Wishful Thinking - Disabling the Religious Replicators
By Steve Gillman
Note: This is a continuation from Disabling
the Religious Replicators - Part One.
Religious replicators are covered here: Natural
Selection in the Viral Spread of Religion.
Replication Strategy: Using Wishful Thinking
We are perhaps all subject to wishful thinking at times. Who
likes the idea of no longer existing after eighty or ninety years?
Most of us would like there to be something more. Heavens, reincarnation,
and other religious fantasies therefore have an appeal. Of course,
not believing in these things doesn't mean we believe in total
non-existence after death. We just accept that we don't know.
These beliefs, however unfounded, do draw people in and help
perpetuate the whole business of these religions. They even help
justify suicide bombing and wars in general. If one man has a
truly ridiculous belief (how many virgins are waiting in paradise?),
he is called insane. But when a million or billion believe, his
wishful thinking is given license to rule over his reason. A
clever strategy, perhaps, and certainly a dangerous one. But
how do we address this if we want reason and human life to prevail?
This is a tough one. The first thing that comes to mind is
to repeatedly show the true stories of where wishful thinking
has lead to disaster. This may help to undermine the feeling
that it is okay to believe something just because a person wishes
to. On the other hand, this tendency towards wishful thinking
may not be so easily altered. Another approach, then, is to address
the specific beliefs.
For example, many religions teach that a heaven or paradise
awaits us after death. (Okay, not us, but believers - we're going
to the permanent torture chamber their loving god has arranged
for us.) We might point out that if such places await the faithful,
they should all want to die today, and that the fact that they
don't want to suggests the weakness of their faith. Of course,
this could backfire, as some could reaffirm their challenged
belief by running off to blow up some innocent infidels.
We might also show that some of the spiritual insights of
Jesus and others suggest that heaven is not an after-life, but
a state of mind or approach to life which is achievable in this
world. There is certainly evidence for this interpretation of
some "sacred" writings. Of course, we don't want to
appeal to the authority of the "holy" books on this
matter. Instead we can point to "spiritual" practices
which people can empirically test to see the truth of this themselves
(meditation, for example).
Finally, we can only do our best to spread a respect for evidence
as the basis for belief. We can do this by showing the benefits
of such an approach. To the extent that people come to have this
respect, they will no longer truly believe these fantasies, anymore
than we believe in the invisible friends that children sometimes
claim. When the personal benefits of this approach appear greater
than those of wishful thinking, people will change.
Continues here... Prosthelytizing.