Sunday, June 14, 2009

Belief is illogical and powerful

The events of the past two weeks seem to scream this with the full force of "bloody murder." My initial response to each of the recent shootings was sadness and shock. My emotions triggered my confusion and as usual I stared at the ugliness in the hope of understanding its motivation.

Some friends admonished my interest in the sub-text of each murderous event as an unhealthy urge to see conspiracy in the craziness of lone-wolf extremism. Their ability to reconcile these murders as random acts of violence did not and does not satisfy me. I see within the isolated incidents a common mindset. Each psycho-drama's central figures were actors who held as scripture a system of belief honed and hardened through the communal honor of its worship.

I don't believe as my friends seem to believe that the shooter in Arkansas, Dr. Tiller's murderer, or the latest in a long-line of Holocaust deniers were egregious examples of tangential thinking. To me, they were perfect examples of how belief forms faith and conspires against reason to inspire destruction. It seems to me my friends' dismissal of the recent killings as some mad "Catcher in the Rye" theology ignores the calcified and widely held ideologies motivating each action.

Voltaire said, "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."

What do you believe? What atrocities does this belief allow you to dismiss, contemplate or commit?

Does your belief in the necessity of religious respect compel you to argue Islam as a "religion of peace" and the shooter in Arkansas as a wild contradiction to this theology or, do you like Bat Y'eor in his book "Islam and Dhimmitude" see that,
" . . . the ideology of jihad was formulated by Muslim theologians from the eighth century onward. It separates humanity into two hostile blocks — the community of Muslims, and the infidels. According to this ideology, Allah commands the Muslims to conquer the whole world in order to apply Koranic laws. Hence, they have to wage a perpetual war against the infidels who refuse to submit. Its principle is based on the inequality between the community of Allah and the infidels. The first is a superior group, whose mission it is to rule the world. The second must submit."

What are your views on America's heritage?

I don't want to equate the respect for belief or the dismissal of the recent horrendous acts as equal to the acts themselves but, I do see the acts of each killer as a logical action of their beliefs.

The willingness of those who would like to dismiss these acts as craziness seems to me like a weak immunization against the viral potential found in pre-suppositional beliefs. It seems like just another absurdity which will inspire inevitable atrocity.

I don't see myself as immune to atrocity born from absurdities I might hold as belief. I don't see myself exempt from the craziness the recent killings created. I don't see these killers as "lone wolfs" separating from the pack at left or right angles but, instead see them as examples of ideological fitness who sprint to the head of the pack and, in their commitment to the pack, separate themselves as the alpha member. I see myself as willing as anybody to commit atrocities for the sake of belief.

Therefore belief to me is powerful and it is dangerous because it allows us to embrace "knowing" absent of doubt. And in this knowledge we dismiss alternate possible theories of reality as craziness.

I am reading an interesting series by Valerie Tarico on Christian belief through a cognitive lens. My interest in the subject is fueled by the realization of how long-held Christian beliefs I claimed no longer work for me. I had to face the atrocities (akin to dhimmitude) I argued for against my homosexual friends who look for equality under the law. My Christian passion demanded I see their identity as sin and therefore same-sex marriage as a capital crime demanding the substitutional death sentence of Jesus Christ. My knowledge of who my gay friends are revealed to me the absurdity of my belief and the atrocious implications it inspired. My belief unraveled because new evidence introduced doubt. This doubt kept me from taking further action which would demonize my fellow humans for the sake of my belief.

Tarico argues that reason and logic are opposed to belief because,
" . . . belief is not bound to regular standards of evidence and logic. It is not about logic and it is not obliged to follow logic. Arguments with believers start from a false premise—that the believer is bound by the rules of debate rather than being bound by the belief itself. The freethinker assumes that the believer is free to concede; but this is rarely true. At best the bits of logic or evidence put forth in an argument go into the hopper with a whole host of other factors."
What beliefs are you bound by? Do they argue against evidence? How extreme would you become in the fulfillment of them?