Religious Identity and Character

A quote provided by Sastra that inspired this long, wandering post:

This idea that it’s “intolerant” to say that people are wrong in religion is based on the belief that religion = identity. In a faith-based system, you don’t believe what you believe because you drew an objective conclusion from evidence available to all. Given a fair argument, you’d gladly change your mind. That’s reason, and it puts people on the same ground.

Instead, you believe what you believe — you draw the conclusion you do — because you are NOT being objective. You are being the subjective you, at your best, passionately involved and eagerly “seeking” the spiritual answer that Those-Like-You look for and find … and Those-Who-Are-Not-Like-You do not. You leave off the common ground of inquiry and enter into a mythological narrative in which you are the small and humble hero. By being religious, you are expressing the deepest and most important aspect of who you are on your journey to the purpose of life.

Within this framework, being wrong means that YOU are wrong. Not your conclusion. You, personally. I think that’s why there’s often this tacit or not so tacit pact among the religious to treat criticism like bigotry. As they see it, you’re saying that there’s only one right way to be a human being: they ought to be like you. Trying to change their view is an attack on their right to exist.

That’s a big attitude problem with fundamentalism. I’d say it’s also a big problem in politics, too. Far too many people seem to place group membership as the core of their identity. It doesn’t help that many of these groups reinforce the vice by hinting at or outright saying that the individual is worthless without their support.

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Bruce Lipton, Nut

In an earlier post, asking for targets for me to scrutinize, Yakaru suggested I look over Bruce Lipton. I was a bit slow in jumping into the topic, so Yakaru made a post of his own.

I’ll still make my contribution, and skimming over Lipton’s website, I’m drawn to a book excerpt he posted: “The Nature of Dis-ease.” The title alone is an ideological red flag. I’ve seen a lot of altie gurus use it in the past, trying for some kind of clever wordplay. I tend to see another aspect to this word splitting: I think it promotes the idea that health is the default state of being. It’s a meme that’s going to need more and more critical scrutiny because as medicine advanced, we’ve been able to lead healthier lives. It’s because of modern science-based medicine and our society’s infrastructure that we generally take health for granted and see disease as an aberration instead of an integral part of life.

Onto the article itself:

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Obligatory Easter Post

I may consider Christianity to be just another form of woo in terms of science and epistemology, but it’s pervasive where I live and wields undue political influence. That’s why I tend to devote more time to talking about it. Of course, like many American atheists, I used to be a Christian, but it tended to be in a far vaguer sense than the mainstream.

The typical Easter story never made sense to me.

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Newage Culture: An Overview

I discover Yakaru has a blog! It’s got a good post on the front page right now: Blaming the Victim: Comments on Louise Hay. It deals with one of the familiar tropes in both religion and newage that serves to protect the higher-ups when they can’t make good on a promise. It’s given me some motivation to share my extended thoughts on newage culture.

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Doggerel #3: “You’re Just Jealous!”

Welcome back to “Doggerel,” where I discuss words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

Fry: This is so unfair! I liked you back when you were a cyclops! That guy’s only interested now that you have two eyes.
Leela: You’re just jealous!
Fry: No, I’m not! Oh, wait, I am. But my point remains valid!

It’s a classic mix of fallacies: appeal to emotion and appeal to motive. An arguer’s emotional state doesn’t make his point invalid. Neither do motives. They may give you a good reason to double-check the quality of evidence, but they do not change the way you should approach the argument.

The way this argument is commonly used is a bit worse than that. Quite often, someone will accuse a skeptic of being jealous of a psychic’s alleged powers, an alleged healer’s skills, or whatever. The problem is that, contrary to what many believers have been led to say, skeptics are skeptics. We simply don’t believe in extraordinary things without good evidence. Lots of people have been harmed by frauds, and it’s a common motive among skeptics to protect people from those frauds by spreading information and teaching people to think critically. We can’t exactly be jealous of someone’s ability if we don’t believe they have it.

Worse, some believers will accuse us of being jealous of their wealth or their fame. This cynicism is quite a toxic attitude. We know quite a lot of the tricks from various frauds we’ve seen, but refuse to sink to that level because of our ethics. It’s also a very shallow way to view humanity, as if no one has desires beyond money and fame.

In the information age, censorship is generally much more difficult. With the Streisand Effect, legal challenges can end up emboldening critics because they signal a lack of rational arguments. The favored alternative method for handling critics is propaganda and indoctrination. Intentionally or unintentionally, frauds and self-deceived believers create a culture that encourages the use of logical fallacies and other ways of evading critical scrutiny. Encouraging cynicism by depicting their critics as having petty, ulterior motives is an effective means to prevent followers from listening to their core criticisms.

Advice to my opponents: Focus on the facts, not the emotions. To a skeptic, employing this argument is a sign of weakness if you don’t include rational arguments alongside it. Assuming we’re jealous of great wealth or fame typically makes us wonder if you’re projecting your own psychology onto us and it shows great cynicism toward humanity in general if you jump to such conclusions so quickly.