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Burdens

By Carl S ~

A quick question I sincerely asked brought a faster response.

Question: "When a person is accused of a crime, isn't the burden of proof upon the prosecutor?"

Answer: "Of course, the prosecutor has that burden. The person is presumed innocent, without proof otherwise."

This reply came so fast that she thought it was obvious to anyone, a no-brainer, so why did I ask? But I was making a test by asking that question of a religious believer. Silently, after doing so, I wondered what it was all about.

When people of every religion attest to their unquestioned beliefs, they automatically assume that they needn't have proof for them. There is no burden of proof required for beliefs that people hold to be sacred, untouchable, and deserving of reverent respect. But there should be. If these beliefs are held so, are so very important for "salvation," then all the more must they be examined and questioned, demanded to provide evidence for their claims. As Carl Sagan said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof." And yes, we ought to subject every religions claim to the burden of proof.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan:
"Every man is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts."
Are not religious dogmas mere opinions and hearsay, and this is why they are unresolvable, convoluted, and without evidence? Should any religion be permitted to force its opinions on any person, let alone society? Since when does hearsay and opinion determine truth?

There are other burdens. Guilt is one of them; regret, another. There is the burden assumed when dwelling on "what might have been." Onerous responsibilities and loss of sleep and appetite and depression, are burdens. These are not nearly the special burdens of the pious believer.

In an interview with Jane Hawking, ex-wife of Stephen Hawking (New Scientist Magazine, Jan. 3, 2015), the interviewer asks, "How much did you feel a tension between the religious implications of Stephen's work and your own Christian beliefs?"

She answered, “I had to be steadfast in my Christian beliefs, seeking strength from them. I believed that what I was doing was right and that this role gave my life a purpose, otherwise I should have collapsed under the strain. The tension between Stephen's atheistic stance and my faith always existed, but neither of us tried to convert the other."

Interviewer, regarding that tension between Stephen's atheistic stance and her faith: “Did that tension ever come into the open?"

Jane Hawking: "Some experiences proved to be rather more disturbing, particularly the trip to Israel with a party of physicists in 1988, where Stephen proclaimed - in the holiest, most ancient city in the world - that he did not believe in God and there was no room for God in his universe, while I looked on, feeling hurt and bewildered."

Can't you feel the tension, that pain, and the burdens, this woman endured? We might compare this situation to another marriage, that of Charles Darwin and his wife. There also, evidence in the natural world collided with her deeply-held magical beliefs. (In their case, I feel he suffered the most.) And this is where the burdens on believers in supernatural explanations become tensed, strained, hurtful, and bewildering. Keeping the faith when the evidence overwhelmingly contradicts it, has to be excruciatingly painful for the believer, for, even though "the truth shall set you free," many are fearful of that freedom.

It is painful and sad for me to realize that so many good and intelligent people suffer because their faith does not allow them to accept what I and you, as non-believers, take for granted: evolution, mortality, the purposeless of the cosmos, the preciousness of our being a part of this awesome though uncaring universe, etc. All of these realities have brought us wonder, even amazement, and an honesty with ourselves as a consequence. We have become unburdened and light.

So here are some serious questions: Isn't every true believer under the burden of proof whenever he or she is asked to provide it? And what about the burden that comes from believing without proof? Isn't that another unnecessarily heavy burden to carry around constantly in one's mind?


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