Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Believer's Triangle: A point about the religious mind

When writing God Doesn't; We Do, I made a particular point a handful of times about the religious mind. I claimed specifically that all religious believers, particularly apologists, live their mental lives somewhere in the "borderlands" between being deluded, deceived, and dishonest. My ultimate points with it were that we may not possess the tools or the ethics to pull apart which is which, and so we really needn't bother. That believers think within the triangle, at least about their religion, is enough. I came up with the name The Believer's Triangle today and kind of like it.

I suppose I should clarify the shades of the meanings I'm using for those three terms, since much of the problem is that they overlap considerably. Indeed, "deluded" and "deceived" are considered synonyms, except in connotation, and both are the result, in a sense, of dishonesty.
  1. Deluded: Believing incorrectly with a sense of confusion about it.
  2. Deceived: Misled, operatively by others.
  3. Dishonest: Intentionally lying to others, especially, and to oneself.
To clarify further, I'll use a few examples: Mary is deluded in that she believes God takes care of her and everyone she loves, particularly because she wants this to be true and hasn't seen through the cognitive biases that might disabuse her of it. Mary has been deceived into thinking that she will have a more fruitful life if she tithes well since her pastor at church tells her so every week, a message reinforced by her family and friends--Mary may not have arrived at this notion on her own, however, as a result of her general belief structure. Mary's pastor is dishonest because he knows that tithing will not actually improve Mary's life in any meaningful way, but he wants her money and so tells her to tithe well anyway.

So, in my use, delusion operates primarily behind one's own cognitive biases, being deceived is a state of being misled by others intentionally or unintentionally, and dishonesty is meant in the strict sense where someone is intentionally saying something he or she knows or strongly suspects not to be true. Part of the point of the whole thing is not to split hairs about where lying to oneself lands in the triangle, etc. They're in here.

I thought of calling it the "Believer's Triangle" having in mind a mental image of the Bermuda Triangle, into which there are associated mysterious phenomena, like believing that the Holy Trinity is more true because it doesn't make any sense at all.

Incidentally, I could probably have called it the "Believer's Uncertainty Principle," in homage to Heisenberg instead--"we cannot determine the accurate state of a believer's degree of being deluded, deceived, and dishonest in any of his or her apologetic-style arguments or thinking." The general point is the same: language isn't doing us a great job here at being able to nail down exactly which is which with them, and we don't possess the kind of knowledge in most cases to tell the difference, even if we often can smell a bullshit artist at work.

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