If you blog about liberalism or skepticism and want to participate in the blog carnivals, here are the submission forms and guidelines for the Carnival of the Liberals and the Skeptic’s Circle. Happy reading, and happy blogging!
(This is what I was trying to get at when I called religion a self-referential game of Twister. I dearly wish I’d read this book when I wrote that piece; it would have given me much clearer language to write it in.)
So that’s the obvious relevance.
But there’s a less obvious relevance as well. This is an important book for believers… but it’s also an important book for atheists. And not just as a source of ammunition for our debates.
In one-on-one discussions and debates, though, it’s not going to achieve much. And we need to be aware of that. If we’re going to be all rational and evidence-based, we need to accept the reality of what forms of persuasion do and don’t work.
But it’s not just important for atheists to read this book to learn how to deal with believers’ fallibility. It’s important for atheists to read it to learn how to deal with our own.
And of particular relevance, I think, is one of the book’s main themes: the human tendency to reject any and all ideas coming from people we disagree with. The more entrenched we get in a belief, the more unwilling we are to acknowledge that our opponents have any useful ideas whatsoever, or any valid points to make.
And I’ve definitely seen that play out in the atheosphere. I’ve seen an unfortunate tendency among some atheists to tag all believers as stupid; to reject religion as having nothing even remotely positive or useful to offer; to explain the widespread nature of religious belief by saying things like, “People are sheep.”
But this tendency isn’t helpful. The issue of religion and not-religion is already polarizing enough on its own, without us artificially divvying the world into Us and Them.
But for my own peace of mind, I’m making a sort of New Year’s Resolution about cognitive dissonance. I’m resolving to be better about acknowledging when I make mistakes, and correcting them. I’m resolving to be better about acknowledging when people I disagree with make good points. And when I’m in one-on-one debates with people, I’m resolving to think, not just about why I’m right and they’re wrong, but about what kind of argument is likely to persuade them.
And in particular, anyone interested in religion has to read it. It doesn’t talk much about religion specifically; but the ideas in it are spot-on pertinent to the topic.
For believers… and for atheists.
And what we do, much if not most of the time, is rationalize. We come up with reasons why our mistake wasn’t really a mistake; why our bad deed wasn’t really so bad.
“I couldn’t help it.” “Everyone else does it.” “It’s not that big a deal.” “I was tired/sick.” “They made me do it.” “I’m sure it’ll work out in the long run.” “I work hard, I deserve this.” “History will prove me right.” “I can accept money and gifts and still be impartial.” “Actually, spending fifty thousand dollars on a car makes a lot of sense.” “When the Leader said the world was going to end on August 22, 1997, he was just speaking metaphorically.”
More on that in a bit.
I could summarize the book ad nauseum, and this could easily turn into a 5,000 word book review. But I do have my own actual points to make. So here are, IMO, the most important pieces of info to take from this book
This is probably the scariest part of the book. When we hurt someone and convince ourselves that they deserved it, we’re more likely to hurt them — or other people like them — again. Partly because we’ve already convinced ourselves that they’re bad, so why not… but also, in large part, to bolster our belief that our original decision was right.
As for this process playing out in international relations, I have just three words: “The Middle East.” Any time you have a decades- or centuries-old “they started it” vendetta, you probably have one of these self-perpetuating rationalization processes on your hands. On all sides.
This is a freaky paradox, but it makes a terrible kind of sense when you think about it. The further along we’ve gone with a bad decision, and the more we’ve committed to it, the more likely we are to justify it — and to stick with it, and to invest in it even more heavily.
This may be the hardest part of all this to grasp. As soon as you start learning about the unconscious rationalization of cognitive dissonance, you start wanting to take an icepick and dig out the part of your brain that’s responsible for it.
That’s the concept. And I think it’s important.
It’s important because, in a very practical and down-to-earth way, this concept gives us a partial handle on why dumb mistakes, absurd beliefs, and harmful acts get perpetuated. And it gives us — again, in a very practical, down-to-earth way — a handle on what we can do about it.
And this book offers us ways to do all of that.
But it’s a grand and inspiring start, an excellent foundation on an important topic. It’s been a life-changer, and I recommend it passionately to everyone.
So what does it have to do with religion?
(To be continued tomorrow.)
And I want to shake these people and scream, “If you would fucking well endorse him, maybe he’d BE electable.”
The San Francisco Bay Guardian was the most recent one of these — and it’s the one that pissed me off the most. They’re the big progressive alterna-weekly here; their politics are sometimes wacky but are generally good. I really wanted to see what they had to say about Edwards, who I’m seriously considering voting for. And I wanted more information about him than, “We might endorse him if we thought he was electable.”
And in the general election, I completely get it. Come November, I will vote for whoever the Dems come up with. The Dems could nominate Lyndon Johnson again, and I’d vote for him.
But in a primary, it’s different.
