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By A Preponderance…

December 4, 2017 Leave a comment

We left off with the idea that we need some sort of deity in order to be moral. A ridiculous claim that even my religious students do not stand by. We’re still searching for the evidence that the book promised…

Continuing on with his decrying of the morality of the non-believer he begins citing the bible. Sigh, the problem here should be obvious. If he’s going to be claiming proof, undeniable proof, then he can’t cite evidence that requires you already believe. That’s a perfect example of question begging. This line from 2 Thessalonians 1:9 “These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power,” begins our conversation about hell. The “These” in that line are those that do not obey the gospel of Jesus. Which, is a little weird, since there is very little to obey in those books.

Now, now, I’m not retreading the mythicist line about that not being a real person. I’m talking about the four books themselves. There’s very little to obey. Most of the books are stories about Jesus, but as far as obeying there’s very little. What is there is sometimes contradictory, i.e. Matthew’s Jesus says that we must obey the laws of the prophets (Old Testament laws) while Luke’s Jesus says (16:16) that they don’t matter anymore since John the Baptist. Just sticking with Matthew we are told to let all those see our good words (5:16) but then to not do that and instead do our good works privately and not bring attention to them (6:1, 23:3-5). So who goes to Hell? Those that do good and slap their names on the side of buildings or those that do works and never talk about them? In both cases we have individuals that are both following and not following the gospels. In both cases these are “red letter” passages, meaning they come from the mouth of Jesus and not some epistle writer.

God, according to our author, respects our free will in much the same way that a person with a gun against your head demanding your money respects it as well. You’re free to not give it, but the consequences are there. Which, fine, a religious person has to believe this. However, I’ve written time and time again that if the only thing keeping a person moral is the threat of hell, it’s not morality it’s compulsion. A moral act ought to be done without the consequence in mind. If I tell the truth I should do so not because of the threat of hell but because I have an intrinsic respect for the truth (whether that be Kantian, Utilitarian, or some notion of Justice).

Palaszewski then wraps up this chapter with speaking of the most important event in the history of time–the sacrifice of Jesus. Which, again, is only something if you already believe it. There’s no evidence for the non-believer to accept here. He’s merely assuming the conclusion and then using that to justify the premise. Here’s where he’s going to get himself into trouble. Let’s assume that the story happened and that Palaszewski’s earlier remarks are also true. Good? Having a problem? You should be because it’s contradictory.

If God respects our free will and allows our choices to dictate whether we go to hell or not then how has he been punishing people prior to the sacrifice of Jesus? According to Catholic doctrine (and most Christian doctrines) heaven is opened by Jesus’ death. This means that prior to this, it doesn’t matter what kind of choices you made you were still going to Hell because you couldn’t have known about Jesus or this gospel. Some Catholic thought tries to work around this by offering the Purgatory solution. That all of the prior dead, still under the sin of Adam, were not in Hell but Purgatory and when Jesus was dead for those two days (it’s not three, not by any measurement of time) he lifted them up. This is provided you had only committed venial sins and not mortal sins the latter of which is automatic hell. Again though, that is required that you knew the difference between them. Nevertheless it is the fallacy of special pleading, we have to accept the existence of this purgatory which is not mentioned in the Bible in order to justify this contradiction.

I have two kids: one was baptized and the other was not (long story). Does this mean that the one with at least the exposure to church goes to heaven and the other doesn’t simply by virtue of that exposure? According to our author, yes. Yet, it’s not exactly their choice at this point. The same goes for someone born in China, while they may be aware of Christianity, they are more than likely not believers so according to the author they are going to Hell because they aren’t fulfilling their life’s sole purpose in worshipping god. That’s not the respect of free will because those kids in China did not have the opportunity.

