The Art of Propaganda

I read an article, God and Caesar in America, at Foreign Affairs I just had to reply to. Here is that reply:

Thank you for this rather risky article. In fair disclosure, I am an atheist who has been involved heavily in the art and science of deconversion for quite a while.

Reading this article I see some typical fallacies and myths regarding religiosity and adherents and the way in which they think, act and vote.

If you’ve been doing this a while you may become familiar with something I might call the Principle of the Sociology of Religion:

This Principle is that adherents form beliefs about their god – and atheists form beliefs about the physicality of their world – based on a set of antecedent beliefs that are core and fundamental to their personality; and arguably inherited. It is not an intellectual, overt exercise to espouse a theological belief.

Layered over this like onion layers are more superficial beliefs that are predicated on the core beliefs. These “outer”, or superficial beliefs are considerably more amenable to change and manipulation than are the core beliefs.

Most arguments for or against god’s existence (religious arguments meaning argument that is either aimed at establishing religious belief or undermining it) beg the doxastic (def: something about belief or opinion) question; that is, arguments will be compelling only to those who already accept the conclusion. Intellectual arguments are so common because the believer or nonbeliever already accepts their conclusions. An atheist believes no gods exist because they are physicalist and that is a core, fundamental belief. The arguments for atheism, while conforming to the atheist’s belief, do not cause the atheist to be atheist. Rather, their belief is a core, fundamental and antecedent belief. The atheist is no more an intellectual truth seeker than the adherent is.

Realizing this, many researchers began looking more at personality to better understand religiosity. And that is where the nexus with ideology becomes apparent: the same personalities that lean to spiritual beliefs are the same personalities that lean to conservative ideology.

Traits common amongst adherents and political conservatives are:

I. A vulnerability to confirmation bias, seeing a pattern and generalizing it incorrectly.

II. A vulnerability to  the Misinformation Effect, converting adjectives and adverbs to weaker forms

III. A vulnerability to Informational Influence – everyone else is saying the wrong thing; so I’ll believe it, too

IV. A vulnerability to  Agenticity – seeing purpose in everything

V. A vulnerability to Insufficient Justification – exercises to be aware of your conscience VI. A vulnerability to  Need for Closure – substitute “I don’t know” for closure

And personalities prone to progressive or liberal ideology also have vulnerabilities; but these vulnerabilities are of a different nature.

Viewed this way, both ideology and religious beliefs are understood to be predicated on core beliefs not amenable to change or revision; and they are likely inherited.

Studies have further shown that when these core beliefs are threatened the natural reaction to this is to aggregate toward one’s personality traits. In other words, adherents living in an increasingly secular, or atheistic environment, will tend to consolidate their superficial beliefs under their core beliefs, blurring the lines between things like ideology and religion (superficial beliefs). This is what is happening in America today. As religious belief becomes more and more of a quaint cultural artifact the “conservative personality” reacts to this by consolidating belief.

So American conservatives of all stripes, including the Tea Party conservatives, have “reached conclusions” about ideology *and* religion that are consonant and interchangeable, not to mention more zealous and “extreme”. But these “conclusions” are not intellectually derived but are simply subconscious reactions to an environment increasingly hostile to their *personality*, not their beliefs per se.

The same phenomenon could occur with “progressive personalities” if the conditions were reversed. It has nothing to do with the views themselves, it has to do with personality.

– kk


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