In Reaction to the Passing of Proposition 8:
A Conversation of Privilege around Religion and Faith
Zack Ford – November 8, 2008
Preface: Roots of ZFB
Part 1 – Introduction: Reflections on Prop 8
Part 2 – What is Privilege?
Part 3 – Christian Privilege
Part 4 – Religious Privilege
Part 5 – Atheism and Privilege of Beliefs
Part 6 – Critical Thinking and Indoctrination
I know I left the tricky part hanging, but I’m building up to addressing it. In a sociology class I took in my undergrad, our professor was wholly dedicated to challenging us to critically think, and she spent a great deal of time explaining what exactly that means and how it looks. She offered that there are eight steps in approaching critical thinking:
- Purpose – What is my goal or objective?
- Question – What is the problem or issue I’m addressing?
- Assumptions – What am I presupposing or taking for granted?
- Point of view – What is my orientation or frame of reference in approaching this question?
- Data, Information, Evidence – What facts, observations, and experiences have I collected?
- Concepts and Ideas – What theories, definitions, axioms, laws, principles, and models do I have to work with?
- Inferences, Interpretation, and Conclusions – What can I derive from the critical thinking process I have undertaken?
- Implications and Consequences – What impacts do these conclusions have? Or more simply, what now?
She also offered four levels to consider: clarity, accuracy/relevance, depth, and significance. This seems like a lengthy process, but the more it is practiced, the more streamlined it becomes. This order of thinking could easily be applied to every decision we make in our entire day, but our minds are so incredible, we go through the process so quickly that we hardly realize it. When it comes to more complicated problems, especially issues with no easy right answer, it is important to slow down and consider all of the steps. If too much is missed along the way, critical thinking falters.
The two most important and challenging steps in the critical thinking process are considering assumptions and point of view. Time must be spent to sort out the biases in our approach, especially because humans are prone to egocentric thinking. Here are the five ways egocentric thinking often interferes with critical thinking:
- “It’s true because I believe it.” (Innate egocentrism)
- “It’s true because we believe it.” (Innate sociocentrism)
- “It’s true because I want to believe it.” (Innate wish fulfillment)
- “It’s true because I have always believed it.” (Innate self-validation)
- “It’s true because it is in my selfish interest to believe it.” (Innate selfishness)
In other words, in order to effectively critically think, we have to consider issues by setting aside our beliefs. This is the ultimate challenge to the privilege of faith! Faith is entirely constructed out of beliefs, so it could never stand up to rational critical thinking. The reason faith persists is because faith-based beliefs, themselves, are privileged in society.
Let us consider things from the beginning of the cycle: “How does faith come about?” Nothing is more personal than one’s beliefs. All individuals come to define their beliefs for themselves, but those ideas and that context have to originate somewhere. I would offer that theism depends upon the five variations of egocentric thinking I just listed, and takes advantage of our cognitive development to indoctrinate itself.
Let us consider the five egocentric assumptions, beginning with the first: egocentrism itself. Jean Piaget, the educational psychologist, concluded that the cognitive function of young children is naturally egocentric, meaning they do not have the mental ability to understand that other people may have different opinions and beliefs from themselves. During this stage of cognitive development (known as preoperational), children have imaginative minds and display animistic thought, which means they can assign emotions or living attributes to inanimate objects. This is why to a young child, something imaginary (a monster under the bed, Santa Claus, etc.) can be believed to be quite real. It is not until children’s thinking develops into what Piaget called the concrete operational stage that they can appropriately apply logic and reason, such as through conservation and decentering. At this stage, such imaginary beliefs are eventually disproven.
I challenge that theistic beliefs are promoted in much the same way. At the preoperational stage, a God makes perfect sense to a child’s thinking. This is where the system of faith starts, or rather, starts over (“where the chicken lays the egg”). Theistic faith is taught as truth while, to the child’s level of cognitive development, truth does not require rationalization (innate egocentrism). As the child grows older, a society that privileges theism will continue to encourage that child to maintain those beliefs, even without concrete evidence to support it, which reflects innate sociocentrism. Faith itself promotes innate wish fulfillment as well as innate selfishness by teaching young children the beliefs that faith is good, one should want faith, and faith makes one feel good. They all support each other and support faith itself. And, because the beliefs are set up at such a young age, grown adults cannot even remember when they first believed, thus fulfilling the innate self-validation. Consider the skeptic who is asked, “What do you believe?” and responds, “Well this is what I was raised to believe…” or “I was raised ____ (insert religion here).” That person is still affected by the supernatural premises that were set up and supported so that they would resist concrete reasoning skills.
I know the word “indoctrinate” has many negative connotations, but its definition seems quite appropriate for the phenomenon of how individuals learn to have faith. The definition I found is “to instruct in a doctrine, principle, ideology, etc., esp. to imbue with a specific partisan belief or point of view.” Because of the system of privilege around theistic faith (and only because of it) does faith pervade our society and persist. In essence, we are indoctrinated to support and privilege faith before we have cognitively developed enough to challenge its premise. The ultimate conclusion is that faith survives solely by supporting itself, which it can only do by the way it is privileged. Also, consider the disconcerting way we label children as “Jewish children” or “Protestant children” long before they would be ready to make up their own minds about religion. That is very different than calling someone “the child of Jewish parents.” This is an issue Richard Dawkins is working very hard to raise consciousness about.