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When Being Right Is Wrong

By Johns Shores ~

During a "Train the Trainer" session, the leader of the session confided, "When I am asked a question, I answer immediately and with confidence. This doesn't mean that I know what I'm talking about, but it always seems like I do."

The human brain has a hunger for certainty. As psychologist David Rock observes:

Like an addiction to anything, when the craving for certainty is met, there is a sensation of reward (in the brain).

Given this physical need, is it really any wonder that religions would arise? One of the hallmarks of religions like Christianity is that an answer to that which cannot be known is delivered immediately and with confidence. And once you have the answer, that's that.

I think it can be successfully argued that the attraction of any religious idea is that it provides certainty in those spaces of our worldview that cannot be tested directly.

Throughout history,physical events such as the rising and setting of the sun, comets appearing in the night sky, the lights of the Aurora Borealis and so on have been understood in a religious connotation long before he facts of physics were available to us.

Christians adopt a worldview based on nothing more substantial than any of the superstitions of the past and call that worldview "common sense." They then proceed engaging in discussions with atheists and claim that they are "right" about everything they say.

This attitude of certainty tends to permeate the entire being of the person to the point that they assume a state of being right. And this is the point at which "being right" is completely wrong.

Being right means you don't have to study

If you have all the answers, particularly if they are handed to you (usually along with questions that are not your own), additional information or perspective can have no relevance.

This sort of"rightness" has always plagued Christianity. "Things are this way and that's all there is to it." It has always tried to explain the physical universe according to its own beliefs rather than basing ideas on empirical data.

All the way from the writings of Early Church Fathers we find statements that are completely contrary to the physical universe, and of course we know about the more famous clashes between the Church and Reality (e.g. heliocentricity vs. terra-centricity, creationism vs. evolution, etc).

Being right without data leads to minds that are not interested in the truth about ourselves or this universe in which we reside. Might I ask, O Christian, if your religion has always been dead wrong about the physical universe, why should anyone suspect that it could possibly be right about the"supernatural"?

Having the attitude that you know how things work in the physical world when you have no data to back up your certitude,one is free to dismiss those things from their minds and turn their energies to the vacuous realm of theology. To my mind, it is a tragedy that brilliant minds waste their energies on delving into the ethereal, creating newer, deeper, more profound thoughts on that which has not and cannot possibly be proven to even exist. Otherwise intelligent people are free to make stuff up since they have no boundaries to bar them, all because they have already been handed bogus answers about those things that surround them daily.

When a Christian tells me that they "study the Bible", I simply don't know how to respond. This is like saying that one "studies Harry Potter." You can't invest your intellect into analyzing a work of fiction and still call it "studying." Study is an activity reserved for those who are interested in learning something new and who are willing to accept that what is currently "known" can be altered by a new discovery.

This is not possible with the Christian mindset of "being right."

Being right means you don't have to listen

Having the answers, the Christian begins from a place of certainty wherein he or she stands upon an imaginary wall that heor she feels must be defended at all costs. When they engage with non-Christians, agnostics and atheists, the words that they hear sound like an assault.

This negates any possibility of true communication.

The number of ex-Christians is growing in the US. We occupy a unique space in the dialogue between Christians and Atheists/Agnostics. We know and understand both sides of the debate.

A Christian who has never been an atheist cannot comprehend the atheist worldview any more than the atheist who has never been a Christian can comprehend the Christian worldview. The difference between the two is that, by and large, the Christian will claim to know what the atheist worldview is. Why? Because they have been told something (by their pastor or some other spiritual leader) and in their own estimation they are "right" about it.

As an ex-Christian, I can tell you straight up that any Christian who says that he or she understands the atheist/agnostic worldview is full of crap. And this "being right" puts an end to any possibility of the Christian being able to listen to the atheist/agnostic.

"Right" should never be accepted as a state of being. Period. Right is only right when a position is verifiable, reproducible and backed by authentic data. I have a friend who was raised with no religion. She knows many religious people and has even attended church a few times because she wanted to know what the whole attraction to religion was. Knowing that I am an ex-Christian, she asked me to try to explain it to her. What I discovered is that trying to explain religion to someone with no reference points is like trying to explain to a teetotaler what it's like to be drunk. The best that I could manage was to help her see that there are some beautiful ideas in religion and there is a great sense of community as well. She went away with more information but I doubt that she will ever truly understand at a personal level.

My friend had no interest in defending a position. She truly wanted to understand. This thirst for knowledge is something that is all too frequently absent in the Christian mindset. The desire to understand the atheist is simply a method of trying to know how to attack them and to get them around to your way of thinking. It is not a desire to know for the sake of understanding.

As such, Christians fail to listen at all.

Being right means you don't have to think

Why is it necessary for people to attend a weekly seminar to reinforce their belief system? Why?

Religious people prefer to pay someone to spend all his time finding new ways to make them feel good about the religious product that they have purchased. They live for those moments where they get a sense of the profound or hear a preacher reaffirm their strongly held biases. There's that certainty-reward-trigger again!

I think that each of us at one point or another has been told by a Christian that we should read a special book by some Christian apologist. If only I had a dollar for every time I have been told by a Christian that I should read C.S. Lewis... As if he is the greatest thinker of Christendom.

The real problem with those who refer us to Lewis et al. is that these people do not think for themselves! It never occurs to them to ask whether the premise of Lewis' works is faulty or not. He mainly agrees that Christian=Good (and defining "Christian" is neigh on impossible) and since this is the limit of most Christians' thought processes, they just grunt in assent.

Lewis is exemplary of one of the greatest woes of our time. Certainly he had a brilliant mind. But when the beginning ofthe equation is wrong, the rest of the equation is also wrong. It does not matter how elegant the equation appears to be.

When Right is Right

"Right" should never be accepted as a state of being. Period. Right is only right when a position is verifiable, reproducible and backed by authentic data.

The willingness to accept and acknowledge that new information will affect how we view matters does not mean"nothing can be known." Rather, it simply admits that not everything is known.

Here are two examples of what I mean.

1) The disease of Epilepsy has existed for thousands of years but only in the past hundred and fifty years or so has it begun to be understood. At the time that it was beginning to be addressed not as a spiritual but a physical condition, there were no x-ray machines, EEG machines, or anything as sophisticated as we see today. The first electrical theory of epilepsy was described by Robert Bentely Todd in 1849 and others later expanded on the theory of electricity being the key factor in this disease.

For the previous thousands of years, epilepsy was often declared to be demonic. In some places it was thought to be a contagious form of mental illness. This first theory by Mr. Bentely changed everything. But he did not declare to have "the answer" to the issue. Only a starting point. Others built upon this idea. And while it was known that epilepsy was related to electrical discharges in the body (and later localized to the brain), more information was gathered and advances were made.

Without this attitude of "we know something but we know that we don't know everything", advances in medicine would not be possible.

2) It was once thought that the sun revolves around the Earth. It was later demonstrated that the Earth and other planets revolve around the sun. You have lived with this "knowing" all your life. But the reality is much cooler and far more fascinating.

I am sure it was agreat comfort to those who thought the Earth was at the center of everything. After all, it satisfied the human need for certainty while it fed their ego. But it was not the true story.

And this is where Christianity also fails its followers. By "being right" it repels inquiry, examination, and real knowledge. It authoritatively declares ideas that are simply not consistent with true knowledge. And while it gives Christians a sense of safety, in reality it is keeping them comfortable in their ignorance.