Monday, March 19, 2007

They don't believe what they believe they believe

A year or two ago I read a short article, I believe in Free Inquiry, regarding what people say they believe, versus what their other beliefs and actions reveal. And it showed that people often seem to genuinely think they hold a belief, yet everything except their subjective assertion indicates that they don't.

I think religion is rife with examples, probably because it encourages compartmentalized thinking, avoiding inquiry, and denying dissonance. For instance, most Christians seem to believe in an omnipotent, omniscient god. Whether you're a hardcore Pentecostal or a cafeteria Catholic, that is a pretty basic shared belief. Also nearly universal is petitionary prayer. Tell your friends and family that you have cancer, and most of them will tell you that they will pray for you. People pray for huge things like an end to war, and ridiculously minor things like finding their car keys. There's a show on the local Christian radio station that is just a laundry list reading of prayer requests: "A woman in Greensboro prays that her swollen foot be healed . . . A man asks that his daughter find God . . ."

So my question is, how can you simultaneously believe that God knows everything that has and will happen, and knows the contents of your every thought, that He has a plan, that His will is not to be questioned . . . and then ask him to cure your psoriasis? Presumably He gave you the psoriasis, knowing full well how torturous it would be, and how much you would wish it gone. Indeed, He knew you would beg for relief, yet went ahead and caused it anyway. It makes no sense to ask for HIS WILL to be undone, given the omniscient/omnipotent/has a plan meme.

Another example struck me this weekend while listening to another Christian station (yes, I am a skeptomasochist). The preacher was going on about how people essentially choose to go to hell. If someone has heard the gospel, yet does not believe, that person is culpable and will go to hell. He strongly stressed that if you go to hell, it's your fault. But of course, this is in the context of a religion that believes that one omnipotent god created all of us, deliberately (since He knew Adam and Eve couldn't avoid sinning) to be inherently evil, vile, and irredeemable sinners. So how again is it our fault? We're created flawed, condemned for those flaws, and if we fail to say some magic words or lack the ability to believe in "things not seen" we get eternal torture? It makes no sense, unless you're discussing Original Sin and the crucifixion in one speech, and in an entirely unrelated speech discussing how we humans are really all to blame if we make the wrong choices. Then it seems it's easy to forget about the glaring inconsistency.

I'm not saying I'm immune to thinking I believe something and then acting to the contrary, or holding contradictory beliefs. However, I welcome being made aware of such inconsistencies. I like to examine my positions and modify them when presented with appropriate evidence. As Adam Savage said recently on Mythbusters, "I've been proved totally and completely wrong - I love it!"

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