(From On It Is 19, Edip Yuksel)
Do you have the same religion as your parents? Score 0 points if you do and have never doubted or questioned its teachings.
Score 2 for any other answer. This is an example of dogmatism, the blind acceptance of received ideas. Religion itself is
not the issue here; rather, its acceptance without question is the important matter. To adhere unflinchingly to childhood
beliefs on any subject, to shut your mind to new ideas, or even to other old ideas, is death to the intellect. Besides, religions
should have nothing to hide. They ought to encourage doubts and questions so that they can lay them to rest and reinforce
faith. (Brain Building, Marilyn vos Savant & Leonore Fleischer, Bantam Books, 1990, p. 38.)
Ask the people who
are leaving church after the Sunday sermon in a modern neighborhood of San Diego: "Why do you believe that Jesus is God in flesh and was sacrificed by God for other's sin?" As an answer,
you might hear, "Because the Bible says so." If you then subject them to a follow-up question, "Well, how do you know that
the Bible is the word of God?" you might hear the following answer while witnessing the smile on the face of your audience
fading: "The Bible says that it is the word of God." Should you remind your audience that his/her reasoning is a circular
argument like a zero, the dialogue is likely to end immediately. If your audience allows you to ask more questions, you might
receive the ultimate answer: "Because I believe so; I have faith in Bible." You might not be able to hear the reason behind the faith of many believers; moreover, you might never hear the real
reason. None of the Catholics, Protestants, Baptists, or Mormons will tell you that they believe as they do because their
parents and/or their immediate friends so believe that way. This is, unfortunately, the reality for most believers.
If you ask the same
questions of a Hindu who has just purified himself with the filthy waters of the Ganges, you will receive similar answers.
The answers of a Muslim praying in the Blue Mosque of Istanbul or a Buddhist chanting in a Tokyo temple
will not be different.
If you were born
in India, most likely you are a Hindu, in Saudi Arabia a Muslim,
in Israel a Jew. Since you are in the USA, you are most
likely a Christian. The dominant religion of your family and your country is more likely to be adopted by you. Why? What is
the relationship between religion and geography or ethnicity?
Years ago, I did
some psychological experiments to explore certain common human behavior. The most interesting one was on conformity and compliance.
I wanted to find out how we, as individuals, behave under strong group pressure. How does a minority of one react against
a unanimous majority? The results were incredible.
For the experiment,
I gathered five persons in a room and had them sit in a line. These participants would be my confederates. I told them that
we would perform an experiment on the next person who would enter the room. He would be the last in the line. In the beginning,
I would ask them two warm-up questions, and they should give me the correct answers. But, when I ask them the third question
(the real one), my confederates should loudly give me the wrong answer one by one.
When the real participant
entered the room, I announced that we would have a test--as if I had never discussed the subject with the group before. Then,
I asked two warm-up questions. I drew simple figures on the board and asked them one by one the routine question: Which one
is similar to this one? After all the five participants gave the correct answer, the real participant also gave the correct
answer. They were easy questions.
Then, it came to
the real question, the easiest one. I asked the following question: Which figure on the right side is similar to the figure
on the left side?
One by one, my confederates
gave the wrong answer. The first said "C." The second also said "C." The third, fourth and the fifth also followed with "C."
The real participant was in shock. He was amazed at the discrepancy between what he saw and what he heard. After hearing five
straight C's, when his turn came, he agreed with the majority that the "C" was the right answer.
Later, I learned
that I was not the first one who conducted this experiment. Between 1951-56, S. E. Asch performed a series of studies on compliance
and conformity. Let me summarize the results of his experiments:
Asch made his experiments
with different length of lines. He asked the participants to match the standard line with the lines on the left. Out of 123
participants, only 29 did not ever conform to the group's decision. 61 participants went along with their groups on occasion.
However, 33 conformed to their groups numerous times, agreeing on the obviously wrong answer almost every time.
in the Asch study claimed to have actually seen the wrong line as a correct match. They privately accepted the belief of the
majority opinion. About half of the rest of the conformists claimed that they had seen the lines correctly, but that when
they heard the majority choice, became convinced they must have been wrong. They then went along with the group. The remaining
conformists said they knew that the answer was not correct but that they had gone along with the group anyway. (Small Group Discussion: a theoretical approach, Charles Pavitt & Ellen Curtis, Gorsuch Scarisbric, Scottsdale,
AZ., p 160-165)
in the form of compliance or private acceptance, occurs in every group. If a gang member steals a car the first time, most
likely he will continue to do so. After the first criminal activity, the reluctance and moral anguish that he experienced
in the first time will decrease and finally disappear with more involvement. He will probably justify his stealing in order
to maintain his internal harmony. The same is true for new members of religious groups. The initial hesitation and questions
are replaced by justification after participating the first ritual or baptism ceremony.