In a primary, it seems to me, you’re supposed to forget about the horserace. In a primary, you’re supposed to vote for the person — brace yourself — who you’d most like to see win.
It’s not 100% different in a primary, I get that. I probably wouldn’t vote for Kucinich, after all, even if he hadn’t already dropped out of the race, and even if it hadn’t been for the UFO thing. I’m enough of a pragmatist to not vote for someone with less than 5% in the polls, even in a primary.
Now, I’ll be honest. There is a part of me that’s thinking, “I really, really don’t want Clinton to get the nomination — so maybe I should just just suck it up and vote for Obama. I don’t love him, but I like Clinton even less.”
It’s a democracy. We’re not supposed to vote for the person who we think can win. We’re supposed to vote for the person who we want to win.
My piece in this Symposium: The Meaning of Death, Part 2 of Many: Motivation and Mid-Life Crises. My favorite other piece in this Symposium: Hard to say, a lot of them are very good indeed. But the one that jumped out at me was Atheist Spirituality at Atheist Revolution. I’m not personally crazy about the word “spirituality,” since I think of it as meaning “metaphysical” (which I don’t believe in), and I associate it with woo (which annoys me). But if you go with Vjack’s definition of “spirituality” as meaning “vitality, connectedness, transcendence, and meaningfulness,” then he makes some really good points. Check it out — and check out the rest of the Symposium. It’s all good.
If you blog about humanism and want to participate in the Humanist Symposium, here’s the submission form. Happy reading, and happy blogging!
This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.
In my last Blowfish column, I linked you to Scarleteen, the sex information website for teenagers. When I was at the site, I found this letter, “We waited for marriage… but it wasn’t worth the wait”. It completely broke my heart, and I had to write about it.
It broke my heart. Especially since their religious beliefs, and religious community, will probably make them feel pressured into sticking with the marriage, even if they both decide it’s an unsalvageable failure.
But I want to go in a different direction here.
I want to express my gratitude for the fact that I — and most of us — don’t live in that world anymore.
It’s easy to take all this for granted. It’s easy to forget how different things were in my parents generation… and how radically different they were in my grandparents’.
And of course, we have a world filled with plenty of people who are working like crazy to turn back the clock to the good old days… the days of sexual ignorance and secrecy and shame.
And I’m never reminded of that more vividly than when I hear about people who still live, for all intents and purposes, in the old world, the world of my parents and grandparents… and who are being made miserable by it.
I had this kind of sad, kind of sentimental thought a little while ago, and I haven’t been able to shake it.
And I was thinking:
(The “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” author, for those who aren’t instantly familiar with his name.)
He would have loved all this. He would have been so excited, so proud, so happy. He was a big atheist, proud and angry and fierce, and he would have loved all this. Maybe he would have written his own atheist book. I want to read that book. It would have been smart, and hilarious, and totally devastating.
And he was a big techno-nerd. He would have loved the blogosphere, and he would have completely loved the atheist blogosphere. He would have had the best atheist blog ever.
Dammit to hell. I want to read Douglas Adams’ atheist blog. Right now. I want it in my blogroll. I want to comment on it, and to get into silly comment threads on it that never seem to end. I want to check it obsessively every day to see if there’s something new.
I miss him something awful.
Note to family members and others who don’t want to read about my personal sex life: This post, and the post it links to, talks about my personal sex life and my sexual history. If you don’t want to read about that, this would be a good post to skip.
Before I’d started having sex with women, my reaction to a guy’s premature ejaculation had been pretty traditional: disappointment, frustration, embarrassment on his behalf, attempts to soothe his ego, feeling like I’d done something wrong.
But this time, my reaction was to say, casually and matter-of-factly, “Oh. Well, is that any reason to stop?”
To find out more, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!
The Chaplain has completely hit it out of the park with this one. Her recent post at An Apostate’s Chapel, Whatâs So Bad About Religion?, is a must-read. It lays out the case clearly, succinctly, and eloquently. It’s one of the best short critiques of religion that I’ve read.
In particular, I was struck by the apt examples in her “second problem” argument, her argument against “Why do you care what other people believe?” I think this is a point that needs to be made more often and more clearly: If religion were purely a private matter, very few of us would care about it very much. But it isn’t. Religious beliefs affects how people act in the world, how they treat other people. Especially when it’s a powerful mainstream religion. It affects all of us. And therefore, as The Chaplain says:
“The moment they open their church doors and let their ideas drip all over the pavement is the moment they invite me, regardless of whether they intend to do so, to examine those ideas.”
Just go read it.
And Carnival of Feminists #52 is up at Figure: Demystifying the Feminist Mystique. My piece in this Carnival: All I Really Need To Know I Learned From Porn — Or Not. My favorite other piece in this Carnival: High School, Hair Color and Choices, at Me, My Kid and Life.
If you blog about godlessness or feminism and want to participate in the Carnivals, here are the submission forms for the Carnival of the Godless and the Carnival of the Feminists. Happy reading, and happy blogging!