Saturday, May 21, 2011
Quote from Camping:
"How can anyone dare to dispute with the Bible concerning the absolute truth that the beginning of the Day of Judgment together with the Rapture will occur on May 21, 2011?"
Quote from a Camping follower:
"I'm positive that the same question (what if you wake up on May 22?) was asked of Noah, and all those who asked that question perished for unbelief."
Most Christians hold Camping and his following to be nutty fanatics, even a cult. But this is a dissonant position, because Christians believe that the foretold events themselves are indeed going to happen, just not necessarily on May 21.
For example, Dr Wayne Grudem says, "And then what will happen on May 22 will be this, he'll (Camping) say 'whoops, I got the math wrong, let me recalculate' and then he'll set another date. It'll go on probably until he dies. Unless (begins to grin) Jesus does come back, which could happen any day."
Grudem's last statement seemed, to me, intellectually disconnected from his previous thoughts. It's as though a different person started talking, or he was suddenly speaking from a different motive. Regardless, what he does indicate is that it's not the predicted events that Christians consider nutty, it's just the predicted date.
Or is it? Can a date trigger such a gut feeling of laughter? I contend that the knee-jerk response of humor and disbelief that most Christians (and non-Christians) feel toward Camping's prediction reveals how superficially they believe in the Rapture and Judgement Day. These Doomsday events are doctrinal items which most Christians merely nod to, not real expectations which shape their behavior. It's not the date which makes Christians laugh, it's the Doomsday events themselves.
If a seismologist predicted a major earthquake on May 21, he/she wouldn't be laughed at nearly as much. This is because people genuinely expect that earthquakes will happen. Christians don't genuinely expect that Doomsday will happen; if they did, Camping's prediction would not incite the dismissive reaction it does. At least that's my prediction, laugh all you want!
Monday, May 16, 2011
By Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson
Pg 17 – Severe initiations increase a members liking for the group.
Pg 18 – If the new information is consonant with our beliefs, we think it is well founded and useful: “Just what I always said!” But if the new information is dissonant, then we consider it biased or foolish: “What a dumb argument!” So powerful is the need for consonance that when people are forced to look at disconfirming evidence, they will find a way to criticize, distort, or dismiss it so that they can maintain or even strengthen their existing belief. This mental contortion is called the “confirmation bias.”
Pg 19 - … MRI while trying to process dissonant or consonant information… found that reasoning areas of the brain virtually shut down when participants were confronted with dissonant information, and the emotion circuits of the brain lit up happily when consonance was restored… once our minds are made up, it is hard to change them.
Pg 26 – … when people vent their feelings aggressively they often feel worse, pump up their blood pressure, and make themselves even angrier.
Pg 26 – when you do anything to harm someone else… a powerful new factor comes into play: the need to justify what you did… once the boy starts down the path of blaming the victim, he becomes likely to beat up on the victim with even greater ferocity the next chance he gets.
Pg 27 – Fortunately dissonance theory also shows us how a person’s generous actions can create a spiral of benevolence and compassion, a “virtuous cycle”.
Pg 29 – Because most people have a reasonably positive self-concept, believing themselves to be competent, moral, smart, their efforts at reducing dissonance will be designed to preserve their positive self-images… To reduce that dissonance, her (Mrs Keech, doomsday cult leader) followers could either have modified their opinion of their intelligence or justified the “incredibly stupid” thing they did. It’s not a close contest; it’s justification by three lengths. Mrs Keech’s true believers saved their self-esteem by deciding they hadn’t done anything stupid; in fact, they had been really smart to join this group because their faith saved the world from destruction. In fact, if everyone were smart, they would join too. Where’s that busy street corner?
Pg 33 – (The Pyramid of Choice) When the person at the top of the pyramid is uncertain, when there are benefits and costs at both choices, then he or she will feel a particular urgency to justify the choice made. But by the time the person is at the bottom of the pyramid, ambivalence will have morphed into certainty, and he or she will be miles away from anyone who took a different route.
pg 48 – The great danger to the public comes from the self-justifications of well-intentioned scientists and physicians who, because of their need to reduce dissonance, truly believe themselves to be above the influence of their corporate funders. Yet, like a plant turning toward the sun, they turn toward the interests of their sponsors without even being aware they are doing so.
Pg 53 – Once you take the gift, no matter how small, the process starts. You will feel the urge to give something back, even if it’s only, at first, your attention, your willingness to listen, your sympathy for the giver. Eventually you will be more willing to give your prescription, your ruling, your vote.
Pg 58 – Us is the most fundamental social category in the brain’s organizing system, and it’s hardwired.
Pg 59 – Without feeling attached to groups that give our lives meaning, identity, and purpose, we would suffer the intolerable sensation that we were loose marbles floating in a random universe. Therefore, we will do what it takes to preserve these attachments. Evolutionary psychologists argue that ethnocentrism – the belief that our own culture, nation, or religion is superior to all others – aids survival by strengthening our bonds to our primary social groups and thus increasing our willingness to work, fight, and occasionally die for them.