Thus far, nearly half way through this book, we’ve seen no evidence, no argument, no proof of the truth of Christianity or Jesus. Instead, I must ask: what am I reading? Given what we’ve gone through so far, I’m reading a book that is designed to give arguments to people that already believe so that they can throw them at non-believers. It also serves the point of making believers think that they have some kind of intellectual foundation for their preconceived notions. The biggest problem though is that these aren’t good arguments. They might confound a new atheist, but a mere introduction into informal fallacies will quickly nullify anything this book is saying. It’s pure counter knowledge.

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Dispatches from the War on Christmas

November 27, 2017 Leave a comment

To: Legal (cc: Political)

From: Agent 7083264617

Subject: I thought this was a fixed issue

I’m not sure who I am supposed to be writing this to so I’ll just send it to both of you. One of our field operatives just reported to me that they had an experience in public. Upon instituting a private transaction at a public institution, today (I’m writing without filing the proper report as I feel this is of supreme importance) they failed to hear any of the twelve Christmas songs that we have been authorizing for the purposes of over saturation and they were told ‘Happy Holidays’ upon leaving the place in question. I don’t know if these are facets of the plan that I am not privy to or if something has gone wrong. Since the election of this new guy (which I know wasn’t us, our devils are much more competent) who has publicly said that America will begin saying “Merry Christmas again” I thought that would be part of the over-saturation plan. Am I to redouble our efforts again or is this part of the plan?

Please advise,

D

______________________________________________________________________________________________

To: Agent 7083264617

From: Political

Subject: Everything is Fine

Ok, we’ve got some explaining to do, you were supposed to receive the memo on this plan but we were so caught up with other things (religious segregation bans and the like) that one of the interns must have forget to send it out. Don’t worry we’ve got nine Hells to spare for punishment.

First off, yes this is part of the plan. As one of our seasoned veterans surely you are aware that none of this is really about the words themselves. Focusing on the words, making the debate about the words or the phrase in question is all about severance. It doesn’t matter whether this person thinks he can mandate what people say and when (he can’t, we can’t make him and his courts won’t allow him–this is, of course, on purpose). The point is to make such promises hollow showing the flaccidity and impotence of the Christian outrage. Basically it’s just sowing discord.

It’s vitally important that no one ever realizes the triteness of this outrage which is why we have been, for the last eight years pushing hard on making sure that no commercial enterprise endorses the “Christmas” message (with the exception of a couple) but now refocusing on what these people ironically think as “change.” Look at what Commercial has done with the Starbucks cup, last year it was just an utterly inane red cup and still they freaked out. This year it’s a weird conglomeration of celebration images (we guess, it would be right at home every other day of the year as well) and still the extremists are freaking out because the two hands might (and I stress might) be two women. At this point those people are digging the grave of their own movement as this constant panic about not being reassured of their tenuous grasp of their own belief system is going to alienate the moderates next. Soon, and hopefully very soon but our psychohistory models say it will be further away, they’ll begin to realize that mandating such rote phraseology is more akin to their perceived enemy than they are likely to want to believe.

This year, as last year, we have no plans on authorizing a new Christmas song. Makes no sense to do so, we’re down to about three that actually mention the meaning of the holiday while the rest are just winter songs.

Keep up the good work,

L

 

Ethical Foundation

November 20, 2017 Leave a comment

I made referenced my student surveys a few weeks ago, mentioning the strangeness of some of their responses taken together. I’ve finally compiled all of them and it’s a bit encouraging that their may be hope for the future. With about forty responses (out of what should be approaching 50) I have two bible literalists in my courses. However, despite that, I have 0 students that believe you need religion to be a good person. I know this, you probably know this as well, but it’s nice to see that even where there are biblical literalists there is still universal agreement that you can be good without god(s).

I should explain for any new readers. I teach a course that is specific to first year college students. So we’re talking the 17-19 age range along with some outliers for transfer students. The school does not have any kind of “non-traditional” student…at least in any kind of significant way. My oldest student would be in their early 20s. They are, gender-wise, an even mix leaning toward female (so far no non-binaries); no idea regarding sexual preferences–it doesn’t come up and I don’t ask since it’s irrelevant to my course. For the most part religious, monotheistic, with a good agnostic/atheist showing. Yet none believe that we need a religion to show us moral guidance.

