Friday, October 19, 2007

The Pathogizer, The Lonely Man of Faith & The Earnest BT

When fundamentalists confront conflicting views, from the sincere yet doubting seeker to the most hardened skeptic, they often shift the focus to emotional considerations when the intellectual arguments get to difficult for them. Sometimes, there is projection of all kinds of pejorative attributes on to the questioner, with the implication that "there is something wrong" (i.e. personally and emotionally) with the repentant or wavering BT. Pursue the intellectual discussion too far or too deep and you will be villified (implicitly or explicitly) as "too selfish" or "not willing to give of yourself for the sake of G-d", or " you are not strong enough to accept G-d's will", and other such statements that call into question your true commitment.

I call this self-serving and contrived approach to dispensing with challenges “pathogizing”, and it is an essential element of most Orthodox Jewish indoctrination (mostly Cheredi –Ultra Orthodox). In fact it is typical of fundamentalists of all religious persuasions and its ubiquity is evident from even a cursory perusal of fundamentalist Christians, Mormons and Muslims,etc literature. This approach allows for the easy dismissal of challenges, thereby allowing the believer to evade responsibility for confronting any challenges, as well as protecting him psychologically from the cognitive dissonance and existential insecurity that emanates from taking these issues seriously.

We observe a classic example of this approach in the commentary of Avrum68 in the last thread. There, Avrum68 invokes the authority of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz “who warned folks about not confusing theology for psychology when dealing with doubt.” Avrum proudly notes “Never have I read wiser words.” Among the many elementary logical flaws - - more of which will be detailed below - - are the fallacy of “appeal to authority”. First, an appeal to Rabbinic authority and second, in an attempt to further buttress his point, an appeal to his very own authority, as a professional with a background which is “ rooted in psychology, particularly the psychodynamic variety.”

Agnostic writer, after reviewing similar rhetoric by
Avrum68 on another forum, perceptively demonstrates the impotence of this line of reasoning.

He writes “Avrum68 not only insists on repeatedly committing the elementary philosophical error of ad hominem, he also commits the elementary psychological and ethical error of jumping to conclusions about the psychological functioning and developmental backgrounds of people he knows next to nothing about. He also commits the naive error of either-or thinking: either a person had an idyllic childhood in their religious family, or any possible objection they have to religious belief is really about emotional or social pain.

A little sophistication, either in philosophy or psychology, would have taught him that very few have idyllic childhoods--whether religious, atheist, or agnostic--so the charge of "It all goes back to your dissatisfaction with childhood (or father, or mother, or social isolation, or penis envy, or unresolved oedipal issues, etc., etc.) is a charge that can be leveled at nearly anyone with whose views one disagrees, and therefore not only proves nothing, but suggests nothing; and a little sophistication in either psychology or philosophy would have taught him, too, that what awakens one to questioning--even in cases where the awakening agent is emotional or social pain--need hold little relation to the level of honesty with which one processes the cacophony of answers, and more questions, one encounters on the path of seeking. One can be raised without so much as a solitary moment of distress, and yet exert little honesty or courage in seeking truth; and one can be tormented by all manner of afflictions from the moment of birth on, and still strive for radical intellectual honesty.

Furthermore, one with even moderate psychological insight--or moderate observational skills--would know that the great majority of people raised Muslim remain Muslim, the great majority of people raised Hindu remain Hindu, and the great majority of people raised Orthodox Jewish remain Orthodox Jewish--and that one can as easily wield the "psychological argument" against religious people, as in, "Regardless of how happy or unhappy your childhood, you're religious not because of the intelligent-sounding explanations you cite, you're religious due to emotional comfort with the familiar, and the unconscious terror of separating from family and tribe and cosmic frame of reference.

Yet Avrum68 does not dismiss religious thinkers from happy or unhappy religious families, only skeptics from (what he insists, without knowing, are) unhappy families. Behold the double standard atop a bad argument--irrationality with a frosting of bias.”

But the most salient point brought out by Agnostic writer and which is really the heart of the matter is that “regardless of why people make certain arguments, their arguments are either accurate and compelling to reason, or not. And discovering whether such arguments are compelling to reason is what the legitimate quest for truth, and a legitimate debate, is about--not the dubious subconscious archaeology of a motive for adopting an argument, but a clear discussion of the merits of the argument."

The Lonely Man of Faith

To be fair, not all fundamentalist or fervently religious will engage in such crude forms of emotional manipulation. The Fundamentalists who do so are unable to compartmentalize their beliefs that are based on faith from their beliefs based on scientific, objective analyses and admit to one or the other or both when they are in conflict. To be able to do so is cognitively dissonant and many Orthodox cannot abide this condition. It takes an individual of extreme courage and independence of will to live in cognitive dissonance and be OK with this state of affairs. It is difficult but not impossible. There are exceptional and thinking people who can do so, but they are rare. The "lonely man of faith" is truly lonely.

What this all means for the BT

Consequently, I admonish the acolyte BT to be wary of this tendency of Fundamentalists in general, and Haredi in particular, when they "pathologize" your motives, feelings, and doubts. By all means examine yourself in this regard, but do not fall prey to self-doubt or self deprecation just because they project their own pathology on you. We all have doubts and act on personal motives. Examine these well before you construe them to be unworthy or unacceptable.