Monday, February 26, 2007

Free thinking and cognitive intimidation

Ophelia Benson remarks on religious teachings that god punishes disbelief:

“what that means is that religions that do teach that are a racket… and also circular. ‘Believe in this god because it will punish you if you don’t.’ ‘But why should I believe that?’ ‘Because it will punish you if you don’t.’ ‘Yes but why should I believe that it’s this god that will punish me, what if it’s actually a different one that will punish me for believing this one?’ ‘Because this one will punish you if you believe that.’ And so on. … So anyway, it's circular, and a racket.”

I agree. Compare: ‘Vote for this candidate because when he’s elected he will punish people who didn’t vote for him.’ ‘But why should any of us vote for him anyway?’ ‘Because he will punish you if you don't.’ ‘Yes but why should I believe that it’s him who will come to power and punish me, what if it’s actually a different candidate that will punish me for voting for this one?’ ‘Because this one will punish you if you vote for another one.’ And so on.

She explains why this sort of cognitive intimidation is such a nasty racket:

“Because it systematically and deliberately disables one of the core human abilities: flexibility: the ability to change our minds.
“… I don't think we appreciate how horrible it is, because we're so used to it. But it is very horrible. Look, it's a privilege being human. … It's a privilege having such complicated minds, and flexibility is one of the luxury appointments of those minds. The ability to change them is a fantastic thing, and religion's short-circuiting of that ability is an appalling way of proceeding.”

You could add that any god willing to throw you in a furnace for making an honest mistake is the sort of tyrant you’d not want anything to do with.

Now, if I were god (and despite the sworn testimony of 37 ex-girlfriends, I’m not), I’d hope that people would use the intellect that I’d given them to think freely and critically; I’d take a dim view of people who made threats in my name; and I’d be especially chuffed with people who behaved nicely even though they didn’t believe in reward or punishment after death. (I’d also make chocolate grow on trees, but that’s a bit off-topic.)


Matt M said...

As with most things, it's not the beliefs you have that's the problem, but rather the way you hold them. Once you begin insisting that people must believe in something (especially if you back it up with threats - metaphysical or otherwise) you've often already lost the argument on rational grounds.

I think that's why I have a great deal of respect for the agnostic/deist position that there's "something" out there.

Once people begin to try to define who God is and what He wants you tend to end up with a rather limited, undesirable type of deity who relies on tactics such as coercion to get us onside. Personally, I've always felt that the need to argue for a perfect (or near-perfect) deity rather undermines His/Her/Its/Their credibility.

Tom Freeman said...

Yeah. The worst threat I can draw on is "If you reject the Truth of atheism, you'll waste your Sunday mornings. Nya ha haa!"