Friday, January 28, 2011

Experiment Time!

Okay, so we are encouraged to find out for ourselves what religion is true, right?

So I thought, why not be scientific about it?

If you feel good after reading the Book of Mormon and praying like Moroni says, that's one data point.  Completely useless.  The same goes for other religious experiences as well.

The thing is, you need a decent number of trials, a good sampling of the available hypotheses, and a well-constructed control group.

It is obviously not a good idea to try to take on each of the tens of thousands of religions in the world.  Best to try a good, generic example of each major category thoroughly.  If one stands out above the others zoom in on that category of religions and start testing some.  Hopefully, by "hunt and peck," you can narrow it down to just a few in not too many steps.

But, each religion is going to have to be tested thoroughly.  Praying on a bad day and feeling comfort can't count... too many variables.  Praying on a good day and feeling a swell of gratitude is a poor data point as well.  No, you need your most normal, meh days.  These days are the ones you are most familiar with, and therefore anything out of the ordinary would be much easier to separate from statistical noise.  Plus, you have lots of these.  So, make a questionnaire for yourself.  Do all the religious things some days and none of them other days.  Record your experiences, well-being, apparent luck, etc each day.  Even better, have someone close to you fill out a questionnaire as well, but don't tell them if it had been a religious day or not.

However, there are still too many variables.  Maybe the religious practices make you feel good, but aren't based on truth at all.  So we need a control group.  For each religion you test, take a couple of other religions and do the same things for them.  Pick maybe one other religion from the world (so, read the BoM and pray to Buddha), one obsolete religion (pray to Baal or Hermes), and one religion you make up yourself (pray to Dyith, the great chili god).  Obviously, you can't approach this without bias, but you have to do your best.
Additional helps:  listen to new-age music while you pray for each of these, then don't.  This will hopefully give you a very rough estimate of how much you can trust feelings during a movie or presentation created by the religion in question.

This is a very rough outline: I haven't covered how to write up the questionaires, how to run a decent statistical analysis, etc.

Why don't we hear about this kind of procedure at church?

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Dualism is the idea that people consist of two parts, one material (the body) and one material (the spirit).
The point at which these two interact has been debated for centuries (Descartes thought it was in the pineal gland).  In addition, which functions belong to which side is also a topic of debate and speculation.

Now, I can see how one might think this.  There appears to be a part of me that is not my body, for some indescribable reason.  Like you lose a finger, and it's not like part of you goes with the finger, right?  Not your identity.  But, the thing is, lose part of your brain, and some part of your identity often does go with it.  So this casts some doubt on the idea.

So I was musing on how this seems to basically be an excuse for ignorance.  Does anybody really talk about the soul of a bacterium?  No, because we can explain exactly what goes on inside a bacterium in physical terms.  Biology has come far enough that most cellular processes (especially primitive ones) are well-understood chemical processes.

So that brings up the question: where do things start having souls?  How about eukaryotes?  They have nucleii, and complex organelles separated from the rest of the cell by membranes.  This is a ridiculous jump in complexity, though it's on such a small scale we often don't realize it.  Evolutionary biologists talk about the great "geneses" that constitute huge, unlikely leaps in complexity.  The formation of the first DNA, the development of the cellular nucleus, the formation of multi-cellular organisms, etc.

Does life get a soul at any of these stages?  Multi-cellular organism span everything from primitive algae colonies to incredibly-more complex mosses and worms, all the way up to us and organisms of similar complexity.  It seems silly, though, to insist that these must have souls.  Theses are parasites and pond scum on the lower levels.

Okay, how about complex plants?  Conifers?  Their more-advanced cousins, deciduous trees?  Incredibly complex life-cycles.  Usually each plant contains separate male and female reproductive capabilities.  Plants evolve to interact with animal life in complex ways, like flowers and fruit.
But we understand everything that happens inside a tree.  There is no reason to insist that there must be some immaterial component that is responsible for certain functions when we can see all of the tree's functions taking place in complex-yet-well-defined biological processes.

Okay, so we move into the animal kingdom, and we'll skip over the amoeba and worms, because we already rejected those.  So let's move on to jellyfish.  Still pretty simple... how about coral?  Sea cucumbers?  All those invertebrates that don't really have brains?  No?  They are still pretty easy to describe.

