True Believers Only


Ideologies come in all flavours. Some people build their worldview around their religion, others on their race, some on a belief about what the world should be, and others on a belief about how the world really is.

But at their core is a set of beliefs. Beliefs which might rise in their own minds to the level of fact, but which are yet unproven and perhaps unprovable.

And that doesn’t bother me. If somebody wants to, for example, assert as fact that the Bible is literally true, then to the extent that it’s not causing them to hurt anyone, I’m not gonna be the ants at their picnic.

My concern, however, is the way that we define communities around those beliefs. And how such communities tolerate and address dissent or even the mere introduction of new information.

For example: what would happen if I went to a local bible study group, and introduced to them the Gospel of Peter, in which a resurrected Jesus is pursued by a floating and talking crucifix, and inquired what gave the Carthagean Synod of 397 the authority to favour a different (and less detailed) Passion narrative? How would I be treated? Of course everything loses some of its magic when you have to consider how it was made, not least of all the Bible. But would I just be treated as the subject of pity: someone who was missing the bigger picture? Would they permit their own beliefs to shift in order to accommodate the new information? Or would I be treated as a traitor, and expelled from the group to cheers of “Fake News”?

A Leafs fan starts every season insisting that they’re bringing home the Cup this year, and each year they’re disappointed, and yet they don’t stop the team from competing just so they can’t be proven wrong again.

Healthy communities and healthy ideologies must be strong enough to withstand challenge and dissent, or they will only become weaker. Where an ideology cannot accept disagreement, where a community cannot tolerate competition, and where a person cannot be deemed incorrect without also being deemed evil, that is where extremism is born.

But extremism can be insidious, so we must be self critical: open to new information, willing to adjust our beliefs, and careful to not isolate ourselves such that we hear only what makes us feel smart and righteous.

Like when I almost lost a friend because I said that, while I like Brady just fine as an athlete, I’m not a fan of him as a human being. Or when I did lose a friend because I said that I think attempted suicide should be repudiated as a form of protest. Or when I forget that Bernie supporters can both be wrong about trade and Clinton, and be well intentioned and intelligent people. Or more to the point: when I forget that I might be wrong about trade and Clinton.

Becoming a True Believer is a trap of Pride and Ego. And we should try to surround ourselves with a community which is a safeguard against those instincts, instead of one which feeds them.

Posted in: Faith, Progress

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