Thursday, February 6, 2014

Credulity

Religion is a gateway drug. Well, drug, in the metaphorical sense, as in an anesthetic for critical, rational, logical, skeptical thinking. But it is a gateway also, in the sense that when you assent to the claims of a religion, you thereby make it much easier to assent to other dubious claims. Claims against which, if you hadn't tied up your critical thinking and thrown it down in the basement, you would have had some defenses.



This is a conclusion I'm beginning to form as I join skeptical Facebook groups and investigate their perspective on those things I used to believe, those dubious claims and conspiracy theories. As I listen to skeptical podcasts and read skeptical blogs and websites, and follow skeptic Twitter feeds, and read books by skeptics, I've had several cherished conspiracy theories and pseudoscience claims dissolve before my newly revived rationality. It's not always been a pleasant sensation, but I can't help feeling that it's for the best. If I hadn't accepted membership in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination (a Christian church) at the age of twenty, I'm fairly certain I would have had a much easier time detecting the BS in the following (all of which I not only accepted as fact in my believer days, but did as all bloggers do, promoted their causes through my internet activities):

  • Trutherism. The popular legend that 9/11 was a vast government conspiracy
  • Anti-GMO due to pseudoscience about its dangers
  • Anti-vaccination due to pseudoscience about autism causes
  • Anti-fluoride due to one-sided conspiracy writings about water fluoridation
  • Magical cancer cures, such as Burzynski's
  • Alternative medicine in general (there is medical science, and then there's pseudoscience)
  • That the following were cults and/or religions: Darwinism, evolution, secularism, humanism
  • That the following were trustworthy authorities: Rush Limbaugh (I was young, and conservative, okay? so shoot me), Ron Paul, Alex Jones (hard to admit, that one)
  • That "Jesus was all about free will" (actual blog post title from my now-defunct jimblog.net)
  • That academic accreditation doesn't have any positive impact on educational institutions (wait; I think I came up with that one all by myself)
  • I thought so highly of Ben Stein's film, "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," I had many of my classes watch it and take notes. I cringe now at how successfully it demonized Richard Dawkins, at least in my own mind. (I have now done the grown-up thing, read Dawkins for myself, and all the 'demonness' of Dawkins has fallen away)
This list may grow. I remain dedicated to the process by which I am untying all the critical thinking tools I had managed to tie up in the metaphorical basement of my brain, and letting them do their proper job, maintaining a healthy skepticism of any and all claims. There's one born every minute, you know!

27 comments:

  1. I love your blog and appreciate what you have written on Spectrum. I wrote on there for about a month or so and came to realize that the EGW fanatics were truly morons and I was making myself mentally ill by engaging with them.

    I left SDA when I was 22, not out of any particular doctrinal disagreements, but wanting to fuck and get drunk. That led to nowhere, so eventually I went to college at the age of 29 and completed three degrees including a doctorate, all at state universities. I think going to State universities was the reason that I have kept some fairly strong faith. That actually is a surprisingly usual outcome that happened more often than not among my fucking and drinking cohorts. I think the usual Adventist outcome is where you are, atheism/agnosticism.

    I attend a straight liturgical church with traceable Apostolic succession. I rarely if ever read the Bible and find the idea of Sola Scriptura to be contemptible and absurd. Although I would have to say SDA is truly unique in that regard: Having their source of scriptural interpretation being an obviously seriously mentally-ill woman suffering from severe brain damage.

    What could possibly go wrong?

    All of my college friends are members of "liberal protestant" churches, tending of course towards Episcopalian. We had one roommate that we rescued out of a closed-custody inpatient alcohol treatment facility, who shocked us when we were all getting our letters of acceptance from graduate schools. His wild and drunken escapades are legendary. His was from Yale Divinity School. He is now the pastor of a gigantic Methodist Episcopal Church in Texas.

    You spent too much time in Adventism. There are better ways out there.

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    1. Thanks so much for your kind remarks. I'm curious what subject(s) your degrees were in...?

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  2. BS Political Science, BA Classical Rhetoric, minored in Quantum Mechanics. Juris Doctorate in Law. Did all three degrees in exactly 5 years.
    My "kind remarks?" What you wrote on Spectrum was brilliant. It stands alone. I wish you would write more on there, since I only go on there now to watch people like you rip Adventists a new asshole. I shouldn't enjoy it like I do, but I can't help myself. Its a guilty pleasure.

