I’m honestly not sure what to make of this one. I’ve debated this guy before, he’s always been a fanatic, not open to thinking about his beliefs or even examining them, but yesterday he hit me with something new, something I’ve never seen before.
I asked him what he’d do if he found out his beliefs were false and he told me, in no uncertain terms, that he didn’t care if what he believed was true, even if he discovered absolutely that he believed a lie, he’d still continue to believe it. The emotional benefits he gets from his beliefs outweigh any possible benefit from believing reality.
I’m not sure whether to congratulate him for being honest or write him off as a compete delusional whackaloon. On the one hand, sure, now that I know that about him, there’s really no point in debating him further, I know he’s not open to reason or evidence, he’s a fanatic. Debating fanatics is a waste of my time. On the other, that view is so utterly foreign to me, I just don’t understand how any person can conceivably think that way. Sure, I can accept that a person might believe a position even if they have no reason, factually, to think it’s actually true. It’s irrational but I understand it. It’s entirely another story for a person to claim to believe a position that they know, without a shadow of a doubt, is factually false. I don’t know that such a thing is even possible in a sane individual. Belief requires that the individual be convinced in some fashion that the object of said belief is true.
Yet as I think about it further, maybe this is a more common position than I first thought. Not the “I’ll believe even if I know I’m wrong” thing, but the “I just don’t care if I’m right or not, the benefits I derive from holding this belief mean more to me than being correct.” Maybe that’s why so many theists believe the way they do, they get something out of it and rejecting the belief will negate those benefits. Maybe it’s similar to being a smoker. Smokers know that what they do is bad for them. I find it hard to believe there are any out there who are not aware of that simple and undeniable fact. However, they get a small high from smoking and there may be other psychological benefits from sucking on a cancer stick, plus the fact that it is addictive. If you’ve ever talked to a lot of smokers, especially the ones that have no interest in quitting, you’ll find that a lot of them make all kinds of excuses for continuing their disgusting habit. They don’t care that it’s slowly killing them. They make up reasons why they’re going to continue anyhow. Theists are exactly the same way. Even though there is no reason whatsoever to think that the objects of their belief are real, they make up excuses for believing as they do. This kind of fanatical behavior isn’t limited to just the religious, it pervades society and, I think, makes society much weaker because of it.
As I thought about writing this article, I originally imagined using “It takes all kinds” as the tagline, but after much thought, I’m convinced that’s far too upbeat. While there are certainly “all kinds” of people out there, many of them are not only fundamentally different, but fundamentally wrong. We, as a society, have failed people if we simply shrug out shoulders and don’t challenge people to be factually correct in their beliefs. Just because someone wants to believe something doesn’t mean it’s something that should be believed and certainly doesn’t mean that it’s something that should be respected. Yeah, maybe you can’t stop someone from believing a load of crap, but you can certainly stop pretending that we ought to respect it and give it special privileges. Shouldn’t the goal of any society be truth and fact and advancement? If these primitive, stone-age beliefs are keeping us from that, and they certainly are, then shouldn’t we stop pretending that they do us any good, or that people’s ability to believe automatically makes them unassailable in rational debate?
It might take all kinds, but not all kinds are worthwhile.