This runs in stark contrast to what we discussed last week. Where our author contends that even in judging an action to be good/bad we are tacitly acknowledging “the law.” Which I felt was a false statement that cannot be held rationally. I then mentioned that there are several different moral foundations for ethics that don’t require any kind of religious background or godhead at the top of the chain (or bottom if it’s foundational).

The goal of ethics, as a field of discipline, is in figuring out a system by which we can judge actions to be moral or immoral. It’s not necessarily about creating the system but elucidating the system that aligns with our moral intuitions. This is where religion fails to uphold its claim to moral foundation–because it teaches us to override those intuitions in many cases. In others, it only surrenders their original claim once popular feelings on the subject turn against it and then these religions have to retroactively change their stance (see: slavery, segregation). For the former just take a look at gay marriage. There’s only a religious objection to this our normal intuition should be one of ambivalence. It matter very little to me, if my neighbors are gay or not. It matters even less if they are married or not. Unless humanity dwindled down to a couple dozen people there are no tenable naturalistic objections (even then we don’t need people to not be gay, we just need some cells from them).

Non-religious ethical systems all suffer some kind of flaw. Utilitarianism suffers from the problem of the “tyranny of the majority” wherein you can kill one person in order to save five–though there are some defenses for it. Kantian ethics has an absolutist problem in that the ethics are so strict that one can not lie to save a life. The DDE, though sourced in Aquinas’s religion (as I claimed last week it doesn’t have to be) suffers from two flaws: in that it’s primary determination requirement: that the good intention outweigh any bad consequences is subjective unless one already has an established moral foundation by which to make such judgments (in this respect it only works in religion, but one could hybridize the theory with one of the others). This leads us to Rawls’ theory of justice.

Rawls’ theory is that morality ought to be derived from the assumption of the original position. A similar situation to both philosophers Thomas Hobbes’ and John Locke’s respective political philosophy stances. However, both Hobbes and Locke diverge entirely from how the original position was: Hobbes believed that humanity was the worst without the power of the sovereign to punish. Locke, conversely, believed that humanity was the best. His view is too rosy as much as Hobbes’ is too dark. The ethical foundation of Rawls is neither but, like Adam Smith, it appeals to self-interest.

The idea is that we take a group of people and leave them only with the self-knowledge that they exist and that they are going to enter into a society of some kind. While they’ll know that each person is going to possess certain differences in race, sex, class, position, authority what they won’t know is what attributes they will each have once the “veil of ignorance” is removed. The idea here is that the individuals would naturally favor some kind of equitable moral code. You wouldn’t condone slavery since the odds are you would not be a master. You wouldn’t condone sex discrimination since you would not know what side of the discrimination you would be on. The important aspect is that this entire thing is based on self-interest of an individual who doesn’t know where they are  going to land.

This is opposed to literally every religious sense of morality that claims a “chosen people” that are, by default, better than other people. With Rawls’s theory there is an understanding that some people could be better off but his belief was that the playing field would be far more equitable because where there are inexhaustible benefits “liberty” or “rights” he felt that people would agree  that everyone ought to be entitle to them.

Now, there are some problems with the theory itself. It’s uncertain whether or not this naturally implies socialism. Most academics do not believe so, though the case could be made. However that case could also be made with Utilitarianism and less likely though still possible with Kant.

Nevertheless this theory is one that offers an easily graspable and defensible position that can easily be thrown back at the religious claim that we need them to be moral.

