Sunday, October 19, 2014

smokescreens or bogus refuges

Recently I've been criticizing abstract counterarguments (ignorant misconceptions?) against the standpoint that all realities are purely natural consequences of matter. But I realize that these elaborate counterarguments almost certainly aren't the actual primary causes for following faith-beliefs. More likely, a follower's faith-beliefs could be closely tied to their identity, cultural and familial background, habits of action and thought, emotional dependence, pivotal life events, influential companions, media consumption.

They use impersonal rationalizations when they're part of formal or informal debates. Within the conversational equivalent of warfare, they deploy the conversational equivalent of a smokescreen. Just by correctly filling the expected role of a debater proposing a logical chain of assertions, they downplay and conceal their main motivations.

This observation is far from novel. Some public debaters have openly admitted that they participate for the sake of communicating to the audience, not for reversing the perspective of anyone on stage. They're intentionally performing the ideas in a publicity-grabbing way. Their opponents are uncooperative assistants in a bumpy, wide-ranging, briskly moving lecture. Moreover, they have the chance to stomp competing assertions right after each is spoken.

Unfortunately, defeating a smokescreen accomplishes nothing in the end. To a follower in a debate, their defeated smokescreens are unimportant decoys, sideshows, pretenses, stratagems. Their faith-beliefs remain secure after they finish verbal sparring, regardless of whether their comments were poked full of irreparable holes. Since they had enough complacency in the first place to enthusiastically defend their position in a confrontational discussion, they may not (yet) be ready for an earnest dissection of it. For the goal of prodding followers of faith-beliefs to reconsider their genuine judgments of knowledge, is addressing smokescreen assertions a wasteful strategy?

Maybe it is, on the assumption the assertions are only serving as smokescreens for the sake of insincere debate. Having said that, I see a much less phony context for such assertions: the moment of doubt, a period when a follower's accustomed reservoir of faith dips for whatever reason, such as shocking changes in circumstances. Their wishful thinking clouds. Their well-established visions lose solidity. Their expected narratives unravel. Their self-assured feelings waver. Their trust wobbles. Their biases relax. Psychologically, their typical protective wall around their faith-beliefs is weaker than usual.

As a result, the follower is abnormally feeble at forcefully pushing irritating questions out of awareness. Sensible critiques of their faith-beliefs seem less absurd. Contradictory information refuses to evaporate on command. The moment of doubt is an involuntary individualized conflict of ideas. It's superficially similar to a debate but has weightier repercussions.

While it lasts it even necessitates a substitute besides faith to prop up the faith-beliefs for a time. However, somewhat plausible—though too flawed nonetheless—defenses of faith-beliefs are scarce and sometimes difficult to devise and comprehend. The same set must suffice for both internal and external threats. The assertions that are smokescreens in debates also act as bogus refuges in moments of doubt. They provide (thin) justifications to continue following faith-beliefs anyway. They resume acting as smokescreens again afterward, when faith resumes its repressive authority.

This outcome isn't inevitable. If someone has learned ideas that overrule the assertions, then their list of viable refuges decreases. The next time that faith slackens and doubt returns, the endangered faith-beliefs have fewer sources of supplementary support. One or more could accumulate so many unanswered doubts that the follower dismisses them: they quit using faith to ignore the shortcomings. For that set, the "moment" of doubt is endless.

Perhaps a cycle starts, as the number of bogus refuges continues to dwindle and more doubts pile up. Eventually, very few isolated faith-beliefs might stubbornly persist. At that point, if not before, the follower may ask the crucial self-examination questions, "If, by definition, a faith-belief can't persuade me of its accuracy without faith, then why am I accepting it? Why should I unfairly and purposely misjudge it by skewed or lowered standards? Why should it be uniquely immune to valid challenges?"

Hence, countering smokescreens for faith-beliefs isn't necessarily worthless. Levelheaded dialogue probably won't immediately overturn beliefs which weren't originally reached by levelheaded dialogue. Nevertheless, the neutralizing of bogus rationales prepares for future occasions, when the followers could be marginally more willing to review their faith-beliefs with candor.

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