Pg 61 – Mr. X doesn’t even try to respond to Mr. Y’s evidence; he just slides along to another reason for his dislike of the Jews. Once people have a prejudice, just as once they have a political ideology, they do not easily drop it, even if the evidence indisputably contradicts a core justification for it. Rather, they come up with another justification to preserve their belief or course of action.
Pg 61 – “Trying to educate a bigot is like shining light into the pupil of an eye – it constricts.” Most people will put a lot of effort into preserving their prejudice rather than having to change it, often by way of waiving away disconfirming evidence as “exceptions that prove the rule.” (What would disprove the rule, we wonder?)
Pg 68 – “In normal circumstances,” wrote Hitler’s henchman Albert Speer in his memoirs, “people who turn their backs on reality are soon set straight by the mockery and criticism of those around them, which makes them aware they have lost credibility. In the Third Reich there were no such correctives, especially for those who belonged to the upper stratum. On the contrary, every self-deception was multiplied as in a hall of distorting mirrors, becoming a repeatedly confirmed picture of a fantastical dream world which no longer bore any relationship to the grim outside world. In those mirrors I could see nothing but my own face reproduced many times over.” Given that everyone has some blind spots, our greatest hope of self-correction lies in making sure we are not operating in a hall of mirrors, in which all we see are distorted reflections of our own desires and convictions. We need a few trusted naysayers in our lives, critics who are willing to puncture our protective bubble of self-justification and yank us back to reality if we veer too far off.
Pg 69 – All of us, as we tell our stories, add details and omit inconvenient facts; we give the tale a small, self-enhancing spin; that spin goes over so well that the next time we add a slightly more dramatic embellishment; we justify that little white lie as making the story better and clearer – until what we remember may not have happened that way, or even may not have happened at all. In this way, memory becomes our personal, live-in, self-justifying historian.
Pg 70 – But dissonance theory predicts that we will conveniently forget good arguments made by an opponent just as we forget foolish arguments made by our own side.
Pg 76 – By far, the most important distortions and confabulations of memory are those that serve to justify and explain our own lives.
Pg 86 – “imagination inflation,” because the more you imagine something, the more likely you are to inflate it into an actual memory, adding details as you go.
Pg 88 – (Sleep paralysis) During the deepest stage of sleep when dreaming is most likely to occur, a part of the brain shuts down body movements, so you won’t go hurling yourself around the bed as you dream of chasing tigers. If you awaken from this stage before your body does, you will actually be momentarily paralyzed; if your brain is still generating dream images, you will, for a few seconds, have a waking dream. That’s why those figures on the bed are dreamlike, nightmarish – you are dreaming, but with your eyes open.
Pg 90 – once the seed of belief was planted, once alien abduction was even suspected, the abductees began to search for confirmatory evidence. And once the search had begun, the evidence almost always turned up.
Pg 93 – when they are brought into the laboratory and asked to describe their traumatic abductions by aliens, their heightened physiological reactions (such as heart rate and blood pressure) are as great as those of patients who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. They have come to believe their own stories.
Pg 103 – In the profession of psychotherapy, clinical psychologists are the closest equivalents of trained lawyers… In contrast, most psychiatrists, who have medical degrees, learn about medicine and medication, but they rarely learn much about the scientific method or even about basic research in psychology.
Pg 105 – What these therapists see confirms what they believe, and what they believe shapes what they see. It’s a closed loop.
Pg 108 – “The weakness of the relationship between accuracy and confidence is one of the best documented phenomena in the 100-year history of eyewitness memory research.”
Pg 108 – The scientific method consists of the use of procedures designed to show not that our predictions and hypothesis are right, but that they might be wrong. Scientific reasoning is useful to anyone in any job because it makes us face the possibility, even the dire reality, that we were mistaken. It forces us to confront our self-justifications and put them on public display for others to puncture. At its core, therefore, science is a form of arrogance control.
Pg 109 – If every outcome confirms your hypothesis that all men unconsciously suffer from castration anxiety; or that intelligent design, rather than evolution, accounts for the diversity of species; or that your favorite psychic would have accurately predicted 9/11 if only she hadn’t been taking a shower that morning; or that dolphins are kind to humans, your beliefs are a matter of faith, not science.
Pg 110 – What unites these clinical practitioners is their misplaced reliance on their own powers of observation and the closed loop it creates. Everything they see confirms what they believe.
Pg 111 – “The notion that the mind protects itself by repressing or dissociating memories of trauma, rendering them inaccessible to awareness, is a piece of psychiatric folklore devoid of convincing empirical support.” Overwhelmingly, the evidence shows just the opposite.
Pg 113 – But if everything you observe in your clinical experience is evidence to support your beliefs, what would you consider counterevidence?
Pg 116 – Other studies of the unreliability of clinical predictions, and there are hundreds of them, are dissonance-creating news to the mental-health professionals whose self-confidence rests on the belief that their expert assessments are extremely accurate. When we said that science is a form of arrogance control, that’s what we mean.
Pg 119 – The scientists have shown that very young children, under age five, often cannot tell the difference between something they were told and something that actually happened to them.