Jingly Keys (By A Preponderance of the Evidence)

November 13, 2017 Leave a comment

I’ve just about given up any hope that there will be some kind of evidence for “Jesus” in this book. The introduction was just that, ‘I believe in Jesus everyone else is wrong, but here’s the evidence for why you should believe.’ The first chapter was allegedly about framing the question correctly. Which, to be fair, is a good idea provided you actually do that and not go on a long screed against what the author perceives as “liberal/atheist/communist/etc. values.” The second chapter was allegedly about the search. Now, here I was hopeful because that might mean we should arrive at some modicum of evidence. Instead we were treated to incorrect historical facts and the referencing of people on the bad side of academic honesty. The third chapter is titled “Evil, Pain, and Hell.” Here’s the problem, before we even start the chapter: we know what this is about. It’s about the problem of evil. Fine, I’ll take it, however it’s weird that we’re already launching into apologetics for a thing we haven’t proven yet.

The normal course of this type of thing is to first establish the existence of the divine being then defend it against criticisms. This is assuming I’m going to give the person a pass on which deity it is that they’ve proven. To reference last time’s post, William Lain Craig doesn’t prove Jesus or the god of the Bible, he attempts to prove the existence of a divine power. With that “done” he then makes a giant leap and just says, “Jesus.” This the problem with using him as your academic foundation. So here we’re at a long chapter that is essentially one giant red herring: the problem of evil.

When we condemn the act or the evildoer, we tacitly acknowledge the reality of the law in our hearts. Yet if we use the existence of evil to deny the existence of God, we destroy the standard on which we may judge what is evil or good…We are left with a Utilitarian construct [sic] on which to build our world.

There’s a lot there and it’s in the second paragraph of the chapter, so we’re not getting very far today. First off, no we don’t tacitly acknowledge “the law” we acknowledge our emotional reaction to an event. That emotional reaction, can be based on a religious law but this is not a necessary condition of it. We have an emotion called “empathy” which causes us to react to the suffering of others when it has not been overlaid by other emotions such as hate. I can feel terrible about the mass shooting in Texas (the one in the church) even though I don’t know those people, share their belief system, or geographic location. I can feel bad for the people who died in the earthquake in Iran, even though, I’m told they hate me. Why? Because they are human beings and I don’t want to see people suffer. This has nothing to do with some kind of “law.” I’m not acknowledging anything.

Palaszewski misunderstands the “epicurean paradox” (not actually Epicurus’) as well. The paradox does not disprove the existence of God, a God, or many Gods. What it does is disprove the need to worship the being, or that it has any kind of involvement in our world. It is, in essence, an argument for Deism. The whole point is that that the belief in a god that cares about human suffering is silly because if that god existed it’s not doing anything about it and is thus uninvolved. It doesn’t matter which prong of the paradox you want to latch on to: whether not able, not willing, or not knowing; the very idea that the evil exists means that the god is not involved in the world. The Epicureans, who again did not come up with this paradox, believed that gods existed but that they were just different beings with a wholly distinct type of existence. The paradox also argues against religious devotion, because, as the Epicureans actually argued the gods don’t need or want worship. Perfect beings don’t “need” because that implies deficiency.

Denying the existence of god does not deny the source for morality. Even the author knows this because he cites one that was made famous by the atheistic philosopher John Stuart Mill. Utilitarianism is not, as he characterizes it, doing whatever is useful. It is whatever contributes to the common good or lessens the amount of bad in the world . Typically, this is gauged with pleasure v. pain. No god needed. That’s just one: Aristotle’s virtue ethics, the Epicurean and Stoic schools, Kant’s imperatives, Rawl’s theory of justice, etc. All of these do not require a god. Hell, even Aquinas’s doctrine of double effect doesn’t need a god to resolve moral conflicts, it’s just that the underlying foundation for his ethics is based on the bible and Catholic teachings–but you could run his five point system without being religious very easily (easier than running through a 12 step program while being an atheist).

The author is right about one thing though: moral laws do require a standard. It can’t just be arbitrary moral relativism. However, what he gets wrong is that it needs to be a divine being, and specifically it needs to be the divine Jesus being. The problem is that he’s assuming the conclusion–which all moral arguments for the existence of god do. The existence of morals only proves “god” if you have already begged the question that god exists.