Okay, so give them a spine!  Fish?  Have you ever looked into a fish's eyes and thought "I can't see those without seeing a soul?"  Fish are pretty dumb, even though they are a quantum leap above sea-cucumbers.
So maybe it's not the spine, it's the brain!  The octopus, the cuttlefish, and the squid are intelligent creatures.  They have been compared to certain "higher" mammals, in fact.  So do these have spirits?  Well, we certainly can no longer 100% account for their behavior.  So it seems that we have crossed some barrier here with a complex brain.

So let's go to things with brains between the complexity of the octopus and the fish... maybe shrews, or cardinals? (..a dumb bird.  Don't believe me?  I have a story about cardinals.)  How about ants, their behavior is extremely complex, but their brain is relatively simple.  Frogs?  Lizards?  This class of creatures seems pretty ambiguous.  They are not entirely predictable, but they are pretty well understood, and it doesn't seem reasonable to demand a soul for these.

But what is the difference between a frog and a dog?  Do dogs have souls?  They have large brains, and have emotions and personalities that seem similar to a human's.  Ultimately, though, the difference between the frog and the dog seems to be one of scale.  Does god decide to start shoving souls in when things are smart enough to pretend to have one?

I know I've rambled a little, but I just want to demonstrate that the difference between a human and a worm is simply one of scale, and fish are practically our cousins.  Where do we start insisting that there is some incorporeal part that accounts for the behavior of an animal?

So let's pretend for a second that humans and only humans have souls.  Never mind that almost all human behaviors are not unique in the animal kingdom (though there are a few little gems, like fearless use of fire).  (And no, texting doesn't count.  It's just communication and tool use that is more sophisticated than, but not fundamentally different from, that of apes and dolphins.)
Psychology is rapidly unlocking the secrets of the human brain.  There are things that are interesting (like the guy who had a certain brain injury and couldn't tell his wife from a hat, or even my professor at BYU who has a disorder that makes it nearly impossible to recognize faces).  There are things that are terrifying (like those scientists who figured out how to influence you decisions using magnetic fields!

So what behavior remain, that our brain is not responsible for?  In the spirit world, are we utterly incapable of recognizing one another?  Does the magnetic field mess with our spirits?  (that violates the immaterial aspect, which, incidentally, is already violated by the idea that the spirit influences the body)

The whole thing gets a little hokey when you try to reason with it.
Couple that like some questions like "if god can create souls, they can be created.  Can they be destroyed?"
Kinda defeats the purpose, if our souls are not invulnerable.  It gets worse with each question.

When we are little kids, we actually ask our parents about things like this!  Remember?  The questions that really seemed pertinent to us, but prompted nothing more than knowing smiles?   "Oh, maybe we'll know that someday..."  Why is it not okay anymore?  Because it is taboo for religious adults to openly admit to thinking logically about their belief.

And now, I rip off j-dog.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bring It

I've been posting a lot recently.

When I used to think about myself as LDS, I felt insecure as a Mormon.  As a minority, really.
This was in spite of the guarantees of the church that one day the world will all be Mormon, and anyone who doesn't believe it now will know it's true some day (even if it's after they die).  Basically, even though I mostly believed that I knew the truth, and everyone would admit I was right one day, I still felt nervous about believing things not too many people believe.

Now, I find myself in another minority: atheists.  I entertain no notions that the world will slowly-but-surely give up the superstitious religions of the past, I've admitted to myself that the world will probably always be largely religious.  I also admit that most people who believe wrong things will probably never know they were wrong (given that there is no afterlife where god gets to say "gotcha!").

So why am I so much more confident?  I don't give a damn now, where I was so uncomfortable before.  I have never felt like I understood my own beliefs like I do now.  I don't need people to stop attacking atheism (although I guess I do get irked by the stupid reasoning behind, I don't know, all of the arguments).  Basically, everything I am says "Bring it on!"

I never wanted to organize protests and boycotts as a Mormon, I really kind of didn't like them.  Now, I'm ready to march!  Get something together at BYU, like some of us were talking about the other night at the gathering of atheists I attended the other night.

Maybe this is the first time I have really believed in a cause, even if it's just getting fair treatment for myself and those who think similar to myself.  I was timid as a Mormon (the mission really sucked, even after I learned to swallow my disgust at my own desperate tactics), but I feel bold as an atheist.  True, I don't admit it to everyone around me, because I need to keep hidden from administrative eyes if I want to finish my degree at BYU.  Once I'm done and have my diploma in hand, I'll make no pretense.