Pg 123 – To do so would have been to realize that they had harmed the very women and children they were trying to help. It was much easier to preserve their commitments by rejecting the scientific research as being irrelevant to clinical practice. And as soon as they took that self-justifying step, they could not go back without enormous psychological difficulty. Today, standing at the bottom of the self-justifying pyramid, miles away professionally from their scientific colleagues, having devoted two decades to promoting a form of therapy that Richard McNally calls “the worst catastrophe to befall the mental-health field since the lobotomy era,” most recovered-memory clinicians remain as committed as ever to their beliefs. How have they reduced their dissonance? …minimizing the extent of the damage caused… blaming the victim… killing the messenger… dismiss all the scientific research as being part of a backlash…
Pg 125 – There are almost no psychotherapists who practiced recovered-memory therapy who have admitted that they were wrong. Of course, they may fear lawsuits. But from the few who have publicly admitted their errors, we can see what it took to shake them out of their protective cocoons of self-justification. For Linda Ross, it was taking herself out of the closed loop of private therapy sessions and forcing herself to confront, in person, parents whose lives had been destroyed by their daughter’s accusations… “Now I heard how absolutely ludicrous it sounded…”
Pg 131 – You want to think of yourself as an honorable, competent person who would never convict the wrong guy. But how can you possibly think you got the right guy in the face of the new evidence to the contrary? Because, you convince yourself, the evidence is lousy, and look, he’s a bad guy; even if he didn’t commit this particular crime, he undoubtedly committed another one. The alternative, that you sent an innocent man to prison for fifteen years, is so antithetical to your view of your competence that you will go through mental hoops to convince yourself that you couldn’t possibly have made such a blunder.
Pg 135 – It does seem ludicrous that the detectives did not change their minds, or at least entertain a moment of doubt, when Stephanie’s blood turned up on Tuite’s sweater. But once the detectives had convinced themselves that Michael and his friends were guilty, they started down the decision pyramid, self-justifying every bump to the bottom.
Pg 136 – In one experiment, jurors listened to an audiotaped reenactment of an actual murder trial and then said how they would have voted and why. Instead of considering and weighing possible verdicts in light of the evidence, most people immediately constructed a story about what had happened and then, as evidence was presented during the mock trial, they accepted only the evidence that supported their preconceived version of what had happened.
Pg 137 – In the case of Patrick Dunn of Bakersfield, California... the police chose to believe the uncorroborated account of a career criminal, which supported their theory that Dunn was guilty, rather than corroborated statements by an impartial witness, which would have exonerated him. This decision was unbelievable to the defendant, who asked his lawyer, Stan Simrin, “But don’t they want the truth?” “Yes,” Simrin said, “and they are convinced they have found it. They believe the truth is you are guilty. And now they will do whatever it takes to convict you.”
Pg 145 - … training does not increase accuracy; it increases people’s confidence in their accuracy.
Pg 149 - … many prosecutors end up being prepared to sabotage their own side’s goal of justice to preserve their convictions, in both meanings of the world.
Pg 149 – In the cases of crimes that have roused public emotions, they are under enormous pressure to get a conviction quickly. Any doubts they might have are drowned in the satisfaction of feeling that they are representing the forces of good against a vile criminal.
Pg 150 – Across the country, as DNA testing has freed hundreds of prisoners, news accounts often include a quote or two from the prosecutors who originally tried them. For example, in Philadelphia, District Attorney Bruce L Castor Jr. was asked by reporters what scientific basis he had for rejecting a DNA test that exonerated a man who had been in prison for 20 years. He replied, “I have no scientific basis. I know because I trust my detective and my tape-recorded confession.” How do we know that this casual dismissal of DNA testing, which is persuasive to just about everyone else on the planet, is a sign of self-justification and not simply an honest assessment of the evidence? It’s like the horse-race study we described in chapter 1: Once we have placed our bets, we don’t want to entertain any information that casts doubts on that decision. That is why prosecutors will interpret the same evidence in two ways, depending on when it is discovered. Early in an investigation, the police use DNA to confirm a suspect’s guilt of rule the person out. But when DNA tests are conducted after a defendant has been indicted and convicted, the prosecutors typically dismiss it as being irrelevant, not important enough to reopen the case… But DNA evidence should be used the same way whenever it turns up; it is the need for self-justification that prevents most prosecutors from being able to do that. Defense attorney Peter J Neufield says that in his experience, reinterpreting the evidence to justify the original verdict is extremely common among prosecutors and judges.
Pg 152 – Doubt is not the enemy of justice; overconfidence is.
Pg 201 – It is much more reassuring to believe they are evil and be done with them. We dare not let a glimmer of their humanity in the door, because it might force us to face the haunting truth of Pogo’s great line, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Pg 223 – Perhaps the greatest lesson of dissonance theory is that we can’t wait around for people to have moral conversions, personality transplants, sudden changes of heart, or new insights that will cause them to sit up straight, admit error, and do the right thing.