    Moreover, you have helped me to see exactly what is so incredibly awful about fundamentalism. I know that you are an atheist now, but there is a lot of stuff on the internet about Anglicans/Episcopalians being every bit as opposed to Fundies as you are. They believe in evolution, think reading the Bible literally is a heresy, and think Fundamentalism is the "bastard child of science and biblical liberalism. Yuck.

    The worst of it is, the Fundies are so ignorant, they automatically reject the traditional liturgies of Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Anglicanism without ever taking time to even think how stupid and irrational that is. Apparently the original Christians went about 400 years with virtually no Bible whatsoever, and apparently they did just fine. What? No Fundamentalists making everyone look bad? Pretty hard to have idiots arguing for an inerrant Bible when ,........um........there was no Bible.

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    1. I still troll about on Spectrum, almost by habit than anything else. I don't really know why. I have so little connection to anything Christian at all, even less to anything Adventist, it makes no sense to me why I am compelled to keep up with what's going on there. It must relate to what you appreciated about my comments there. I think I know that there are many silent readers of Spectrum, and so mainly I write to them. But they so rarely ever indicate that they are hearing me. By coming here and saying as much on my blog, you have encouraged me to continue!

      It's just that I find it more difficult with each passing month to even relate to any of the topics they discuss there. Women's ordination just bores me to tears; it's like trying to discuss ethics with kindergarteners. It's usually the evolution discussions that attract me now, or those questioning EGW's role. Otherwise, I have nothing much to add.

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    2. Oh I definitely think you should keep writing on there. I highly doubt that I am the only one that greatly appreciates it.

      Evolution is the Occam's Razor that separates the terminally stupid from thinking religious people and/or atheists/agnostics. It just struck me that SDA's fixation on Evolution is based on their fear of undermining their Sabbath. That's really the central issue. Take away a literal six day creation and that does away with the Sabbath. Which is bizarre to think that way......why does not the Sabbath have merit with no connection to creation? It should, shouldn't it?

      Anyway, keep writing.

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  3. More rant.......Sola Scriptura and literal Bible reason in combo are toxic. Every man has the right to be a Pope! Only the Pope of Seventh Day Adventism was both mentally ill and brain damaged. Even the real Pope doesn't believe in Sola Scriptura and literal bible reading. I will see if I can find it on the web, but I used to have this video of an Adventist trying to debate a brilliant Jesuit. Basically, the Jesuit tore the Adventist from limb to limb and then snacked on his entrails. I don't drink anymore, but when I did, I used to just about laugh myself right off the sofa watching that video. That Jesuit was wicked brilliant and brooked no tolerance for that hapless Adventist.

    Although the Adventist probably thought the severe beating he took foreshadowed the day when all Catholics will buy an Adventist hunting license and go hunting SDAs with a deer rifle.

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  4. Wow, what amazement the education section your cv must cause prospective employers! I have so many questions about your specialties, I'm really resisting lest I scare you off!
    First let me thank you again, for sharing and ranting and boosting my ego and keeping my blog viable.

    I feel the same guilty pleasure on Spectrum, like I said in an early blog post, I feel I'm the patron saint of lost causes, and none is so lost as a 'progressive' Adventist.

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  5. You left SDA when you were 22, for reasons stated (legitimate as any, IMHO). Your anonymity has me wondering again, which conference(s) and congregations(s) had you experienced by the time you left the denomination?

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  6. I guess its theoretically possible to be a "progressive Adventist," but you have to ask yourself why anyone would bother. Although I have learned a lot by lurking and watching them savage EGW and the Church history. It helps me put things into perspective from my tumultuous childhood and growing up in the church. It also helps me to really appreciate the wonder of what I have now by comparison.

    Here's one thing that really strikes me about Adventism now. For sure it probably is a "cult" for many of its members, particularly the more conservative LGT nuts. I wonder if EGW and her husband picked and chose "doctrines" that were meant to distinguish their "product" in the "marketplace." For the most part, I believe that is precisely what cults do. Doctrines as more like sales slogans. I think my point is made very well by the "Investigative Judgment" scandal. They have pretty much buried the entire doctrine and controversy beings that it is bad for business. I've also noticed how they downplay EGW's preposterous notion that the Catholic Pope instituted Sunday worship and National Sunday Law, the latter of which is so absurd it has earned a scathing and hilarious WikiRational entry. http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/National_Sunday_law

    It seems like they have walked back from the 1844 disaster as well, especially after Raymond Cottrell demolished both it and the IJ/Sanctuary doctrines after his retirement. They also make far fewer outrageous claims about EGW,and it seems like the vast majority - including some of the "conservatives" - really downplay her as well.

    So what's left? Not a lot in my opinion. Pretty much everything "distinctive" is gone now.

