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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Beating Religion: Seekers and Defenders

In this post, I am going to highlight what I think is a very important difference between skeptics and dogmatics (by which I mean “those who follow a dogma which is not supposed to be questioned”).  The two groups tend to have two very different mindsets when it comes to the concepts of truth, knowledge, and morality.  I am terming these two highly distinct mindsets as the “Defender” mindset and the “Seeker” mindset.

Dogmatics tend to have the Defender mindset.  Defenders think of truth, knowledge, and morality as things that have already been given to us.  In fact, most Defenders even think of these as things which have been possessed for a rather large amount of time.  In this sense, the Defenders’ view of the world is often downward sloping.  In the view of most defenders, there was once a time when truth and morality were not only known to some, but actually widespread.  A sort of “golden age.”  However, due to some unfortunate incident (sometimes initiated by one of their own and sometimes by an outside force, but almost always initiated by a Seeker), this ideal was lost.  The Defenders then take upon themselves the duty of seizing what little is left of this golden age and defending it.  Some common stances of Defenders include (and you can replace “truth” with “correct way of living” too):

-We have the truth; it is in our dogma, our holy texts, and the teachings of our ancient prophets
-Somebody’s failure to accept the truth (sometimes long ago, sometimes today, and often both) have caused and still cause innumerable hardships on our species
-If we go back to the truth, things will get better.
-The truth is under attack by naysayers who are too selfish, evil, or misguided to realize its truthfulness.
-We must DEFEND the truth from this attack.

Skeptics tend to have an entirely different mindset, the Seeker mindset.  Seekers think of truth, knowledge, and morality as things we need to find.  Because of this, Seekers tend to think that we are gradually obtaining more and more of the truth (or correct way of living, etc.) as time goes on.  In this sense, the Seekers’ view of the world is often upward sloping.  In the view of most Seekers, humanity is moving out of its infancy by discovering new truths and learning about how we ought to treat each other.  The Seekers then take upon themselves the duty of seeking the truth, in order to ensure that the future keeps on improving.  Some common stances of Seekers include:

-We know a lot more now than we used to.
-There are some methods which work really well when it comes to truth-seeking (typically science and reason), and it’s important to employ these methods when we can.
-While we know lots of things, there are also plenty of things we don’t yet know.
-We can use what we learn to improve the world.
-The truth doesn’t just come up and smack you on the head.  You have to SEEK it out.

Let me make it clear right now that I do not present both these mind sets with the intension of setting them on equal footing.  A brief glance at the history of science reveals that the Seeker mindset is far more effective at delivering computers, phones, spaceships, satellites, running water, vaccines, medicine, medical procedures, artificial limbs, automobiles, aircraft, ships, encryption, forecasting, and a whole host of other wonderfully useful achievements.  A brief glance at the history of nations reveals that the Seeker mindset overthrows monarchs and dictators and promotes the rights of the marginalized.  This is because the Seeker mindset loves to build upon the past, while striving constantly to improve things, to make the world better than what we already have.  It is the Seekers that have given us the modern age, and it is the Defenders who have stood in their way for millennia.

I say this because it is quite clear to me that the Seeker mindset does a much, much, much better job of damn near everything noble and important, both technologically and morally.  I say this also because it is the Seeker mindset you find promoted in the sciences.  Meanwhile, it is the religions and the pseudoreligions that adopt the Defender mindset.  And, as one can gather from the descriptions, these two mindsets are inherently at odds with one another.  And mark my words, the Seekers are not only winning, but have been winning for several centuries.

Now I know you may find that hard to believe.  After all, aren’t there still more religious people than nonreligious people?  Wasn’t Galileo killed by the church for his drive to Seek?  Isn’t anti-intellectualism plaguing America?  And to this I say yes, yes, and regrettably yes.  And yet, still the Seekers are winning.  And how is this so?  Because things are changing.

The Defender mindset is all about maintaining the sacred system.  A Defender believes that they already know how best to handle things, and they want that way to stick around.  So every time the zeitgeist shifts, every time a new science overthrows doctrine, every time a marginalized, ‘sinful’ group is granted rights, the Seekers have scored a victory.  And looking back, we see victory after victory after victory or the Seekers.  There were a few scattered defeats, like the suppression of the heliocentric model or the burning of the Library of Alexandria, but these are relatively few and far between.  Once the ill were ‘treated’ through exorcisms.  Now they actually get better.  Once the bible was quoted in support of slavery.  Now the zeitgeist has improved so drastically that such an act would be viewed as utterly abhorrent by most.  And why have these things changed?  Because battles were fought, and the Seekers won.

Every time a church changes its doctrine, or spawns a reformed branch; every time a group of heathens is granted equal status under the law; every time a new generation rises up and leaves the old churches for a less hateful, less spiteful, and less harmful view; All of these things mark victories for the Seekers.  Because each and every one of them involve the Defenders doing exactly what they strive not to do.  The Defenders stand on their so-called holy land refusing to move.  And yet time and time again, the Seekers have shown the world that there are better places to be, and the Defenders have been forced to shift their camp.

Why does this happen?  How, time and time again, do the Seekers manage to make the Defenders move – to force the Defenders to abandon their holy land and set up in a new region?  I have given this question a lot of thought because it is related to another important question: How do we do better?  Because that is the question the Seeker constantly asks himself.  How can I be a better Seeker?

Many atheists have asked each other for advice on how to best to fight this war on religion, this seemingly endless Seeker vs Defender battle.  But until now, I did not feel confident enough in my assessment of the situation to speak to this.  First, I had to identify these mindsets, and understand the ways in which they function, their strengths and their weaknesses.  But at long last, I am ready to turn my attention to this matter.  So over the next several weeks I will engage in a new theme: Applying the notion of Seekers vs. Defenders to help us beat religion.

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