You know what?  I might just write up a mocking email to the Honor Code Office (from an anonymous email address) telling them that they'd better get their bishops discerning better, because I've had two so far who've missed that fact that I'm an apostate.  Tell them that if they don't want people coming up with blasphemous lyrics for the hymns under their breath in sacrament meeting, they should let Mormons change their religious status.  Tell them that I happily disseminate truth about church history (though always under the pretense of being a well-studied believer), shoot down arguments I hear against atheism, and otherwise sow my tare seeds of apostasy among their unsuspecting student body.

If I do end up sending something like that, I'll be sure to post it.

Tool Time and Game Time

If you asked any leader or member of the LDS church, I am a tool of Satan.  However, most of Christian America regards tehe church as a tool of Satan.  America itself, of course, is regarded by the rest of the world as a tool of Satan.  Of course, "the world" is the ultimate tool of Satan, according to the church... but now we're caught in a recursive loop.
Basically, I'm going to be considered a tool of Satan no matter what I do.  This thought has liberated me from some of the anxiety about the judgment of LDS church members; in all that, what's one more level of tooldome?

So maybe I'm just posting silly things to try to make up for my political rant of a few days ago, but I totally made up a new game today.  Take a Mormon buzzword  (for example, "worldly").  Replace it with a word that fits into how you view things (for example, "reasonable").  Go to and search for the buzzword, and laugh yourself silly at the new-and-improved quotes from prophets, apostles, and seers.

Worldly -> Reasonable:

While providing us with this opportunity, the world also presents us with many challenges, temptations, and pressures. Teenagers, particularly, are faced with great pressures from a reasonable society.

We must learn, as Samuel did, that the body and the person are not to be judged using reasonable criteria.

Reasonable preoccupation with self surrenders to sacrifice, consecration, and the other holy covenants of the temple.

Modern -> Fictional:

Ancient Israel had leaders before Moses, and fictional Israel had a prophet-president before Brigham Young.

Brothers and sisters, the special language of prayer is much more than an artifact of the translation of the scriptures into English. Its use serves an important, current purpose. We know this because of fictional revelations...

 Two companion qualities evident in the lives of our pioneers, early and fictional, are that same quality is evident in the conversion stories of fictional pioneers.

I'm getting a kick out of this.  If anyone comes up with some good ones, please post them in a comment!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Book of Mormon... Stories?

I don't know why I laugh myself to tears looking at this idiotic thing I created using MS-Paint and's online Illustrated Book of Mormon.  Maybe it's that I only got ~3 hours of sleep last night, or I'm giddy for finally having been able to hang out with some people I can be myself around tonight, or whatever.
Here it is:

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Malthusian Collapse

Malthusian collapse is, in short, the point a society reaches when its luxurious spending and lust for entertainment overwhelm available resources, bring its economy to a halt, and basically topple the society, which falls all the faster due to its top-heavy economic state.

The western world is probably headed for this.  The United States is definitely headed for this.  Nobody in the US seems to want to really talk about it, though:

-We have the mainstream conservatives, who refuse to look more than 5 years in the future, and only at their own nice houses, cars, and televisions at that.  Deny global climate change, practically celebrate the American dependence on foreign oil, and strive to do nothing more than to protect their own standard of living.

-We have the mainstream liberals, who believe themselves to be forward-thinking, but honestly only think about 10 years ahead.  Okay, protect the environment a little, maybe.  Invest in alternative energy... slightly.  The most important thing, though, is that everyone in the US, nay, in the world be brought up to the standard of living currently enjoyed by white middle-class americans.  Never considering whether or not this would be sustainable.  In addition, a penchant for big government, which is undeniably inneficient.

-We have the far-right, which argues about sustainability but actually is more concerned with the nation following to the letter a 200-year-old document written by men who thought that the ideal economy was based on slave labor.  The idea is we let each state decide individually how to destroy itself.

-We have the far-left, which is such a mishmash of political idealogy that it can't decide between flower-child anarchy and totalitarian communism.  Some would gladly destroy all of humanity to save the whales or rainforest or polar bears.  Some would slaugher the rich in order to raise the standard of living of the poor.  The is talk about sustainability and the collapse on this side, but not consistently.  This group is not cohesive enough to ever agree to have prolonged dialogue about such things.