The standard apologetic move is then to wash away all things with “free will.” God allows people to be evil because of free will. This is little comfort to the victims who did not choose to get murdered/raped/robbed but it’s their go to argument. The issue here is that the will can assent to commit an act without that act being successful. If I intend to commit genocide, fully intend to do it, that should be the immorality not my success. The god being could thwart the consequence of evil and still punish those intending it. Otherwise we’re left with a weird contradiction between Jesus telling us that adultery is looking at a woman with lust in your eyes and a purely consequentialist position of being successful at evil meaning that I would have to have intercourse with a woman not my wife. It can’t be both, that’s a contradiction.

The Flat Earth

October 31, 2017 Leave a comment

I was just interviewed by a journalist looking for information on the flat earth conspiracy. In my other life, I research conspiracy theories and then lecture about them to bored first year university students. The flat earth conspiracy (hereafter FE) is rather notorious because it is so silly. It’s like arguing that 2 + 2 does not equal 4 (which is an argument being made right now on the tfes.org site). I’ve talked about it before, because one of the reasons that someone might believe in a flat earth is that they are hard religious literalists. Really hard, as in Ken Ham will make fun of you for taking it too literally. The Old Testament, the New, and even the Quran speak of the Earth as though it were flat. Easy apologetic here: it’s metaphorical–which is a fine escape route but as I’ve written, these are hard literalists. There is no metaphor at play.

I open the course that I teach with the flat earth for the simple reason that it’s that silly. However, is it? I mean if you look at all of the other beliefs that people have, the leaps of logic that they have to undertake, the contradictions that they have to hold; are the accidental details anymore crazy than other beliefs that people have.

I’ve said this before when I hear religious people laughing at the Scientologists which pushes me into the uncomfortable position for an atheist/skeptic to have to defend Scientology. The problem for Scientology (and Mormonism) is that we know who founded them, what kind of character they were, and how the organization operates. Without the obfuscation of time the Scientologist beliefs are no more crazy than any other religion, they just ask for the money up front.

As I said a few weeks ago, beliefs are tricky things. They muddle the mind in such a way that Mormon can look at a Scientologist and that the latter was duped into giving their lives away to a crazy cult. A Catholic can look at a Mormon’s shunning of all things caffeinated and judge it to be weird while never understanding that avoiding meat on a Friday during Lent is just the same. Similar to the incredulous guffaws that escape my throat when I read a 9/11 Truther make fun of the FE’ers. Your story isn’t anymore coherent than theirs.

The interviewer then asked if religious belief made a person more or less likely to be a conspiracist. This is an interesting question because on the face of it, yes, but then that has to be qualified with a “but…” Religious belief requires a suspension of certain critical thinking faculties. You have to accept an argument of authority, which in some cases cannot be questioned. You also have an opposition to counter evidence that is so strong that presenting such evidence usually creates the “backfire” effect. There are many different aspect by which an individual goes to great intellectual exercises in justifying their belief.

Yet, that does not necessarily make a conspiracy theorist. However, the groundwork is there. What is apparent though is that the further along a person is in toward being an extreme religious believer the more and more likely they will also be a conspiracy theorist. The most ardent of religious evangelists; the Jim Bakkers of the world, are full on conspiracy doomsday theorists. David Icke and Alex Jones, both have a Christian eschatological world view raving about the coming apocalypse. The material difference though is in who is bringing about the end of the world. For Icke it’s the 4th dimensional lizard people, for Jones…well, it varies. With people like Bakker and Pat Robertson, it’s a variety of Satanic individuals but also the Illuminati and whatever other boogeymen they can bring up.

However, let me be real clear: none of that is solely the domain of religious extremism. Any kind of religious-like extremism is also part of the problem. Anything that pushes emotional buttons can easily be manipulated into a conspiratorial like mindset. It’s only that religious institutions are more obvious about cultivating this exact type of behavior. Insular religious groups that create a fear of the outside world do so with a persecution mechanism that needs a conspiracy to operate. Whether it’s Satan, Atheists, the Illuminati, other religions, others sects; it just makes the suppression of objective and logical reasoning easier. Once those faculties in the individual are gone, it’s much easier to get them to begin swallowing anything, and everything else, they can be told.

