Are All Beliefs Harmless?
This is perhaps the saddest and stupidest thing I have seen in awhile…
Last year I wrote a post Empathizing With Delusional Christians. The point of the post was that some persons had been socialized and inculcated into delusional thinking, and simply had no good categories for interpreting reality. In a nutshell: their parents or socializing situation had made them brain dead.
As an example of this type of interpretive stupidity I featured, among others, Pastor Mack Wolford, a member of the ‘Signs’ Pentecostal denomination, who liked to handle highly venomous timber rattlesnakes during services as a demonstration of ‘faith’ in his ‘beliefs’.
A couple of weeks ago the “serpent-handling” West Virginia pastor died after his rattlesnake bit him during a church ritual, just as the man had apparently watched a snake kill his father years before.
Read that last part again again: just as the man had apparently watched a snake kill his father years before. He ‘believed’ that he could handle snakes because the ‘Bible’ told him so, and obviously years of intellectually stupid indoctrination, but somehow, regardless of that ‘belief’ reality still invaded his insulated delusion.
This reminds me of the story of 16-year-old Austin Sprout who lost his life when his parents, Brandi and Russel Bellew, opted for prayer instead of medical treatment. Similarly to Wolford, Austin Sprout watched his father die in 2007 of sepsis after seeking prayer instead of medical treatment for a leg injury.
So we have two ignoramuses who have been indoctrinated into stupidity, but not just regular stupidity, a special breed of ignorance in which reality and modernity are completely ignored for fairy tales and magic. Even worse, their parents gave them the faulty cognitive framework by which to kill themselves!
The point of parenting is to raise children with the skills to be successful adults, husbands or wives, friends, and parents themselves. Teaching them magic or putting their lives at risk by refusing modern medicine, which has been shown actually to work, is grounds for losing your children. It is abuse, and like sexual or physical abuse other adults must stop it whenever and wherever it is occurring. But these fools have a ‘right’ to their ‘beliefs’… ridiculous.
Now, we have to be absolutely clear and understand that “Cognitive development is a process of socialization…” and that “intellectual development is organized and directed by the social world over the course of childhood. Although a single instance of thinking may be a solitary activity, cognitive development as a process cannot be meaningfully separated from the social context in which it occurs.” Socialization then is the “primary system through which children learn about the world and develop cognitive skills.” (M. Gauvain and S. M. Perez “The Socialization of Cognition” in Handbook of Socialization: Theory and Research, 588.) Ultimately, Mack and Austin were trained to be stupid. They simply had no good categories for understanding.
This is exactly where I empathize with many seriously delusional religious persons: they were socialized in a delusional setting; that setting, and the categories of intellectual non-complexity they were saddled with, are not their fault in many ways. Frankly, it would be impossible for them to have any other interpretive categories entering adulthood outside of some different socializing settings of their youth, say school and friends, though this is mitigated in some religious settings by insulating against outside influences.
But to remain this willfully ignorant and stupid is simply stunning… to pretend that you can do magic in the age we live in… to ignore the real, actual, predictable, repeatable, testable, provable knowledge that has been accumulated in the last couple of hundred years and to kill yourself for a ridiculous ‘belief’… *sigh*, on some levels I just don’t get it.
This is why I reject such ridiculous relativistic statements such as, “It’s OK to believe what you believe. I believe what I believe.” Are all beliefs equal? Are all beliefs harmless? No, because there is something that is called ‘knowledge’ and it trumps ridiculous, ignorant ‘beliefs’ every time.
There is a qualitative and quantitative difference between ‘belief’ and ‘knowledge’. There is such an important distinction between ‘belief’ and ‘knowledge’. We can ‘believe’ a great deal of things that are nothing more than conjecture, we can ‘believe’ those things are ‘true’… and yet still be quite wrong! However, because I can have wrong beliefs it does not mean that I cannot pursue better categories for understanding, and gain real, actual, useful knowledge about the world around me and the universe I live in.
When I was a child I thought as a child…
I grew up in a charismatic church setting. I ‘knew’ a lot of things about supernatural power and how to access the unseen force. I ‘knew’ the earth was young (the Bible, my parents, and the pastor told me: what more do you need!). I ‘knew’ the dead were often raised from the dead, and that God regenerated limbs. Magic was everywhere! These were simply unexamined self-evident facts.
But you do not have to remain ignorant forever. It is possible to gain better categories for interpreting the phenomena that occur around you. While some beliefs you hold may not be as harmful as Mack’s or Austin’s, those beliefs may be just as ignorant. So while you can remain a product of your socialization context–and that I will empathize with, my question is: are you going to do anything about it?