Reasons To Believe

Reasons to Believe

A Case for Careful Believing

A review of the documentary “Reasons to Believe”

A new must-see documentary is coming out September 11, 2017 called Reasons To Believe. It is an extensive study of the psychology of faith, religiosity, and irrational and harmful beliefs. Five experts have been gathered for this analysis of how and why people believe in the absurd and outright dangerous. Featured are Dr.Michael Shermer, the founder of Skeptic magazine; Dr. Caleb Lack, professor of psychology at the University of Central Oklahoma; Dr. Chad Woodruff, Social Neuroscientist at Northern Arizona University; Dr. Peter Boghossian, professor of philosophy at Portland State University; and Dr. Jennifer Whitson, professor of business management at UCLA.

The guests outline how basic human needs, such as the need for acceptance and community,  are exploited by peddlers of delusion. Childhood indoctrination, peer pressure, promises of happiness, fear of uncertainty and death, and alienation of those who dare to question are all tactics employed by these delusion peddlers and by those who need to maintain the delusion for themselves. A common element is an illusion of superiority: believers are under the impression that simply believing makes them good, and a particular emphasis is placed on “religious” equaling “moral”. Appeals to authority are maintained by believers with titles claiming knowledge they really don’t have. Confirmation bias is rampant, as believers try to find proof of things they already believe instead of demanding proof before belief.

But those are just the outward manipulation tactics. The all-star cast of experts delves into the neuroscience behind religious experiences such as pattern creation, dopamine triggers, magical thinking, fears with a placebo-effect stress relief (faith), and how these experiences lead to real-world consequences where people get hurt. Their conclusions are not exactly shocking, but they are sad for the victims of religion and for humanity as a whole.

This documentary couldn’t come at a more critical time, as openly theocratic politicians in the United States are dragging us down into a new Dark Ages. These politicians will destroy our education system (among other things), and because they’re believers they feel entitled to do what they think their god wants them to do. Now more than ever the United States needs reason and kindness to be in charge. There is no place in a secular constitution for personal beliefs, and certainly not for these beliefs to decimate the rights of the many.

The experts give us hope though, and offer suggestions as to how to engage and even challenge believers without insulting and alienating them. This will be essential to progress as a society and as a nation to bring believers away from the ridiculous and toward the common good. Critical thinking must be taught starting in childhood if we are to progress beyond superstitious nonsense. An emphasis needs to be placed on facts, not on fiction. It’s time to acknowledge the harm caused by even seemingly harmless beliefs.

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