By Carl S
A co-worker used to watch Saturday morning cartoons with his grandson, and would repeat some of the incidents on them to me. One of his favorites was of an older dog teaching a pup “dog traditions.” The adult dog says, “We fetch sticks, chase cats, and bury bones. I don’t know WHY we do it, but we do.” I think many believers are that way. For example, they keep praying as if prayers actually worked. Reminds me of that old joke about the man waving a blanket around on Times Square, to “Keep the elephants away.” When informed that there weren’t any elephants for hundreds of miles around, he said, “See, its working!” These things are funny and harmless, but how do people get into them in the first place?
The topic herein is addressed to not only those who are ex’es, but all humans visiting this site. (Churchgoers, does your pastor know you are here? Wouldn’t he tell you it’s a no—no? After all, one of the regular contributors here was carrying on a discussion with a believer on a Christian web site, and was censored out of it.) This is not about the Christian faith, nor Islam, or faiths per se. It is about something stronger, deeper, unmovable. This site exists, for one thing, because we have all “been there,” recognizing that we are up against what we cannot much affect, though it is not a mighty fortress, but a fabrication of the imagination, a very powerful fabrication.
In the realm of ideological thinking, especially from the pulpit, feeling and faith trump fact, and passion replaces fidelity to the empirical and painstaking logical demonstration. No, I am referring to something much greater, for which even now, humans are exploding themselves and other humans going about their everyday business. I am speaking of Absolute Convictions. The reason you can’t get through to a suicide bomber, Taliban fighter, cult member, Christian Righteous member, and other believers is because that believer is absolutely convinced with absolute conviction. No amount of logic, of pointing out the obvious, will move the believer. The person will say, quite casually, that he or she knows “in my heart,” as personal testimony, while at the same time listening only to those persons and information which reinforces those convictions. To be honest, I see it as not so much God, gods, or the supernatural which are worshipped, but their convictions.
How many find comfort, even joy, in their convictions, and camaraderie with their leaders and like-minded reinforcers? The convictions rejecting doubt by necessity, as if it were a blast—furnace one would be thrown into, or a near—miss automobile accident! What are the costs to keep doubt away, both to the individual and others? On the major level, the Holocaust, present day witch-killings of young children in Africa, the Inquisition, etc. On the personal level, I offer the example of a young woman whose husband I worked with, who died at 44 years-old of a heart attack. The woman phoned me to ask if her husband was in hell because he was not a church goer. Then there was the local Vietnam vet who was very agitated because he thought his pastor said that smoking is a sin.
How is it that intelligent, normal people, become convinced absolutely by a Pope, religious spokesman, a Jim Jones, Hitler, Bin Laden, Lenin, the Taliban, to the point that they will blow themselves up, slaughter Jews by the millions, torture and burn to death non—believers, and still consider themselves MORAL?
Who are the ”convincers,” and why? Their influence is their power, and why is it entrusted to them, except for the fact of believing in absolute certitudes? How is it that the members of every single religion know “in their heart” individually, with absolute conviction (including ancient, extinct religions) that they are in possession of the one TRUE one? (Maybe one reason lies in the hope that the opponents will get “what’s coming to them”, and that misery JUST HAS to be rewarded in some future life.)
Let us say that these charismatic “convincers” are so convincing because they actually believe what they are saying (Or give that appearance, but that’s another matter). They are calm, serene, at peace, offering assurances of a hidden possession of answers, wisdom, of being able to give “meaning” to their follower’s lives. They have the courage of their convictions, and articulate them with authority invested in them by their listeners. Theirs is a very appealing seduction. They entice the common and natural sympathy and empathy humans have for one another, their prejudices, fears, paranoia, towards those outside their power. Their influence is Alpha power, the power of a “superior” race, the bestowing of authority via conviction, of the secrets of life and death, to die for, to kill for.
Indoctrination has made them absolutely convinced; they themselves have been trained, and train, to interpret reality through a religious or political (or mixed) construct, with unquestioning loyalty. To merely question is in itself a betrayal of these absolute convictions, for to possess the “truth” is to be indifferent to truth itself. (What seems to be true, though, is that they who are absolutely convinced spend millions of dollars and hours in attempts to convince others!)
It is no wonder then, that such a simple thing as science should be an enemy to absolute conviction since, in nature, no such thing as absolute good and evil exists, including human nature, and the only truth is that which can be verified, no matter if it is comforting or disturbing. Has not the mere discovery of DNA convicted some of murder beyond a reasonable doubt, and on the other hand, freed others condemned to life prison terms, even execution? How many innocents were put there by eyewitnesses, convinced they did it?(Sorry, I digress.) Shouldn’t we be trusting those who are capable of admitting they may be mistaken, rather than those who say they cannot be? Should anyone be so absolutely certain to the extent of depriving others of civil rights and life itself?
We have all been victims due to our trusting too much, have all been scammed to some degree. (The divorce rate is sometimes an indicator.) Wouldn’t it be telling the truth to admit that those who “trust in God” really trust in their local or national spokesman for God? Those current spokesmen are their representatives in Iran, Bin Laden, the Dalai Lama, cult leaders, Mormon leaders, etc., etc. We like to think that others will learn by their mistakes, but find it’s impossible to convince those with absolute convictions otherwise, for we aren’t dealing with the Wright Brothers type convictions that a flying machine can succeed despite failures, but beliefs that such a machine can be constructed of bricks and still fly because some ”authority” tells us a higher power has said this is so, that nature lies because it is contrary to scriptures, no matter what one’s religion is.
Because this is the thinking site, any believer willing to make it this far must be furious. Good. Maybe something will get through, and I say this with hope for all of us. I have come here not to preach, but to open up this topic for discussion, since it is of such breadth and depth beyond what I have said. I conclude with the words of Professor Charles Johnson: “In the realm of ideological thinking, especially from the pulpit, feeling and faith trump fact, and passion (as well as beliefs based on scripture) replaces fidelity to the empirical and painstaking logical demonstration.”
Online Reading List
- An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell (1943)
- Bible Teaching and Religious Practice by Mark Twain
- God is Imaginary
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams (1998)
- Skeptics Annotated Bible
- The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1795)
- Which Way? by Robert Ingersoll (1884).
- Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)