Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Bursting Bubbles


One problem I keep facing with blogging is that I'm a softie when it comes to bursting other people's bubbles, even if I rationally think it would be best. Don't get me wrong--if a fundamentalist suggests something wrong or silly, I'll respond, and explain why. But I always feel bad going "on the offensive," explaining why something they think is wrongheaded (on other blogs, that is--I assume if someone is reading mine, they can deal with the kinds of things I'm going to say). If someone has a wrongheaded certainty that comforts them, or may even help them in some way, is it right to burst that? (Even if it is, what if I can't bring myself to do it?)

The former is one of the driving questions of Dennett's Breaking the Spell. Unfortunately, though very honestly of him, he does not offer a direct answer to the question. He more or less suggests that more research is needed on the possible benefits and costs of religion, which is probably true but frustrating.

On the one hand, after all, religious certainty can offer comfort, hope, and strength to a person. Taking away a person's sense of certainty--even if you follow up with "you can still be religious if you want, just don't claim you have a proof for it"--may impinge on all that. On the other hand, religious certainty is what drives so much terrorism, violence, oppression, and land disputes, affecting people of just about all religions. It would be pretty great to get those people to think twice about how sure they are about their claims.

So what do you do with nice religious folk who you don't think will commit any acts of violence, but who have some repugnant views about the non-religious? Or who don't actively work against a pluralistic society, but whose views undermine it? Or who do not engage in extremist action, but offer explicit or implicit ideological support to those who do? Is it cruel to burst their bubbles--from personal experience, this can be a pretty painful process, after all--or irresponsible not to make them think twice? Again, I'm not even talking about trying to make them full-blown skeptics--I don't think I'm going to do that with one or two blog posts, nor do I want to--but rather about contributing to more room for inquiry in their minds.

At the end of the day, Dennett is probably right; we need more research about the effects of religion, and how best to treat it. But does that mean I just stay quiet until provoked in the meantime? I'd love to hear some honest thoughts about this from other people.


Holy Hyrax said...

Research? How about leaving the spread sheets and bunson burners out of this and simply open up our own eyes and see for ourselves. Do we really need sociologists and psychologists and this point to tell us that religion does benefit people? And that for others is a cause of harm?

JewishGadfly said...

Agreed. But how do we know what to do with that, or which outweighs the other in different areas of society? I take "research" here in a more general sense, as in more thought and effort on the question of how best to approach it, not chemistry lab work.

JewishGadfly said...

For example, our intuitive sense is that harming people's senses of certainty about religion can take away the benefits they receive from it. Is that necessarily true? If it is, will people get over it soon, or is it psychologically harmful?

Those are the kinds of questions I have in mind.