“Crisis-Induced Devotion” and the Importance of Church-State Separation
Think back to your school days, when your class would recite the Pledge of Allegiance. If you looked around the classroom during the exercise (and of course most of us did from time to time, even though we were supposed to be focused on the flag), would you see a room filled with fine young patriots, standing upright with hands squarely over hearts, reciting the words with great seriousness and solemnity, pondering the meaning of each phrase?
If your school was like mine, it probably fell a bit short of such a patriotic ideal. Slouched, half-awake students, mumbling the words and giving little thought to their meaning, were as common as the upright patriots. In the lower grades, terms like “allegiance” and “indivisible” were often mispronounced and misunderstood. By high school the exercise had lost much of its mystique, not because kids are unpatriotic, but mainly because the pledge was seen as rote recitation that was required by authority figures.
Perhaps recalling such lackluster attitudes from their school days, some people seem to think governmental religious references are meaningless, not worth disputing. Every now and then, for example, when I’m discussing a church-state issue, someone will throw out a question that has nothing to do with legalities, but instead raises a more practical angle: Why are you fighting over this? Does it really matter? The issue might be “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, a crèche on a public park, or “In God We Trust” as the national motto: “What’s the big deal?”
There are many reasons why church-state separation is a big deal (indeed, the fact that a valid constitutional claim is being raised should, in itself, qualify the matter as a legitimate “big deal”), but there is a psychological component to such issues that sometimes gets overlooked amid all the legal analysis. This component, which I call “crisis-induced devotion” (or “CID”), illustrates why governmental religiosity, while sometimes appearing benign and unimportant, is always at least potentially dangerous.
CID shows us that what appears mundane, given the right stimulus, can quickly become extremely intense. CID occurs, for example, when a person who is not particularly religious or patriotic suddenly becomes fervent about their religion or patriotism due to some external crisis that triggers intense devotion.
A case in point is that of Jessica Ahlquist, a young student from Cranston, Rhode Island, who initiated a church-state lawsuit in 2011 to remove a prayer banner hanging from her public high school’s gymnasium. The lawsuit, perceived by her community as challenging God and religion, provided a psychological stimulus that caused her classmates, who had previously been as outwardly apathetic about religion and patriotism as any other public school population, to suddenly experience a surge of righteousness. During her homeroom recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, classmates turned to her and shouted “Under God!” to emphasize that they - and their religious views - were patriotic, and that Jessica was an outsider…
Cognitive science calls this entire philosophical worldview into serious question on empirical grounds… [the mind] arises from the nature of our brains, bodies, and bodily experiences. This is not just the innocuous and obvious claim that we need a body to reason; rather, it is the striking claim that the very structure of reason itself comes from the details of our embodiment… Thus, to understand reason we must understand the details of our visual system, our motor system, and the general mechanism of neural binding.What exactly does this mean? It means that our cognition isn’t confined to our cortices. That is, our cognition is influenced, perhaps determined by, our experiences in the physical world. Continue
This adds an important dimension to the idea of artificial consciousness or downloading your own consciousness into a computer. It also might give us some insight into the parts of consciousness that can’t be accounted for by brain scans. Being “you” is a holistic experience of the mind and body working in concert. Another thing the article brings to mind; think of how much of our mental status manifests itself in the body. What would anxiety be without the physical symptoms like shallow breath, rising body temp, stomach problems etc? Seems like certain mental states heavily depend on the presence of a body to manifest themselves.
You know what I want? I want for Religious People to understand Atheists do not believe in God, and never once try to convince them other wise. I want Atheists to understand people believe in a/several God(s) and never once try to disprove that. I want religion to never once have to be brought up in a conversation as a negative or positive thing. It should just be there. Like dimples, or awkwardly placed moles.
And I just want religion to stop being such a taboo conversation topic. How will we ever understand each other if we don’t talk about it? Furthermore, how can anyone ever get enough information and perspective to reach the truth (regardless of which side is actually right) without debate? In fact, by blocking off that avenue of information, you could be blocking people from the truth (again, regardless of which side is actually right) which wouldn’t be fair, would it?
The problem isn’t with religious people and atheists disagreeing and talking about it, the problem is with them getting overly emotional about it and resorting to personal attacks.
From the perspective of Meme Theory, I think this taboo of discussion has been a very useful adaptaion for the survival of religion memes… It might even be analogous to camouflage in the animal kingdom. Weak ideas survive longer in an environment where they can incubate unchallenged. Just something that comes to mind whenever I hear someone talk about how it’s rude or uncomfortable for people to talk about religion. Free inquiry and open discussion are like a cultural immune system against charlatanry, religion has successfully adapted to this immune system by insulating itself. But it seems (one hopes) that the Internet is making it harder and harder for that to continue.
