Isn’t that a terribly common cry to hear from those who still believe? You try to engage them in some sort of dialogue about your doubts, they give some pat answers, you shoot those down easily, and then they act like you’re attacking their faith, they get defensive, and they cry, “Why can’t you just respect my beliefs?”
I have to admit that my first thought in response to this accords with a quote I found by Bertrand Russell. “There is something feeble and a little contemptible about a man who cannot face the perils of life without the help of comfortable myths. Almost inevitably some part of him is aware that they are myths and that he believes them only because they are comforting. But he dare not face this thought! Moreover, since he is aware, however dimly, that his opinions are not rational, he becomes furious when they are disputed.”
How perceptive of Mr. Russell. The real problem with believers, and the real reason they are so easily upset, is a deep-seated insecurity. As I brought up in a previous post, God is really a surrogate parent. So believers who have their faith challenged are afraid of losing their parent, and by extension, their whole “faith family”. The cry, “Why can’t you just respect my beliefs?” can be translated more realistically to “Don’t take away my comfort and security! You’re scaring me!”
For me this realization brings me to wonder, “How do I get past this blockage? How do I help someone to set aside their insecurities and face their fears? How do I help them to grow up enough to face the world as an independent adult when they’ve been leaning on a parental figure for so long?”
From the experiences of just about everyone on this forum, I think it must be concluded that this process happens in a stepwise fashion, not all at once. These steps of course can differ for everyone, but there are some common elements.
- Doubts have to lodge in the mind of a believer and grow there.
- The believer needs to have some idea of life apart from his/her known faith.
- The believer has to develop some firm idea that something is true apart from what he/she has held heretofore.
- The believer has to be able to figure out how to deal with the cost of deconversion. After all he/she stands to lose friends, family, and more.
Of course there are probably more elements to add, but these are ones I can readily think of. The upshot of all of them is that respecting someone’s beliefs, or if you will not exacerbating someone’s fears, can be complicated. Still and all we do need to take the trouble to try to awaken people from their errors.
Why that last statement? Quite simply because religious beliefs aren’t just benign and powerless. They’re not like Easter Bunny myths. No, religious beliefs are constantly being thrust into politics, laws, school systems, and into the next generation of vulnerable, young brains.
I admit that I’m not the sort of fellow who likes to upset my religious friends and acquaintances by yanking away their security blankets and setting them into crying fits. But I also don’t want to live under Sharia law, or Old Testament law, or under some interpretation of New Testament law.
And I must hasten to add this point. At the end of the day, religious people aren’t usually very respectful of unbelief are they? Not really. Not often. Do unto others and so forth is supposed to be a prinicple they live by though isn’t it? (I not the one who make that rule up ya know.)
So here’s the conclusion that I get pulled to: I can’t respect your belief if that means letting you go on disrespecting mine, or demanding that your beliefs dictate how I should live, or allowing fantasies and poor performance to substitute for education. None of that deserves respect. In the end that’s really the final answer to the question isn’t it?
“Why can’t you just respect my beliefs?” …… “Because your beliefs don’t earn respect.” :(
Once again I am lifting verbiage directly from someone who has been absolutely brilliant. In this case the poster on another site is know only as Dr. X. I know nothing more of him. Only that this post of his is wonderful in it’s insight. No one theory is likely to cover everyone and this one surely leaves out some people, but I find it highly resonant with me and surely with many others on this site. I think it provides insight into the inner motivations of so many people who are reluctant to change and may even may even strengthen belief in the face of conflicting evidence (the backfire effect).
There is abundant evidence from psychological research that irrationality is built into us, and that pre-rational heuristics govern our beliefs far more than rationality. Ideologies, social bonds and group identifications, not training, determine the ability of most of us to process evidence in dealing with matters related to our sense of social alliances. It’s easy to see how this powerful tendency was selected in human beings and no reason to assume that vulnerability to bias is trained into people or that we can be trained out of bias in some general sense during childhood. My mother loved me when I was born, not because of any inherent quality in me that made me more worthy of love. She regularly acted with disregard for her own interests to protect me. So much of our survival is based on pre-rational, preconscious tendencies and heuristics, while reason is a rather lowly step-child in social relations, and that would generally hold true for group identity.
Reasoning is only a shaky overlay on non-conscious, pre-rational processes. One problem is that reasoning can actually be used quite effectively to support pre-determined views. In people who are more intelligent, the tendency is all the more pronounced. Smart people can talk themselves into a lot of things that aren’t true and sound very thoughtful and rational while they do it. A less intelligent person will be more comfortable with blunt denial. A brighter person will erect complex intellectual systems of justification without awareness that their opinion was already formed. It isn’t that those systems and reasons are necessarily wrong; quite often they’re right. The point is that the intellectual wouldn’t have gotten there if a strong tribal identification was standing in the way. Quite often, smart people who can earn an A+ in a Logic 101, go into false territory and cannot be talked out of it because of an existing group identification and the perception that the enemy holds an opposing position.
