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No Religion, No "Religion"

Entry 1918, on 2018-06-18 at 19:51:53 (Rating 4, Comments)

I think the biggest problem with people, which I find on a regular basis, is their inability to accept reality, or at least to accept that reality, at least in a social or political context, has a lot of nuance. Why would people reject reality? Why would they refuse to concede that the world isn't as simple as they think? Why would they not want to change their mind?

Well, there is one reason which applies to a huge variety of different people with different belief systems: that is they already know what they want to believe before they look at the circumstances under discussion. They have certain "bottom lines" which are not negotiable, and these act as a block to accepting new ideas.

So let's look at some examples...

Let's get the obvious one out of the way first. That is religion. It is true that there is a wide range of views out there which all could be interpreted as being broadly religious, but they all suffer from one basic flaw: they all must believe some supernatural entity exists. After all, if there wasn't one it would be rather pointless being religious, wouldn't it?

So religious people have to subscribe to the most extraordinary convoluted explanations of why the world is the way it is. If they believe in some sort of indistinct, generalised god they have to say why, because when the world is just as well explained without one, they have Occam's Razor against them.

And it all goes down hill from there. Because if they believe in a specific god then the lack of evidence becomes far more obvious. The first group (generalised god believers) can get away with a lot because they don't really say anything, but the more claims you make the easier it is to disprove those claims.

And at the extremes fundamentalists are ridiculously easy to dismiss, because they make very specific claims which no reasonable person would take seriously. For example, the "Young Earth Creationists" can be shown to be wrong in many ways, yet they still believe. Why? Because they have no choice. The young earth is a foundational claim of their worldview, and they cannot abandon it under any circumstances.

But religious people cannot accept this, because if they did accept the weakness of their ideas they wouldn't really be thought of as religious any more. It is just part of their religion.

As I said above, that is an obvious case. Where else does this phenomenon appear, maybe in a less obvious form?

Well, my old friends the social justice warriors, feminists, and bleeding-heart liberals also suffer from it, of course. Note that I am not making any negative claims against left-oriented people in general (since I am one myself), just the extreme cases who have taken leftist principles too far.

So what are their foundational views? Well, I would suggest the idea that all the problems which befall disadvantaged groups are the fault of the conventional, patriarchal system they claim we live in. Note that there is some validity to this claim, but suggesting that no fault rests with the "disadvantaged" groups themselves is both dangerous and just plain wrong.

Another basic view might be that the products of big corporations, high-tech, genetic modification, nuclear energy, and anything "unnatural" are all bad and must be substituted for more natural alternatives. Again, this is not totally wrong. I think it's fair to be suspicious of the motives of big corporations for example, but we should also accept that they also perform a useful function and their contributions should be considered on a case by case basis.

But the far-left cannot accept this, because if they didn't reject these ideas they wouldn't really be thought of as far-left any more. It is just part of their "religion".

So now that I have dispensed with far-left ideology, let's look at far-right, or more accurately, libertarian philosophy. In this case the market seems to be a bit like their god. Despite numerous examples where markets fail they refuse to accept their limitations and instead "double-down" by suggesting that the free markets which fail aren't free enough, and if we just let them act they way they really needed to everything would be fine.

A friend of mine, who was a politician in the past, made a perceptive observation on this recently. He said: markets are a good servant but a bad master. This is the same slogan used for fire safety in the past: fire is also a good servant but a bad master. Give either too much freedom and you get burned!

But libertarians cannot accept this, because if they didn't fully support free markets they wouldn't really be libertarians any more. It is just part of their "religion".

At this point I really should address the criticism that everyone has principles, beliefs, or ideas they don't want to compromise on, and that therefore everyone suffers from the blindness I described in the three examples above.

I guess this is true, to an extent. For example, the claim that foundational beliefs are a bad idea is itself a sort of belief. But I think this belongs in the same category of criticisms of atheism which claim it is just another religion. This is clearly untrue, because atheism is the rejection of religion. In the same way rejecting foundational beliefs isn't really itself a foundational belief.

Another criticism might be that no one really thinks they have these unquestionable ideas, and they would say they believe this stuff because the evidence shows it is true. Would a similar criticism not also apply to people not in the three groups, such as myself? Well, I guess it is always hard to judge yourself, especially in a critical way, but if I have a foundational belief I would challenge anyone to tell me what it is.

Sure, I have foundational guidelines. For example, I follow the principles of skeptical thought, but I realise that doesn't always work and I am occasionally skeptical of something which is actually true. And I take scientific discoveries very seriously, but also realise that science is often wrong too.

So there is nothing there which seems to me to be as bad as the unthinking acceptance in the three examples above. So I am an atheist when it comes to religion but also when it comes to other bad ideas too. I don't have a religion, and I don't have a "religion".


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