Sunday, October 30, 2011

Assessing believers in the supernatural

You can sometimes tell something about people by the way they act. If you're in the local Kwik-E-Mart, and you walked into an aisle where there's a person furtively looking around while stuffing something into a pocket, you have some reason to assume that the person has just shoplifted. You may be wrong, but the person's behavior indicates that they are attempting to obscure the act that they're committing - whatever it may be.

You can also sometimes tell something about people by the way they look. A guy may rate a 4 out of ten on the classic-movie-star-good-looks-scale, but if he's clean and neatly dressed, walks upright and purposefully, you might think he's well brought-up, well-educated, confident, or some combination of these and other positive characteristics. Alternatively, that same 4-out-of-10 guy, when unclean, unshaven, disheveled, disoriented may look homeless, possibly ill or slightly incapacitated.

You can tell where this is going, of course ... You can sometimes tell something about people by the things they say. The guy downtown at the corner of State Street and Broadway railing about the government cover up of UFOs may not be your next choice for CEO of your bank - assuming of course, that the government cover up of the existence of UFOs has not been exposed between the time I write this and the time that you read it.

The way people look and act may give us an indication of how the person perceives and interacts with the world, but gives us little insight into what their intentions might be over a period of time. A person's words, however, may provide those additional insights we need to fully appreciate the persons viewpoint and possible future behavior.

Normally, I don't care what a person's world view is, provided they're a good neighbor. I assume that a good neighbor also has the characteristics of being a good family member, reasonably caring and charitable of those nearest to him, reasonably tolerant of those less close to him, and generally a benefit to the community. I can be completely, tragically wrong, but using this as an operating assumption has served me well so far, and doesn't burden me with the small, but still plausible, worry that my neighbor might be an axe murderer.

When people start talking about things that are not there, I assess that the person asserting these things has a world view that maps differently, or not at all, to the world that I map mine. Since I believe that I am of sound mind, and since I believe that I am not subject to belief in implausible things for which there is no physical evidence, makes it difficult for me to confidently predict that person's behavior. I might even have reason to believe that the person might be a danger to himself or others, depending on other signals that I pick up.

This is where I have problems with people asserting belief in the unexplained, and more specifically the supernatural. If the person expressing the belief, say, in UFOs, does so in a manner that indicates a casual interest, then I am less concerned than if they structure their life around this belief, and manifest it in ways that are weird and even disruptive. A UFO landing pad in the backyard might be a cause for worry.

As I continue my journey through life, I find the whole god conjecture, and most specifically the assertion that Jesus is the conjectural being's representative to whom we owe our fealty, rely on for a supposedly requisite redemption, and around whose teachings and the teachings of millennia of his followers we must structure our lives - I find this bizarre in the extreme.

It makes no sense to believe in something that is never directly evident and for which there is no indirect evidence, nor rational justification. The hypothetical universe that can only exist through the simultaneous existence of god and his delegate(s) has never been rationally described. There appears to be no necessity in any system for such a thing. The attempts at reasoning why such a scheme might be the most plausible conception of the universe are always subject to huge gaps in empirical support and reasoning.

If a person believes that god is real, and that he sent a delegate to redeem the believer, then okay. I do not care if the person truly sees things this way about the world. It would be nice if the believer didn't feel the need for this belief, because it would indicate to me that the person is mature, reasonable, and possesses a sound world view that maps to the objects and events that constitute the world that I perceive.

Fervent, even fevered belief in the supernatural leaves me to consider the belief-holder to be untrustworthy, imbalanced, and potentially even dangerous. There is no reason to try to out-shout people who do not believe things you believe in, yet this often happens when addressing people that have no other alternative. If your favored beliefs do not have the power of physical evidence and sound rational justification behind them, then the average mature, stable, reasonable adult has every right to reject the assertions you make as unfounded. This is the way rational discourse progresses.

When you assert belief in the unseen, and your audience assents, you may have strengthened the emotional bond between you and they, but you are literally preaching to the choir - reinforcing a set of conceptions that otherwise erode the moment you step outside and continue with mundane everyday experience.

Spending a whole lifetime trying to resist thinking and ignoring the world around you in favor of the comfort of imaginary supervision and redemption is a tragic waste of the human spirit.

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