Which is why reason, rational thinking are the great enemies of extremism. Perhaps they aren’t as good at rooting out violent extremists, but they are good at preventing such extremism from ever taking hold.

Categories: Uncategorized

Door Bell

October 24, 2017 1 comment

I know I’ve blogged about this before but seriously these JWs (Jehova’s Witnesses) are coming back with more and more frequency that they are almost becoming the stereotype of them. So far I’ve just been nice and polite with them for one simple reason: they always, ALWAYS, show up when I’m busy doing something else.

The real problem is that no one uses my doorbell. My house is pretty isolated. The building to my right is a flower nursery and the one to my left is an abandoned house. Also, this is 2017, if someone is going to come over they are going to text/call first. So a doorbell ring I register as completely unusual and feel the need to literally drop whatever it is I’m doing to answer it. One time it was some surveyors for a town thing, every other time, it’s been them.

They’re an older couple, which is weird, because when we first moved in it was a group of younger people looking to fulfill their mission requirement (or whatever it is called). Now it’s just this one couple and I kind of blame my wife for being overly polite to them, but they are coming with a frequency of every other day. So why has this intrepid, outspoken atheist not had “the talk” with them? Their timing has been impeccable, that’s why.

First time, in the middle of changing my daughter.

Second, they woke me up.

Third, was holding a gas powered edger that after an hour I finally was able to start (it had a switch on it that I didn’t know existed).

Fourth, on my way out the door to go to work.

Fifth, was merely home because I forgot to bring a package that I needed to mail.

Today, was in the middle of putting clothes on and stumbled to the door having just gotten my pajamas back on.

So what gives here? Do they have magical JW powers that can tell when I can’t talk. Each time they ask about when a good time to come back is, but I never say anything. It’s a very strange relationship that I seem to be having with my local missionaries. It’s almost, and I mean almost, like they know. My wife says that the only thing keeping her occupied when they stop by is our three year old, which to be fair, she’s a handful but she’s not that much of a handful.

What bothers me the most is that about half of those times, I could have talked if they had given me a minute. It’s always them that say they can come back later. I could have finished getting dressed and then discussed whatever it is that they wanted to discuss. Today’s pamphlet was about whether or not we are doing too much in our day. Without even looking at it, I can assure you that the reason I am doing too much is that I lack enough Jesus in my life. Which is weird because it seems like doing too much would mean that I should refuse to add another thing.

If I am to be completely honest part of me just doesn’t want to get into it with them. So I’m kind of grateful that they don’t want to talk. It’s not that I’m nervous or anxious about their apologetics, I know what they are going to say and am, I fell anyway, well prepared to deal with it. It’s just going to be a weird conversation where nothing changes. These two are not the younger JWs that I have dealt with before, where they really seemed to be ticking off a box on their address list. They’re older, and all of my research on the subject of conspiracy theories and beliefs, indicate that they are very unlikely to break from the fold. Yet I feel almost a moral responsibility to at least try.

The older guy could definitely get a job in sales. He’s good at talking over you without making you feel like he’s talking over you. He could definitely get someone to say yes to a couple of minor things before they’ve realized it and then launch into the big push. The woman doesn’t say much, she just asked me about the talk I gave on Friday for the Center for Inquiry in Buffalo. I’m curious about what skill set she brings to the conversation. What I’m really curious about though, is whether this door to door thing really works. It’s just like the chick tracts or the evangelists outside the hockey arena. Who is convinced? I think that’s the first question I’ll ask.

 

Categories: Uncategorized

Uprooting a Belief

October 16, 2017 Leave a comment

I’ve just finished writing my presentation for the CFI (Center for Inquiry) that I’m going to give on Friday on conspiracy theories. I close with advise on what a person can do to prevent themselves from turning into a conspiracy theorist: think logically, apply Occam’s razor, and generalize the theory to the world at large. It’s not a full proof system, but it’s at least a start. I do not go into how to uproot the theories in other people, that’s a much more difficult process considering the number of psychological guards that every person has against finding out something they believe is wrong.