-And in the middle of it all, we have fundamentalist chistianity, the most damaging ideology of all.  Jesus is comin' around any day now, so why bother fixing the world's problems?  Besides, some big-time religious shmuck once talked about how god made the earth sufficient for all of his children and more (and, of course, at a high standard of living.)  In fact, large families are god's mandate to his people, so don't limit your families.  The fantastic increase in world population is all god's plan.  Also, why talk about this stuff, when gays want to sign a piece of paper that says they get certain tax breaks?  When women are holding jobs?  And when there is a WAR ON CHRISTMAS!  Brothers and sisters, we should expend our resources fighting these and other of Satan's evil social trends, rather than worrying about whether our grandchildren will kill eachother over cans of pork and beans as the cities burn.

I'm not saying that this is the only issue people should take on, because it isn't.  But we should probably talk about it more.  Unfortunately, this subject is routinely ignored.  Conservatives plug their ears the moment it comes up, liberals are satisfied with piddling gestures in the direction of sustainability, fundamentalist christians are frankly nuts, and anyone who wants to talk about the possibility of collapse is regarded as a nut-job.  Politicians wouldn't dream of it, because it'd be political suicide.

And I am no better, of course.  I drive around town in a hybrid car, sure, but it still uses plenty of oil.  I use electricity and gas in my home with abandon.  I watch tv and movies without thinking about the enourmous spending thrown at these frivolous industries that only consume.  I cut the gristly parts off my chicken breasts because I can always get more chicken, and I throw out stale cereal because it's gross.  And I am a student with what would be considered, in this country, a rather humble lifestyle.

I don't even know what I can do to avoid the images in my head of rioting in the streets, collapse of all order, and death of more than 2/3 of the population of the United States, complete with neighbors shooting eachother for food and maybe even some cannibalism here and there!  Our agriculture depends on oil and industrially-produces pesticides and fertilizers (not to mention refrigeration and distribution), so food is gonna be a problem.

Our lifestyle is not sustainable, and nobody is doing anything about it.  Drastic changes would be required to turn things around now, and nobody is going to make those until it is totally clear that things are going bad.  And that will be too late.  Your food storage isn't going to help you.  Better not tell anyone about it, actually.  Society isn't going to restart itself in 12 months, and in the meantime a lot of hungry people with guns, clubs, knives, and nothing to lose are going to be scouring your neighborhood for every last can of Spaghetti-Os.

We.  Are.  Screwed.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Outliving Death

Back in high school, a good friend of mine and I often discussed religion.  He came from a strongly Catholic family, and for a long time had been a staunch defender of faith among our group of friends.  Gradually, though, his inquisitive mind allowed doubts to creep in, and he slowly turned to agnosticism.

I was discussing something with him one day, when I brought up my ideas about an afterlife:
I told him that I could not concieve of an end to myself, and so didn't it seem natural to assume an afterlife?
He responded that he'd thought about it, and he didn't think something as tenuous as conciousness could be expected to continue.  Every night, we lose conciousness and cease to exist (as we think of it) for hours at a time.  Why would conciousness, which fails to survive in a huge chunk of our biological lives, be any more robust after death?  The brain's and body's functions slow during sleep, and slow to a stop in death.  Why should the effects be so much different in two events that ultimately differ only in scale?

My argument, I have since realized, holds very little water.  But his...  It's not an airtight argument against an afterlife, nor does it claim to be.  However, the reasoning is impeccable.  Undeniable.

I was sincerely bothered by this thought.  And not just at the time, it continued to bother me all through my mission, after coming home, and basically up to the point in time that I abandoned faith entirely.
I still can't argue with it.  It is not conclusive, but it sure makes it seem likely that conciousness is not retained in death.

Why do we want so badly to escape death?  It is unknown, I guess.  We cling to existence because that's all we know.  Nobody can remember their first moment of being, can they?  Memories just kind of... fade back in time.  No beginning.  So we try to conclude that nonexistence is not actually a state we are capable of achieving, because we have no concept of nonexistence, and it terrifies us.

Now it is late at night, and I must go die for a while.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Exit Talk Draft One

I've thought that, once I'm through with my degree and don't have to pretend I believe in god and Joseph Smith and all, maybe I'd like to give a talk in church.  I can't decide whether it'd be better to speak first or last: first, I can set the theme of the whole meeting, but last, I can leave the feeling everyone will take home with them.

This is my first draft I'm writing up.

