. For the followers, it offers them a way to understand and make sense of the unknown.

Rightfully, we should correct mistakes, and expose hoaxes in absolute terms, such as when we discover fraudulent practices behind people claiming to have discovered cold fusion. But in this case, we are dealing with people's deepest feelings and emotions; indeed, for some it could be their sole basis for living.

How can we rightfully take that away without offering something in return?

Just my opinion:

I think it's somewhat analogous to discussing sexuality and reproduction with a child.1 It's best not to overload the person with information or arguments. If he/she asks a simple question or make a simple statement, the appropriate response is fairly brief and limited. The difficulty is in not trying to tell him/her more than he/she is ready to hear.

However, I doubt that there's any such thing as talking to someone about their religious convictions or affiliation in such a way as to control their response.

Perhaps the best operating principle is easy does it.

  1. That is, if a young child asks you where babies come from, it's inadvisable to launch into a long disquisition about the wide range of sexual practices from bondage and discipline to Monica Lewinsky's career strategy. Maybe you say that babies grow inside the mother and come out when they're big enough. You would probably do well to hold off on the egg and the sperm, until the next time he/she asks you a leading question.2

  2. I've got some nerve, dispensing advice about sex education for young children. I can't believe where this comparison took me!


For a fee that will beggar the imagination (and yourself), Theological Associates of Cambridge will undertake the task of debunking a religion for any of its followers that you specify. As always, for an additional astronomical fee, this service can be performed for you by live nude theologians.

One of the basic human rights, though not expressly mentioned in any Constitution, is the right to be wrong. So, who am I to tell someone else that he is wrong. Heck, I know that I am wrong. And guess what - it does not bother me.

I am not an absolute being, nor am I a Buddha, someone who has it all figured out. I don't have all the answers.

That said, if they started a religious dispute, I might tell them what I think. Or if they asked me, I would tell them. But I would never start such a dispute, nor would I try to incite it.

Even if they start, I don't always contradict them. Sometimes just keeping quiet is the best reaction (neither agreeing nor disagreeing).

Once I was in the local bookstore when a man came and started talking religion in ways that I absolutely disagreed with. But he was so obviously convinced about what he was saying that I just stayed quiet.

After he left, the bookseller said she knew I did not agree with a single word of what the man said and was surprised I did not tell him (I always tell her - but she always starts and she is a friend and I know her, know deep within she is curious about what I believe, and she can take it just fine).

I told her I was not willing to take the man's beliefs away unless I was ready to stay with him and to fill the void I would create in him.

She then called me a very kind man.

- Colonel Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson) in A Few Good Men.

Yeah ok so I'm too daft to quote some Nietzsche-esque philosophy which would so eloquently express my feelings about this scenario. So sue me :p

This issue is a hybrid form of the maxim ignorance is bliss. Without hesitation I pound my gravel and say yes. I believe we should serve the truth. It is cruel, and it is harsh, but it's the fucking truth. This alone is of the most basic, most intrinsic, and the most fundamental importance.

Coming back to the idea that ignorance is bliss. This is quite simply true. We are happier off being unaware that as we speak people around the world are dieing from famine and war. Is this an evil thing? No. In this case ignorance is not sinful. However when you purposefully make (or keep) people ignorant of something just to keep them happy, that may not be evil or sinful per se, but there is something wrong in it.

Sure it will make them unhappy, it will possibly destroy their most holy and sacred beliefs, but the truth shall set you free - but first it shall make you miserable. Or maybe not. Nevertheless, in this case the truth overrides this false happiness of the followers of the religion. It's wrong to keep people ignorant. Even if the truth is hurtful. If you do where do you draw the line? Can we then suppress the truth because it makes us unhappy? Shall we deny the holocaust because it disturbs us?

Telling people the truth is of the most fundamental importance. We cannot just suppress the truth based on how people will react. We do not have the right to determine a people's happiness. That means that we do not necessarily have the right to make them unhappy. But we do not have the right to keep them ignorantly blissful either. What should we do? Give them the truth.

What is it that we offer in return after taking their happienss away? The truth.

This argument was made with the basis that (1) there was a religion, and somehow you managed to prove that it was false, and (2) this hypothetical "truth" is straightforward factual and not based on personal opinion belief.

