In the last post we saw how willing people are to believe that natural events are the results of supernatural agency, intention and consciousness. It’s easy to expose the beliefs of those who claim that weather patterns represent the whims of the Gods or that the universe can impart its wisdom via a swinging pendulum or a pile of bones. #
But what about the more widespread and socially accepted forms of the Agency fallacy? What about those who claim (as did the previous Bishop of Carlisle) that the devastating floods of 2007 were actually God’s judgement on a sick society?
What about the legions of Christian evangelists who describe HIV & AIDS as God’s judgement on homosexuality or the Catholic bishops who oppose contraception in Africa in spite of the AIDS epidemic sweeping that continent. Then there are the millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses who would rather die than accept a blood transfusion?
If for no other reason than sheer weight of numbers these people are much more difficult to dismiss as misguided cranks than the ‘leyline dowsers’, ‘past life regression therapists’ and ‘energy healers’ of the world. But that doesn’t make them any less damaging. Consider for example the evangelical Christian who wants to bring violent ‘curative’ assault to UK in the name of his (presumably equally violent) God. Or imagine the terrifying plight of the 15 women who were burned at the stake in 2007 by religious believers in Gambia.
And yet these more mainstream ‘agency inventors’ have no more evidence or grounds for their beliefs than any of the rest. They may even have less. After all, at least the astrologist can show you that the stars exist. I’ve yet to find a priest, Rabbi, Pastor, Imam or Scientologist who can do the same for their revered God or alien overlord.
So what drives these otherwise intelligent, rational people to believe so completely in a deified agency without (or even in spite of) real world, empirical evidence? There are, of course many reasons for this. Some are cultural, some developmental and some neurological. But here we shall consider only one.
Welcome to the Transcendental Temptation.
Most people seem uncomfortable with mortality. There are exceptions, of course and throughout my care career I’ve known several people who seemed quite content for life to slip away as the end approached. These people experienced what we know ‘in the trade’ as a good death. But they’re not the only kinds of death that people experience.
Others seem terrified at the prospect of their own demise. Their deaths are distressing, not only for themselves but also for those around them. It’s never pleasant to sit with and try to comfort a dying person who hasn’t managed to come to terms with the inevitable. For many people the prospect of death and eternal non-existance is just too difficult to contemplate.
If only there was a way to cheat death.
If only there was a way to live forever.
If only there was a way to ‘transcend’ the physical body after death and carry on living in another, less tangible form.
Now wouldn’t that be tempting?
That’s the essence of the transcendental temptation. It’s a form of wishful thinking that allows the believer to pretend that they can cheat the reaper. But it comes at a price. This sort of belief can only survive so long as believers refuse to think too deeply about the evidence.
The fact that not a jot of evidence exists (outside the world of cold-reading charlatans and heavily stage managed seances or TV shows) doesn’t matter at all. That’s why belief that comes from the transcendental temptation is called ‘faith’. That’s what we always call belief without evidence. Another equally descriptive term might be ‘wishful thinking’.
Of course none of this takes away people’s right to believe what they want to and nobody should feel the need to justify their beliefs to anyone else. That’s not the point of this post.
But whenever anyone tries to impose their religious morality upon others, from the ‘donation’ seeking psychic medium to the Archbishop in the House of Lords it’s worth being clear about where their motivation springs from. It’s also worth understanding the extent to which their views and moral standards are based upon wishful thinking and the transcendental temptation.
It seems that for many of our self-appointed ‘moral leaders’ the chief professional qualification is gullibility and the desire to hide from reality. Think carefully before you allow these people to impose their views of right and wrong upon your life. After all these are the same people who brought us & continue to bring to many countries (including in many cases the UK):
Subjugation of women;
Anti birth-control campaigns & legislation;
Variously encouraging and condemning suicide and attempted suicide;
Corrective rape of lesbians;
Witch trials & executions;
Discrimination against (& even execution of) LGBT citizens;
Barbaric ritual slaughter of animals (EG Kosher & Halal);
Genital mutilation of infant girls and boys;
Censorship of science teaching (EG Evolution and the Tennessee Stopes ‘monkey’ trial) in schools;
State-sanctioned apartheid & slavery;
Loss of sexual freedom;
The list goes on and on.
Don’t let your life, your morality, your sense of self and your way of life be torn asunder by those who are so heavily motivated by the irrational desire to deny their own, inevitable demise. Unless you want to, of course.
We all have the right to believe in whatever transcendental belief system we choose. At least here in UK we have that right. Exercising such freedom of belief in many Islamic states is likely to result in imprisonment or even execution.
But we have that right in UK.
We all have that right.
And because we all have that right, nobody has the right to insist that other people ‘join in’ with their particular, preferred transcendental temptation.
What motivates your morality?
About the ‘Fallacies’ series
The ‘Fallacies’ project was built up from a series of instalments that first appeared online during the summer of 2012. It is republished as part of a larger set of changes intended to rationalise the contents of several different blogs into just 2. The other remaining blog focuses mainly upon social care and mental health related issues. It can be found at http://www.TheCareGuy.com