Counter-apologetics, Personal statements, Philosophy

Credulity

Religion is a gateway drug. Well, drug, in the metaphorical sense, as in an anesthetic for critical, rational, logical, skeptical thinking. But it is a gateway also, in the sense that when you assent to the claims of a religion, you thereby make it much easier to assent to other dubious claims. Claims against which, if you hadn’t tied up your critical thinking and thrown it down in the basement, you would have had some defenses.

This is a conclusion I’m beginning to form as I join skeptical Facebook groups and investigate their perspective on those things I used to believe, those dubious claims and conspiracy theories. As I listen to skeptical podcasts and read skeptical blogs and websites, and follow skeptic Twitter feeds, and read books by skeptics, I’ve had several cherished conspiracy theories and pseudoscience claims dissolve before my newly revived rationality. It’s not always been a pleasant sensation, but I can’t help feeling that it’s for the best. If I hadn’t accepted membership in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination (a Christian church) at the age of twenty, I’m fairly certain I would have had a much easier time detecting the BS in the following (all of which I not only accepted as fact in my believer days, but did as all bloggers do, promoted their causes through my internet activities):

  • Trutherism. The popular legend that 9/11 was a vast government conspiracy
  • Anti-GMO due to pseudoscience about its dangers
  • Anti-vaccination due to pseudoscience about autism causes
  • Anti-fluoride due to one-sided conspiracy writings about water fluoridation
  • Magical cancer cures, such as Burzynski’s
  • Alternative medicine in general (there is medical science, and then there’s pseudoscience)
  • That the following were cults and/or religions: Darwinism, evolution, secularism, humanism
  • That the following were trustworthy authorities: Rush Limbaugh (I was young, and conservative, okay? so shoot me), Ron Paul, Alex Jones (hard to admit, that one)
  • That “Jesus was all about free will” (actual blog post title from my now-defunct jimblog.net)
  • That academic accreditation doesn’t have any positive impact on educational institutions (wait; I think I came up with that one all by myself)
  • I thought so highly of Ben Stein’s film, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” I had many of my classes watch it and take notes. I cringe now at how successfully it demonized Richard Dawkins, at least in my own mind. (I have now done the grown-up thing, read Dawkins for myself, and all the ‘demonness’ of Dawkins has fallen away)

This list may grow. I remain dedicated to the process by which I am untying all the critical thinking tools I had managed to tie up in the metaphorical basement of my brain, and letting them do their proper job, maintaining a healthy skepticism of any and all claims. There’s one born every minute, you know!

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Counter-apologetics

Voluntary Ignorance

What if you ran a cult, and needed to cut off your followers from the constant flow of information from the outside world?

That outside information is potentially devastating to member loyalty. It could cut your income to shreds, and undermine your reputation in the hearts and minds of your followers. But coercion is not compatible with modern life, and as well-educated as your potential recruits tend to be, you will never be able to directly persuade them to ignore the rest of the world. You can’t just tell them to immediately shut it off– close their eyes and ears and bury their heads in the proverbial sand. They’ll get suspicious. And such bold requirements would ring in their consciences as your critics and their non-cult family members constantly repeat it back to them, desperate to prevent recruits from joining you.

So, what if you could get them to do it it to themselves? What if you found the perfect doctrinal blend of fear and guilt that would create in your followers the overwhelming desire to voluntarily ignore all outside information? What if you could get them to fear– truly fear, as in be phobic¬†about–¬†such contact with the outside world? As if this (they may come up with great pejoratives for it like “worldliness”) were a direct threat to their eternal salvation, and that of their children?

Go one better, in fact: what if you could get them to do all the persuading for you? What if they even convinced one another that the more they cut themselves off from non-cult sources of information, the more morally pure and superior they would become? As they competed with one another to be the most ignorant of the real world, you wouldn’t even have to issue any instructions to do what they already enjoy doing– becoming the most ignorant/pious believer in your cult! (This also leaves no paper trail for your critics to use against you, and leaves you with plausible deniability about this little gem of genius you stumbled upon).

Even further beyond! What if in so insulating themselves from everything “worldly”, they became convinced that they were fulfilling a prophetic destiny critical to the conflict between good and evil throughout the ages? What if they wrapped this voluntary ignorance up inside the very meaning and purpose they had assigned to their lives, to your cult, and to its preservation?

Hallelujah! You’ve just established one of the fastest-growing religions in the world.

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