Appeal to Authority
One of the problems we have today is that people like to raise past and present public figures in many different arenas (religious, philosophical, political, etc) to epic heights thus making them infallible. Once this occurs, those true believers place every word uttered as perfect and in need of being carried out. This is most obvious among those true believers of any religion that believe they have the absolute truth. It is also seen in political circles (past and present) in which individuals believe every word and excuse every act of the politician in their party. As this progresses the individual begins to use the exalted ones/books sayings for their arguments. So, is their any real problem with people using this method to express their beliefs? Yes, because the individuals in question stop using their god-given Reason and let someone else speak for them.
Imagine one day you are on an elevator and it gets stuck. You are trapped in the elevator with one other individual and both you and he/she are relaxed. You being bored strike up a conversation with the other individual and eventually one of the dreaded topics of religion and/or creeps its way into the conversation. The other person responds with his beliefs and why he believes them and what they are based on which in this case is a prophet, holy book, political party or philosopher. You respond that you respect the person in question but that you do not believe anyone has mental authority over anyone else. The response you get is one of puzzlement and he/she responds by saying that he/she/it says that it is they truth. You respond with that you believe that the he/she/it has some great wisdom but ultimately he/she are human just as ourselves and/or that the book was written by humans and is therefore fallible. Now the responses start, "but the he/she/it says.” Luckily the elevator restarts and you get off and are on your way.
Now this is an extreme case as I hope no one gets caught on an elevator but the conversation that occurred is real and happens daily. Look at many of the most common arguments that occur today: abortion, death penalty, gun rights, gay rights/marriage, religious freedom (separation of church and state) and many other issues. While each one should be based on Reason and the experience of the individual, this does not always happen. Instead it is based on what someone else has said or written. The person freely decides to give up his/her right to make their own decisions based on Reason and Common Sense and instead lets another person make their decision. This person is not here and may have been dead for many years yet the person uses their words not for guidance but for definitive answers. This situation worsens when they believe that another person (clergy, etc) may have a better understanding of the intention of the author(s) and this person allows them to tell them what to do.
Certainly past and present men and women have given us great information but ultimately we must read the given information and then determine for ourselves how to use the given information. We have Reason to use when we want and we should use it to help guide and make our decisions and not let someone long gone (or present) dictate our beliefs. It is interesting to talk to individuals who chose to do this with their lives as they suspend Reason and Free Will in favor of Blind Faith. Ultimately, all human beings are infallible and make mistakes. We should look to many individuals past and present for guidance but we should not raise them up and put them on a pedestal. The proper thing to do is read their points of view and then weigh the facts and use Reason to make your own decisions.
Copyright © 2004 J Hardwick