Good [morning, evening, afternoon], brothers and sisters.
[insert obligatory insincere apology for not preparing better here]

My talk today is about [boring topic], and to begin I thought I'd study the scriptures.
But I kinda got sidetracked by a somewhat tangential thought that I thought I'd share.
Have you ever thought: "God is an alien?"  No, really!  Instead of inexplicable super-powers, maybe he has super-advanced technology!  We'd never know the difference.  He has even revealed the name of his homeworld to us: Kolob!  I imagine Kolob, home to an advanced civilization, the entire planet lit up with the lights of one enormous global city.  It sounds great, we should all hie there someday.

Sorry, that got completely off topic and a little weird.
Anyway, back to [boring topic].  The first place I looked for inspiration was the life of Christ.  Chirst spoke to the people, not just the leaders and the wealthy, but to the common folk.  Well, not the gentiles, he tried to ignore them as much as possible.  He performed unbelievable miracles of healing and knowledge.  He gave himself up willingly to die.  And then, the Bible tells us, he rose in glory on the third day, victorious forever over death.
Now, if you study the origin of the gospels at all, you know Mark is the first one written, and likely provided a lot of material for Matthew and Luke.  The weird thing is, the account of the ressurection in Mark has been shown to have been added in long after its writing.  I guess the accounts in Matthew and Luke aren't much help to us there, because they drew on Mark so much.  But we have John, which is by far the most unique of the gospels and largely independent of the text of Mark, despite likely being the last gospel to be written.  Unfortunately, the ressurection in John has also been shown to be a forgery appended to the original document.
But this, brothers and sisters, is what faith is all about.  Believing despite scholarly criticism.  Believing in the face of undeniable evidence to the contrary.  Believing things that you know, if you were to consider rationally, would seem patently false.  Because these events were not your average, daily events.  They were unique in history.  If they happened at all, that is.

I guess I've run out of time, and I've rambled a little bit, but I want to conclude quickly.
If anything I've said has made you uncomfortable, you have doubts.  If not, you have true faith, because nothing could ever shake your beliefs, no matter what it was.  I know that the truth is out there *X-Files whistle*.

I say these things in the name of whoever you think of first, Amen.
If you didn't think of Jesus, that's your own damn fault.

Now there is a very high likelyhood that I've be wrestled off the stand partway through this talk, so I'll have to come up with something hilarious and offense-giving (but only with a minute of thought) last sentence to yell into the mic before they body-slam me.  If they punch me or anything, I'll have to yell out something about how Christlike the saints are.
It's a work in progress.  Maybe I'll post another draft later after I come up with some more material.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

For the Last Time, Atheism is NOT FAITH!

This has been brewing for a while, and I'm ready to rant now.

To begin, let's get some things straight.  By some definitions, atheism might well be faith.  It becomes faith when it is "I don't believe in god, I deny that there is or can be a god, and no evidence or argument could ever convince me otherwise."
That, my friends, is faith, or dogma, or whatever you want to call it.

But the atheism I'm talking about is probably "weak atheism," doubting that god exists but not denying the possibility.  Some may call it agnosticism, but it's not neutral.  Atheist agnosticism may be the name for it, but this is all hair-splitting.  The point is, I am talking about free thought and a doubt in god's existence.

So I will now point out a few differences between faith and atheism:

1) Willingness to question one's own beliefs.  I, for one, regularly reconsider my beliefs, I strive to ferret out my biases and eliminate them.  I consider often the possibility of a god.  From what I gather, many other atheists are like me in this regard.
Faith, on the other hand, is unquestioning belief.

2) Objectivity.  Religion usually prescribes a specific worldview, and rejects all other points of view.  The religious are somehow different, chosen, the best people (but for reasons that are anyone's guess).  There is no such stipulation included in free thought, although some atheists may be guilty of dismissal of all viewpoints but their own.

3) No need for cognitive dissonance, doublethink, or convoluted rationalization.  Atheists have no need to reject certain evidence or proofs or concepts based on religious dogma.  Whatever appears to be true is probably the closest to the truth.  Mistakes can be made, but when a freethinker encounters unexpected conclusions that challenge his or her world-view, there is no need to hide from or explain away these phenomena.
Religion, on the other hand, is rife with doublethink, where people are willing to believe something that is clearly false by never letting themselves think about it too thoroughly.  Where this fails, there is always apologetics: the meandering and often fallacious rationalization of the harder to swallow of religious doctrines.