I don't have the mental capacity to argue otherwise :p

"No great advance has ever been made in science, politics, or religion, without controversy."
   -Lyman Beecher

One limiting factor in knowing a religion is false is the tendency of religions to form around clusters of doctrinal points, rather than a single point of doctrine. Unless you are some sort of past-master theologian, I doubt you can systematically undermine each and every point of the target's entire religious belief system. Other limiting factors: the antiquity of some (if not all) the events described by doctrine, and the selective nature of revelation and calling.

With this in mind, I think the responsibility to spread the truth (some say "the Word" or "the Good News") is as important as the the right to be wrong. Maybe folks don't like the facts, but a God worth the worship values truth over falsehood. It's OK if you don't feel a calling to evangelize; but if your target's misinformed beliefs distance him from God, you do no service to God, self, or other by keeping silent.

Being wrong does not make people happier, just more maladjusted. It is not happy-making to live a lie. If you believe you should do unto others as you would have done to you... well, wouldn't you prefer to be properly informed?

I think it not inappropriate to use this space to plug two of my favorite books on the topic: Truth in Religion and How To Think About God.

Hang on, now!

I'm reading this as a hypothetical question. How could you ever know a religion was false? By its very definition, religion works outside the realm of the provable. It relies on faith, not evidence. You can have doubt, of course; doubt is the opposite of faith. But I don't think you can ever know a religion to be provably false.

Yes, you do tell them. I mean.. why wouldn't you? If you really wanted to do these people a favor you'd tell them, but they probably won't listen to you... ro they may kill you; you'll just have to take your chances.

Seriously though, people are used to following false religions. How do we know christianity isn't just a bunch of bullshit some guy thought up while drinking in a tavern one night? We don't.. yet it has a huge amount of followers. There are hundreds of religions in this world, but I guess it's said that only one religion is the right one. That would make all the other's 'just made up', right? UH OH!

The fact is that millions, if not billions of people are following false religions. Do we bash what all these people hold dear? Yep! I mean, why not? They won't listen anyway.

It is a moot point. Most religions are based on faith. Proof, evidence, and fact have little impact upon the faithful. Try providing your proof to someone of faith (the more zealous the believer the better). You'll probably find this exercise quite frustrating. Again, it's the nature of faith; belief without proof, fact, or evidence. Logic and reason are useless against faith.

So, tell them if you will. But don't be surprised when the followers choose their faith over your proof. For the record, I'm agnostic.

Some religions will be centered on points which are undecidable. They cannot be undermined by logic because logic cannot prove or disprove their constituent beliefs.

Others may center on points which are decidable. These religions are either the strongest ones, if every point is provable, or the weakest ones, if some of their central points are provably false. Feel free to disprove points of a person's religion. As various people have said above, fill in the void you leave. I would not, though, disprove each point at once. Let them shift slowly.

Should you tell someone that their religion is wrong? Only if you have too much spare time.

It is very hard for me to believe that anyone is going to suffer psychological trauma from being told that one of the pillars of their faith is demonstratably false. If a person is so tightly connected to their faith that any threat to it will damage their psyche, they'll simply come up with some way to discredit you. If they can manage to shift their beliefs somewhat, then they'll find a way to incorporate your relevation into their existing belief structure. The extent of the shift they make will be a product of the degree to which your revelation undermines the basis of their belief system and their own flexibility.

I am amazed that so many people in this node really believe that they can seriously challenge the fundamental beliefs of other people. People who are really invested in something will stick to it, no matter what--and certainly won't be influenced by you. People who are less invested in a particular element of their faith won't have their minds blown.

Think about what would happen if archaelogists were able to demonstrate that they'd found the body of Jesus. Fundamentalists would just say that the whole thing is a fake. Liberal Christians would explain that the Christian message was relevant even though it had no factual basis (Rudolf Bultmann put forth a Christian theology that interpreted the resurrection as a metaphor nearly 100 years ago). A lot of people would just give up on religion; a few (myself included) would go to the nearest Conservative synagogue to offer an apology and get circumcized. Nobody is going to collapse in a heap of ruined belief.

There are a number of growing religions that have obvious factual errors (for example, a single course on textual analysis of Scripture will teach you enough to be able to identify the Book of Mormon as a product of the 19th century). I can explain this to Mormons until I'm blue in the face and it isn't going to sway anyone who wasn't already on their way out.

Is this news to anyone? I thought it would all be obvious.

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