-When I was younger I attended a public exorcism. It was a rather strange evening in which a well known exorcist invited a couple thousand people to a hotel conference room in order to ‘cast out demons’ in the name of Jesus. It was not difficult to notice that the audience comprised of three distinct groups of people;
1) those who had arrived with the full fledged belief that demons are real and that exorcisms were a necessary means of ridding oneself of demonic influence
2) those who weren’t sure whether they believed in exorcisms and metaphysical activity but had arrived with a heavy dose of curiosity
3) those who dismissed the whole thing as a bunch of hooey and hogwash
For the people who believed in demons and deliverance, they witnessed manifestations throughout the evening which supported their belief; people talked in strange guttural voices, screamed, and exhibited a whole host of anomalous behavioral activity. For the people in the second group; some of them were persuaded to believe in demons after watching the performance, while others went from wondering to outright disbelief, joining the third group of people in pronouncing the whole thing as being nothing more than in the ‘minds’ of the people who believed and had no more truth to it than believing in aliens or ESP.
Whenever it comes to belief; what we are really talking about is what you “want” to believe, not what is truth or fiction. The human mind has the capacity to believe in a wide array of nonsensical things, consider for instance the Japanese kamikaze of WWII or the radical Jihadist of the 21st century, each who believed that killing themselves with the intent of murdering other peoplefor the sake of their political religion is a good thing.
I have had a number of friends who have gone from being believers in God to being atheists. While each of these friends might list a number of ‘facts’ which persuaded them to give up their faith in God in exchange for faithlessness, the simple truth of the matter is that none of those ‘facts’ which they cite are all that revolutionary in the scope of history. It is not as though the things they attribute to their atheism are things which have never been discussed throughout the last two thousand years. The same goes for my atheist friends who became Christians, the ‘facts’ they cling to are no more astounding then the ‘facts’ which allegedly converted my other friends to atheism and faithlessness. What we are really discussing when we consider atheism or Christianity is not truth versus falsehood, but rather faith versus faithlessness.
Everyone has faith. The question is not whether people have faith, but who or what they put their faith in; faith refers to the “complete trust or confidence in someone or something”. Prior to the age of industry and technology, most people put their faith in the idea that there was a metaphysical world with a god (or gods and goddesses) that operated outside the realm of the natural. As the age of science swept through the world, the belief in a metaphysical world became less trendy since such a belief could not be analyzed by the various naturalistic experiments that humanity had developed. Thus, while a rock could be put under a microscope and measured for the various degrees of radiocarbon dating, humanity soon found themselves more likely to put their faith in the scientist who told them them the age of that rock then whether or not a metaphysical world existed with a god (or goddess) that acted outside the realm of the natural world.
Now the ‘fact’ that scientists have been bickering for years over the actual age of rocks and stars has not been of much concern to the average person. After all, whether or not the age of rocks and stars is something we can know ‘beyond the shadow of a doubt’ is of less concern than the ‘fact’ that scientists have told us we can know it; people have put their faith in science whereas in the past people put their faith in religion and in holy books, now they put their faith in science and textbooks. And as each new year comes by and certain scientific claims are found to be false, because people have faith in science, fact and fiction are of no consequence to the masses, just as fact and fiction were of little consequence when humanity used to have their faith in religion and in holy books.
Evidence always has to be interpreted. That is why for each scientific discovery, there are a whole host of scientific explanations that often completely differ in interpretation. On Monday scientists have decided caffeine is bad for the human body, on Tuesday they realize it cures diseases, on Wednesday they find it stunts your growth, then on Thursday they realize it helps your brain in development, and by Saturday they throw out all the findings from the week and start over; facts are always in a perilous state of interpretation because truly objective perspective does not exist within the mind of any human that walks this earth, we are all biased.
For instance, some scientists believe there is an abundance of evidence in supporting the belief that animals evolved from one species into another, while other evolutionary scientists believe there is no proof whatsoever for such a claim. Truth, facts, history, these issues are all contingent on the epistemological starting point each person begins; start with the idea that God created everything and you will see the handiwork of an intelligent designer everywhere you look, start with the idea that the universe is infinite and came into existence with no help from any sentient creature and you will see evidence for natural selection and total abstract randomness everywhere you look. Begin with the notion that the Bible was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit over the course of thousands of years and you might not notice the apparent contradictions which jump off certain pages, begin with the notion that there is no God and no Holy Spirit and the Bible simply becomes another holy book which has misguided humanity for thousands of years and is a contributor to the various wars which have plagued humanity for so long.
The great dilemma we now face in the form of the atheist ideology is that if all truth is subjective and all truth is experiential, then how can the atheist be sure ‘their’ truth is a universal truth, and not merely something they arrived at via their own subjective, albeit faulty, relativistic experience? Likewise for the Christian, how can the Christian know whether their belief has been borne of an objective framework, or whether their belief in God is merely a result of a external forces (cultural influence, success, tragedy, or any number of instances that may have contributed to their believing in God).
