Ugh… I swear, lately the Huffington Post has been promoting more woo-woo than Jenny McCarthy’s bookshelf.
I’m kidding, of course. Jenny McCarthy doesn’t read books.
Andrew Pessin wrote an article in the Religion section of the HuffPo that made me roll my eyes more than I ever have in a ten minute period, titled How to Be Certain Your Religion Is True and Still Get Along with Others.
In short, Pessin notes that most believers fall into the paradox of being certain that everything they believe is true, while simultaneously admitting that another set of beliefs that run contradictory to their own could also be right. And therefore, he thinks he’s got the secret to world peace:
What I suggest instead is that we simply acknowledge the paradox: that is, recognize that both contradictory propositions are, in their own right, extremely plausible. In the preface case this actually seems quite easy to do. My ultimate hope, then, is that world peace will break out when enough people simply acknowledge the paradox as well and begin applying it more generally.
Why is that?
Because acknowledging the paradox allows you simultaneously to say two things.
Choose some important, life-governing, very controversial thing you happen to believe in with great fervor: the existence of God (or perhaps atheism), the truth of Christianity (or Islam or Hinduism, etc.), absolute morality (or relativism), etc. Focusing on religion as our example, you can now say, first, that you believe, with certainty, on the basis of reason and evidence and testimony, in the truth of, say, the various individual tenets of your version of Christianity, and thus believe, with equal certainty, in all the things entailed by that belief: that, say, all other competing religions and doctrines are simply false.
But then you can say, second, something else: that you may be wrong.
Got it? You can simultaneously be certain that Christianity is true and everything conflicting with it is false, and yet acknowledge that you may be wrong without taking away your certainty. You can thus keep your certainties without having to claim that you are, in fact, and grossly implausibly, infallible. It’s what everyone (other than bakers) has yearned for since time immemorial: the proverbial cake, both eaten yet had!
Imagine, now, that all parties came to acknowledge the Paradox of the Preface as well. Then theycould say that they are certain that (for example) Islam is true and everything conflicting with it is false — and yet acknowledge that they may be wrong without taking away their certainty.
Charming. So I can believe with certainty that a spaceman chose only one specific book to communicate to the beings he created the message that he hates queers, as long as I admit that I could be wrong. Muhammad was the one true prophet of Allah and I believe with certainty that anyone who does not accept this fact is destined to fry in hell for all eternity… but maybe not. Is that how it works?
This kind of thinking is naive, at best. Either something is true, or it isn’t. And if we allow religion to assert truths without demanding proof, then we open the door to allow it to weasel its way into the science and social studies classrooms, into public policy, and into other areas of society where it doesn’t belong.
Sometimes, people are just wrong.
And it doesn’t help anything to say “it’s okay… you can continue to believe that, and act on those beliefs however you want… just as long as you say that you could be wrong.”