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PostClinging to "Ridiculous" Religious Beliefs; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA, 12/28/17 11:38 am)
Gary Moore writes:
JE asked me to comment further, re Nigel Jones’s “God-shaped hole” in the divide between skepticism and belief, on the assertion (as I understand it from JE) in Jared Diamond’s 2012 book The World Until Yesterday, that assertion being that the more ridiculous a religion’s beliefs are, the more likely are believers to cling to it (John offered possible candidates for ridiculousness as the Mormons and the Pentecostals).
By rephrasing it like this I may be telegraphing my punch, but I’d like to be sensitive and restrained about this: Sounds to me like best-selling crap, written by an astute performer with a sure ear for what may sound clever to a target audience.
Or in other words, ridiculous to whom? Is Pentecostal glossolalia (tongue-speaking) and Mormon underwear and Indian lore any more ridiculous than, say, the Episcopalian Holy Trinity? Are Unitarians, by this measure, the least ridiculous of all because they avoid the miracle fireworks—or the most ridiculous, because they cling to the story even while rejecting its elements? And this is still not getting into Diamond’s specific charge, that ridiculousness equals strength of belief. Luckily, our society prescribes few tests, like thumb screws, for who clings most fervently to a challenged belief. And even so, once Diamond had rated relative ridiculousness, how would he then devise a scale to rate relative clinginess? Could it be that he is indisputably wise enough, having made a lot of money off this stuff, to himself be the test? But if so, and even if we admit ridiculousness and clinginess as measured by his inner radar, how do we correlate the two?
True, maybe the ability to believe that the air is filled with invisible demons, and that special underwear will ward them off, might suggest some kind of approach toward contrary evidence. But this seems not to be the same as what (as I gather it) Diamond is saying, and anyway is not exactly news. For comparison, the Fort Mims massacre of 1813 in southern Alabama was part of a continent-wide Native religious war launched by Tecumseh/Tenskwataway in JE’s back yard, and the 250 or so settlers, slaves and mixed-bloods massacred at Ft Mims by Creek Red Sticks, allied to Tecumseh’s brother Tenskwataway, “The Shawnee Prophet,” sent the frontier into a panic.
But few in the fleeing wagon trains remarked that the massacring band was using a local acolyte of their own, an Alabama apostle of the Indiana Prophet, so to speak, who was a mixed-blood sometimes called, with Longfellowan grace, Paddy Walsh. Paddy helped win Ft Mims by using magic. It was decided that four warriors would rush the fort first, distracting the militiamen inside, while vast numbers of other Red Sticks took the flank. The idea of picking who were to be the four was facilitated by Walsh’s magic, for he performed a ceremony, and all four became invulnerable to bullets. This was quite a relief, until three were immediately shot down. But one apparently did survive—enough for plenty of later apocrypha, had not Horseshoe Bend and northern battles greatly reduced desires to inscribe the prophecy for the ages. Invulnerability to bullets is one of the timeless relics, seen not only in the Ghost Dancers of the West, but in child guerrillas in the Congo, who say it comes from amulets around their necks, constructed, with all due ceremony, from old shower plugs.
Is this more ridiculous than saying a cracker is God (or Richard Dawkins’s remarkable superstition saying, in effect, that science proves there is no mystery in life)? And as to clinginess and the Red Sticks, I don’t know if Paddy Walsh sanctified future warriors after Ft Mims, but perhaps not, since 100 or so slaves were captured alive from Ft Mims, and were used, in lieu of magic, as human shields at the last stand at Horseshoe Bend (Andrew Jackson’s troops apparently shot them down quickly to get at the Creeks).
Will future ages ask whether Jared Diamond’s assertions can be measured in ridiculousness by the ardor with which he clung to the profits? Surely this is superstition; he’s got the money no matter what.
JE comments: Neither Jared Diamond nor Yours Truly described any religion as "ridiculous." (I said, perhaps insensitively, far-fetched...to outsiders.) Diamond referred specifically to religions that require the biggest sacrifices from their adherents. Specifically in the case of Mormons, this would be tithing (handing over 10% of your income to the Church). Perhaps we can explain the resultant "clinginess" as the psychological effect of one's sunk costs?