Speaking of Psychology…

Interesting thoughts here
An article by Frans De Waal that seeks to understand why “Militant Atheism Has Become a Religion” seems relevant here. As an Emory psychology professor who conducts research on primate behavior, and an atheist himself, his criticism is directed neither at atheists nor Muslims. Instead he writes, “I consider dogmatism a far greater threat than religion per se.” Dogmatists “are poor listeners” who “pound their drums so hard that they can’t hear one another.”
He surmises that their primary motivation is not to discover the truth but rather to show off, “the way male birds gather… to display splendid plumage for visiting females.” De Waal accuses the new atheists of going after Islam simply because it is “low-hanging fruit” in Western contexts: “Throw in a few pictures of burqas, mention infibulation, and who will argue with your revulsion of religion?” Audience after audience applauds these tired tactics as if they were original, but they are highly unscientific and do little to further understanding.

“…the way male birds gather…to display…”   Yes, very interesting psychology going on all the time.  And it has nothing to do with atheism or religion.  It has to do with fundamentalism.  It has to do with a way of viewing the world.  It has to do with believing in a narrative that maps the world in an absolute and correct correspondence between my reading (whether a text or the physical world) and what the text or physical world must mean.  There is only one meaning.  Mine.  Says the fundamentalist.  And I will say it with the greatest display of “splendid plumage.”

Right, and in my later more mature years I will look back and be embarrassed.
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4 Responses to Speaking of Psychology…

  1. Burk Braun says:

    So, why is there “low-hanging fruit”? What is all that other fruit?

    He is talking about the patent absurdities of religion, not to mention the attendant horrors, consequent to being nonsense cooked up out clear motives of social control and love of myth / projection.

    Is it rude to point all this out? Perhaps. Is it fundamentalist? Not if what one is saying is philosophically sound. If he distains to point out for the millionth time that the emperor of religion has no clothes, and thinks it in bad taste for others to do so, or ineffective, due to the mental density of the targets, that hardly makes it fundamentalist or dogmatic. Perhaps futile would be the word, but since the new Atheists have been having such a positive impact (!), perhaps not.

    If you read the original piece by DeWaal, he is even more dimissive of religionists, being sort of beneath his contempt. But that hardly solves the problem or helps your case, does it?


  2. Burk Braun says:

    And if I may add… ” If no one is “indoctrinating” children or “forcing” religion down anyone’s throat any more, what will people rebel against or leave behind? What force will we blame when people behave badly?”

    We will blame other factors like bad education, drugs, psychopathy, greed, .. the list is endless. But if the peculiar blend of ignorance / righteousness that is religion is lost, it crosses a big item off the top of that list.


  3. Hi Darrell

    Personally I think tolerance, within limits, is the goal. Last night I had some of my teenage Drama students doing a performance, and before they went on stage, amongst the usual backstage tension, one of the students asked if she could lead the group in a prayer. This was, I suspect, a group of teens with diverse world views; one Somalian Muslim, a couple of Samoan Christians, certainly a few non-believers, yet all quite happily, in a spirit of cast-unity, formed a circle and acknowledged the prayer. And for all my lack of belief, I couldn't help but feel that the ability of such a group to so graciously accommodate that request was so much more valuable and important than any abstract discussion about truth.



  4. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    Yes, exactly. What you describe is a perfect example of what, in my mind, is really “True.” And it doesn’t revolve around, as you say, some abstract theoretical construct or theory of truth. And by the same token, if I am a believer and ask a diverse group if we can pray, I need to be sensitive if the response is, “we are not comfortable doing that.” I need not then feel persecuted or misunderstood. It works both ways. Again, the issue is not so much what we believe but rather the “way” in which we believe and how we treat others. Thanks for sharing this great example.


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