Pg 227 – “It is part of the scientific attitude to change one’s beliefs once they are discredited. Well, it’s not an easy thing to do. Combine invested time, invested money, high hopes, high expectations, and a relative amount of pride, and you’re up for quite a challenge when confronted with contradicting evidence.”
Pg 228 – Understanding how the mind yearns for confidence and rejects information that questions our beliefs, decisions, or preferences, teaches us to be open to the possibility of error. It also helps us let go of the need to be right.
Pg 229 – “Nowadays, when I feel passionate that I am 100% right about a decision that others question, I look at it again; that’s all.” Berry did not have to admit that she made a mistake; she didn’t make a mistake. But she did have to let go of her need to be right.
Pg 213 – Understanding how dissonance operates helps us rethink our own muddles, but it is also a useful skill for helping friends and relatives get out of theirs. Too often, out of the best of intentions, we do the very thing guaranteed to make matters worse: We hector, lecture, bully, plead, or threaten. Anthony Pratkanis, a social psychologist who investigated how scammers prey on their elderly targets, collected heartbreaking stories of family members pleading with relatives who had been defrauded: “Can’t you see the guy is a thief and the offer is a scam? You’re being ripped off!” “Ironically this natural tendency to lecture may be one of the worst things a family member or friend can do,” Pratkanis says. “A lecture just makes the victim feel more defensive and pushes him or her further into the clutches of the fraud criminal.” Anyone who understands dissonance knows why. Shouting “What were you thinking?” will backfire because it means “Boy, are you stupid.” Such accusations cause already embarrassed victims to withdraw further into themselves and clam up, refusing to tell anyone what they are doing. And what they are doing is investing more money, or buying more magazines, because now they really have an incentive to get the family savings back, show they are not stupid or senile, and prove that what they were thinking was perfectly sensible. Therefore, says Pratkanis, before the victim of a scam will inch back from the precipice, he or she needs to feel respected and supported. Helpful relatives can encourage the person to talk about his or her values and how those values influenced what happened, while they listen uncritically. Instead of irritably asking “How could you possibly have believed that creep?” you say “Tell me what appealed to you about the guy that made you believe him.” Con artists take advantage of people’s best qualities – their kindness, politeness, and their desire to honor their commitments, reciprocate a gift, or help a friend. Praising the victim for having these worthy values, says Pratkanis, even if they got the person into hot water in this particular situation, will offset feelings of insecurity and incompetence.
By Denise Winn
pg 110 - When the rules have been set, we feel difficulty in disobeying them unless we have massive peer support.
pg 111 - People cannot be trusted to say and do what they think is right if others around them are expressing an opposite opinion.
pg 112 - Having one supporter was sufficient to eliminate the strong conformity drive.
pg 112 - The need to be one with a group, to have group approval and therefore social approval, means that individuals will very often change their attitudes themselves, to fit with the norm, instead of having to be pursuaded... The passive power exerted by social norms is all the stronger than overt power because it is bowed to unconsciously.
pg 112 - In group decision making, the pressure for consensus is so strong that it can inhibit any expression of dissent... The enthusiasm of the members can lead to an illusion of invulnerability; whatever decision is made must be the right one because they made it... The group comes to believe in its own intrinsic morality...
pg 115 - ... if an individual wants someone to do him a big favour, the most successful technique for winning it is to induce him to do a small favour first.
pg 115 - 'boomerang effect': if a person has committed himself to something and is then attacked for his position, he increases his committment, even if it was not at all strong in the first place.
pg 117 - ... forewarning of attack may strengthen commitment... This finding, borne out by many other independent researchers, may perhaps be seen in the case of religious cult converts who are constantly warned of the dangers of being caught by a deprogrammer who will try to overturn their belief, thus strengthening the converts resolve to hold firm to their faith in the face of any evil.
pg 117 - ... if people committed themselves to attend a certain number of sessions of a group and then discovered that their own views were rather at variance with those of that group, gradually their own views would grow closer to the group norm... he had committed himself to spending time with the group, he had to justify that decision.
pg 117 - ...individuals seem to need to believe that their own actions are self-instigated... a deception that may well arise because of an attack on ones freedom... When an environment is effectively controlled by external forces, then acting as if one's behaviour was really self-derived is one of the few alternatives left open... people who behaved in a military fashion even when it was not demanded nor suggested... soldiers who regularly marched from their bunks or saluted other recruits... In behaving the same way in freer settings, one retains the perception of choice of self-responsibility in more prescribed situations.
pg 120 - cognitive dissonance... many devotees of spiritual healers who have been exposed as fakes continue to offer their faith and 'stick by' the maligned hero, not because of any magnitude of spirit themselves but because of the insupportable psychological consequences of accepting they had been duped.
pg 126 - As the justifications for making a given decision increase, the decision becomes more "externalized"; the individual can point to circumstances which compel a given course of action, limit his choice and reduce the risks attendant upon personal responsibility. In short, extrinsic justification minimizes the necessity for intrinsic justification - for psychological re-evaluation of the alternatives, for changing one's values, attitudes or motives... most people try to avoid making decisions or accepting responsibility and situations of free choice... most people treasure the concept of free choice... yet, in reality, do all to avoid it.
