The immorality of belief part 2
So to get to the topic, is belief immoral ? Not in itself, no. While it seems obvious that most beliefs are immoral, one can easily imagine counter-examples. The typical one is that of an old person who is nearing death and holding on to her religious beliefs to appease her fears. Since there are no long-term negative effects possible, it would be cruel and pointless to try to deconvert such a person. You don't tell the condemned prisoner on his last meal to start eating low-fat.
However, we're not done quite yet. Belief is nothing more than a concrete form of faith. Faith is immoral, because rationality is an essential virtue. Man needs rationality in order to survive and flourish. Even religious believers still manage to live relatively well because they apply some form of rationality to most of their daily decisions. Ignoring empirical data and logic altogether would quickly lead to death (if only because you wouldn't be able to eat).
A virtue is a mental attitude that is conductive to moral behaviour. Rationality is a virtue because using rationality as a standard, and committing myself to seek reality, will not lead me astray. On the other hand, using faith as a standard will definitely lead me astray, even if it is correct in a specific instance. As the maxim goes, one lie upheld on reason is better than ten truths upheld on faith - even if I'm right, the fact that I reject reality means that I'll never have any way of understanding why I'm right or when I might be wrong in the future. Reason, on the other hand, is self-correcting.
So believing is immoral insofar as faith is immoral, and belief is an expression of faith.
And this does not only apply to religion, either. One can believe in scientific principles, for example, and by doing this completely miss the point. Scientific principles are valid precisely because they are self-correcting and try to preclude "belief" as much as possible. There are unfortunately many atheists whose minds are still in the "believing" attitude, and seek inter-subjective confirmation of their atheism instead of trying to think for themselves.
Beyond this, not much can be said about belief per se. It's simply too general a topic. We can talk about how religion is immoral (which is pretty much the topic of this entire blog), how cults are immoral, how politics is immoral, how utilitarianism is immoral, how New Age beliefs are immoral, how pseudo-science is immoral, and so on, but these are all species of belief. So we should always be circumspect when we tread these murky waters of unreason.
An article at the turn of the year asked scientists what they believed. Some of the answers are rational, some aren't. What I would answer to this is that I have no beliefs, I have hopes. I hope that human beings can eventually know everything, that the human brain is capable of grasping a hypothetical "theory of everything", or at least is able to build something that is.
I also hope that we can win the cultural war. I have very little confidence that we can, mainly because most people working for our side - a lot of scientists especially - are too busy having a life to bother to repel their attackers. That is why people like Richard Dawkins are a precious commodity. And despite our small numbers, we still undermine each other. Providence knows I've been attacked far more than my fair share, but who's counting ? The important thing is that I don't give up, because there would be no point in giving up.