Archive for the ‘Sam Harris’ Category

Madness discussed

February 10, 2007

Young Rob read the post where I called him a nutball and seemed to get a kick out of the label. He has posted a lengthy response. It’s very well written and Rob makes some points that I think are worth addressing.

Before I get to that, let me make one thing perfectly clear; I think Rob is intelligent. It’s impossible to write the way he does and argue as persuasively as he does and not be smart. Suffice it to say that his IQ is significantly above average. That being said, it’s possible to be smart and deluded. I’m claiming that’s the situation here.

However, Rob’s delusion presents something of a dilemma. In any reasonable discussion one would certainly hope that the other parties involved would consider all the points raised. Rob is convinced that Jesus has literally saved his life, so I’m a little ambivalent about how deeply I’d like Rob to think about all this. Ideally, he’d use his intellect to see through the superstitious nonsense he believes and appreciate his existence for how beautiful it really is. Failing that, I’d rather he cling to his beliefs and remain safe.

Let me address some of the points Rob makes.

Well, if I was the only one who believed and did this, you would be correct with the nut-ball analysis. However, I am in the company of billions of people over the last 2000 years. We can’t call that nut-ballish with that many people involved.

I disagree with this. Strongly. Weight of numbers does not a solid position make. In a world of (roughly) six and a half billion people, there are (again roughly) two billion Christians. This means there are four and a half billion people who think that the Christians are wrong. For every other religion the numbers are worse. If you’re a Hindu, for example, about five and a half billion people think your deeply held religious beliefs are … well … wrong.

So how can there be so much confusion? Isn’t it vastly more likely that religion fills a deep, human need? That people generally have a yearning to believe the types of things that religions claim? That makes much more sense to me than a world where the simplest point of agreement among the religious adherents of Earth is that they will be saved and everyone else is in trouble.

Daniel C. Dennett’s book “Breaking the Spell” addresses the evolution of religion in more detail than is appropriate here. I’d be extremely interested to hear Rob’s thoughts on the book.

The only answer to this: Jesus has to be a real live person who interacts with us.

Again, I disagree. The fact that billions of people are gullible enough to be convinced of something doesn’t make it true. As a future psychotherapist, I’d wager that Rob could come up with many more explanations than I could to explain his “interactive Jesus” claims. My first guess would be wishful thinking.

And so then what makes me any different from people who seek a guru to give them guidance? (Well, *I* say the difference is that Jesus has the answers while the guru is grasping at straws, but for the sake of argument I’m comparing “life coaches.”)

I’d say the major difference here is that for the majority of people, the person they choose as a life coach is someone they could get hold of by phone. Or have lunch with. Or exchange emails with. You know, an actual person. Now, if Rob was prepared to drop the “living Jesus” strand of his belief system, he’d be on more solid ground. Then the teachings of Jesus can be obtained from the written word, much like “How to win friends and influence people” or any other self help text.

I don’t want to imply that I’m being controlled by Jesus, as opposed to Him guiding me. I have used the phrase “I gave Jesus control of my life,” but what that means is I trust in Him so much that He tells me where to go and what to do, and I do it – by choice.

Okay, this is fair. I obviously wasn’t clear. My concern isn’t whether Jesus is explicitly at the wheel or whether he’s riding shotgun. I’m more interested in the claims that Rob is in communication with a being who, if he lived at all, died over 2,000 years ago. I claim that Rob’s insistence that this communication is real should qualify him as crazy. What if Jesus communicated to Rob through the TV? Would that be crazy? What if Jesus communicated with Rob via Morse code in the patterns of falling rain drops? Would that be crazy? Obviously, I think all of those should qualify someone as being crazy. Apparently there are bounds within which it’s possible to claim that you have correspondence with supernatural entities and not qualify as insane.

Speaking as someone who plans to be a psychotherapist, you do make a good point, but only from the starting premise that Jesus does not exist. If He does, and interacts with us (albeit differently from other people), then it is perfectly normal and not nut-ballish.

I think we agree 100% here. I think it would benefit Rob to read “Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion”. There are a couple of relevant pieces in the book. The first talks about how much more certain we become when we publicly declare our position on something. The second deals with a cult in California and the events that drove them to evangelize. I see some of Rob’s posting in light of the second piece and I think it would benefit him to better understand his motivations.