Marilyn vos Savant,
author of the popular American newspaper column Ask Marilyn, asked her readers whether they laugh more when watching
movies in theaters rather than their homes. She then went on to evaluate the impact of group on individual, stating:
This is a good example of the human tendency to put aside one's own thinking and accept the thinking of others. Common
to all of us is the pressure to go along with the group, at least to some extent. Also, we feel more comfortable, safer in
a group; our opinions aren't attributable to us, and we don't stand out. It's no accident that television sitcoms come complete
with laugh tracks; people feel better about laughing out loud if they can hear others laughing too. But sitcoms also come
with "gasp" tracks and "awwww" tracks as well; your responses are being subjected to professional manipulation. What we may
be timid about doing or saying as individuals, we will do or say in concert with others. However, this type of behavior has
a numbing effect upon the intellect. It tends to validate and maintain whatever "groupthink" is current, whether or not it's
accurate or true. Worse, it puts the mind out of the habit of thinking. People who let others direct their thinking eventually
stop thinking for themselves entirely. (Brain Building, Marilyn vos Savant &
Leonore Fleischer, Bantam Books, 1990, p. 35.)
The worst place
for the brain is not theaters, since at least you have certain control over which movie to watch. Further, movies do not control
your attitude and decisions regarding issues as crucial as life and death. The worst enemy of the brain, perhaps far ahead
of drugs and alcoholic beverages, is unfortunately, those places that are associated with God: churches, mosques, synagogues,
and temples of any religion. Usually, those places are picked for you by your parents, and even by your government. When you
go there, the "sacred" dogmas and teachings in your brain are reinforced and you are told to close your eyes again in faith
and condemn everyone who dares to question them. In time, a large territory of your brain is claimed and operated by religious
virtual viruses that manipulate your thought in the interest of clergymen who do so. All in the name of a conventional god.
There is no easy cure for this "holy" bug. Bishop Desmond Tutu, the South African civil right leader, once articulated the
role of religion as the "opium of masses":
"When the missionaries
came to Africa, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said: 'Let us pray.' We closed our eyes. When we opened
them we had the Bible and they had the land."
Some religious books
use an effective psychological trick to gain converts. For instance, The Book of Mormons suggests the following test for skeptics:
when you shall receive these things, I would exhort you that you would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ,
if these things are not true; and if you shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will
manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
And by the power of the Holy Ghost you may know the truth of all things. (Moroni 10:4-5).
Should it come as
a surprise that a good number of people who take this "test" end up experiencing transformation in their lives? The power
in this so-called proof of divinity is produced by priming the gullible subject to a self-executing conversion. First, the
subject must already have accepted as fact the orthodox dogma regarding the deity of Jesus and all related stories concocted
by St. Paul, the Pharisee, the Son of Pharisee. Second, the subject must believe that the verses of Moroni will
lead him to find the truth about the very verses prescribing how to find the truth. Third, the subject is ready to interpret
any usual or unusual event occurring in the next days in favor of these tenets! The
primed mind will perhaps witness many miracles and "feel" the Holy Ghost inside his or her mind. Forth, the Church has won
another convert who will fill its treasury with money.
Many Muslim Sufi
leaders also use similar psychological tricks. For example, they ask the candidate to utter certain prayers in certain numbers
and fashion while thinking about the Sheik before going to bed. Most of those who follow the instructions end up seeing dreams
and interpreting them as expected. They become fanatic followers. Beside their night dreams, they start daydreaming. Their
minds along with their pockets are perpetrated and manipulated by their religious leaders.
Carol Tavris, the
author of influential books such as The Mismeasure of Woman and Invitation to Psychology, pulls our attention to the psychological aspect of religious beliefs.
of the problems with the skeptical movement is that it attempts to take important beliefs away from people without replacing
them. People believe that skeptics and scientists are forever telling them their ideas are wrong, stupid, and na´ve—"No,
you cannot talk to Uncle Henry from beyond the grave; that medium is a fraud" or "No, crushed aardwark bones can’t cure
your cancer." One problem with the critical thinking movement, which came from philosophy, was that it missed the psychological
and emotional reasons that people don’t think critically and don’t want to think critically. Until you understand
the forces that make people want to believe something, you can’t just expect people to listen rationally to a set of
arguments that will skewer their deepest, most cherished ideas. (Michael Shermer, The
Measure of a Woman: An Interview With Social Scientist Carol Tavris, Skeptic, Vol. 7, No. 1, 1999. p. 71.)
prevalence of this psychological factor for most of religious people, my skeptical approach to religions is not likely to
appeal to many. It is very likely that devout members of organized religions will never be able to study the presentation
of empirical and rational evidences demonstrating the authenticity of Quran's claim objectively, since their choice of religion
is not based on their intellect, but their emotional reaction to social pressure.
the best nest for conformists
may give a myriad of different answers for a single question. Dogmas attract the highest rate of conformists. Conformity,
eventually, causes the private acceptance or justification of the dogma. Some people become fanatics, dedicating themselves
to the dogma. The old conformists cause the newcomers to conform. This chain attraction goes on.
