Rational Religion

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The Dark Side of Conviction..


One often hears a "lack of conviction" denigrated as a flaw in the personality.    The very word "lack" indicates that something is missing.  It implies that the subject might have trouble holding herself or himself together in the face of everyday exigencies.


People with "strong convictions" are held up to the rest of us as exemplary.  All of us should be like them. 


Now it is true that people who have not located themselves within society and the Universe at large are liable to wander about aimlessly, subject to every small buffet or stray influence they encounter.


But there are convictions and beliefs.   And the difference lies not so much in the specifics as in the manner.   Convictions are beliefs petrified.  There is no faith involved in conviction; there is no need for faith when there is certainty.


We all need good intellectual, emotional, ideological harbors to keep us from flying off into the void, but the analogies that most of society accepts for these "safe" areas of our consciousnesses betray an evident species-wide willingness to trade freedom for security.


  We speak of "grounding," and "anchors" and even "concrete principles," implying that the best and most effective  beliefs are the weightiest and least mobile.


Most of humanity, then, becomes enslaved by the convictions we hold.  Our intelligent spirits, programmed by eons of natural selection to seek and explore our environment, are nevertheless constrained by what we have been taught is The Truth, so that we cannot seek it beyond what we have been taught.


Let us return, here, to the principle that most of what we know - in any given time in human history - just simply ain't so; a principle which is amply demonstrated by looking back a few decades (often only a few years) to identify the myriad idiocies of the past. 


Now, a lot of people have a lot of trouble with this rather elementary idea.  Their reluctance to accept it is probably genetic, at least in part, which gives rise to a palpable paradox, since our burgeoning curiosity and raccoon-like tendency to puddle about experimentally within our environment is also most likely part of the Original Equipment. 


For most of our pre-history, evolving Homo probably functioned best in a relatively changeless environment.  Tribal societies are notably conservative, much given to ritual and ceremony in active effort to "keep things the way they always have been," and accepting change only when it is forced upon them by outside influences.


Those outside influences, luckily for our development into sapiens and our continued survival thereafter, intruded often enough that we never became so maladaptive a creature that we couldn't cope with them when they inevitably came.  (See: The Survival Tribe.)


Also pre-literate human societies, dependant upon oral traditions to reconstruct their history for each successive generation, were far more subject to evolutionary pressures than a society with a lot of books and hard records.  That is, the memorized rituals and stories may remain much the same from century to century, but what they mean will change with the environment and the circumstances.


But change is disturbing; especially disturbing if it looks permanent.   Even if the change benefits us we tend to resist it simply because it is unfamiliar.


Women, and a lot of men, in Euro-American societies have fought for centuries for gender equality.  Less than a hundred years ago people were still marching for female suffrage; and being pelted with invective and more material insults by the public at large.  Less than the lifespan of many people still living have women actually had access to the ballot box in the world's most successful democracy. 


A social change which seems so fundamentally right from the perspective of the Third Millennium was resisted with conviction less than a lifetime ago, not only by men who feared that women's gain would inevitably  be their loss, but by as many as half of the women in the nation, as well. 


Women in the United States, in the final analysis, never gave themselves the vote.  Without the ballot, they had no mechanism to effect the change.  They had to wait for a (bare) majority of the voting males to judge that it was politically expedient to do so.  (No wonder it took so damned long.)


And they have had to wait another 80-odd years for the society at large to glacially alter its dominant convictions about the roles of men and women within the society so that there are some indications that gender equity may actually be achieved; some day. 


For instance, the continuing debate about whether it is better for children to have a working mother - happy in her job - or a full-time "mom" in the home has really nothing at all to do with whether or not women are entitled to have careers; and be paid as much for them as men doing a comparable job at a comparable level of performance.  But a lot of people cannot see it that way.


Their convictions are in the way, you see.


And as for giving more respect to those of us who have "firm convictions..."


Which do you admire more; the plodding pedestrian, head down,  who simply holds his pace, or the acrobatic juggler who can keep five balls in the air as he strolls along?