Now we get to the section where Rob’s buttons were tweaked by some things I said:

Anyone who claims Jesus told them to hurt or kill has been greatly deceived by Satan.

It’s hard to know how to respond to this statement because, to an atheist, it reads: Anyone who claims an imaginary person told them to hurt or kill has been greatly deceived by another imaginary person. I thought the original punishment for violating (at least six of) the ten commandments was being put to death. The instruction to put people to death would seem to be hurtful. At least it qualifies as something I consider hurtful. Then again maybe it was god issuing the edict which would get Jesus off the hook (unless we adhere to the proclamation that the triune deity is indivisibly one being). Or maybe Old Testament stuff isn’t considered doctrine any more. Regardless, we’ve established that Rob does not believe in a hurtful Jesus. This is a good thing.

And if you knew the person that I am (which I try to make evident on my site) you would realize how utterly ridiculous that statement was.

Maybe Rob is a really wonderful person. Even if he’s not, he sounds like he does try to live a good life. However, I have to defend the statements I made. Rob is in communication with entities that fully four and half billion people on this planet do not think exist. It’s not out of the realms of possibility that when his mind is making stuff up, it could make up stuff that doesn’t bode all that well for others. Rob claims he’s pacifistic, I’m happy enough to take him at his word.

Your cutting remark reeks of condescension (and because I doubt you’d say it to my face, cowardice)

Condescension maybe. Cowardice, sure, if you like. It’s not intended to be condescending although there is some small amount of pity in there that’s hard to keep out. That’s why I don’t outright dismiss the charges of condescension. I honestly hope that if Rob is hearing voices, they continue to tell him things in the vein of peace, love and understanding. Given that I believe that what Rob is hearing or seeing is a construct of his own mind, I have no real guarantees that the communications will remain benign. Now, if the communication were coming from Jesus and Jesus is as loving as Rob says, then there’d be no problem. It just ain’t so, hence the concern. Perhaps Rob’s saying that if Jesus were to issue instructions of hurtful nature, Rob would know it was Satan attempting to deceive him. I’m not sure. All I do know is that there’s a lot of imaginary people being considered here. Gets a bit confusing really.

I certainly don’t think Rob’s stupid. I think he’s constructed his own reality based on dogma he’s received. It would benefit Rob to spend some time thinking about just how much of an accident it is that he’s received the dogma he has. If he’d been born at any other point in time or even at the same time but in a different location, he’d be very unlikely to believe the things he does. If he was born in a country where the prevailing dogma is that of Islam, he’d be a Muslim. If he claims otherwise, he hasn’t thought it through.

As for the cowardice claim, I think that’s just Rob letting off steam. I’ve just spent the last week being “witnessed” to by a born again Christian so I don’t think I shrink from these types of discussions. I’m certainly not scared of very many people physically, so I’m not sure what the cowardice thing meant. Let’s not rule it out though, maybe within whatever context Rob’s using, he’s right.

I resent that you and other bloggers continually imply that Christians such as myself are in the same league as other religious extremists, namely militant Islamists.

Rob is religiously extreme by any definition I can imagine. That, however, isn’t the point I’d like to deal with here. He mentions extremists and points out, specifically, the adherents of Islam. Let’s give Rob the benefit of the doubt and allow that he’s not an extremist. At least for the sake of this point. The problem with religious moderates is one that’s frequently addressed by Sam Harris. When the beliefs of religious moderates have to be respected, it provides cover for the fundamentalists of that religion. Rob enables religious extremists by claiming conversational sanctity for his own beliefs. Check out Sam Harris‘ writings on this topic, it’s really worth thinking about.

Religious belief is a cop out. It’s a crutch to avoid dealing with certain harsh realities in the world. It also blurs one’s vision so the truly amazing and awe inspiring universe can never be truly appreciated. It can all be explained with “god did it”. In comparison to the beauty of true knowledge and understanding, the veil of religious delusion is uninspiring. How arrogant it is to believe we are the children of the supreme being. In contrast, considering the scale of the universe, it’s humbling to acknowledge just how insignificant and tiny we really are.

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