    Fire away with your questions. As an educator, you might be interested in the shocking contrast between my time in an Academy (straight "D" average and graduating by a hair), versus two different State Universities in five years with those degrees and a straight "A" average.

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  7. "I think going to State universities was the reason that I have kept some fairly strong faith. That actually is a surprisingly usual outcome..." Fascinating. Do you have a theory that accounts for that?

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  8. "I attend a straight liturgical church with traceable Apostolic succession." I'm guessing, Episcopalian? Or one spun off from it? No?

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  9. It was all Idaho conference and Gem State Academy. My grandpa was insane, his brand of Adventism makes the LGTs look like stark raving liberals by comparison. My brother was a big shot at General Conference for many years, so I am sure I was a massive embarrassment having his own brother (and sister) being apostate. Interestingly, my sister remarried to an Adventist (they are both "Badventists".....drinkers, eat pork, wear wedding rings, go snowmobiling on the Sabbath) and goes primarily to play the piano and socialize with her husband's family. She believes absolutely none of the SDA doctrines, which is intriguing. It shocks me that there are many people in the Church now just like her.

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    1. I went to Gem State in the late 60's, my dad was pastor in Caldwell. Do I know you? If you were there then, yes, it was a very strange time. How long after that it went on I do not know. You are right--I know quite a lot of SDA's of my age who are barely even cultural only...the stories I could tell. But they still attend church...why they bother is an eternal mystery to me. Go figure. One of my academy friends emailed me "Last night we got so drunk I could hardly get out of bed to teach kindergarten". The attitude of the time was Gem State was where the California SDA's sent their asshole kids who got kicked out of CA academies. LOL Not far off. I hang out occasionally on Spectrum kinda like putting a wet finger in the wind to see which way its blowing. I would NEVER go back or anywhere near SDA. Life's too good on the outside. GGG Keep blogging Jim, you make my day sometimes.

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  10. Regarding Spectrum, what is your take on my pet theory that it's the conservatives over there who truly represent Adventism (commenters like David Read, Pagophilus, Interested Friend, Tony Kimbly, etc), NOT the liberal 'Spectrumites' like George, Tom Zwemer, etc)?

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  11. Also would love your take on the theory in this blog post, 'Credulity': religious belief can open the believer to all sorts of pseudo-scientific and conspiratorial beliefs. Is religion a "gateway drug," as I assert here?

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  12. "Do you have a theory that accounts for that?"

    I lived in a party house with six other guys that was so horrifying that the neighbors got together, hired a lawyer, and brought a public nuisance lawsuit and had us evicted. ALL of those roommates now are regular church-goers, one of them a Yale Divinity grad who is a preacher. There were many massive unruly party busts by the police. Two roommates ran buck naked through a college football game in front of 15,000 spectators. My wife (An is an imported New Zealander, so you astutely picked up on the Anglican angle) went to that school 10 years later and they were still talking about me. My newspaper won 20 Columbia gold journalism awards for getting the college president fired after we exposed many different major scandals.

    So in answer to your question, we had nothing left to rebel against. We all have been massively successful post-college and I think (if I can speak for everyone) that success on the level that we have had leaves you feeling pretty empty. And being Episcopalian is about as un-dogmatic and un-prophetic as you can get (the church started because the King wanted a divorce and the Pope wouldn't give it to him.....he was sick of beheading ex-wives). The liturgy really moves me and strikes a huge chord that is just really inexplicable and always leaves me amazed. I have a hard time stifling the urge to just start bawling, it is just embarrassing to even admit this. I went to no church really for about 15 years and was totally where you are now and in fact, was offered a full-ride scholarship for a Phd in Astrophysics at Princeton, but went to law school instead. That shows how deeply I was entrenched in avoiding anything spiritual.

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    1. Music is my life's liturgy now, and I resonate with your emotional response; it's a reliable way to uncork my tears these days. I can even relate to the social aspect, although that aspect doesn't come out clearly in your comments thus far. I miss the pool of friends possible at a church, but working at Disney put me into a large pool, and the diversity represented there is much more to my liking.

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    2. I can't really claim there is much of a "social aspect" to Episcopalianism. They really discourage proselyting and Bible reading, so it generally attracts people who are fed up with nutjob Pentecostal wackos and right-wing Evangelicalism. Episcopalian leadership has long ago resolved the thorny issues that daily rock the Spectrum site. They have been quietly marrying Gays for probably 20 years, and ordained the first gay bishop in 2003. The first female bishop was ordained about 30 years ago, and they've been ordaining lots of female priests since the 70's. The present Presiding Bishop is female (analogous to the GC President). Almost all of their Priests and Bishops have Doctoral degrees in theology and many of them have degrees in other fields as well.

