Some perspective on believing in “false” churches

It is my opinion, as an atheist, that everyone who is in a church is in a false one (false in the sense of “not true”, not false in the sense of “not really a church”). Religious people who subscribe to the “only one True Church/True Religion” idea should almost agree with me, because most other people who are religious aren’t in their particular church.

Given that at least most religious people in the world are wrong about their beliefs, I have said for a while now that apparently, being convinced in the truthfulness of one’s religion, and yet being wrong about that, is very, very easy.

You’d think that people would take that sobering fact with a little more introspection, and seriously question why they, of all people, should buck the trend and actually be right about their church, when so many others get it wrong. But they don’t. Why not?

Psychologists have long known that people tend to overestimate their own judgment, their own virtue, their own charity, their own wisdom, and underestimate these things in others. This could help explain why it is that so many religious people can take it as simply a matter of unremarkable fact that so many people around the world can be so comprehensively wrong, and yet not even consider that they might also be just as wrong about their own religious beliefs.

I’ll consider the LDS Church specifically, because that’s the church I still nominally belong to, and almost all of my family members on both my side and my wife’s are LDS. I’ve had many conversations with some pretty smart LDS people in my aquaintance, who simply cannot, or will not, see that the LDS Church is a manmade institution, like all the other churches out there.  And it’s not just that they don’t agree with me that the church is manmade – it’s like they can’t even fathom the very possibility that the church might not be right.

I am convinced that the approach that is required, from my side, is not to just present them with all of the unsavory history, all of the un-Godly things Joseph Smith did, the evidence relating to the Book of Abraham, etc. This approach is doomed to failure in many members, because they simply do not take seriously the possibility that the LDS Church is in fact not true, therefor none of the counter evidence can have its intended effect. I believe the approach most likely to succeed in the long term is to help LDS believers to see the necessity of considering the LDS Church claims with the same critical thinking that they would apply to everyone else’s church.

To succeed with many members, they will have to see how unlikely it is that they really are the exception to the rule that almost, if not everyone’s religious belief in the world isn’t really true. They will have to be brought to see, and recognize, the absurdity of assuming that their beliefs are so justifiable, and obviously true, while everyone else’s can be so wrong.

More later.


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5 Responses to Some perspective on believing in “false” churches

  1. The Dude

    I agree that your critical thinking approach is most likely to succeed, but there is still a problem. The way you juxtapose “my church is true” with “all the others are false” does not account for the LDS (as well as believers in other religions) who don’t personally believe that every religion is false except for theirs. If they have liberal views and don’t believe everyone else is terribly wrong, then what?

    Sometimes I suspect that LDS on the internet have two hats: an “orthodox” hat for Church and family and a “liberal” hat for people like you. When faced with your argument, they conveniently put on the “liberal” hat and short-circuit the whole point. How can you catch them when they’re wearing the “orthodox” hat instead?

  2. asbestosman

    Is it true that we overestimate our judgment, charity, wisdom while underestimating it in others? I think a lot of people think I’m smarter than I think I am. I am not cut for MIT / Caltech–I know myself well enough to realize that I am nobody in the world of academics.

    Anyhow, religion isn’t the only thing most people are wrong about. Most people are wrong about other ideologies (conservative vs liberal, etc.). Ideologies may not be true or not true in the sense that the church is true, but I don’t see why other ideologies (say, atheism or Seccular Humanism) are inherently better than religious ones.

  3. malkie

    Easy! There’s no more reason (well, there may be, but let’s pretend for a moment) to believe that *I’m* wrong than to believe that each of the others is wrong. So why should I not consider myself to be right?

    After all (suspending general disbelief again for a moment), if one of the churches is “true”, whatever that means, it might as well be mine. Anyway, god tells me every day that I made the correct choice, so the others are simply mistaken.

  4. Cinepro

    Impeccable logic, malkie. Airtight.

  5. Seth

    This works, Malkie, if you’re able to just narrow your vision and just pretend that there aren’t billions of other people who are just as confident in their beliefs as you are, and that this isn’t pretty good evidence that it’s exceedingly easy, as a human being, to be confident in one’s beliefs and yet be wrong.

    So, what’s the reason behind your confidence that, unlike these billions of others, you’re one of the very few who aren’t actually wrong in your confidences in your beliefs? What is the basis for this confidence? Oh yeah, I know – God is telling you.

    The only problem is that God is apparently telling a lot of other people, who believe a lot of other things, that their beliefs are right too. I have a good friend who quit his good job in the computer industry to enter a Catholic seminary to become a priest, because God told him the Catholic Church was truly God’s church on Earth, and that he should be a Priest in that church in order to serve Jesus.

    He’s convinced that his interpretation of his feelings and the emotional reactions as confirmation of things from God has lead him to these beliefs, and this confidence. There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between your confidence in your “spiritual” manifestations and his. And yet there’s every reason to suspect that a lot of misinterpretation is going on here – probably by both of you.

    The bottom line is that you’re flippantly deciding that you will make decisions about the true nature of the universe, and who or what created it and why, and what this Creator of the Entire Universe wants you to do, based on the “what the hell” logic that hey, it’s possible that at least one of the tens of thousands of religious ideoms out there are realy “true”, and it might as well be yours. How convenient, but almost certainly not a good basis for confidence that your beliefs really are true.

    If you don’t really care about what *really* is true or not, then just drive on doing what you’re doing. If you do, then it’s time to start taking the rest of the world a little more seriously, and do some serious rethinking about the your epistemology.

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