Friday, February 19, 2010

The Faithfull and the Willfully Ignorant

Every once in a while I'll be minding my own business and a thought pops in my head with crystal clarity. Usually I live in this gray cloud of indistinct and nebulous thoughts so when something like this happens it is refreshing. The circumstances that clarified this for me are not important (I can't remember them anyway) but what I realized is that while I find a lot of enjoyment in having a spirited discussion with people that think differently than I do, the religiously faithful and the willfully ignorant are two types of people that I find it impossible to have any sort of meaningful difference in opinion with.

The very definition of faith doesn't lend itself to critical thinking. On part of having faith is believing in something despite evidence to the contrary. From my point of view, a lot of the tenants of different faiths are self-contradicting and not always consistent. That people find hope and reason for being in faith is a good thing in my opinion. I just don't see the point in engaging them in a debate about it.

The willfully ignorant are by the most frustrating people to have any sort of disagreement with. Like the faithful, critical thinking is not something held in high esteem. What I mean by willfully ignorant are people that believe something for primarily ideological reasons despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. For example, that Obama is a socialist/marxist/facist and/or was not born in the United States. It is like arguing with a brick trying to challenge that belief. Another one that burns me is global warming denialism.

What it boils down to is this: Challenging assumptions/beliefs is healthy. I like having a debate with someone that doesn't hold on to an opinion from an ideological or theological position but from a well information opinion. I think well informed people can draw different conclusions and have honest disagreements. Those conversations are very enlightening and enjoyable. As for the others, there is still value in understanding their point of view. There just isn't any value in challenging it.


Leila Katarina said...

This response will most likely not be organized and a simple flurry of thoughts that arose from reading your blog.
The willfully ignorant frustrate me beyond belief as well. I tend to stay away from these kinds of people. (And yet we became friends! Just kidding, my dear.)
The faithful in my head are distinct from the willfully ignorant. Perhaps because they are making the choice to believe in something without any proof. I don't think the 'willfully ignorant' wake up and say "hey, I'm gonna be a dumbass and be ignorant today, weee."
I personally am not religious at all; I'm way too analytical to believe 'facts' that are fed to me without any proof.
Though as you pointed out faith does not lead to critical thinking, which is fundamental for progress to arise, faith has had its purpose throughout history. How different would our world be without religion? True, many religious wars have been fought, but you can't deny the fact that religion has also created a system of values. Whether or not people choose to be good to be good, or because they are scared of what will happen if they misbehave– whether it be going to jail or hell– is all interesting food for thought.
I think what we need to be careful of are extremists, whatever the religion– or anything in life when you think about it. I have personally had debates with religious people. Though some of them were frustrating (I believe what I believe because I believe it), some of them were interesting; mostly people that are able to look at science and faith together and accept evolution, for instance, but only as the will of God.
Dan Brown's Angels and Demons allows for both science and faith to need each other and co-exist.
Ok, end of flurry of thoughts for now.
Kat :)

Ryan said...

Your response is the way I write these, just a mostly unorganized ramble of what is going through my head. More raw and sometimes more honest that way I think.

I think perhaps the religious could be something of a subset of the willfully ignorant. Ignorant by choice or ideology rather than, what, mental facilities?

I agree religion has served a purpose throughout history although I think society without religion can accomplish the same goals regarding values. I've said before that religion was used as a form of social control in the past by the educated few to help teach lessons to the uneducated. But like anything else, something with power will eventually be corrupted by the powerful in some way.

Extremes on any continuum are bad. Balance is the key in all things I think. I am tired of certain sectors claiming that somehow Muslim extremists are somehow more dangerous than our homegrown ones.

In a nutshell I think we come to the same conclusion. I know, big surprise. ;) The frustrating conversations are the 'I believe what I believe because I believe it' and the interesting ones are the more objective conversations.

Nice comments.

Scott said...

I've stolen a wonderful term I heard a few years back - bellignerant: ignorant and damned proud of it. While this doesn't require that the person be religious, it's a very rare bellignerant person who is not using faith as the reason for denying factual, well-defined scientific results. On the flip side, it is possible to be faithful and still appreciate and embrace scientific evidence - many scientists belong to all different faiths across the globe.

As soon as someone indicates through word or deed that they are bellignerant, I know I can stop discussion with them, because they aren't interested in the facts.