Irrationality is the Root Problem
Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of ads on YouTube for Matt Walsh’s new documentary on gender ideology: What is a Woman?. While I agree with the general message (gender ideology is crazy), I find the ads irritating.
In the movie, Matt interviews various SJWs, such as activists and professors. He asks them to define “woman”. This simple question puts them in an awkward predicament. We can see the pain on their faces as they struggle with cognitive dissonance. They are required to believe that a trans-woman is a woman. This eliminates the meaning of “woman”, making it impossible for them to give a definition. (See The Trans Paradox.) Even the activists at the “Women’s March” struggle to define “woman”. Matt Walsh does a great job exposing the irrationality of the SJWs. He forces them to confront the absurdity of their beliefs.
But couldn’t someone do exactly the same thing to Matt Walsh by asking him to define “God”?
Matt Walsh is a Christian. He believes in a magic man who lives in the sky (or in some ethereal realm beyond our comprehension). This magic man is his own father and his own son. But somehow the father and the son are also different, and have (or had?) different minds. The magic man died on a stick for our sins 2000 years ago. It’s not clear what God dying on a stick (despite being immortal and omnipresent) has to do with our sins. He used to be the God of a specific tribe of people, but now he is everyone’s God. He is omniscient and omnipotent, but he gives us free will. For some reason, he cares about what we do. Etc, etc.
Christianity is batshit insane. It is no less absurd than believing that a woman can have a penis. If anything, it is more absurd.
These days, many Christians point contemptuously at the emerging religion of Wokism or left-humanism or whatever you want to call it. “It’s a religion!” they say smugly. But this derogatory and dismissive use of “religion” is a self-own. If we should dismiss religions as irrational and absurd (which they are), then we should dismiss Christianity as irrational and absurd (which it is).
Some will argue that religion is necessary for human beings, and if you destroy one religion then another one will replace it. I agree with this to some extent. Most people are not philosophers. They need an established framework for life. However, that is not an argument for Christianity over Wokism. It does not provide a basis for selecting one religion over another.
You could argue that Christianity has beneficial effects for individuals and societies. However, if you justify religion by its effects, then you view religion as a means to an end, not as an absolute truth that must be accepted on faith.
To judge a religion as beneficial or harmful, you must place yourself above it, because you are the judge of it. Also, you must have some prior standard of value, which is also above the religion. So, you place both yourself and your values above the religion. You performatively reject the authority of the religion.
Consider the argument that Christianity benefits people biologically, because it promotes reproduction. This argument presupposes your authority to judge religion as good or bad. It subordinates religion to your authority. It also subordinates religion to the higher value of reproductive fitness. It views religion as instrumental to that higher value.
That is very different from saying “You should have children because God said ‘Go forth and multiply’”, which is an appeal to God’s authority. It justifies the value of reproduction as instrumental to God’s will.
If you value reproduction, then you don’t need Christianity to reproduce. You will try to reproduce because you value reproduction, not because you believe in God. Any pragmatic argument for religion is self-defeating, at a personal level.
You could argue that religion is adaptive for most people, because it tricks them into having the right values. You could argue that reproduction is the correct value, but people don’t naturally value reproduction, and need to be deceived into accepting it. You could argue that religion provides a false foundation for effective values. I agree with that view to a large extent, but it is an atheist argument for religion, and it wouldn’t persuade anyone to believe in God.
Any attempt to rationally justify a religion is a performative rejection of it. A truly religious person accepts their religion on faith.
Matt Walsh uses rationality as a weapon to attack the SJWs. He is not being rational. His use of rationality is selective. It is an irrational and hypocritical use of rationality. Likewise, the mental gymnastics of the SJWs are also irrational and hypocritical. Mental gymnastics are rationalizations, not rationality. They are a post hoc attempt to construct pseudo-rational reasons for dogmatic beliefs.
A rational person would use rationality to critique his own beliefs first and foremost. A rational person would accept valid criticisms from others and change his beliefs.
Christianity and Wokism are memes that propagate socially. They are not spread by rational persuasion. They propagate subconsciously, by imitation. We not only imitate how other people behave, we also imitate what they believe. We absorb culture subconsciously from those around us.
Christianity is a tradition. That means it propagates mostly from parents to children and within a community. Children absorb religious beliefs from their parents, without critical thought. Skepticism is not part of religious instruction. The child is supposed to accept religious beliefs and practices, not question them or think about them.
Wokism is a fashion. That means it propagates mostly between peers and through education and media. People “become woke” as adolescents and young adults. They absorb this new religion (or ideology) from their peers, their teachers, and cultural authority figures, such as celebrities. There is little critical thought involved. People adopt fashions for social reasons, such as status-signaling, getting attention, and conforming to one’s peer group. They are seeking status, attention and approval, not the truth.
Religions and ideologies have a pretense of objective authority, such as God or morality, but the real source of their authority is other people. People believe in them because other people believe in them.
Both Wokism and Christianity contain absurdities, because they are not propagated by rational persuasion. People don’t think their way to those beliefs. People simply adopt them, without much thought at all.
The sacred is whatever we place off-limits to rationality. The sacred must not be examined or questioned. It frames thought and discourse. It is heresy to reject it. It is even heresy to think or talk about it, other than to affirm it.
Religion places ideas above the human mind. Rationality does the opposite. It asserts the authority of the mind to judge all ideas. Questioning an idea is asserting one’s power over it: the power to accept it or reject it.
Christians and Wokists both subordinate themselves to memes. Implicitly, they are subordinating themselves to other people, because other people are the source of the memes. The meme gets its authority from other people. It’s a circle: people accept the meme because others accept the meme. That is true of both traditions and fashions.
You could say that rationality is just another authority. But there is an important difference between rationality and religion/ideology. The authority of rationality is your authority. It comes from you, not from a meme, and not from other people. An appeal to rationality is an appeal to your own judgment. The demand to be rational is just the demand to think for yourself.
Rationality is careful, critical thought. It involves an oppositional attitude toward ideas. It requires that ideas be tested before they are accepted. To have a rational worldview, you must examine and question your own beliefs. You must do to yourself what Matt Walsh did to the SJWs. After you have eliminated your delusions, then you will be ready to construct a rational worldview.
But it’s so much easier to make fun of someone else’s delusions, while clinging to your own.
Christians dodge skepticism in exactly the same ways as Wokists. They say “It’s complicated” or “I’m not here to discuss my religion” or “God is beyond explanation”. They get angry. They disengage. They use pejorative labels, such as “nihilist” or “Satanist”, to terminate discussion. They use in-group signals, such as Shrek tipping a fedora, in place of arguments. They rely on social validation.
I’m sure Matt Walsh would react like the SJWs if someone questioned his religious beliefs. He would experience cognitive dissonance. He would try to dodge the questions. He would engage in mental gymnastics. He would have the same disregard for evidence and logic as the Wokists. Like them, he would cling to his delusions.
And that’s the problem. People are irrational. They don’t think. They outsource their judgment to the crowd, or to the media, or (increasingly) to parasitic memes. The problem is not a specific religion or ideology. It is all of them. Playing whack-a-mole with delusions doesn’t fix human irrationality.