So, as you can see, atheism is far from similar to faith.  It does not require belief without evidence, or belief contrary to apparent evidence.
This is, in fact, what finally drove me from my religious beliefs:  I could no longer stand to constantly limit my thinking in order to avoid recognition of the more doubtful aspects of said beliefs.
Perhaps there is a god, and maybe he wants me to do certain things.  I will believe such when it seems true, not at the behest of others.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Meta-Good: A Modest Proposal

I have a few scenarios to which I wonder how god would react.  Here is one.

So: self-sacrifice is good, right?  The highest ideal, as it were.  "Greater love hath no man..." and so on.
Also: children who die before the age of accountability go straight to heaven and the celestial kingdom, right?
The rather repulsive logical conclusion given these doctrines is that all new parents should murder their newly-born offspring as soon as possible.  Heck, the Christians should be clamoring for abortions!

I mean, sure, the parents go to hell and burn forever... but they do it to guarantee eternal bliss for their children, and so nobly sacrifice themselves!
I actually brings up the question: is anyone really being selfless if they are doing it to get their own selves into heaven?

Obviously, the study of ethics is trickier than I thought.

So, we could probably all agree that it seems clear in almost any religion that god doesn't condone the murder of all children (if there ever has been such a religion, it hasn't lasted for obvious reasons).  But didn't he kill his kid off in order to save all of us?  Hrm...
'Course it was only temporary, so not so bad, right?  How then, are our kids different, if they also get resurrected?

Our human moral intuition tells us it is definitely bad to kill your kids.  Like, you-are-a-horrible-lunatic-who-needs-to-die bad.  But what god says is higher, right?  So why not buckle down and get to business savin' those kids?  Or do we hold the rational conclusions stemming from god's words as inferior to our moral intuition?  Clearly, we do, because even the most pious people I know have non-dead offspring.  If god is good, then our intuition must be meta-good.

It should be added, just in case, that I do not condone the killing of children.  I am using this as an example of why certain religious beliefs seems to lead to moral paradox.  Please, please do not kill your kids.  It's a horrible thing to do.
If, by any chance, I'm in danger of convincing any religious persons that murdering their offspring is actually a reasonable idea, I implore them to remember that I am a godless atheist, and therefore everything I say is a pack of lies of Satan.  I'd prefer blatant, dogmatic dismissal to the death of your children.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

False Ideals

I usually come up with things to post after talking to my mom.  I love my mom, and I love to talk to her, but she and I are both aware of the growing gap in beliefs and values between us.  Therefore, we have these little "micro-arguments" that we give up on quickly because we like being friends and don't want to argue religion every single time we talk.

Yesterday's micro-arguments included a discussion on whether missionaries look like dorks (my wife and I just visited Japan, and I was very surprised at the lack of mocking disdain in the glances of strangers on the street).  I definitely looked like a dork.  But whatever.

The other argument, that barely even got started before I gave up on it, was about obedience.  I made some comment about mission rules and how silly they can be, and my mom started talking about the merits of obedience for obedience's sake.  This, of course, is one of the things I've given up on completely: doing or believing things for no good reason.  But, like I said, I just said "okay.  okay.  yeah.  okay," and that was that.

I got thinking, after talking to my mother, about ideals I don't find in any way appealing.  I would say the largest factor in my rejection of an ideal is the expectation that the ideal be accepted for its own sake, without any analysis.

For example:
Patriotism: how is patriotism more than glorified ethnocentrism?  I guess it depends how you define the term, but there seems to be a general feeling of "my country is the best and deserves to be doing better than all the other countries."  Of course, I couldn't talk about this with almost any of my relatives, because it's patriotism!  It makes itself okay, and how dare I search for the underlying motivations!

Faith: faith also has many definitions, but in the religious sense it tends to correspond to unsupported belief.  How is this good or useful?  If I have faith in something, it means that no matter how irrational the idea is, and how glaring the counterexamples, I believe it.  This is known as insanity when it is about anything other than mystical beings and the afterlife and whatnot.  As soon as it's religious, though, you'd better not be down on faith!  Faith is the highest virtue: complete, untested belief in something someone else told you, most likely because you once had a vague, emotional indication of its possibility in a time of emotional distress.  Once the decision is made, it's faith, dammit, and you're never backing down from that position!

Now I understand that ideals rely on ethics, which are inherently beyond rational defense.  However, when only one thin layer of abstraction lies between an ideal and the reasons why it might well be a bad, bad idea, one worries.