Why is the percentage
of religious conformists and their private acceptance so high? There are many
reasons. Here is my kaleidoscopic, and doubtless, incomplete list:
- We are exposed to dogmas from childhood. It is called "boiled frog syndrome." If one puts a frog in a container
and pour hot water over its body, the frog will jump to save its life. But if he gradually increase the temperature of the
water, the frog will not notice the heat and will boil to death. Well, we all experience the so-called "boiled frog syndrome"
in much aspect of our daily lives. For those who live outside of New York, the Newyorkers are no different
from boiled frogs! One of the worst examples of this syndrome is very common among religious people. Our early exposure to
the religion has a great impact on us. For a Hindu, thousands of human gods, the caste system, and holy cows make more sense
than everything else does. For a Christian, a God with three personalities sacrificing his innocent son to criminals provides
the only answer for the purpose of life. And for a Sunni Muslim, living a life according to medieval Arab culture, and glorifying
Muhammad's name is the only password to heaven.
- Religious answers are not simple. To the contrary, they are mostly complex and vague. One
can interpret any dogma and make it acceptable to him. The way is wide open for justification through endless speculations.
- Many answers do not have objective validity or a verifiable/falsifiable thesis. Since we cannot
verify them, we can easily accept them.
- Professional priesthood survives on particular dogmas. So there will always be some well-trained
holy "sales people" around. They are the most effective pitchmen ever seen in this world, and they are adept at adapting to
- The common religious norms such as "Have faith without reason" or "Don't question" can close
all the circuits for any possible intellectual light. As long as a person have swallowed the Trojan horse called "faith with
no reason," with its head and tail, even the most absurd religious teachings will have access through a back door to the brain
of the victim.
- Religions do not nakedly expose their false dogmas and myths. They exploit the truth and craftily
amalgamate it with myths. Phraseology like "Good moral values," attracts many. For the sake of some truth, we may accept the
mixture to be the whole truth.
- Religious peer pressure is very strong. Because of this, the social and psychological punishment
for not complying with the religion of our family and friends is usually has a deterrent effect. Therefore, we may employ
an intellectual censorship to avoid a possible confrontation.
- Our enigmatic brains can reinforce our private acceptance by playing odd games. Selective
cognition and logical fallacies can create spiritual experiences.
- The socio-economic benefits of a religion or cult may force us to rationalize and justify
- The so-called third world countries that suffer from chronic economic and political problems
are governed by an elite minority who exploit the resources through authoritarian repression and all that come with it: bribery,
nepotism, monopoly, and usury. In those countries, the majority of the population
is condemned to struggle with unemployment, poverty, and ignorance. In such an environment of corruption and injustice, a
religion or a sect that provides the oppressed and deprived with an identity and radical opposition may attract masses. In
this context, the popular religion or sect is a political tool, a courage pill, and a symbol of rebellion. The suppressed
hate and rage erupts with slogans colored with the name of God and religious heroes. In such an environment, religion and
religious orders do not represent reason and reality, but the complex emotions caused by social and economic frustration.
- Religion, combined with Nationalistic hormones, is used with great success throughout history
to send the children of the poor to wars declared by the wealthy elite who enjoy more power and obscene profits during wars.
The resources of other countries are plundered in the background of holy hymns and patriotic songs. No wonder, clergymen of
all religions usually have been the accomplices of corrupt and oppressive kings, slave owners, the colonialists, the imperialists,
the invaders, the oppressors, and the greedy.
- Religion may provide the ultimate superiority complex for those who suffer from inferiority
- Religions promise hope to the poor and sick for eternal bliss after their miserable lives
on this earth. In Karl Marx’ words, "religion is the opium of masses." Ironically, some lesser extent, the same concern
becomes essential for the rich when they realize that they are aging and cannot control their rapid decline towards grave,
which will separate them from all their luxury and power. A church, a mosque or a temple of any religion may offer them all
they want: a clergyman’s voice declaring their salvation and entitlement to go to heaven. Now, poor and sick can bear
their pain, and the rich can continue throwing parties and collecting luxury cars in their mansions.
- We might fall in love with the faith that we adhere. This love affair produces hormones in
our brain. Losing an established faith is scary since it threatens the current chemical structure and neurological connections
of the brain. A fanatic believer may demonstrate a much stronger obsession or addiction than that of a cigarette smoker. (Sure,
this is valid for fanatic disbelievers too.)
believers are ignorant of or disinterested with the intellectual and philosophical aspect and implication of religions. How
many religious people do you know who changed his/her religion because of his/her intellectual inquiry? How many Muslims do
you know who subject their faith to a rational and empirical test, as recommended by their holy book?
You shall not accept any information, unless you verify it for yourself. The hearing, the eyesight, and the brain are
responsible from it. (The Quran 17:36).
of them follow nothing but conjecture, and conjecture is no substitute for the truth. GOD is fully aware of everything they
Indeed, in the Quranic
terminology, the words "believer" and "gullible" denote mutually exclusive characteristics. Unfortunately, in today’s
world they are synonymous.