The differences between extreme and moderate religiosity are a popular subject for discussion. One recurring question concerns whether the latter tends to allay, or only to tacitly condone and vindicate, the former.
Many Christians cite the Bible as a motivating factor for their generosity, kindness, charity, and general love for their fellow homo sapienseses. Many others are compelled by the same book to hound gay people to suicide or bomb medical clinics that perform abortions. Do the nice lot encourage other believers to take a similar approach, or do they only serve to make the destructive, vicious “faith” of the extremists socially acceptable?
I seem to be making a habit lately of asking deep and interesting questions that I have no intention of answering.
But I may have another perspective on the liberal, moderate believers. In a conversation about someone peripherally connected to me the other day, it came up that this person holds to a vague, well-meaning, wishy-washy, not-really-thought-through belief in some sort of god. This person doesn’t think about philosophy a whole lot, hasn’t done much introspection to arrive at this set of beliefs, wasn’t raised very religiously, and isn’t deeply committed to any of these ideas in a way that would cloud their judgment.
Not unrelatedly, they’re a much nicer person than many people who are passionately invested in the whole God business. Not just sincere believers, but the kind of people who can’t even consider that they might be wrong about any of it, because of how wrenchingly painful it would be if they were ever that honest with themselves.
So although this particular person doesn’t have any of those emotional connections twisting their rationality, didn’t have any self-perpetuating belief system inculcated into them as a child, and isn’t so committed that cognitive dissonance is stopping them from thinking freely… they still believe this crap.
The thought that struck me was: Is that somehow worse, in some ways, than the fundamentalists? I mean, they’ve got an excuse for convincing themselves of all sorts of patently untrue and unfounded things: they’re desperately rationalising to preserve their self-image as someone who couldn’t possibly be so stupid as to be fooled by something obviously false for so long.
This person I’m talking about isn’t doing that. Their capacity for logic isn’t being noticeably impinged upon by any of the usual and obvious cognitive biases. So what are they doing, reckoning there’s some sort of god out there and that there’s probably something to auras and homeopathy as well? Should this be more worrying, or more worthy of censure, than in the case of people so far down the rabbit-hole they can’t even hear reasoned criticism of their beliefs any more?
(They still seem to be a superlatively kind and generous person, which is probably more important than any of this.)