Religion Analyzed or Obscured?

“I didn’t want an experience connected to a religion, but an unexplainable experience. It is not about believing in God, but about realizing that there are certain situations that cannot be understood. Your essay is well-written, but it is not what I asked for. You should have chosen another topic.”

“What was demanded was to abandon doctrines and orthodoxy and to admit that there are situations that can’t be explained rationally and scientifically.”

The above comments were written on my essay when I got it back. It wrote an essay on a religious experience for Religion Analysis. The first part of of it was a 1.5-page description of what happened, and how I felt during the religious experience. I will now reproduce the latter part, which is the part the comments refer to:

However, today I have a different mind than the one I had back then. I no longer follow any doctrine or orthodoxy, and have abandoned the concept of having faith. I have recognized the cultural, cognitive, neurological and psychological components of my religious faith. By faith I mean belief in a truth claim in spite of contradictory evidence or the lack of sufficient evidence. I cannot yet fully understand this experience because I have an amateur grasp on these fields of human knowledge. I can, however, rationally speculate about the way the retreat affected me through behavior, decision-making, and beliefs about the nature of reality.

I suppose the factors can be divided into two categories: my environment and my set of religious beliefs. The environment included: the quiet, tucked-away retreat house, my theology teacher, some priests, Roman Catholic iconography, and the presence of my friends. The beliefs included: the transubstantiation of the Eucharist (bread turning into flesh), the virgin birth of Jesus, the Trinity, Sin, Heaven, etc.

Along with these beliefs, I had two factors working to reinforce my credulity. Scientific evidence demonstrates a correlation in which the less a person is knowledgeable about science, the more religious that person tends to be. Also, scientific evidence demonstrates that children are pre-programmed by evolution to be very gullible, and be susceptible to bogus ideas that adults brush off with no problem.

I was ignorant of scientific and philosophical knowledge about self-deception, logical fallacies, cultural evolution, cognitive error, common irrational behaviors and attitudes, brain processes, psychology of religion, and the rules of rational argument (this allowed for religious ideas to gain more authority in my brain). I was also lacking in the critical thinking skills and independent mindedness that would later allow me to see through my dogmatically-held beliefs (a result of young minds being less well-equipped than adult minds in the area of detached, independent judgment of truth statements).

The retreat I went on made full use of the self-perpetuating stealth process of self-deception. Here are the steps of the process:

1. One must have the will to believe.

2. One must come to think that believing in God is particularly noble.

3. One must think that the ability to believe in God may, in fact, itself constitute evidence for the existence of God.

4. One must consider any demand from others or oneself to be spiritually tempting, a corruption of the intellect, or somehow unhealthy.

5. One must refer to steps 2-4 as “acts of faith.”

6. Return to step 2.

This “perpetual motion machine of self-deception” works so proficiently because: (1) people do not notice that they are setting it up (to notice it is to fail at it), and (2) there is a human propensity to hold opinions that appeal more to one’s sense of comfort than to truth. Indeed, many people are surrounded by a world of beliefs that have no rational justification. Most people’s opinions are primarily designed to make them comfortable. Truth is a secondary consideration for many people.

Because I aim to be a free thinker, I try as far as I can to eliminate beliefs that depend only upon the place and time of my education and my upbringing. I acknowledge that no one can do this completely, but I strive to achieve it. Unfortunately, while I do savor the social effects of that retreat, I must admit the fact that the retreat was also an attempt to further entrench dogmatic beliefs (that by definition lack rational justification) into my mind. I have three main reasons for wanting to cast off irrational beliefs: (1) they cause a great deal of violence, strife, and persecution, (2) irrational ideas do not enable me, as a rule, to achieve my ends, and (3) truth is better than falsehood (I find any happiness that depends upon being deceived or deluded shameful and pitiable).

I do not doubt, however, that my religious experience seemed deeply mysterious and enlightening before I entered university. To this day, I maintain that this retreat was the most “spiritual” (for lack of a better word that lacks metaphysical baggage) event of my life, and it gave me a first-person glimpse of the meditative and contemplative traditions found in many other cultures. In this respect, I broadened my sense of what and how humans are capable of feeling given certain environments, cultural influences, and beliefs. Fundamentally, I broadened the scope of my understanding of the human experience. [End of essay]

Thoughts anyone?


~ by jsacc001 on January 28, 2009.

2 Responses to “Religion Analyzed or Obscured?”

  1. What was the prompt, in its entirety?

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