Rational Religion

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Am I Supposed to be Thinking This?


A lot of people who feel they are well educated; and indeed have the diplomas and certificates to prove it; are nevertheless abysmally ignorant of a great many crucial facts about the Universe.


Let us establish, as a baseline, that we are all abysmally ignorant, in general.  There is just too much important stuff out there to know, and if we concentrate on any one area of knowledge assiduously enough to qualify as expert or even "informed" in that area there is simply not enough life to accumulate much more than a sketchy familiarity with all the other stuff. 


I am talking, now, about those "educated" people whose areas of study and expertise -- though possibly undertaken in great depth for a long period of time  --  have simply taught them (pace, Mark Twain) "a lot of stuff that ain't so."


Immediately spring to mind the great host of theologians, ministers of various gospels, devotees of the occult and formulators of thousands of fad diets who deal unapologetically and almost exclusively with the more superstitious flavors of metaphysics.


But an alarming number of people who would call themselves scientists or objective researchers fall unawares into the same trap.


Historians, especially, dealing largely with subjective accounts and popularized or official news stories of times past (and no longer subject to direct observation) are probably too inclined to let their personal prejudices influence their final assessments of "what actually happened" back then.


  Psychologists and other social scientists, dealing with mostly just as subjective evidence as historians - - plus the slippery and enigmatic workings of the human mind and the too-often counterintuitive machinations of human relationships - - are likely to come up with explanatory theories and even entire university departments that are firmly rooted in thin air.


(Witness the recent and continuing scandal of "repressed and recovered memories" and the evidently imaginary cases of mass child molestation in certain unfortunate day care centers.  A more pertinent subject of investigation for the offending mental health professionals would have been the long and well-documented history and psychology of witch hunts.)


People don't like to be wrong.  They especially do not like to have their entire life's work proved useless or irrelevant.


The fact remains that, in a Universal context, most people's life’s work, is. 


This is not to suggest that all these theologians and social scientists and other blue-sky theorists are not doing work of value.  Setting aside those of their number whose theories and teachings are demonstrably corrosive (see "recovered memories" above), most of them beneficially distract large numbers of anxious persons and ameliorate their angst or outright suffering. 


Their chief negative impact comes as they represent stumbling blocks, blind alleys and outright barrier walls to more productive learning. 


Any scholar who shies from a thought or area of investigation because  "I'm not supposed to think that!" is already primed to join Twain's army of the intellectually damned;   as is any researcher who ignores or marginalizes evidence which contradicts his or her own theories or assessment of fact. (Suppression  - or manufacturing - of evidence is of course venal.)


Before we bemoan the spectacle of all those good, intelligent people wasting all that time, stop to consider:  human intellectual and creative processes are notoriously wasteful.   Far less than a hundredth of a percent of even expert, professional efforts produce anything of lasting value.


Let us not concentrate upon the waste, but upon the very occasional, rare, triumphant success, and learn to be patient with the process. 


Of course, it is perfectly permissible to denigrate the willful obstructionists, such as anybody who might try to tell you that you "shouldn't be thinking that."  Them you can outright dismiss, even if they are part of your heritage. 


It's hard enough to get anywhere close to the truth of anything, without your preacher or your auntie trying to tell you you shouldn't be exploring there in the first place.