All I ever need is the truth, but I all ever want is affection.
Masquerade as Jesus Christ, and suffer the crucifixion.
Songwriters: Brown / Adams / Hussey / Hinkler
Belief, lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Mgb Ltd., Universal Music Mgb Songs
Belief fascinates me. But unlike Mr Hussey’s naïve words suggest in one of my favourite songs referenced above, in the real world our beliefs tend to affect other people rather than ourselves. We make decisions that affect the lives of others, some of us even imposing our views on other people, views based on things we assume to be true, our beliefs, but belief is very often neither based on evidence nor truth, even when it comes to people who claim to care about evidence.
I just saw this meme shared by someone, unironically used to justify his belief in religion.
I find that ironic, of course, because it makes more sense to use that analogy when referring to religion itself, which most people believe in because of indoctrination. But it isn’t really a good analogy at all. It’s one of those statements that seem profound but lacks substance when one think about it. One could also use use it to justify the belief that we are living in a simulation… (Just by the way – I disagree with them completely. We do not live in a simulation.)
For fuck’s sake… so many people believe that we do live in a simulation, or upon hearing of the idea, they feel that the arguments in favour of it are compelling; so many don’t see it for what it is – an unfalsifiable claim that pretends to be profound while in reality is nothing more than seeing the world through the lens of our current technology and its limitations. In 100 years or so, the simulation idea will make as much sense as us now imagining the universe in terms of the industrial revolution, or using technology like X-Rays or Gamma Rays to explain everything. I’m thinking of the old comics… it made sense that the Hulk turned into a monster because of gamma radiation, and Spider-Man gained his powers from a “radioactive” spider, because at the time, radiation represented the lay person’s understanding of science and its limitations, just like computers and simulations represent our limitations right now. Eventually though, scifi will move on, hopefully to something less stupid than the fear-mongering “we are living in a simulation” nonsense.
And yet, once we have made up our minds that we believe in something, we treat that thing as fact, as our reality. A while back I wrote about my fascination with those who believe in the Nibiru cataclysm conspiracy theory (a subset of an “End Times” conspiracy theory)… I’d joined a group of believers on Facebook and tried in vain to explain to them that everything they believed was nonsense, but in the end they threw me out of their group. Actually it’s worse than that one example alone. If you search for all my posts with that tag you’ll see that before they kicked me out, they called me a troll and a scumbag, among other things, rather than face the prospect that maybe we’re not living in “End Times”. That’s the other thing about belief, you see… You believe what you want to believe. People who believe we are living in “End Times” want that desperately to be true. And the same applies to other beliefs but I’ll get back to that.
Beliefs become dangerous when people with authority get to impose it on others, and one of the best examples of this is the so-called Satanic Panic of the 1980’s. There, people were in some case locked up in prison for imaginary crimes committed against their children, because of the religious zeal of others and the power of suggestion. There are few people more dangerous than rogue therapists and psychologists with religiously driven motivations who get to impose their views on the suggestive minds of children. They get to do major damage, not only to the suggestive children themselves, but also to the parents if their authority allows them to have a punitive influence on those parents, such as the case with the Satanic Panic example, but not limited to that.
Imagine someone with authority taking an interest in the welfare of a child, someone who prides himself or herself on an evidence-driven approach, yet who believes in religion and has some kind of fear of online paedophiles, much like the Q-Anon conspiracists but on the surface more based on legitimate fear of strangers… who lets that belief drive his decisions, even in the case of a non-religious child. You can’t have it both ways – the truth is, if you believe in religion, you cannot claim to follow evidence. It doesn’t work like that. Imagine someone like that imposing his own baffling technophobia on a child and barring that child from using the internet, despite the skills one obtain online are arguably more useful than anything they teach in school. This is only one hypothetical example but there are surely plenty of ways that someone with religious convictions and misplaced good intentions with authority can harm a child.
I can’t help wondering though… Knowing that certain fears are in truth a manifestation of the desires of those who believe them, why do people want to believe those things? I can understand if you want to believe in Jesus – you’ve perhaps bought the lie that we are born in sin and shame and you need this god to be saved (from this same god’s punishment, never mind the irony). But why would you want to believe we are living in “End Times”? Why would you want to believe in some kind of “leftist Satanic” organisation of evil online paedophiles? Why?
Going back to the Satanic Panic example, there are many essays and articles online linking it to current conspiracy theories such as Q-Anon. I wouldn’t have made that connection myself, but I have personally seen the harm that religiously motivated people with authority and influence can do to children, which is more in line with the way the Satanic Panic originally worked. The fact is, belief, and faith itself – which is nothing more than belief despite zero supporting evidence, is at last being recognized to be the harmful thing it truly is. Not universally, but that recognition is out there, and our society is becoming more secular, little by little. A world without religion, without faith, and also thus without conspiracy theories, would be a far safer place than the one in which we live now.