First, our brain regularly shuts out this kind of proof. Especially when we attach our beliefs to our individual sense of identity. With these kinds beliefs it’s not merely something that we believe it is something that we are. The deeper a person is in conspiracy thinking the more that it is a defining aspect of their personality. In order to take a person out of it, you would have to convince them not that their idea was wrong but that their personality was wrong. This is, I think, obviously going to be difficult.

What’s the solution then? Is it merely hopeless?

No, it just has to be understood that tossing counter-evidence at a person isn’t going to work. In a perfect world, it should. I believe the Earth is flat, someone shows me a globe, and then I drop the belief entirely. However, that’s not the usual exchange. The person doesn’t believe in flat earth, they are a flat earther. While the change in language is very slight, it is an important change. Everything that props up the flat earth theory also props up their idea of who they are.

The same can be applied to religious thinking as well. Let’s take Mormonism. A person doesn’t believe the book of Mormon or the related teachings. They are Mormon and everything else is part of that. You can toss a number of things at the individual, the life of Joseph Smith (the conman), the absurdity of the story of the origin of the book, the book itself being full of contradictions and anachronistic impossibilities, the belief system with its absurdities, etc. None of this will matter to a person who isn’t already doubting, they will merely double down on their belief system and then probably pray for your soul while secretly planning on baptizing you after death.

The strategy against the true believer is to get them to arrive at their own conclusion by asking subtle and directed questions that will lead them to such doubt. If you know a woman that is a Mormon and into women’s rights, it might work to ask about the passages in the book of Mormon that discuss women. Or point out the famous 2 Timothy passage in the Bible that says a woman shall have no authority over a man and shall suffer in silence. That may lead them to the position that, yes, perhaps my identity is wrapped up in a system that will always judge me to be inferior.

It’s a difficult process to understand but the truth is always more difficult to understand than a comforting lie. I see this problem with the newly deconverted, they just discovered Hitchens and think that a long sustained barrage of facts is going to deconvert everyone around them. The problem here is that it’s new to that person, they realize, ‘holy shit the bible is full of self-contradictory passages that totally make the entire thing pointless. I need to share it.’

What they forget is the long mental process where they arrived at a place that they could begin to question their holy text in the first place.  Perhaps it was a contradiction that first made that individual realize there were problems with their beliefs, but something else preceded it. It might have been as inane as just being bored, or perhaps really paying attention to the lyrics of a song, but it’s a process by which I have yet to find a shortcut through.

A 9/11 truther who likes to scream the mantra “jet fuel doesn’t burn that hot” doesn’t want to be told the science about why it doesn’t have to burn that hot. Short answer: steel loses structural integrity about half way to its melting point, which along with uneven heating of the I-beams caused them to warp and buckle. They want to scream, “I know a secret thing that I figured out and the rest of the people have not.” Conspiracists believe they are special in that they believe the conspiracy.

It might even be more difficult with them because more often than not they chose to be conspiracy theorists. Unlike a religious person who was born into a religion based on location and family, the conspiracist had to find their information on their own. They had to look at historical event or fact of the world, and then find the alternative explanation/fact, then assent to it. They have the mental feeling of accomplishment backing up their belief. I would liken it to those who believe they were “born again.”

Though, most conspiracy theories don’t traffic in immortal souls. So there’s the problem of infinity to tackle with here. That would mean the effective strategy would be to instill a doubt in eternal punishment, then hope that leads to the further questioning of the rest of the edifice of belief.

The similarities between the two are rather compelling. They are both non-scientific, non-fact, worldviews based on belief and a rejection of experts. They are both incredibly hard to remove from the individual. Both groups are quite vocal when criticized and more aggressive in social media. And they’ll both ridicule the other except when it overlaps. In each case it takes patience and subtlety to deal with them.