I don’t mean people who unconsciously don’t care about reality. I don’t mean people who unconsciously resist or rationalize evidence when it contradicts the things they believe. I get that. That’s universally human. Everybody does that. Atheists, believers — everybody. Me, and you, and everyone we know.
I’m talking about people who consciously, intellectually state that they’re less interested in what’s really true about the universe than they are about their personal interpretation of it. People who consciously, intellectually state that reality can’t be completely understood, and therefore all interpretations of it are equally valid. People who consciously, intellectually state that it’s less important to understand reality than it is to not offend people by pointing out that their beliefs are inconsistent with the evidence. People who consciously, intellectually state that, even though there’s powerful evidence against the belief that (say) consciousness is animated by an immaterial soul that survives death, or that life was shaped into being by a loving God, or what have you… it’s still reasonable for them to hold those beliefs. People who consciously, intellectually state that, when it comes right down to it, they don’t care whether the things they believe are true.
And who firmly defend that position.
What do you say to them?
As an atheist writer, I’ve been having this weird series of conversations about religion with believers who take this position. Some of them take it in a very hard-line relativist way: they insist that there’s no reality other than the one we create in our minds. Or they insist that, even though there probably is an external reality, there’s no way to truly understand it… so it’s completely reasonable to live in the world as we create it in our heads, and to interpret reality in whatever way gives us comfort and pleasure. Regardless of whether that interpretation jibes with, you know, evidence about how reality works.
Others are more slippery about this position. They’ll state their religious beliefs… and then, when challenged to provide some evidence supporting those beliefs, they’ll say something like, “That’s just what I believe. None of us can prove for 100% certain whether our beliefs are right. We all choose what to believe. So what’s the point in debating who’s right?”
I’ll be honest: I find it very hard to argue against this position. Mostly because I find it so utterly baffling. The idea that reality matters? The idea that we ought to care whether the things we believe are true? To me, this is close to a fundamental axiom. And when people say they don’t care about that, it leaves my jaw hanging in dumbfounded silence.
But that makes it a topic worth getting into. I like questioning my fundamental axioms. I think they’re worth examining. So I’m going to examine this one.
Why should we care whether the things we believe are true?
Why should we treat the external, objective reality of the universe as more important than the internal, subjective reality of our personal experience?
Why is the universe more important than me?
Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet: Do You Care Whether the Religious Ideas You Believe in Are True or Not? To find out why caring about reality is both a practical necessity and a moral obligation — and why I don’t believe people who say they don’t care about it — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!