pg 128 - Similarly, belief in the spiritual healing process can effect a cure for even intransigent diseases.
pg 129 - Believing in a healer may well serve to reduce anxiety about one's condition and, as the conditions that respond best to placebos are those where bodily pain may be aggravated by anxiety and tension, this would tend to imply that placebo power is the power to allay the kind of stress symptoms which may prevent the body's own healing process from getting to work. It makes all the more sense when one considers that more and more diseases are now seen as stress-induced in the first place.
pg 131 - Psychologists have shown through controlled experiments that participating in various events, even supposedly as a game, can definitely make an individual's attitude towards that event more positive than before.
pg 132 - ... it (role-playing) required a person to think up all the arguments and appeals that he thinks would be most convincing to a person like himself - and in doing so, it is himself he persuades.
pg 153 - ... four influencing events to pay attention to in the context of sudden religious conversion: first, a close personal relationship needs to be developed with the people one wishes to convert to one's own position. It is human to respond to the offer of caring from another individual, to respond, especially if affection-starved and disoriented, to the tempting welcome into the bosom of a strong and loving family; second, the arousal of emotion by the leader, whether by emotional speeches, rhythmic music or dancing, serves to stir up troubling deep guilt and fear feelings in the audience which can be relieved quickly by submission to the cause; third, by responding to the appeal to come forward, to make promises or to speak out and be counted, people can be coaxed to commit themselves by actions which may then, as has been shown, colour their consequent attitudes; last, says Zimbardo, comes the powerful influence of prayer. The act of prayer may serve many purposes, in this context. It binds the group, acts as a reminder of the initial emotions experienced during the conversion itself, reinforces belief and, by focusing on the power of a supernatural force to bring good or evil, serves to place an individual's total responsibility for his actions outside himself. Prayer can bring peace... Whatever else may exist in the essence of prayer, prayer as a form is an effective instrument for manipulation.
pg 154 - Sargant has seen Evangelical-type conversion as a prime example of what can happen when the brain reaches overload and succumbs to a surfeit of stress. At the sermons of Wesley, for instance, it was a regular occurrence for people to collapse as the mass hysteria mounted, and to rise saved. Wesley's speeches aroused the whole gamut of emotions in the audience, from guilt and fear to anger and indignation. It was irrelevant which. The result was physical collapse and an ensuing state of suggestibility which led to instant conversion.
pg 162 - They were also implanted with the idea that anything negative they experience was because of the evil still in them. This way no blame could ever be attached to the Moonie cult itself.
pg 155 - Hoffer: 'Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for lost faith in ourselves. The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause.'
pg 156 - Hoffer: 'Are the frustrated more easily indoctrinated than the non-frustrated? There is apparently some connection between dissatisfaction with oneself and a proneness to credulity. The urge to escape our real self is also an urge to escape the rational and the obvious. The refusal to see ourselves as we are develops a distaste for facts and cold logic. There is no hope for the frustrated in the actual and possible. Salvation can to them only from the miraculous. They ask to be deceived.'
pg 157 - ... all mass movements are interchangeable...
1. In-group exclusiveness and hostility to all outside it.
2. Demand for total submissiveness to the in-group which alone can bring about good.
3. The categorization of people according to selected characteristics and making overall judgments on the basis of these.
4. Promotion of the idea that the world is a scene of unceasing conflict, e.g. as a result of 'class war'
5. The view that any tenderness for family bonds or toleration of enemies serves only to weaken the in-group in its struggle and dilute commitment.
6. Belief in hostile conspiratorial forces whose aim is to destroy the in-group. Survival may therefore require violence.
7. Belief in a wholly harmonious society which can only be created by the in-group.
pg 165 – Gortner saw his role as preacher as similar to that of a rock star. He would make a strong entrance, go through the old standard numbers and build up to his ‘hit song’ at the end, by which time the audience is in ecstasy. ‘ The people who are out there don’t see it as entertainment although that is in fact the way it is.’ Now that he is no longer a preacher, Gortner spends much time trying to convey to the public the kinds of rhetorical techniques that are so commonly used to manipulate their thoughts and emotions.
pg 165 - Gortner (former preacher): 'And I keep going back and forth until she's almost in tears. And then, even though this is in a college crowd and I'm only doing it as a joke, I just say my same old line, "In the name of Jesus" and touch them on the head and, wham they fall down flat every time.'