I have met a number of people who believe they have seen ghosts. In each of these instances I have expressed serious doubt regarding their stories. Since I do not believe in ghosts, there is really no amount of sincerity or evidence that would be able to sway my mind. There was even an instance in which a friend of mine explicitly believed they could “feel” a spirit was in the room (while I was present also) and although I felt a bit creeped out by my friend’s behavior, I did not “feel” the presence of a mystical ghost or spirit. I attended a seance once, and the other people in the room believed they were witnessing the candle floating in the air, I did not. While there may have been times when I witnessed unexplainable apparitions of phenomenon, such experiences never led me to believing in ghosts because my epistemological starting point precludes me from accepting the premise of ghosts.
More often than not, hallucinations are contagious. We see this in accounts such as the appearance of the virgin Mary in 16th century Mexico where one person’s vision of Mary led to other people ‘seeing’ her as well, or in a seance where people sitting in darkened room suddenly ‘feel’ the presence of a spirit enter the room and communicate in various fashion. The seance I attended involved a self-professed “witch” performing some type of incantation while lighting candles and putting on a whole show of it; as I said, the other people in the room believed they were seeing supernatural occurences, while I saw nothing of the sort. I never witnessed a candle floating in the air, yet the other young adults afterwards all talked about a floating candle. While seeing is not believing, the reverse is more likely true; believing is seeing. When someone believes; they are able to see what they believe, regardless of whether it is true or not, it becomes ‘true’ for them, they ‘truly’ see it.
Nowhere is the idea that believing is seeing more evident than in the 20th and 21st century psychological movement of the Western World. Before people ever heard of the terms bi-polarity, Aspergers, or Attention Deficit Disorder, such things simply did not exist. In the pre-industrial world, boys weren’t usually forced to sit for eight hours a day behind a desk, but when the Western World changed the way humanity lived and behaved, boys were now forced to spend the first eighteen years of their lives sitting at desks. This gave rise to the new phenomena of hyperactivity in children which led psychologists to believing in the mystical phenomena of ADHD. Suddenly, now that parents and teachers were given something to believe in (mental disorders), they were able to see these disorders everywhere they looked. It is not as though such things as ADHD, Bi-polarity, or Asperger’s can be examined under a microscope (and even if they could we know that the personal biases and perspective of those looking at them would affect how they viewed them), but rather they are nothing more than behavioral responses connected to Western Culture, yet because psychologists have taught parents to believe in them, they therefore exist. Just as exorcists see demons under every nook and cranny, so the psychologists of the Western World see disorders everywhere as well.
A more explicit example can be found in the people who believe they have been born into the wrong gender. The behavioral responses that follow their belief almost always involves wearing the clothes of the opposite sex gender as an expression of true identity. However, had these people been born into a nudist colony (of which there have existed many nudist colonies throughout history, especially among indigenous cultures), there would be no way to express their ‘true’ gender since both sexes are always walking around in all their glory. How could a man express that he is a woman when the only biological distinctions in a nudist colony that separate men and women are impossible to change; i.e. women give birth, men give semen. Thus, it is Western Culture which has created various distinctions among the way the genders dress and look that give someone the ability to believe they may have been born into the wrong gender. It has little to do with facts, biology, or truth, and everything to do with belief. Believing is not seeing, seeing is believing; what people see is what they wanted to see, because it is what they believe.
The 20th century sociologist Neil Postman, understanding that our personal biases influences what we believe, also took note of how the concept of specialization influenced our beliefs as well. Prior to the Industrial Age, liberal arts and the humanities were the main source of education at the higher levels. Liberal arts is based on the premise that in order to understand something particular, you need to have a grasp on the universals as well. In other words, if you want to know about politics, you need to have a firm grasp of history, psychology, sociology, political science, and a whole of host of other perspectives on the human condition. With the advent of the 20th century, specialization began to replace liberal arts as the main working philosophy of Western academics. The most striking example of specialization versus a liberal arts education is the invention of the atomic bomb; nuclear physicists, who were the very highest embodiment of specialists, focused only on their particular discipline, and their tunnel vision resulted in the creation of the worst weapon that had ever been created in the history of humanity. Neil Postman suggested that the specialist does not ask, “should we build it”, but only, “can we build it” because the specialist does not have a broader liberal arts worldview. Being only a nuclear physicist specialist, those scientists did not spend years studying ethics, morals, religion and other humanistic and spiritual issues that might have prevented them from creating the worst weapon of mass destruction that has ever existed.
