I think my Art History professor hit upon something last night while discussing the Pazzi Chapel designed by Brunelleschi. He said, “Belief is knowledge, and when you ‘know’ something, you are comfortable. But if I say, ‘WRONG!’ then suddenly your belief in what you thought you knew is called into question and you are uncomfortable.” He went on to discuss why the chapel itself was “comfortable” because it mathematically had correct proportions, etc. etc., but that quote got me thinking.
While I disagree with the idea that belief is knowledge, he is correct that most people perceive belief as equal to knowledge. In that respect, I think it is a rather elegant statement of why so many theists have such a hard time accepting atheism/atheists and certainly why they have such a hard time giving up their god belief no matter how irrational it is proved to be.
I myself am an ex-Catholic/ex-theist-in-general. I remember how hard it was to let rational thought prevail over the irrational fear of an omnipotent god (graciously indoctrinated into my head since before I can remember. Thanks mom and dad. :-l )
For some reason though, as I grew up, I learned to love and embrace the feeling of cognitive dissonance. I love learning about things I didn’t know before and even having things I thought I knew called into question. I suspect, here at least, that I am not alone in that feeling.
But it reminds me of a job I once had working with a bunch of older ladies who were religious (some of whom very much so). I reveled in challenging their ideas and once proposed the following idea:
First: Do intelligent aliens exist? (even the religious ones answered either “I don’t know, but probably” or just “probably.”)
Second: God is god of EVERYTHING, not just Earth, right? (a resounding “Yes”)
Third: Jesus is son of God sent to redeem man of sin, right? (again a resounding “Yes”)
Fourth: God is just and merciful? (Once again “Yes”)
Then either A) Man is the only creation of God which needed redemption from “sin” or B) Intelligent aliens also are capable of sin as described in the bible such as murder or theft, etc.
If A, then it raises the question as to why God would create man, but nothing else, capable of sin. After all, one cannot fall back on "free will" as an excuse because "free will" (if you believe it exists) is a product of intelligence and hence would be a capability of ANY self-aware, intelligent being.
If B, then God, being just and merciful, would have had to create a similar act of sacrificing his son in order to “save” the sinful aliens as well. If Jesus is the ONLY son of God, as per the bible, he would have had to appear to and redeem the aliens as well.
Would aliens have accepted a “son of god” who didn’t look like them? Probably not. After all, would humans have accepted Jesus as “son of god” if he looked like an octopus-man? Probably not.
So, Jesus would have had to appear as whatever the aliens looked like or thought he should look like in order to “mercifully” redeem them of sin.
Hence, Jesus is a shape-shifting astronaut.
This earned me only a roll of eyes and a response which truly worries me to this day:
“I just don’t think about things like that.”
WHAT? You base your whole life, day to day decisions, etc. on your chosen religion, but you DON’T THINK ABOUT IT?
And the answer is, no. They don’t. Because most people don’t like to feel uncomfortable, and that’s what cognitive dissonance does. It’s why Socrates was so unpopular. He forced people to confront their own irrational beliefs. We atheists, simply by existing, do the same to every theist. The fact that we can not only exist, but can lead perfectly normal, moral (for all the supposed meaning that word has), ethical lives of peace, throws a monkey wrench in their worldview that those who believe in their god are “good” and those who don’t are “evil.”
By existing, and recently growing in voice and number, we are essentially yelling “WRONG!” in the face of theists everywhere. This makes them uncomfortable to say the least and to paraphrase from Inherit the Wind – they don’t think about things that they don’t think about. And the vast majority of them prefer it that way. We are the Socrates’ of our day and by simply existing we force them to confront the hard question of WHY they believe the irrational things they believe.