Pg 169 – Every day, Manson would reiterate his philosophies of life, indoctrination by the time-tested means of repetition. He knew well that, as they lived in seclusion as a family, his followers would receive no counter-information of any kind to conflict with the content of his own.
pg 170 - T.H. Qualter: 'Uniforms, bands, flags, symbols were all part of the German propaganda machine, designed by Hitler and Goebbels to increase the impact of strong words by evidence of strong deeds. Meetings were not just occasions for people to make speeches, they were carefully panned theatrical productions in which settings, lighting, background music and timing of entrances and exits were devised to maximise the emotional fervour of an audience already brought to fever pitch by an hour or more given over to singing and the shouting of slogans.
pg 177 - Scheflin and Opton: ' We do not want to confront Pogo's famous insight, "We have met the enemy and he is us". How much more comforting to think, "We have met the enemy and he is Satan" or "she is a witch" or "his mind is possessed by demonic spirits"...'
pg 177 - For to admit we can be swayed and manipulated is possibly more frightening than to admit that others can choose to perform socially or politically or morally unacceptable actions.
pg 204 - The best way to avoid conversion of any kind is not to get emotionally involved in the proceedings. Once guilt, fear, anger are stirred up, one is halfway to being won.. The obstacles that the religious or political proselytizer cannot overcome are indifference or detached, controlled, and continued amusement on the part of the subject at the efforts being made to break him down or win him over or tempt him into argument. The safety of the free world seems therefore to lie in a cultivation not only of courage, moral virtue and logic but of humour: humour which produces the well-balanced state in which emotional excess is laughed at as ugly and wasteful.
pg 204 - Humour is therefore not only a tool for keeping one's own perspective balance but an aid, via its absence, to identifying those others who have no sense of perspective. Beware the leaders of causes, salesman and experts who cannot genuinely laugh at themselves.
pg 207 - Getting out of a situation is one of the best ways of seeing it for what it is instead of becoming swamped by it and helpless to resist... Immersion in any experience mars one's judgment about its import and its true relationship to other events in life.
pg 212 - Perhaps it is only by standing back, emotionally, and testing our assumptions that we can become more the masters of ourselves and correspondingly less the slaves of circumstance.
Monday, May 9, 2011
I propose we can distinguish mankind's creations from what would be God's creations by assessing three characteristics:
1) Quality: A creation generally reflects its creator in its quality
2) Location of origin: A creation generally originates next to its creator
3) Process of spreading: A creation generally spreads to new locations by a process implemented by its creator.
As I theorize on what these characteristics would look like for God's creations, keep these in mind: mountains, water, humpback whales, sequoia trees, stars, love, and the laws of nature.
1) Quality: We would generally find God’s creations to be of a breathtaking, mind-boggling quality, reflective of an infinitely superior mind.
2) Location of origin: We would generally find God’s creations originating not in one place but globally or universally, which fits with an omnipresent God.
3) Process of Spreading: We would generally find God’s creations spreading to new locations by a process that God implements, requiring little/no human intervention.
Now as I assess the three counterpart characteristics of man’s creations, keep these in mind: the airplane, the printing press, the transistor, the telephone
1) Quality: We generally find mankind’s creations to be of a much lower, much more comprehensible quality, often wrought with mistakes, reflective of our human limitations.
2) Location of origin: We generally find mankind’s creations originating right next to their human creator in a confined location.
3) Process of Spreading: We generally find mankind’s creations spreading to new locations by a process that mankind implements.
Looking at these 3 characteristics, do the writings of the Bible bear the signatures of mankind's creations or the signatures of God's creations?
- The Bible contains factual contradictions, ie King Azahiah's age at reign (2 Kings 8:26 vs 2 Chronicles 22:2), or who met who at Jesus' empty tomb and what was the reaction.
- The Bible contains theological contradictions, ie God is vengeful and war-like, or merciful and peaceful (Jer 13:14 vs James 5:11).
- The Bible contains known additions that are not original, ie the story of the woman taken in adultery (John 7:53-8:11, the beloved line "let he who is without sin cast the first stone"), and the last chapter in Mark.
- The Bible contains failed prophecies, ie Jesus' return within one generation (Mt 16:28)
- The original meanings of countless passages are unclear and heavily disputed due to time, language, and cultural barriers, as becomes true of all human writings.
- The Bible contains theological and apologetic embellishments, ie Matthew's mystical genealogy of Jesus.
- The Bible contains human opinions, as expressed by Paul in 1 Cor 7:12.
- The Bible contains human influences such as different literary styles and education levels amongst the authors, ie Matthew's better understanding of the Old Testament language than Mark.
- The Bible's understanding of science is capped by man's limited understanding at the time of writing, it conveys scientific misconceptions (ie the Earth is only a few thousand years old) and offers no new scientific insight, insight which an omniscient Creator of all the universe would possess in fullness.
- The Bible stories contain similar themes to earlier Mesopotamian/Egyptian mythology, ie the Epic of Gilgamesh, and Horus.
- The Bible stories depict events which defy the laws of nature that God supposedly instituted, laws which all of God's other creations (all nature) apparently uphold at all times.
2) Location of origin: The writings of the Bible originated under the pen of human authors from a specific culture of people from a confined area of the Middle East. The outside world was initially unaware of these writings' existence, and parts of the world still are.
3) Process of Spreading: The Bible spread from its location of origin by massive human effort.
So to the best I can tell, the Bible bears the creative signatures of mankind, and does not bear the creative signatures of a Supreme Being.