Specialization in the field of academics and science has created an entire generation of scientists, professors, psychologists, academics, and other educational leaders who are unable to see the massive faults within their own belief constructs, because their cult of specialization has prevented them from seeing what is obvious to others looking from the outside of their discipline. The psychologist for instance, does not see the striking parallel between him (or her) and the exorcist; the psychologist finds a disorder behind every anti-social behavior and the exorcist finds a demon behind every negative behavior; each finding what they want to find wherever they look. In his book “Technopoly”, Postman goes on to suggest that the thrust of technology in our current era has been to replace the old view with a new perspective
Old view = faith in the authority of religion no matter what
New view = faith in the authority of science no matter what
From a liberal arts perspective we are able to see the problems in the one dimensional perspective of the old view which denied the sun was the center of the universe because they were only specialists in the bible, and we also see the fault in the one dimensional thinking of the new order which labels everything a disorder rather than a more multi-dimensional issue that could be related to the poor constructs in the way our culture has evolved. Thus, it is the epistemological starting point which guides what we end up believing. Seeing is not believing, believing is seeing.
The great tragedy regarding Western Society’s move toward specialization is that it has rendered many people fearful of seeking truth. Whether it is with regard to medicine, philosophy, religion, science or whatever particular discipline, the cult of specialization intimidates many people from pursuing greater knowledge in a particular area for fear of being ridiculed for having an opinion on something that they are not a specialist. For instance, I recall a friend of mine who began to see a number of contradictions in the bible but was told by his minister that because he wasn’t able to read Greek and Hebrew, he was not properly equipped to weigh the truth regarding the bible. Likewise, it is becoming more popular for medical doctors to discourage people from using the Internet and other available tools to diagnose ailments, the explanation from the medical community is that only a specialist whose field is medicine is best able to diagnose physical maladies. Of course, the fact that it was non-doctors, non-scientists, and non-theologians who throughout history led to some of the greatest inventions and innovations of thought and truth, does not seem to prevent this cult of specialization in permeating so much of Western Culture.
Nowhere is this fear of pursuing the truth more apparent than in the realm of the biological and environmental sciences; if you question politically motivated ideology, you are deemed ‘anti-science’ and uneducated. PhD, writer, and evolutionary atheist Michael Crichton was a strong critic of the political ideology called ‘global warming’. Despite having spent a lifetime defending evolution and atheism and being a student of science, Crichton’s plea for more discussion regarding ‘global warming’ was ignored by his contemporaries as he was dismissed as “not being a climatologist’ and therefore deemed as unworthy of having a right to chime in his thoughts on the subject. Having studied and read all of the major academic works on global warming, Crichton developed a growing suspicion that it was special interest politics and lobbyists, not scientific research, that was clouding the West’s view on global warming. However, because Crichton was not a ‘specialist’ in the area of climatology, all of his acumen, and academic prestige was entirely dismissed by the scientific community.
If Michael Crichton, a PhD evolutionary atheist, is refused entry into the world of Western science dialog, how much more is the average Joe laughed at who only has an associate degree from a community college? The cult of specialization has rendered the majority of the public as nebbishes, and made the select few who run the various departments at Universities and government agencies colossal giants that are larger than life. It is no wonder than that the department chair of ethics at Princeton University is able to publish a book in which he believes Western Society should reconsider infanticide and advocates the notion that children who are born with various types of ailments should be put to death. Such a professor, whose specialism has entirely disconnected him from the rest of society, lives in a bubble where he remains unchecked and unprovoked by the public at large who are told they have no right to question a specialist.
The cult of specialization has led to an entirely ego driven Western perspective which sees itself as being superior over the East. Western medicine has all but ruled out any Eastern perspective in holistic health and medicine and deemed it to be nothing more than the ramblings of uneducated people. However, as Western medicine continues toward a perspective that humans are nothing more than biological robots, we see more and more people struggling with depression, anxiety, and an overall lonliness in life. In contrast to the way the West ignores the whole human (body, mind, and spirit) we see the positive aspects which Eastern medicine seeks to preserve in treating the whole human being taking into account the spiritual, emotional, physical environment, and other elements that are directly related to our health which the West tends to ignore. Unfortunately, seeing these things is not believing, but rather, since people have already made up their minds before they weigh the evidence; believing is seeing, as we see what we want to see.
Had the cult of specialization been as widespread in the earlier centuries as it is now, it is doubtful as to whether some of science’s greatest discoveries would have ever been made. After all, Einstein who discovered the theory of relativity was a failed academic, Antoine Lavoisier, who is considered the first to accept the law of mass, was merely a lawyer, and Emilie du Chatelet, the mistress of Voltaire is considered a main figure in the discovery of energy and radiation during a time when women were discouraged in pursuing higher academics and research (Bodanis, David). Thus, it was everyday people who were not considered to be the academic and intellectual heavyweights of their generation that were integral in massive move forwards in thought and innovation. Even Jesus himself suffered the from the cult of specialization during his own era as the religious leaders of his day despised his poor upbringing and snubbed their noses saying, “Isn’t this nothing more than the son of the carpenter”.
Fortunately, the best is yet to come