This is from Part 5.5 of 6: How Beliefs Resist Change in the series called Christian Belief Through the Lens of Cognitive Science over at the HuffingtonPost. Apparently it wasn’t a fully thought out series since Valerie’s resisting closing this series with part 6 of 6. I’m not sad though because she’s presenting a lot of good information and understanding about belief that is very much worth your consideration.
This part of the series concerns the staying power of belief in a changing world. It all starts with indoctrination of the young and continues through a believer’s life. Quoting from Valerie:
To make things even more complicated, each religion has what can be called an immune system. Because traditional Christianity is centered on orthodoxy, meaning right belief, the immune system consists of a set of teachings that guard against other beliefs or loss of belief. Christianity’s immune system includes the following teachings:
· Doubt is a sign of weakness or temptation by Satan, the father of lies.
· False teachers (those whose theology differs) should be cast out.
· Believers should not be unequally yoked (partnered) with nonbelievers.
· Nonbelievers have no basis for morality, so their motives are suspect.
· If Christians act badly, the flaw is in the persons, not the religion.
Given that core beliefs are naturally resilient and given the power of messages such as these, it will come as no surprise that people go to extreme lengths psychologically to defend religious dogmas.
The article continues with the topic of cognitive dissonance and confirmatory thinking that explain a great deal about why people continue to think what they think despite contradictory evidence. I do agree that a lot of this boils down to group identity and our personal filters. Are you reading this because you already believe in a freethought philosophy such as Agnosticism or Atheism or are you truly operating outside of your own religious filter and reading things you don’t agree with?
Even outside our personal information filters is a set of ring defenses: our communities. Who forwards you email? What magazines do you subscribe to? What shows do you watch? Because confirmation is so satisfying and contradiction is so uncomfortable, we surround ourselves with friends and colleagues and coreligionists who think like us. Often, we join groups that do the filtering for us: Democrats for America, The Nature Conservancy, Assemblies of God, The National Rifle Association. These groups provide a steady flow of information confirming and elaborating what we think we know–and ensuring that a lot of contradictory information never makes it anywhere near our brains. They let us short-cut. Instead of weigh the quality of arguments and evidence – we look at the source and either raise or lower a draw bridge.
In an even more impervious form of this, we form a group identity: I’m a Catholic. I’m a Republican. I’m an American. I’m a Woman. I’m Hispanic. I’m a Calvinist. Each of these identities creates what I call a tribal information boundary (TIB). TIB’s are remarkable efficiency devices, allowing us to weave coherent story lines about the world around us. But for someone seeking to understand complicated realities, they can be tremendously costly.
When we actually allow ourselves to bump up against the limitations of our world view, when we acknowledge we’ve hit a wall and then find a way over or around it–that is when growth is most likely to occur. In the 1998 comedy, The Truman Show, the protagonist, played by Jim Carrey, pushes past an information boundary and realizes he is living in the artificial world of a television set. From childhood, Truman has accepted the explanations and roles offered him. But he is confronted with small discrepancies, and one day he ignores his own fears and barriers that his community has erected, and punches through to the world outside. The movie’s message to us all: It is possible.
Are you in an information and belief dome? Can you break through that wall and open yourself up to the possibility that there is much more out there that you and I just do not and cannot understand?