Apologists often give historical defenses of Jesus’ resurrection, piecing together scant information from the Bible and concluding that there is no alternative explanation for the claim of the empty tomb and the early explosion of Christianity. But my question is: what explanation do apologists have for some of the missing historical information? If Jesus was really God, then there are certain pieces of information that would have been extremely advantageous for the early church to remember, information that would have served as evidence to confirm their beliefs. The earliest Christian church seems to have either quickly forgotten certain critical information, or never knew it. To me, this suggests that the information was not advantageous, or was even disadvantageous. The biggest one is the location of Jesus’ tomb. The empty tomb is one of the most important confirmations of Christian beliefs, so I can’t conceive of how early believers could let anyone forget this if Jesus really rose. I can think of two explanations for forgetting the location of the tomb. 1) It was not important to the earliest church because their belief was based more on feelings than cold-hard facts. 2) The tomb location would not serve to confirm, but rather disconfirm their beliefs. Other forgotten information that makes no sense is the authors and date of authorship of the gospels. How could the Christian church ever have forgotten this? There must have been no advantage to remembering who wrote the gospels. The earliest records we have of the Christian church shows them trying to piece together what happened in Jesus’ time from scant information, just like we are still trying to do today. They’ve been mystery texts ever since day 1 (whenever that was).
The absurd beliefs of other massive religions should teach the Christian not to take comfort in numbers; the Christian is individually responsible for his belief in invisible characters. Today, Scientology has over half a million members, but that doesn’t make the Scientologist beliefs any less absurd than they were in the 1950s before there were any followers, when a lone science-fiction author made the beliefs up. A scientologist may take comfort in the number of fellow scientologists, but in reality it doesn’t matter if billions believe or if he is literally the only one, his beliefs remain equally absurd. The same applies to the Christian; his beliefs are just as absurd as if he were the only person in the world who believed in those invisible characters. We take comfort in numbers. The schizoid and the cult member are considered lunatics for their beliefs, because not many people share their belief. But once the cult blossoms into a large organized religion, lunacy masquerades as normalcy. All religions, including Christianity, begin with just one or a handful of people and then grow and mutate radically over time. Christianity began with just a few localized followers as an offshoot of another religion (Judaism), much like cults begin today as an offshoot of Christianity. Christians today enjoy a massive base of affirmation and support for their conformed beliefs in invisible characters, but outsiders are still able to quickly and easily recognize the absurdity, and it’s no less absurd today than it was for the first handful of believers. The number of followers, be it 2 or 2 billion, doesn’t change the level of absurdity of the belief, nor does it change the simple principle that those on the inside have a severely more difficult time recognizing the absurdity than those on the outside.
Take the rather large issue of homosexuality for example; are you strongly opposed to homosexuality? Then so is Jesus, who says gays will burn in hell, we should have laws in place against such abominations, and we should go warn gays of their folly. Do you support gay rights and believe God loves and saves homosexuals too? Then so does Jesus, who says all have sinned, we should not judge, we are saved by faith alone, and who came to preach a simple message of love. There are Christians at every possible stance on the issue of homosexuality. How many Christians believe that their views on homosexuality differ much from Jesus’ views? Not likely any.
Each individual constructs his own Jesus to provide divine affirmation for himself, that he is aligned with God. A lack of this sense of alignment creates stress for the believer, who will work to reduce this stress in conscious and subconscious ways. Consciously, the believer will work toward modifying himself toward the nature of God as it’s been taught to him. Subconsciously, the believer will work to modify his understanding of the nature of God toward his own psyche. Eventually the two entities, himself and his understanding of God’s nature, will meet at some arbitrary location in the middle, producing the desired sense of alignment. Subsequent feelings of inner peace serve to affirm the believer’s false sense of alignment with God, which is really just alignment with his own understandings of God (whatever those happen to be).
The name Jesus refers primarily to Jesus the man, but we cannot have a relationship with Jesus the man because he is no longer here. God came to Earth in the form of Jesus to atone for man’s sins, offer salvation, and draw man into a closer relationship. Jesus was fully man and fully God; let’s call these two counterparts Jesus the man and Jesus the God. Without the man, the name Jesus would not be associated with God. God was not previously called Jesus. God chose to come down for a time and interact in human form, and that human form was named Jesus. The name Jesus refers primarily to Jesus the man. While Jesus lived, his followers had a relationship with both Jesus the man and Jesus the God. After Jesus the man left the Earth, Jesus the God remained. Those who were born later don’t get to meet Jesus the man, but we get to meet Jesus the God. Our relationship with Jesus is devoid of fleshly interaction, as opposed to our human relationships which depend largely on the flesh (which is why we’re devastated when loved ones die). When we say we love Jesus, we cannot be talking about Jesus’ flesh, Jesus the man. We don’t love that cute mole on his cheek, that funny look he gives us, his bright demeanor, his skills as a carpenter, his generosity in building mom that beautiful cabinet, or his charming table talk. We can’t know Jesus the man, so salvation wouldn’t be related to that (or else we are all doomed). Salvation can only be related to a relationship with Jesus the God. But Jesus the God is simply God, the same God that existed before Jesus lived, infinite and good (This is where lengthy Trinitarian arguments would enter, but in short I fail to see how Jesus the God is different than God without entering polytheism).
