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Glenn, at “Say Hello to my Little Friend” has a very useful post on a Christian perspective of open-mindedness (Scepticism, Open Mindedness and Mistrust). I think this perspecitve is not just a Chrsitian one. It is one that I recognise also in those advancing dogmatic secular ideologies. For my generation his analysis applies equally well to Maoists, to the Red Guards of China’s so-called “Cultural Revolution.”

Here’s how Glenn justifies a closed mind to non-Christian viewpoints:

“So it is when a Christian is asked to consider atheism. It’s not true that the Christian should be as open minded to the possibility of atheism as he would like people to be to the possibility of Christianity, any more than I should be as open to the possibility of my wife’s unfaithfulness as I would like people to be to the possibility of her faithfulness. A person who is a Christian has what he or she takes to be a relationship of trust. They have a prior commitment (and in fact the relationship between Christ and the church is likeness, in the Bible, to a marriage e.g. Ephesians 5:31-33). When I talk about a prior commitment here, I do not just mean a prior belief, something that they affirmed before and don’t want to give up. I mean not a commitment to a proposition but to a person — to a relationship, call it what you will. It is a relationship of trust, and more than that, of worship.”

So, this religious conviction is not about primary beliefs. It’s about a “relationship of trust,” “a prior commitment,” even a relationship “of worship.”

Maoism as a religion

This describes very accurately the attitude of Maoists and “red guards” during the 1960s and early 1970s. For them it was not about the real ideas of Mao Zedong which could be accessed through his writings. Or even about the barstardised representation of them in “the Little Red Book” they used to wave high. It was about their “prior commitment” to Mao (and his opposition to the Chinese Communist Party or “capitalist roaders”). It was about a “relationship of trust” with Mao. Even a relationship “of worship” of Mao.

I imagine these prior commitments and relationships of trust (and worship) were also characteristic of earlier dogmatic secular ideologies (I almost said “religions” here) like Stalinism and Hitlerism.

The philosopher Adèle Mercier describes this dogmatic attitude in her article Religious Belief and Self Deception (in the book 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists). This attitude is more about “belief in belief” and identification with that rather than the beliefs themselves. “Most people who claim to have relgious beliefs have scarcely ever analysed the contents of their belief, and indeed are reluctant to do so even when prompted.” That was so true of the Maoists.

Religion and social identity

And “there is a good reason why most people refuse to examine the details of the religious propositions they profess. Let’s face it, most first-order religious beliefs are daft.” Well, perhaps politcal dogmatists like the Maoists had more credible primary beliefs but, as with relgionists, they very rarely examined the details.

No, the strength of a dogma (religious or otherwise) is not in commitment “to their first-order beliefs, but to their second-order beliefs about them (a point well made by Dennett). Religion is in more ways than the obvious like a country club: it is deeply about social identity, not one’s golf game.” Again this could be said of those committed to secular ideological and political dogmas.

If religion and other dogmas were just about primary beliefs these could be openly and dispassionately discussed. But that doesn’t happen. Because the secondary belief is a matter of social identity religious people (and Maoists) take “disproportionate offense” when their beliefs are questioned. As Mercier says “doubt the truth of any first order belief and you question only the veracity of its claim; doubt a religious belief and it’s the entire believer who feels called into question. Call any 50-year old Canaanite with sexual designs on an 9-year-old a lecherous pedophile, and from those who disagree with your assessment you’ll get a disagreement; say the same about Mahommed and you’ll get a death warrant.”

Dogma as a virus

This “belief in belief, ” “relationship of trust,” “prior commitment” and a relationship “of worship” provides a powerful mechanism for protecting and propagating dogma. Darrel Ray describes how this works in his book “The God Virus: How religion infects our lives and culture” (see Ideological infections). When people develop such relationship with a dogma it is as if they have been infected with a virus. This virus then works, not in the interests of the host,  but it the interests of its own survival and infection of others. “Anti-bodies” are developed to prevent the host properly inspecting the primary beliefs, or being open to other competing dogmas and idea (other virus). Hence Christians feel justified in being non-sceptical about their own religion and being closed minded about competing ideas like atheism. When you have dogma there is a sort of intellectual ghetto formed to protect the dogma (see The ghetto of apologetics ’science’).

Glenn himself provided a beautiful example of this in his article by commenting:Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, that well known, aggressive (and often lampooned as philosophically poorly constructed) case against religious belief.” A common reaction by religionists who have never read the book – and certainly have no intention of doing so.

So, thanks Glenn. Not only a great description of the real attraction of religion and other dogmas to the  “true believers.” But also a practical example of how this works to protect the host against other ideas.


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