The quality of the ideas and beliefs held by an individual or organization can be best judged by their willingness to be exposed to alternative ideas and beliefs, forcefully presented. Only after such a fair hearing can an informed decision be made about the relative merit of each.
–Ernest Kinnie, PhD, Amoral Science – Brainless Religion
Take religion and faith. I often post links to articles and books on my Facebook page that support my particular views on religion and faith. Likewise, my Christian friends and acquaintances often post things on Facebook that support their beliefs. Facebook being the social network it is, it goes without saying that people post things there intending to spread their word, their beliefs, whatever they may be. The truth is, though, that I am pretty unlikely to click on any link that appears to support anything religious or faith-based, because I know it won’t resonate with me and it has a good chance of just irritating me, so what’s the point? I assume, on reflection, that my Christian friends do the same with my links and posts relating to my views on religion and faith: they probably ignore them, knowing they wouldn’t like whatever point or message I might be trying to get across.
On a larger scale, what about all the books out there that either support or deconstruct religion and faith? What’s the point of these books, really? Generally speaking, people tend to seek out things that they feel confirm their existing convictions. They’re not looking for things that might poke holes in their beliefs – in fact, people pretty clearly try to steer clear of information that might support an opposing viewpoint. I’m not exactly sure why, except that it’s safe to say that it’s a pretty frightening and overwhelming thing to consider the possibility that our own personal worldview might not be right. Not only that, but we want everyone else to see it the same way we do, because we want our views to be validated.
I don’t even think that these types of books – either books that promote religious beliefs or books that promote non-religious views – are actually written with the mass public in mind. The authors must know that no self-respecting atheist is going to seek out Christian publications, and no upstanding Christian is going to look for a scientific or philosophical manifesto on the origins of the universe. It seems that they are really intended for their own specific loyal audiences: religious books for people of faith, and non-religious books for us other folks. Maybe there is a market for these types of books for skeptics and people on the fence about where they stand on matters of faith, but I suspect neither type of book would sway someone who isn’t already leaning one way or the other.
So why do we with strong views and beliefs continue to seek out information that only supports what we hold dear? Do all of us really, secretly, way down deep inside, nurse some little nugget of doubt and we therefore need constant reassurance that we’re on the right path? Or is it, really, that we truly do hope to convince others to see things the way we do because we’re that sure that we’re right?