An unbelievably common refrain that I run into debating religious people that are otherwise reasonable, well read and well spoken individuals is the idea they are somehow too dumb to understand God’s reasoning.
I have debated Mormon friends1 on the topic of polyandry and underage marriage. An issue that was recently admitted to by the LDS church itself in an effort to own up to its history. 2 This makes it impossible for the believer to dismiss the topic as ‘anti-mormon’ lies like was done in the past. Most feel their stomach churn at the thought of these issues, much the same way the escapades of Warren Jeffs disgust them. But they deeply believe that old Joe was called of God to do what he did so they have to justify it somehow. That’s when you hear the phrases, ‘I just have faith’ and ‘who am I to question God?’ or the one that inspired this article. ‘God must have a reason that I am not mentally equipped to understand.’
Religious dogma repeatedly teaches the believer this idea they are too stupid to understand the ways of deity. The very act of faith so celebrated in all belief systems requires a suspension of critical thinking. Reason is mocked when it questions the tenets of faith. You are taught to cling to your spiritual evidences no matter what. That is where this I’m too stupid idea comes from. It is an outward expression of the cognitive dissonance that the believer is feeling.
The rational truth seeker will get really frustrated pushing for understanding past this point. That’s because the believer has outwardly renounced reason to keep the faith. This is where you need to remember one simple premise. You can’t reason a person out of an emotional conviction…without using emotion.
Ever try to convince a Chevy advocate that Ford is better? Or an Apple fanboy that a PC is the better deal? It’s pretty hard to do. Because they are emotionally attached to their brand favorite. Often times it is hard for us who have trained ourselves to recognize and ignore the effects of emotional bias to deal with it in others. An example of our own bias about biases :).
So how do you win the war against unreason? Emotion. The secret is to evoke emotion. Only by flooding those cognitive connections in a soup of hormones, do you open up the opportunity for them to change. Use all the emotions at your disposal, humor, love, sincerity, and even anger. You should willingly express these emotions yourself and give your friends mirror neurons a chance to fire and feel the way you feel. If this sounds kind of like a religious meeting where people testify of their faith and others feel spiritually connectedness, it should. That is exactly what you should be going for! Finding common ground, connecting with that other human being emotionally is key before moving on to giving them the alternate more rational explanation you are endeavoring them to learn.
Religions have all stumbled onto this formula of emotional conviction to a cause. They are so good at it that they can convince people they are idiots when compared to the dogma they are preaching. What if we could harness that same sense of conviction to help people realize they are not the idiots their religion would have them be, but instead that they are brilliant and capable free thinkers that can reason and develop moral convictions even to the point they can challenge the scary God of their youth. Most people I know would balk at the despicable acts of deity documented in every tome of scripture dogma from every type of faith. Most people are inherently more MORAL3 beings than the very God they worship. If only they could realize this!
If only the religiously devote could redirect that devotion to the here and now rather than the untestable eternities offered up in exchange for a few $$ and a dream of hope after you die. Imagine for a moment a world where that devotion is directed wholeheartedly to solving the problems of today rather than proving their faith is the right one that every other person should follow.
I think it can be done. I hope it can happen. And I’m pretty sure it will take a little more than just a reasonable argument to make it reality. So next time you are doing your damnedest to extol the virtues of a rational approach in your worldview, make sure you dwell on the positives of it! Take the effort to emotionally convert her to your perspective. You will have much greater success in my opinion. But who knows, I just may be too stupid to understand the ways of the Fridge.
- admittedly I debate them more than any other being a former Mormon myself ↩
- Thanks to the internet bringing historical information right to your fingertips and pretty much pressing the issue. ↩
- How many believers do you know that if they were God would ever ask a father to kill his son as a sign of loyalty? Yet both Muslim and Christian religions believe father Abraham was required to do exactly that! The God of Abraham is a mob boss, not a nice guy! ↩
All very good points.How ever for most people religion of any denomination, belief is very much an emotional issue so it’s an uphill discussion all the way, combined with most of us no matter what religion we were brought up in were told from a very young age God existed and the bible was true etc .Its very difficult to see reason when it flys in the face of everything you were taught growing up
There is a sharp contrast between the concept of mystery (as in the mysteries of godliness) and that of discernment. Mystery is the notion that doctrines that we don’t understand may be beyond our ability to comprehend. It is the push to doubt our doubts before we doubt our faith. Mystery contrasts the doctrine of discernment, that everyone has the ability to distinguish good from evil through the Light of Christ, the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and the Gift of the Holy Ghost. Agency and accountability, the very basis for our earthly test and subsequent judgment depend on our ability to distinguish good from evil, truth from wrong. But when our discernment identifies child marriage, polygamy, polyandry, deception, and lies as morally and ethically wrong, we are chastised for pride. Many good people have left the church because they trusted their conscience, their ability to discern truth, rather than accept dubious or overtly unethical doctrines from church authority. The great mystery to me is how long I could withhold my disbelief in so many outlandish and extraordinary, unfounded claims that fly in the face of reason. But the evolving neuroscience seems to show that humans are unreasonable by default with only the capability of reason.
Even as a teen, I insisted on believing that God’s motives and reasons should make perfect sense and I was often severely chastised for not being able to employ the “I’m too stupid” response. I thought if I kept studying and learning, that all of the things that didn’t make sense, eventually would make sense. I remember a couple of seminary teachers telling me they thought I should back off and that I need to be extremely careful or else I would study myself right out of the church.
I couldn’t fathom at the time how more knowledge would drive me away from a religion if the religion was what it claimed to be. Ah, but that was the kicker – that “if”.