Among nonbelievers on the Internet, there has recently been some discussion about whether the more prominent public speakers and debaters for fundamentalist religious beliefs are honestly self deluded or are intentionally misrepresenting what they claim to be the truth about reality. I am in no position to definitively assess, one way or another, which of these possibilities is the case with each individual proselytizer. However, whether it is an honest but mistaken belief that these mythologies are real, or an intentional defense of positions the speaker actually believes to be false, we cannot ignore the role of the human ego in motivating such proselytizing.
Professional apologists are publicly known as people who purport to speak for the most powerful force that exists. The more capably they can argue that this force actually exists, the more esteem they bring to themselves as bona fide agents and interpreters of the nature and will of this force. This is the absolute ultimate form of “I work and speak for The Man!”
Thus, regardless of whether there is an undercurrent of self delusion or a conscious attempt to misrepresent the truth, they are able to travel the nation and many parts of the world as a representative of the being of which none greater exists.
In addition to perpetuating their professional status as spokespeople for god, they get to do something else, which is also a deeply rooted trend in human psychology, whether it generates self delusion or willful deception. That is, they get to exercise that most primitive of human urges to engage in “us against them” tribalism. They can publicly assert that only those who believe their way are saved. The rest of humanity is literally lost forever. They get to showcase themselves as having won membership in existence’s most exclusive club. They can also claim that the ultimate force that runs this club has given them the inside knowledge by which to sell memberships to the rest of humanity.
Holding such a professional position and getting paid to disseminate such a perspective can be a powerful motivation, whether it leads to self delusion or intentional presentation of falsehoods.
However, there is a moral ranking, in my estimation, even among the various purveyors of salvation. Even though the Dalai Lama’s selling of some eternal state of nirvana may be as factually untrue as the apologists’ hawking of heaven, the Dalai Lama’s fairy tale is far less pernicious. Christian apologists sell a deity that punishes us forever if we don’t adopt their religious views. The Dalai Lama sells a program of ultimate happiness for those who pursue his teachings but does not harp upon some form of egregious cosmic retribution for those who don’t.
Even if the Dalai Lama’s minor deities are as non existent as the biblical god, his message is still more benevolent than that of a Christian fundamentalist. Thus while the hoped-for ultimate nirvanic state taught by practitioners of contemplative disciplines may as illusionary as the punishing deity of the Bible and the Khoran, the public outreach, to the extent there is any, does not carry the same threat of everlasting dire consequences for rejecting the program.
I would personally like to see large masses of people give up belief in a deity as soon as possible. However, realistically, this process might entail various interludes of helping to initially wean believers away from belief in a religiously exclusive vindictive god.