Monday, April 10, 2017

High Maintenance Beliefs

There's another article in The Irish Times this week that mentions the New Atheists. I'm rather surprised. It seems to me that the New Atheist moment is well and truly over and that the attitude of sustained incredulity they represent seems to have collapsed.

It had to collapse, didn't it? You only have to spend a little time examining the history of ideas to realize that the human mind can only spend so long in a state of unnatural strain, that eventually it has to return to a state of reasonable repose.

It reminds me of what Chesterton said about Calvinism: "It is seldom remembered that the Puritans were in their day emphatically intellectual bullies, that they relied swaggeringly on the logical necessity of Calvinism, that they bound omnipotence itself in the chains of syllogism. The Puritans fell, through the damning fact that they had a complete theory of life, through the eternal paradox that a satisfactory explanation can never satisfy"

Religion represents so much that is native to the human mind-- the concept of transcendent purpose and meaning, the concept of the sacred, the object of prayer-- that it can only be warded off by a kind of perpetual vigilance. And that vigilance becomes exhausting.

The same is true of something like gender. You can make a case that gender is socially constructed and repressive, but you have to devote a great deal of mental energy to it. It's exhausting, fighting one's own inclinations all day long.

The same is true of universalism. You can say that we are all one common humanity and that boundaries and tribalism are so much nonsense. But the human mind gravitates towards collective identity and group distinctions in spite of itself.

High maintenance beliefs can't last very long. Sooner or later they collapse in a heap.

I can imagine a rationalist challenging me and asking: "So, water turning into wine, and angels, and a virgin giving birth, and saints levitating, and all that... those aren't high maintenance beliefs?"

And honestly, I would! They're not! At least, it seems to be the case that the human mind accepts the miraculous and the supernatural far easier than it accepts the idea of a purposeless, origin-less, meaningless universe. In fact, I would argue that the human mind needs to exert it self to keep the idea of the miraculous and the supernatural at bay.

Perhaps reality is something that the human mind finds difficult to endure for any length of time. But the idea that the human mind has been built to apprehend reality seems more plausible to me.

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