social philosophy

I used to believe the 2012 prophecy.

It should be apparent from my blog and for anyone who knows me, that I prefer to take a rational, evidence based approach to things.

I’ve recently been considering that truth shouldn’t trump all, and that if someone gets comfort out of say, believing horoscopes, then why should rationalism seek to destroy that? On the otherhand – I think the willingness to believe conspiracy theories, also has people believing that climate change isn’t happening, and that’s concerning to me.

What might not be apparent – is that I didn’t always take a rationalist approach, and it’s easy for me myself to forget that.

I used to genuinely believe the 2012 Mayan prophecy. If you’re not already familiar with it – it was a prediction that ‘the world as we know it’ will end on December 21 2012 – the date that the Mayan 5,126 year calendar ends.

mayan-calendar

What ‘the world as we know it’ ending means wasn’t exactly clear. For me, at the time it meant a collapse of the global system of governance and an anarchistic uprising.

My belief in this prophecy did have real world effects. Most concretely in that, when I was 18 years old (in 2004), I took out an interest free overdraft with no intent of paying it back – the global financial system will have collapsed by then. Other shortsighted decision making – like my reckless disregard for getting criminal convictions for graffiti also stemmed from this belief that it wouldn’t matter in eight years.

By the time 2012 came around – I had long stopped believing the prophecy.

This part of my life is a useful look in at how beliefs are formed, and why people hold the beliefs they do.

For me, a big part of believing the 2012 prophecy was that a lot of people who I thought were cool around me also either believed it, or enjoyed talking about it, and from memory, I didn’t hear much of a counter opinion to it..

I think this shows that the kinds of beliefs people have about things, does depend on how common the belief is in the people around them, and also how offering countering beliefs in a civil and persuasive manner is probably genuinely useful in grounding people’s beliefs, even if it doesn’t change their mind at the time.

It also give insight into why someone will hold a belief, for me, it’s because I liked the idea of this great prophecy, and a new world populated by people like me.

I think belief in especially end of world prophecies, but also global elite conspiracies are indicative of a cognitive shortcut – it’s much easier to imagine the world coming to an end, or some dramatic change – that is to image what the world is going to look like in ten years, or twenty years, or thirty years, maintaining the status quo.

So I guess I should be more sympathetic to people who I think hold irrational or baseless beliefs – but at the same time this actually encourages me to speak out more. I might have made less bad decisions if someone had taken the time to explain to me that there was no objective reason to believe that the 2012 prophecy was true. But of course that would have me then questioning whether my friends were as cool as I thought they were.

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social philosophy

Is it time to stop defending religion?

Everytime there is a radical Muslim terrorist attack, there is an immediate reaction from both Muslims and social progressives to point out that the majority of Muslims are peaceful and that Islamic terrorists don’t represent them.

Here is such an example:

not-in-my-name

They are of course correct that Islamic terrorists don’t represent all Muslims, and it would be unfair to bundle ordinary Muslims with Islamic terrorists.

However, I question whether being Muslim (or Christian) is defensible, regardless of the terrorism aspect.

The fact is, religious belief is irrational. There is no strong evidence to prove existence of the religious entities that religious people claim exist.

Yet we pussyfoot around the issue saying ‘Everyone’s entitled to their own beliefs’ and ‘They’re not harming anyone’.

And there is a fair point here – as I mentioned in a previous post, religious belief does appear to correlated with some positive metrics, such as happiness and life satisfaction, and lower drug abuse and depression. However, at the the time religious belief tends to be correlated with some negative social behaviour, such as homophobia.

My question is – in the wake of an Islamic terrorist attack, instead of leaping to the defence of the Muslim religion (and other religions) as a whole, why isn’t our reaction ‘Yes radical Islamic terrorists aren’t all Muslims, but man, isn’t religion silly! What’s it still doing around in this modern age – we’ve long since abandoned other outdated beliefs such as belief in witches or humours!’?

I think the reason we don’t do this, is because we don’t want to be an asshole. Most of us probably do know a religious person who we like and respect.  People disagree about various things, of varying importance, all the time, and then it’s a question of whether we let it affect the relationship or not.

Plenty of us also know someone who has outlandishly bad ideas – factually incorrect opinions like opposing vaccination, or believing in homoeopathy, or personal value based opinions like homophobia, or racism, and we’ll gladly call them out on it, even while attempting to maintain a friendly relationship with the person.

I think the reason people are more willing to call someone out on something like anti-vaxxing or homoeopathy is because the harms of those erroneous beliefs are more apparent.

Especially if the religious person you know is a perfectly pleasant person, it (ie. not a vocally intolerant bigot), it’s harder to make a case that there’s something wrong with their belief, even if it’s irrational.

With that said – perhaps it is time to be more vocal about the irrationality of religion. The purpose of criticising religion shouldn’t be to create a culture of moral judgement, but to assist the transitioning of well established institutions that do have their merits, into modern, philosophically consistent lifestyle frameworks.

For example I can imagine religions can abandoning the explicit belief in God and recognising God as a fiction, but continue celebrating their history, culture and songs, and continue congregating regularly, and transitioning prayer to God into daily self reflection.