Friday, February 20, 2009

How can you respect silly beliefs?

MoxieLife has a pair of wonderful posts- starting
here and continuing here - confessing to a condescending attitude towards those who believe in God. "To make me feel better about rejecting the common belief system of our age (believing in God) I think those that do believe in God are either stupid, child-like or grasping."

I understand completely- for decades I believed that liberals were either hopeless ivory-tower naifs, or power hungry demagogues. But over the years I learned a few things about people. My conservatives beliefs are stronger than ever (economic and political conservatism, that is, not the Religious Right stuff that has somehow attached itself like a barnacle to the conservative ship), but I no longer question the intelligence or motives of liberals.

Why? Because I have learned that all human beings- even you, Mrs. Lovett, even I- believe some damned silly things. If you think you don't, it's only because you haven't had your nose rubbed in it yet; it's inherent to humanity, and no amount of intelligence or education is protection against it.

Take William Shockley: Nobel Prize winner in physics, co-inventor of the transistor, sole inventor of the junction transistor, the man who put the silicon in Silicon Valley- his research assistants founded Intel, National Semiconductor, and Advanced Micro Devices; one of the towering intellects of the last century... but he was also a proponent of Eugenics, and believed in the biological inferiority of blacks. No one is immune.

"Rationality" is a learned behavior, not a natural one, and we are not equipped to extend it to all our perceptions and beliefs. Look at the evolution of the brain... the brain was not redesigned with each advance up from the worm; new shells and layers were added each time instead, like a Microsoft operating system- and the human brain, for all it's surface sophistication, is as quirky as Vista. Our minds are the original legacy systems... our intellect is not who we are; it is a tool used by our true selves, our Ids, buried somewhere in the primitive layers. Thus, we all have our quirky bits, places where what we see as "the next logical step", others will see as "an unproven leap of faith".

Realizing this was a breakthrough. Today, when faced with "irrational" beliefs, I no longer see it as evidence of stupidity or villainy; I see it as proof of humanity. Instead of trying to convince the speaker of his or her stupidity, I look for the departure points where our beliefs differed, try to see what perceptions and perspectives caused them, and address those points directly. The differences may well be irreconcilable, but that merely means we must search for Modus Vivendi rather than agreement... and isn't that the highest expression of a liberal faith?


James said...

As you say, Joel, no one is immune.

Which is why when I'm on my game, it is all don't know all the time.

(yez, we have to act anyway. but that's another sermon...)

sadly, i'm often not on my game...

ogre said...


And all too often, "rational" turns out to be the packaging that's been wrapped around a pre-digested product, a sort of intellectual Potemkin village facade that we create for ourselves, and defend as being the real thing, convinced that it is.

Ah, the silliness of humanity.

I continue to be tempted by the notion of a tattoo (something I've never been tempted by before), reading "You could be wrong." (applicable for all readers... most definitely including the bearer)

How can we respect silly beliefs?

We probably can't. They're silly. But we can recognize that ours may be as silly; we just lack the proper perspective to see the lack of clothes. From there, it's just a step to the empathetic act of respecting the person who has that silly belief, in the deep hope that they'll be as respectful... in return.



And you James, are a pool hustler--you play a far better game than most....

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your thoughtful words - it is so helpful to know many of us are in similar boats.