I think wingnuts are especially crazy at this time because of the power of their group identity and the perception of a serious threat to the group. The evolved adaptive response to this situation is to become nuts in support of the tribe and nuts in contempt for the opposition.
I also think that the history of the American South in relation to race and to Washington, the capital of the n-loving conqueror, is at the core of the wingnut identity. Republicans have ruthlessly and successfully exploited a fusion between downtrodden (read threatened) Southern, white group identity and an assortment of geographical, educational and religious markers, as well as a variety of cultural tics and habits that extend the identity well beyond the American South. In each of these areas, the idea has been promoted that white people, especially non-urban white men, are members of a unified tribe that is in a fight for its life, under attack from outside enemies. A person who identifies with that group and takes on that sense of life or death threat will not join the discussion as a reasoning, evidence-processing participant. They’re at war with the mental equivalent of Hitler or Stalin or pick your historical enemy who was beyond a reasoning and good-faith discussion.
Why do some of us decouple from our early group identities and change our beliefs? I think there are many circumstantial and internal reasons that it can happen. I used to think I reasoned my way out of my early tribal alliances, but I’m now convinced that reason was only introduced to the extent that my tribal bonds were fraying for other reasons.
Religion, rather than poisoning everything, is IMO usually a group identity not unlike any other group identity. It’s impact become poisonous when that identity feels threatened, but that’s not because religious people aren’t taught to reason. It’s because of group identification and evolved responses to group threat.
Huge thanks to Dr. X
This explanation of the concept of God is something that really took hold in my mind once I heard it. The idea simply encompasses so much and explains it so well.
Up front admission: I am borrowing wording heavily from others in putting this together.
This quote popped out at me powerfully from one of the videos in the series I linked in my last post. “The primary psychological function of the concept of a personal god is to give the believer a surrogate parent. Some minds are able to become independent of parental figures; others cannot or fall into self-destructive behaviors without them. Minds in this category rely on religion. The God concept is useful for motivating and pacifying them.”
As soon as I heard this I knew that I’d come upon something profoundly true and began looking into it further. I did find some scholarly papers on the topic and a presentation or two. (I much enjoy the work presented by Professor J. Anderson Thomson who hits on several excellent points besides this one.) But I must credit someone who goes by the handle Copernicus on ‘The Secular Cafe’ for his brilliant summary of this whole God(s)-as-parent concept. Following are his words:
–One thing that is common to all humans is the fact that we start out with absolute trust in the judgment of adults–usually our parents. We learn morality–the difference between good and bad behavior–from them. Adults are mysterious beings that are omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent. They provided all nourishment and protection.
Most people seem wedded to the intuition that morality is “objective”. That is, it comes from a single authoritative source that cannot be questioned. (I prefer the term “authoritative morality” over “objective morality”.) Why is that? It is a consequence of how we learned morality in the first place. It wasn’t based on the consequences of actions, but on what we were told to do by authority figures.
As we matured, we gradually broke down our dependence on parental authority. This break with authority becomes especially pronounced in the teen years. However, gods (or God, for monotheists) fill in the gap that we leave when we abandon our reliance on the experience, wisdom, and authority of adults. Gods stand in loco parentis for maturing humans.
One thing that we can say about all human beings is that we are all raised by adults, and we first learn moral behavior by fiat from adults. Given that we need to be weaned away from dependence on those adults in order to survive in adulthood, belief in a god can fill in the gap left by the loss of parental authority. Hence, people are very comfortable with the idea that morality is grounded in the authority of a judgmental being–a parent–rather than some abstract utilitarian principle. –
Brilliant Mssr. Copernicus. From all this we can now readily understand why theistic believers become so upset when challenged about their beliefs. Just think of how a child reacts if you impugn the character of his/her parents. In like manner, a biologically adult human who believes in a god or gods is attached to a parent still and will, like a child, bristle because you challeng their source of security, nourishment, and all things good.
Remember how anguished most of us were when we first deconverted? We experienced “leaving home” and for the first time in our lives and we stood alone as true adults without a parent. That is apparently not something most humans want.
Been a looooonnnngggggg time. Found these and just wanted to put them up here for anyone to enjoy.
Actually wanted to link the home page of the guy who created the series but couldn’t. So here is the best video to start with. You can click on the YouTube icon near the bottom of the video and get to the rest of the vids in the series.
These newly released Gallup poll results show wonderful trends. Pass this info on to other de-con, atheist/agnostic sites by way of saying “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” to them all.