SERMON: “Wrong About the Same Thing” by the not-so-reverend bob

Twice in the last weeks I’ve attempted to draw a graph depicting my (informed though subjective) impression of the tendency of Homo sapiens sapiens toward irrational belief: the vertical line represents a percentage of the population, and the horizontal line represents a continuum of belief (with the totally bat-shit crazy stuff at the far left and the completely rational evidence-based belief at the far right end of the scale).

On my first try the thing looked like a ski slope with most folks on the irrational belief side, and a slim few on the rational end of the scale.  After some discussion I’ve since revised it to be more of a bell curve, with a smaller number of people on the crazy side, a huge bulge in the middle that gradually (yet quickly) drops off to a small percentage on the completely rational end.

I was motivated to do this by the realization that even the average among us harbors any number of irrational beliefs.  A biological parallel presents itself immediately: it is almost like the way each of us carries untold bacteria and microbes in (and on) our bodies.  Or the way in which we seem (historically speaking) to most often experience mutations on a link in our DNA that is not active or critical to our health and development, only occasionally experiencing a change that threatens our existence (just as most bacteria are not a danger to the health of ourselves or others).

In the same way, I’m coming to the (not original with me) idea that irrational belief is ineradicable — just like the billions of bacteria that make up more than half the cellular weight of our physical bodies.  This, of course, begs the question: if (as science tells us) some 90 percent of the genetic material that we carry in our bodies is — technically speaking — not human, but bacterial or viral, would we still be human without it?  And if we would cease to function as discreet physical beings were we to be suddenly free of all of that “foreign” material, can we really call it “foreign” or “non-human at all?

(Of course this last point is more an esoteric than a practical concur: more an issue of perspective than anything else).

The difference, of course, between bacteria and irrational belief is that we can function perfectly well without the latter, if not the former (though it takes a surprising amount of effort to counter the tendency toward irrational belief, it can be done — unlike any attempt to rid ourselves completely of bacteria).

There are, naturally, many who would disagree, and consider HOPE so important, that they consider it a valid criticism of Atheism that it cannot provide that commodity in sufficiently digestible doses.  But these are the same that point to that huge bulge in in the middle of my “belief bell curve” as evidence that God (by any of the popular brand names) must surely exist (otherwise, why would so many people believe in Him, her or it?).

One thing that the reality of so many people sharing a belief in God (on the one hand, and the thousands of other irrational theories on the other) does, indeed, prove is not that God (or any of the other mild to wild ideas we humans believe) is real, but that it is easily possible for a large number of people to be wrong about the same thing!

Like bacteria, there are really only a few truly virulent forms of irrational belief that will kills us (or lead us to kill each other).  Even so we take care to wash our hands and take precautions that will decrease our chances of catching a cold, say, or inoculate ourselves against this season’s most likely flu bug.  (And behind the scenes, our government pours a judicious sum of money into constant research to spot the next potential population-decimating plague that is ever ready to jump us).  In the same way, each dose of evidence and reason we take into our minds boosts our immunity to the fever of the irrational.

Is it worth it?  Is it a worthy use of a portion of our time and energy to learn, to investigate, to do battle with our own natural irrationality?  I think so.  Most of the time we can endure the typical cold as a cost of being social and active among our fellow humans.  But with so many of our fellow hominids hot with various fevers of irrational belief, the more of us that are healthy in that way the better.

t.n.s.r. bob

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