Riker's Mailbox

Monday, December 24, 2007


Here I am, blogging on a warm and sunny Southern California Christmas eve... I'm definitely missing my wintery upstate NY hometown. But alas, I have vestigial traditions to attend to! The holiday spirit is alive and well within this vessel :)

Taking a cue from some historically chill religious figures, for this Christmas eve post I'm going to tone my essay down and address an issue that should give proactive "evangelical" atheists pause...

One of the toughest challenges we will face as evangelical atheists will come as we attempt to inoculate the religious against the sunk-cost fallacy. Can anyone imagine deconverting a grandmother who spent her entire life going to mass and praying nightly, deriving comfort and guidance from her rosary beads?

To shake the very foundations of one's upbringing, to be told that all he's been taught is incorrect, would be so difficult and painful to wrestle with. The desire to stick with his old beliefs would be incredible for two reasons: first, it's not likely that he would even accept the new information as valid, and second, if he does recognize it as valid, then it follows that he would have to acknowledge that all the time, resources, and effort* he spent on his religiosity was for naught.

Have you ever picked a bad line at the grocery store, waiting and waiting while the other lines move briskly along? Notice how you hit a point of no return... "I've waited this long, I'd better get my time's worth. I'm staying." This is a strong compulsion.

And it's completely wrong.

The correct choice is to move into one of the faster lines as soon as you recognize the delay in your own. But you feel attached to the time and effort you spent by choosing it, so you stick with the bad choice. I've felt this compulsion strongly enough in a checkout line. Imagine feeling it about sixty or more years of personality-molding belief structures. It must be shattering to go through.

Considering this, we have to decide if it is still worth the attempt, or if there should be a cutoff point limiting our efforts to a population less likely to be so difficult to reach. It was said that we should expect to 'lose a generation' if the country were to convert to the metric system. Should we plan to lose a generation on the march toward secularism? While the English/metric conversion would yield inconvenience and confusion for the 'lost', with religion/secularism it's a moral dilemma. How can I in clear conscience let someone continue to waste the remainder of their days putting energy into a system that will not pay back? And yet, how can I be so cruel as to pull the rug out from under them and show them what will appear to be a very harsh enlightenment?

The line might be there. On one side, truth. On the other, bliss. Who's prepared to draw it?

* -I think I'm going to acronymize this into 'TRE'... I feel like I'll be using this term a lot in the future.

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