My point thus far: a relationship with Jesus the man is impossible, and a relationship with Jesus the God is simply a relationship with God, since God is One. It seems that if someone has a relationship with God, then they have a relationship with Jesus the God whether they know/believe it or not. But the fundamental Christian doctrine is not that one must have a relationship with God, it’s that one must believe that God acted in history in a particular way; that God came to Earth as Jesus the man to save us. That’s really the crux of Christianity, “believe this story.” Everything else, like loving God and being a good person, is secondary to believing the right story, and seen as “Satan masquerading as an angel of light” in the absence of the right story. Christianity is all about the right story. Just “believe (this story) and ye shall receive.”
I’ve found the question of Jesus’ deity to be an academic exercise of analyzing questionable ancient writings and weighing through 2000 years of debate and controversy. It is impossible for mankind to reach a unanimous decision on Jesus’ deity, the evidence is too controversial and the truth is lost in time. Why would God make salvation dependent on figuring out this impossible question? Why, of all things, would the most important thing in God’s eyes be that we believe a particular story? Why would God value this over love and good character, character that has matured into his image? If God chose to save us through Jesus death, then that’s wonderful for us, but why would God only save us if we believe the right story about how he did it, not have Jesus write a word of the story himself, leave the story to be written by unknown authors at unknown dates after years of being passed verbally, allow multiple discrepant versions of the story into mainstream circulation, allow clear instances of the authors' theological preferences and legendary apologetic embellishments into the story, allow later additions to the story to become cemented in, leave the story all-around mired in controversy, and leave mankind incapable of little better than chaotic disagreement on the subject?
This view of salvation seems irrational to me, and seems to have the signature of man all over it. It looks like something man made up, not God. It would result in gross failure of God’s will that all be saved. It would not be good news for all people. Father’s do not expect their children to understand a dangerous situation before they save them from it. A patient receiving a heart transplant may have no idea who performed the surgery or how the surgery was done, but the doctor doesn’t expect him to know and the success of the surgery does not depend on him knowing.
Absolute truth: what is correct, what is, the way things really are, regardless of perception, as would be known by an omniscient being.
Knowledge: information stored in the mind, can be correct or incorrect.
Incorrect knowledge: Knowledge that doesn’t happen to match absolute truth.
Correct knowledge: Knowledge that does happen to match absolute truth.
Absolute knowledge: Correct knowledge combined with the ability to know it is correct with zero potential sources of error. An omniscient being would possess absolute knowledge.
In between absolute truth and absolute knowledge lays our human limitation, an inescapable source of error. Our minds do not store a perfect copy of the absolute truth, but rather a limited perception of the absolute truth. Even if our knowledge happens to match absolute truth perfectly (happens to be correct), we have no way of ultimately knowing that it matches. Being able to check how correct our knowledge is would require a cheat sheet of absolute truth that has zero potential sources of error. We don’t have this cheat sheet, so as far as we know there is always the human source of error. We can never ultimately know whether our knowledge is correct or incorrect; we can never have absolute knowledge. Absolute truth, absolute knowledge, correct knowledge, and incorrect knowledge are unverifiable concepts to humans. All we have is knowledge and a degree of confidence regarding its correctness based on evidence and reasoning. People tend to agree most on matters which are well within the reach of our senses (such as whether gravity pulls up or down) because the evidence is most clearly and readily perceived. As we begin to discuss matters which approach or exceed the limits of our senses, our perceptions are fuzzy and we tend to disagree more. The human source of error becomes more problematic. The origin of life and the universe, the cosmos, other dimensions, theoretical physics, religion and spirituality approach or exceed the limits of our senses. Interestingly, some people’s degrees of confidence remain quite high on such matters.
I mentioned a cheat sheet earlier; if we indeed had a perfect cheat sheet then absolute truth, absolute knowledge, correct knowledge, and incorrect knowledge would indeed be verifiable by humans. A tenet of Christianity is the claim to possess this cheat sheet, the Bible. It is a matter of Faith to accept that the Bible is indeed man’s cheat sheet. Having personally studied the Bible, I’ve seen that human limitation is a major source of error in the Bible, rendering it ineligible as a cheat sheet. Absolute knowledge must have zero potential sources of error, otherwise “absolute” is the wrong word.
Christianity has disregarded the human source of error and declared absolute knowledge, describing itself as the “only way.” Christianity has assumed that because they’ve found meaning in their belief in Jesus, every one else should too. If feeling that you need to be right is considered arrogance, Christianity is indeed arrogant.
I've found that my best thinking skills (however meager) lead me away from Christian belief. What can I make of that? If Christian beliefs are actually true, why would God give me a brain whose best thinking skills lead away from truth and salvation? I don't think God would do that. If God gave me this brain, I would hope that I’ve made God proud by using it to the best of my ability, breaking free of constrictive belief systems that my mind has diligently examined and come to perceive as man-made.