If you believe in ghosts, you’re not alone: A 2005 Gallup poll found that 37 percent of Americans believe in haunted houses, and about one-third believe in ghosts. Tens of thousands of people around the world actively search for ghosts as a hobby. Researcher Sharon Hill of the Doubtful Newsblog counted about 2,000 active amateur ghost-hunting groups in America.
Ghosts have been a popular subject for millennia, appearing in countless stories, from “Macbeth” to the Bible, and even spawning their own folklore genre: ghost stories. Ghosts are perhaps the most common paranormal belief in the world. Part of the reason is that belief in ghosts is part of a larger web of related paranormal beliefs, including near-death experience, life after death, and spirit communication.
The idea that the dead remain with us in spirit is an ancient one, and one that offers many people comfort; who doesn’t want to believe that our beloved but deceased family members aren’t looking out for us, or with us in our times of need? Most people believe in ghosts because of personal experience; they have seen or sensed some unexplained presence.
The science and logic of ghosts
Personal experience is one thing, but scientific evidence is another matter. Part of the difficulty in investigating ghosts is that there is not one universally agreed-upon definition of what a ghost is. Some believe that they are spirits of the dead who for whatever reason get “lost” on their way to The Other Side; others claim that ghosts are instead telepathic entities projected into the world from our minds.
Still others create their own special categories for different types of ghosts, such as poltergeists, residual hauntings, intelligent spirits and shadow people. Of course, it’s all made up, like speculating on the different races of fairies or dragons: there are as many types of ghosts as you want there to be.
There are many contradictions inherent in ideas about ghosts. For example, are ghosts material or not? Either they can move through solid objects without disturbing them, or they can slam doors shut and throw objects across the room. Logically and physically, it’s one or the other. If ghosts are human souls, why do they appear clothed and with (presumably soulless) inanimate objects like hats, canes, and dresses — not to mention the many reports of ghost trains, cars and carriages?
If ghosts are the spirits of those whose deaths were unavenged, why are there unsolved murders, since ghosts are said to communicate with psychic mediums, and should be able to identify their killers for the police. And so on; just about any claim about ghosts raises logical reasons to doubt it.
Ghost hunters use many creative (and dubious) methods to detect the spirits’ presences, often including psychics. Virtually all ghost hunters claim to be scientific, and most give that appearance because they use high-tech scientific equipment such as Geiger counters, Electromagnetic Field (EMF) detectors, ion detectors, infrared cameras and sensitive microphones. Yet none of this equipment has ever been shown to actually detect ghosts.
Other people take exactly the opposite approach, claiming that the reason that ghosts haven’t been proven to exist is that we simply don’t have the right technology to find or detect the spirit world. But this, too, can’t be correct: Either ghosts exist and appear in our ordinary physical world (and can therefore be detected and recorded in photographs, film, video, and audio recordings), or they don’t. If ghosts exist and can be scientifically detected or recorded, then we should find hard evidence of that — yet we don’t. If ghosts exist and cannot be scientifically detected or recorded, then all the photos, videos, and other recordings claimed to be evidence of ghosts cannot be ghosts. With so many basic contradictory theories — and so little science brought to bear on the topic — it’s not surprising that despite the efforts of thousands of ghost hunters on television and elsewhere for decades, not a single piece of hard evidence of ghosts has been found.
Why many believe
Many people believe that support for the existence of ghosts can be found in no less a hard science than modern physics. It is widely claimed that Albert Einstein suggested a scientific basis for the reality of ghosts; if energy cannot be created or destroyed but only change form, what happens to our body’s energy when we die? Could that somehow be manifested as a ghost?
It seems like a reasonable assumption — unless you understand basic physics. The answer is very simple, and not at all mysterious. After a person dies, the energy in his or her body goes where all organisms’ energy goes after death: into the environment. The energy is released in the form of heat, and transferred into the animals that eat us (i.e., wild animals if we are left unburied, or worms and bacteria if we are interred), and the plants that absorb us. There is no bodily “energy” that survives death to be detected with popular ghost-hunting devices.
While most ghost hunters engage in harmless (and fruitless) fun, there can be a darker side. In the wake of popular ghost-hunting TV shows, police across the country have seen a surge in people being arrested, injured, and even killed while looking for ghosts. In 2010, a man died while ghost-hunting with a group of friends hoping to see the ghost of a train that crashed years earlier. The ghost train did not appear — but a real train came around a bend and killed one man.
The evidence for ghosts is no better today than it was a year ago, a decade ago, or a century ago. There are two possible reasons for the failure of ghost hunters to find good evidence. The first is that ghosts don’t exist, and that reports of ghosts can be explained by psychology, misperceptions, mistakes and hoaxes. The second option is that ghosts do exist, but that ghost hunters are simply incompetent. Ultimately, ghost hunting is not about the evidence (if it was, the search would have been abandoned long ago). Instead, it’s about having fun with friends, telling stories, and the enjoyment of pretending they are searching the edge of the unknown. After all, everyone loves a good ghost story.