Tuesday, December 30, 2014

a critical mass of faith

Not long ago, I explained that determined followers of faith-beliefs may not fit the two opposite stereotypes of an uninformed/misinformed dupe or a well-informed swindler. They may be a chimera made of both—a complex yet mutually beneficial combination. They want to believe, and so they devise and/or seek persuasive justifications purely for themselves. And each time they face a new contradiction, they use swindler-like ingenuity to somehow neutralize it from affecting them. Because they prize the continued acceptance of their faith-belief so much, they're willing to overlook their own transparently self-serving mental labor, which they knowingly performed to provide customized evasions of their own doubts.

Such "chimeras" may have learned, after endless trial and error, that they should be reluctant to attempt to mine their faith-beliefs for definite claims about tangible things or events. Instead, they should emphasize their appreciation of the mental effects of their faith-beliefs, e.g. mood changes and private, vague epiphanies. One particularly fruitful concept is a critical mass of faith: the minimum degree of devotion necessary to enable convincing results. If someone's faith could be below critical mass, then their sincere complaints about their faith-beliefs having no noteworthy consequences become easy to explain, rather than perplexing. Even their honest descriptions of their lackluster subjective experiences aren't problematic. They're unsatisfied because they aren't trying hard enough, not because their god is nonexistent. (It's revealing that the demand for fanaticism is seldom expressed to evangelistic targets or novice followers. To the contrary, like anyone approached for a new membership offer, they're more likely to hear that getting started is painless and low-cost.)

The crux is that someone without the critical mass of faith cannot offer a reliable opinion about the accuracy of the corresponding faith-beliefs. They haven't really taken a good sample, so they're uninformed and unqualified. Why pay attention to their negative feedback? (I'm reminded of that time I responded to the suggestion to give prayer a try.) Clearly this ploy's first benefit is an excuse to minimize the criticisms of large numbers of troublesome outsiders, including "moderate" followers of the same faith-beliefs. It's also convenient for discounting the public followers who eventually rejected their faith-beliefs altogether: their faith must never have reached critical mass. Therefore the rejection itself becomes less threatening. It can be an unremarkable consequence of the former follower's failure to ever grasp the "self-evident core". Most absurdly of all, they might face this unverifiable diagnosis despite many previous years of zealous, self-sacrificial commitment and conformity. That whole time, they must have been "only pretending" to be a follower.

The second benefit of requiring a critical mass of faith is that it greatly increases the odds of discernible outcomes within the follower's thoughts. A critical mass of faith involves constant obsession over an idea. And the constant obsession trains the follower's brain to spontaneously produce it. The process is like an echo. Shouting long and hard will set up the shout to return back. Moreover, such an eerie internalized impression isn't unreal in the strictest sense. Like other inner human experiences, it certainly exists...as a manifestation of brain activity. (That's why I've already agreed that I can't hastily categorize these experiences as mere na├»ve illusions.) An engrossing work of fiction doesn't need to present confirmed realities to provoke startlingly vibrant emotions and sensations. To some degree, the overall spectacle could be sufficiently potent to seem more like an alternative rather than an imaginary reality: "I felt like I was there." Similarly, when the brain emits bouts of "spiritual" phenomena, the subject may not be exaggerating much about their palpable perception of it. The brain has an undeniable abundance of interconnections. Why couldn't roughly the same visceral areas be approximately activated via an imaginative conceptual path—especially after that path has been purposefully cultivated by the unceasing efforts of the loyal follower? In this extremely limited way, critical mass makes their faith-belief a little more virtually real...from their perspective.

The third benefit of requiring a critical mass of faith is that it indirectly presumes interpreting available information through the most supportive slant. Once someone is in that state, they're probably not impartial. Almost by definition, they're primed to underline the strengths of their faith-beliefs and put aside the weaknesses. "If you had a critical mass of faith, you'd observe perpetual proof of these faith-beliefs everywhere you look. With your soul in the right condition, you'd be finding divine fingerprints all around." In addition, it's a rationale for continuing to accumulate faith. To be disturbed by contradictory information is to illuminate the need to simply add more faith, until the contradictory information is safely contained. Understandably, this recommendation encourages ambitious mid-level followers at the same time that it repulses dissenters. Ambitious mid-level followers gladly trust that greater faith will (mystically) unlock "advanced" comprehension of subtle truths. On the other hand, to exasperated dissenters, the requirement of greater faith to gauge knowledge correctly is like a requirement to first push down on one side of a scale before reading the weight! Or maybe it's like squinting more and more until four fingers could appear like five.

Ultimately, the common thread among these benefits is easy to spot: fortification of the follower's faith-belief to the point of self-sustaining invulnerability. While they're entranced by their critical mass of faith and its indispensable importance, they're unreachable from the outside. They may still choose to lay it down, of course, in a gesture of humility. Humility is admitting that there's nothing about oneself—including a critical mass of faith—which is independently sufficient for a superior, error-free source of unimpeachable truths.

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