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Some beliefs are crazier than others

Following the death of Pentecostal preacher and snake handler Jamie Coots, I said that true believers would probably draw the wrong lesson and infer that it was because his faith was insufficient.

I was wrong.

What some of his supporters are saying is that his death showed that it was ‘his time to go’. This is a nice way of avoiding blame, if you are willing to ignore the obvious inference that god had decided it was time to kill him. Others have hailed him as a ‘martyr’ for his faith which is also odd since no one was actually persecuting him.

Jeffrey Weiss says that each religious belief looks crazy to outsiders while still making sense to insiders.

To most people, these [i.e. biblical quotations about god protecting the faithful from snake bites] seem like a crazy justification to handle deadly serpents. But I evaluate these kinds of claims through Weiss’ Law of Religious Relativism: Any religion is, by definition, crazy to a nonbeliever.

That’s not to say that someone of one belief can’t appreciate the piety, values or even practices of a different belief. But those areas that depend on faith will seem irrational — crazy.

Is it crazier to believe that the creator of the universe had a son who is somehow also him and required that son to be tortured to death and resurrected to allow his creations to escape the consequences of sin — or that he would protect his faithful believers from the effects of snake venom?

And every one of them would consider the faith claims of the other to be as crazy as most of us consider seizing a poisonous snake. Yet somehow each one apparently does some good for some people.

That’s the problem. When you believe in a closed system that shuts out the external and empirical scientific world, you can make anything seem rational. But beliefs that can kill you if they are wrong seem to me to be crazier to believe in than those that merely make you look silly.

Comments

  1. Cuttlefish says

    *tragedy*
    “Thank you, God, may i have another!?”
    *tragedy*
    “Thank you, God, may I have another!?”
    *tragedy*
    “Thank you, God, may I have another!?”

    It’s an abusive sort of love, God’s love.

  2. Chiroptera says

    Yet somehow each one apparently does some good for some people.

    This is kind of asinine. Each one also does a lot of harm to a lot of people, Coots being an example.

    I suspect that there are beliefs that are actually true that would do more good for more people and less harm to fewer people. Seeking consolation from friends or seeking help from a mental health professional might also do more good for more people and less harm to fewer people.

  3. Rob Grigjanis says

    But beliefs that can kill you if they are wrong seem to me to be crazier to believe in than those that merely make you look silly.

    Like the widespread belief that we can go on living as we have done, driving to the corner store, flying to the Bahamas, using unsustainable agricultural and industrial practices? It’s not just religion that propagates harmful beliefs. Complacency can be just as deadly.

  4. Audrey Kiwidinok says

    “When you believe in a closed system that shuts out the external and empirical scientific world, you can make anything seem rational.”

    This is exactly my main problem with the current/fad trans* meme. What used to be recognized as an irrational if firmly-held belief (“I am a woman trapped in a man’s body.”) is now manifesting as a cult-like closed system, one which is spreading through youth culture like a wildfire (“Men can give birth, too!” and “Some women have a penis!” and “Believing that the human species is sexually dimorphic just makes you a transphobic bigot who wants transwomen to commit suicide!”)

    Where is the rational discourse? Where is the understanding of the science of reproductive biology? Where is the critical analysis of the social construct of “gender”?

    It’s no accident that the regressive Iranian regime (and others like it) will give a death sentance to homosexual males but offer them a reprieve if they elect to go through “transition” to being a faux female. Patriarchal cultures will do ANYTHING to keep the historic gender constructs which oppress women in place, even if it means allowing a few males to “transition” to female and a few females to “transition” to male. As long as the teams stay firmly in place, a few players can be traded to the other side.

    Trans* mythology only SEEMS rational and progressive if you don’t step back and view it through the lense of evolutionary biology – or subject it to rational feminist analysis.

  5. Jeffrey Weiss says

    Thanks for the shout-out!

    I won’t disagree that it’s possible to find shades of crazy. And Chiroptera, I think it is possible to make a valid argument that some religious beliefs do more harm than good, net/net.

    My intent, however, was more to turn a mirror to those who simply dismiss the snake handlers as *uniquely* crazy without considering how their own beliefs look from the outside. For instance; Someone who is absolutely certain there is no God. That, too, is a matter of faith. And seems crazy to those who do not share the belief.

    As Robert Burns put it in his Ode To A Louse:

    O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
    To see oursels as others see us!
    It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
    An’ foolish notion!

  6. Rob Grigjanis says

    “Believing that the human species is sexually dimorphic just makes you a transphobic bigot who wants transwomen to commit suicide!”

    No, what makes you a transphobic bigot is using phrases like “trans* mythology”. Where’s the rational discourse?

  7. lorn says

    Another observation: It has been noted by other people familiar with snakes, and it is easy enough to see in the various videos on YouTube, that the snakes used by most of these preachers look to be in poor shape. A snake in poor health is weak and slow and far less likely to strike.

    The snakes I have seen on videos look emaciated, dehydrated, underfed. Their eyes look hazy, they move slowly, hesitantly, and they seem to have difficulty focusing. A normal healthy snake moves differently.

    Other observers have noted that the snakes held by these groups are often kept in unsanitary conditions, starved of food and water, stressed by not having a secure place to hide and suitable temperatures.

  8. jamessweet says

    What IncredulousMark said… One might even speculate that there’s a bit of memetic selection going on here, for confusing and vague beliefs that don’t have any direct and immediate dangers (like Christ’s father/son self-sacrifice) at the expense of clear-cut beliefs that nevertheless cause a direct disconnect with immediate reality (like snake handling).

    (To be clear, I’m not saying that the former are not dangerous at all or don’t create a disconnect with reality… Just that the danger and the disconnect are somewhat more remote. Even if the philosophical difference is slim, there’s a big pragmatic difference between “epistemically problematic worldview which could theoretically interfere with decision-making” vs. “OMG a poisonous fucking snake!”)

    @Iorn: Also, my understanding is that (at least in some of these churches) the snakes live like less than a year. Which if you know anything about snake senescence, is a REALLY short time. (Our snake is like 15+ years, AFAIK.. I’m actually not sure, but it’s definitely well over a decade)

  9. Nick Gotts says

    Audrey Kiwidinok@5,

    It’s typical of bigots like you that they feel the need to air thier bigotry even in conversations where it is entirely irrelevant.

  10. Chiroptera says

    Jeffrey Weiss, #6:

    It is possible that I read more into that quote than was intended. If so, then my choice of words in my comment was unwarranted and I apologize.

    That said:

    For instance; Someone who is absolutely certain there is no God. That, too, is a matter of faith. And seems crazy to those who do not share the belief.

    I disagree. Are there things that you are absolutely certain do not exist? If not, is it because of what you mean by “absolutely certain”? Are you sure that there are people who are absolutely certain -in the way that you mean– there is not god?

    If there are things that you are absolutely certain don’t exist and you don’t think it’s crazy, then why makes god any different than all the other things that don’t exist?

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