Between Stockholm Syndrome and Lima Syndrome
Part 55: On Mass Delusion
Religion flies you into buildings.
-Victor J. Stenger
Upon exploring the psychological, sociological, biological and geographical reasons on why do we believe in what we believe—as discussed in Parts 6 through 54—the time has come for us to explore on how should we believe.
Of course the answer is entirely up to us; whether we want to have useful and constructive beliefs, or a counter-productive and destructive ones. Whether we want to experience a liberating Lima syndrome or an enslaving Stockholm syndrome. And knowing how self-destructive human beings can be, the answer is not necessarily obvious. This realization itself should be used to analyze our beliefs mercilessly.
For even 'rational' beliefs themselves can actually be nothing more of irrational self-justifications. As once put by English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895), "what we call rational grounds for our beliefs are often extremely irrational attempts to justify our instincts." Surely Huxley knew a thing or two about opposition from irrational believers. In the 19th century, he was known as 'the Darwin's Bulldog' for his advocacy of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution that was fiercely opposed by the religious establishment.
In retrospect, it was not merely that Darwin's evolutionary theory sounded outrageous. It was Darwin's intellectual fearlessness—to explore scientific truth wherever logic and empirical evidence took him—that made the religious establishment trembled in fear and rage.
And tremble they still do. As discussed in Part 53 ("Big Father is Watching Us"), and in spite of compelling empirical evidence proving Darwin's evolutionary theory that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestors, certain school districts in the states of Texas, Louisiana and Tennessee still allow teachers the freedom to question scientific theories including evolution. Creationism is alive and well. Of course this pigheaded recalcitrance—to defy scientific facts and to firmly believe in delusions—is nothing new.
"Knowledge is something which you can use," a Sufi proverb states; "Belief is something which uses you." Thus, thanks to scientific knowledge, Neil Armstrong became the first man to land on the moon (1969). Long before that, elevators were invented (1853), then airplanes (1913), and the Internet (1960s).
On the other hand, because of religion, almost 3,000 people died in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, tragically only made possible due to the very same inventions of elevators, airplanes, and the Internet. In fact, as I was ready to schedule this post, news broke out about the June 2016 mass shooting in Orlando, Florida.
Oxford Dictionary defines 'delusion' as "an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument, typically a symptom of mental disorder." In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values (1974), Robert M. Pirsig offered a more illuminating definition: "When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion, it is called a Religion."
[To be continued.]
Johannes Tan, Indonesian Translator & Conference Interpreter