August 30, 2006

The War on Reality

The "culture wars" prominently featured in the media for the last several years initially appeared to be about abortion and gay marriage. More recently, there has been increased recognition that religion is at the center of this perceived fragmentation of America. More than abortion and gay marriage, one side in this disagreement wants to complete the transformation of America into a Christian nation.

As the sides in this debate become increasingly polarized, it has become evident that this has become a "war on reality" itself. Yes, I'm intentionally borrowing the absurd Republican need to phrase all disagreements in terms of wars on various issues. Sometimes it is necessary to use language in such a way that they might understand it. So different have our accepted realities become that this is often necessary.

Rational individuals tend to accept the existence of one external reality. If we speak of multiple realities on occasion, we are referring to different interpretations of reality rather than actual multiple realities. This is a crucial point, so I'll restate it: There are many different interpretations of reality, but there is only one reality. Reality refers to phenomena which can be empirically verified. This necessarily excludes anything supernatural.

Admittedly, Christian extremists have a very different interpretation of reality than the rest of us. Their constructed reality contains angels, demons, zombies (at least one they call Jesus), miracles, and even some sort of god. But these things exist only in their minds. They are not part of the external world (i.e., reality). They are part of a type of wishful thinking that has crossed into delusion.

If I had to select one thing that frustrates me about Christian extremists more than anything else, it would be their apparent inability to separate belief from truth. Believing that I can lift my car over my head does not make it true no matter how much I believe it. Believing that I have a soul does not make it true no matter how strongly I believe it. It appears that the Christian extremist concludes that anything they believe strongly enough becomes part of reality. This is precisely the same thought process I encountered in various psychiatric hospitals among individuals we would all agree belonged there.

"It is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring." -- Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World

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