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Believing is Seeing

By WizenedSage ~

Christians often say that one must be “open” to the message in order to get it. As Shelovesdcfc said on these pages recently, “That's the thing, you all want visual proof. Just have faith!" She seems to be saying that you, too, can believe . . . if you’ll just believe. Now that sounds like a rather useless truism to me. She might as well have said, “First you have to believe, and then you won’t need any proof,” or even, “Your belief IS the proof.” Isn’t this just turning wishful thinking into an article of faith?

362/365 UrielImage by SheriffAutlan via Flickr
In the bible, Jesus appears to be of the same mind when he says, “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:29) He clearly intends for us to just believe, and never mind the evidence. He apparently confirms this, and even goes beyond it, when he says, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” (Mark 9:23) Here, he seems to be saying that once one can make that jump to belief, then one becomes special, with special powers.

Psychologists have written volumes on the observation that what one believes strongly influences what one sees and feels. Religious people’s near death experiences (NDE) will tend to contain religious motifs, including encounters with religious figures and a mystical or divine presence. Prayer has placebo effects on the religious, producing that “warm inner glow.” And, only the religious believe in, and sometimes even “see,” (in dark shadows and fortuitous events) saints, angels, and miracles.

We freethinkers and skeptics often say, “Seeing is believing.” Christians appear to be saying, “Believing is seeing.” Further, the religious often use this “predisposition” bias purposely in church services when they work themselves into an emotional frenzy in order to “feel” the presence of god or Jesus. This only works, of course, if one believes. It appears to the faithful that believing makes it happen

All of this suggests that Christians have it backwards, putting the cart before the horse. We freethinkers and skeptics often say, “Seeing is believing.” Christians appear to be saying, “Believing is seeing.” That is, once you believe, you will see all the proofs and connections you need. This should make us very, very suspicious. In science, we can test or experiment and see the truth of a theory whether we are inclined to believe it or not. Our preconceptions don’t matter. What is, IS, and it doesn’t matter what we think. Scientists don’t meet every Sunday morning to join hands and sing, “Gravity is real, that’s the deal. The world is round, and what goes up must come down.”

The Christian will say that he knows god is real because he feels His presence within himself. The problem here is that I, and millions of others, don’t feel that presence. Now, isn’t it obvious that if a given test leads to contrary conclusions, depending on who is using that test, then the test itself is useless? Doesn’t this suggest pretty strongly that the Christian is merely tapping into, or manufacturing, his own “warm inner glow” that has nothing to do with external reality?

As DRC put it, in “Letter To My Family Part 1: Prayer” (12/10/10):
“… personal experience is highly prone to error. If the reader doesn’t believe this, they should research topics such as the placebo effect, attitude polarization, choice blindness, suggestibility, hindsight bias, confirmation bias, persistence of discredited beliefs, and preference for early information.”

All of these topics deal with errors in thinking caused by our internal biases. In all of them, the answers we get depend on our biases, on what we are thinking or feeling as we test a proposition. In short, our feelings are error prone and can lead us to false conclusions in many ways.

Here’s the short form of my argument. If you think that your belief IS the proof, that what you feel makes it so, then you are just kidding yourself. Either what you believe has a PROVEN connection with the external world or you are just accepting an unverified assumption. This is an obvious and extremely important point, and I want Christian readers to read that again and think about it, so I’ll say it again:

Either what you believe has a PROVEN connection with the external world or you are just accepting an unverified assumption.

Now, if that’s good enough for you, if you can accept a world where believing is seeing, then so be it. After all, it’s your life and you have every right to continue to fool yourself along.


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