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← The problem in public life isn’t Islam, but religion itself

Nunbeliever's Avatar Jump to comment 29 by Nunbeliever

Well, the problem is dogmatic thinking. Religions seem to be the main drivers of these phenomenons these days. In fact, when I think about it I can't think of one single 'devout' (read dogmatic) believer (regardless of faith or denomination) that think would the deser the label "a decent human being". There is something inherently dubious about deeply religious people. But, I think it's important to make a distinction between people who have strong religious beliefs and people who have dogmatic religious beliefs. I think there is a huge difference and atheists most of the time talk about dogmatic believers.

Yes, the dogmatic believers often talk about love, compassion and forgiveness. But, these people are only kind, loving and compassionate as long as you agree with them. I guess, that's inevitable when you talk about dogmatism. They all seem to share one of these two characteristics (often both of them).

1) They are extremely self-righteous and arrogant and dismiss all criticism as absurd and outright stupid. Hence, they will either call you names or in other ways express exactly how much they downgrade or pity you. In practice the difference is almost indistinguisable. The irony is how they nonetheless feel the need to end a conversation or a remark by telling you how much they love you and that there's still hope for you if you would only see the light. Of course their so called love is an absolutely conditional one. There's no room for compromises. They don't really listen to what you say. They are totally self-absorbed and become like narcissists who go around thinking they are the most loving, wonderful and enlightened people on earth while treating everyone around them as shit.

2) They are highly aggressive. They perceive criticism not only as absurd but as a personal insult. They do not only pity or downgrade people who are different. They utterly despise them. Ironically, at the same time they love people who convert or change their minds. This seem to reflect some kind of deep feeling of insecurity. While they despise people who are different they seem to strive from fighting against some (most of the time imagined) treat or danger. They bully and treat others bad, but perceive themselves as the victims. These are the people who say they hope atheists or liberals rot in hell. These are the people who shout at their guests at Fox News. But these are also the people who might do actual violence and terrorism.

As said before. I can't think of one single dogmatic believer who doesn't express at least one of these two characteristics and hence I can't possibly label them good people. On the other hand I've met many people with strong religious beliefs who are very good people. But, they all differ in one important aspect from dogmatic believers, however sincere they might perceive themselves. They actually listen to others and can respect other people's views.

I interprete this as evidence that these people have not entirely made up their minds. They might feel a strong connection to their beliefs and their religious insitutions. But, they usually don't talk about their beliefs as the truth or claim to have access to exclusive knowledge and authority with regard to the universe or the human condition. They are humble in other words, even if they might have strong religious beliefs. And I think a person who is humble can't be dogmatic! That seems like an oxymoron to me.

I think this is a very important distinction to make if we want to make the world a better place to live in. It seems like an impossible task to eradicate religion in general. And I'm not sure we even have to do that. We often talk about irrational behaviour and how that is the big problem with religious beliefs. I'm not all that sure irrationality in itself is the main problem. We are all irrational to some extent. People have always been irrational. It's probably to some degree inevitable. Yes, irrational behaviour leads to a lot of suffering. But, I think the main problem is dogmatism. Irrational people can be educated. We know that it's very easy to change the mind of a child. The problem is that as we grow older we start adopting a lot of dogmatic views on life. We all have them and they tend to get more articulate the older we get. There's a reason why we say that you can't teach an old dog new tricks. I guess there's a strong biological aspect to this. A young brain is better at obtaining new knowledge than an old one. And that is what dogmatism is all about. The inability to change ones mind even when faced with contradicting evidence.

Hence, a person with strong religious beliefs might not necessarily be a problem. They might not be dogmatic and hence they don't express the same amount of irrational and destructive behaviour as a dogmatic believer. Their beliefs also tend to be more abstract and not as bizarre or absurd as the beliefs dogmatic believers might hold.

So the important question is how to get rid of dogmatism. Of course it has a lot to do with tribalism and group thinking. But, I don't think that's an entirely accurate description of what's going on. What I find fascinating is that dogmatic believers in many ways actually become like people who suffer from anti-social personality disorders. It is really interesting since it raises the question whether there might be a link between these two. For example, my view is that personal sacrifice (which is a very strong component of tribalism) is not really a very common trait among dogmatic believers today. At least not in the western world. As said, dogmatic believers often become very narcisstic and self-absorded. Their beliefs seems to create these superficial superegos. It's all about them. They are important and they are superior.

They often express an astonishing lack of empathy for others. They of course treat their fellow believers well, but it's a very conditional form of compassion and love. There are for example many cases where parents have forsaken their children (or vice versa) because they are not true believers or because they are sinners. These people basically put their beliefs above their children. In a sense that seems to suggest these people put their own superegos and feelings of importance and superiority above their children. To me that seems to resemble a psychopath's mentality quite a lot.

Wed, 22 Feb 2012 15:41:46 UTC | #920762