June 22, 2009

Is Religion the Primary Front in the War Over Reality?

Stylized and exaggerated picture of the preces...Image via Wikipedia

Spanish Inquisitor wrote a great post, "The War Over Reality," which warrants discussion. He describes the struggle between a set of worldviews based on religion, faith, and the supernatural vs. atheistic worldviews rooted in materialism, nature, and science. He suggests that this particular war has been over for hundreds of years, as the utility of the scientific method was realized, but that the religious are "simply clinging onto their religious view out of pure fear." Despite my agreement with this analysis, I am not so sure that religion is the primary front in today's war over reality.

Spanish Inquisitor sees modern theists as stubbornly refusing to accept that their view of reality is incorrect, primarily because they fear the implications:
What they don’t realize is that the battle over which view of reality is correct was over hundreds of years ago, and they are simply clinging onto their religious view out of pure fear. They delude themselves cannot accept the indisputable fact that they will die, and their religious beliefs give them comfort and hope that they will linger on after they’ve completed their enlistment in the human race.
I think he's right, but I see today's war over reality as being so broad that I'm not sure religion even remains the primary point of divergence.

There seems to be, at least in the United States, a fundamental conflict over the nature and importance of knowledge. A Congressman allowed himself to be captured on film by Bill Maher defending his own ignorance by pointing out that there is no intelligence test required for members of Congress. Politicians and other decision-makers not only refuse to listen to scientific experts on a wide range of issues, but some go out of their way to denigrate expertise itself. That they are able to do so without consequences is illuminating; that doing so may actually earn them the admiration of their constituencies is truly startling.

I think that Spanish Inquisitor is absolutely correct to focus on religion, as it is a particularly dramatic example of the lengths to which people will go to ignore reality. But I have the sense that there is something even more fundamental going on of which religion is certainly a part.

We envy Bill Gates' money, but American adolescents who excel in school are still referred to as nerds and pressured to minimize their intellect. As Japanese technology demonstrated it's superiority, many continued to buy American products and berate those who did not. What may have initially been misguided patriotism became an increasing hostility to reality itself.

And consider those who today rely on Fox "News" or Rush Limbaugh as their primary source of information. They will not be swayed by research showing the biased nature of their chosen media. For them, "ivy league" and "intellectual" are insults. They have little patience for facts, no respect for those able to utilize them effectively, and are quick to anger when questioned.

Religion is certainly relevant. I wouldn't be writing this blog if I didn't think so. But I am starting to suspect that religion may be a symptom of a deeper problem rather than a root cause.

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