      So all of the disruptive debates on Spectrum regarding inflammatory social issues were long ago resolved in the Episcopalian Church. It very quietly does a lot of disaster relief work and conducts quite a few excellent schools in third world countries, although as I already said, it really discourages proselyting and Bible reading and likely tells its students in those countries to find a church they like. I have heard many Priests and Bishops harbor severe doubts about Christianity and whether the Bible is inspired. So people who want to be told what to do aren't really attracted to it.

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    3. You do make it sound attractive to a religion burn-out. I will certainly keep that in mind.

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    4. If you try it, just remember they are not there to tell you what to believe, or how you should think. That is extremely off-putting to many people from fundamentalist backgrounds. They expect that you will somehow figure out what it means on your own. Lots of times, they have coffee hours after the liturgy, and people will argue with the Priest about the sermon. Pretty much telling the Priest they are full of shit. It's hilarious. I've noticed they tend to keep their sermons short as a result. I knew one Priest who said if it goes over 5 minutes, its just ego. They read the Bible out loud a little bit during the service, as though they suspect you probably do not read it on your own, a verse here and there in a desultory kind of way. Which is based likely on a correct assumption when you think about it. People are really only there for the Eucharist, the Lord's Prayer and the "Peace be With you" ceremony. I noticed on Sunday, we had a famous priest/book writer who gave the sermon and handed out the communion. I doubt if there were 5 people in the whole cathedral who were paying the least bit of attention to his sermon. You see people start to fidget after five minutes or so, checking their watches so the Priest can see they are getting impatient. Like, "Can we speed up the commercial a bit, and get on with the Communion already?"

      I know in many Eastern Orthodox churches they actually dispense with the sermon altogether and the whole Bible reading gig, which intrigues me. Apparently for thousands of years they have used a liturgy word for word from St. John Chrysostom. They kiss a lot of Icons, kiss the Priest's hand, kiss each other three times on the cheeks, get down on all fours and touch their forehead on the floor like Muslims. Here's an extremely hilarious cartoon about this ritual: http://www.orthocuban.com/2010/06/on-kisses-in-the-orthodox-church/

      I'm half tempted to give that a try one of these days.

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  13. I think if the SDA church allowed those conservatives to really get what they want and "purified" the church from its heretics, the church would be 1/20th of the size it is now. Not good from a money-making perspective. I believe that people in the Church hierarchy do not believe a single doctrine of the church. They go out and preach, and know that everything they are saying is an easily refutable lie. Most people just will not submit to that kind of control, especially with all of the stuff on the internet about the church's preposterous doctrines.

    Yes, religion really can have some ludicrous effects and cause absurd ideas like creationism and other silly doctrines. What really inspires me reading and thinking about right now is how the Northern protestant Churches really transformed themselves to be at the forefront of battling slavery pre-Civil War. It is an amazing story. They had to literally reject the Bible and especially a literal reading of the bible, which really troubled them. Slavery is explicitly endorsed in the bible, and they constantly worried that they would make the bible worthless with their fiery abolitionist stances. It is interesting that in the wake of massive schizms that the Northern Churches have never resumed the habit of Bible reading.

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  14. I just remembered something.......I have the story all written out about the exact moment when I started giving some credibility to religion again. I have tried posting it here, but it is too long. If you will post your email address, I will send it to you. I lived in Europe for about 4 months on a scholarship to study classical rhetoric in Athens. I don't mind if you re-post the story here.

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    1. My wife and I are thoroughly enjoying discussing your comments. I would be honored to post your story. Please feel free to share it with me, and my readers, through my email: jimmmilesmail@gmail.com

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    2. It's kicking it back. You sure that is the correct email?

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    3. Actually, it is wrong. An extra m in there. Looks like you figured that out... I got it. For future reference, my email is jimmilesmail@gmail.com

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  15. Here's one of my heroes:

    http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/b/henry_ward_beecher/index.html

    And another:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Varieties_of_Religious_Experience

    http://www2.hn.psu.edu/faculty/jmanis/wjames/varieties-rel-exp.pdf

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  16. And by the way, I totally LOVE Richard Dawkins. He is screamingly funny and brilliant. I watched a debate between him and some other scientist from Oxford/Cambridge. No better showman in the world, in my opinion. He's also got a superb speech on TED Tv.

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Catching Up

It's been the better part of a year since the last post, although my Twenty-five Years in the Seventh-day Adventist Church post continu...