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Unconscious Convolutions

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Posted by Benjamin Nelson on February 5, 2001 23:56:54 UTC

John:

True enough, most people have brought various religious doctrines under no great external coercion. Then again, some people have. But some religious doctrines seem to anesthetize brains; they are like "drugs." To be sure, the idea that injecting heroin is fun keeps infecting people by appealing to myopic cravings, rarely to the ultimate advantage of those people. And any enumeration of these various doctrines is in no way meant to imply that I am myself notably successful in avoiding their myopic cravings.

The point is that chronically subjecting our ethereal intuitions -- or even ourselves for that matter -- to a true and bracing scrutiny, and adjusting our behavior accordingly, is simply not something we are "designed" to do. That's the problem with moral rightness; people who believe they are right see no need for such scrutiny. But making this realization is the first step toward correcting moral biases. The second step is to discount moral indignation.

We -- people of religious faith as well as of science -- are prone to grow indignant about the behavior of others whose interests conflict with a distinct group to which we belong; hence, we dress ourselves up in flimsy language and self-righteously decry the immorality or incorrectness in others. Moreover, the unconscious convolutions by with we convince ourselves of our "correctness" were seen in laboratories long before I was here to explain them.

But it is for this reason that we should examine our beliefs under the assumption that they may lead to practical, life-enhancing wisdom. On the other hand, they may lead to self-serving religious or philosophically indefensible pronouncements about absolute truths of this or that. But hopefully after any self-analysis, one may see the "wisdom" of certain moral tenets -- see how they achieve certain goals by implicitly recognizing deep truths about human nature. Or at the very least we may learn to appreciate our human diversity. Indeed, this must be done for the sake of common ground.

B. L. Nelson

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