Surety is Cheap

Surety is Cheap January 2, 2014

Commenter Ian wrote the following, and I thought it worth sharing in a blog post:

Surety is cheap. The Pharisees were sure they were right, the 9/11 terrorists were sure they were right, as they gave their lives for what they were sure of, the Nazis were sure they were right and the world would be better with the Jews exterminated. Being sure is not difficult, and it is not a sign of being right. Those who are most sure are usually most dangerous. Run from anyone who promises certainty.

That some branches of Christianity try to make a virtue out of certainty, is a big warning sign of their desire to control and abuse you.

And here’s an image someone made a while back quoting me making a related point:


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  • spinkham

    I’ll point out the work of Richard Beck again here because this is the most important part of his project.

    This post is especially apropos:

    That feeling of certainty is morally problematic also, as maintaining that feeling requires us to demonize the other who disagrees with us.

    I’ll quote a bit from one of his books:

    This is the dynamic described above, a retreat into a new
    absolutism that allows us to escape from the existential burden of a
    relativizing pluralism. This is the allure of fundamentalism in
    modernity. Fundamentalism helps us cope with the anxiety caused by the
    relativizing encounter with Otherness in our pluralistic world. At the
    end of the day, fundamentalism is embraced for the existential
    consolation it provides.

    As Berger and Zijderveld summarize: This is the great refusal of
    relativization. The proponents of the various versions of neo-absolutism
    have very seductive messages: “Do you feel lost in the ‘patchwork’ of
    religious possibilities? Here, surrender to the one true faith that we
    offer you, and you’ll find yourself at peace with the world.” Comparable
    messages are on offer to allay the vertigo of choice in morality,
    politics, lifestyles. And the message isn’t lying: Fanatics are more at
    peace, less torn, than those who struggle daily with the challenges of
    relativity. This peace, however, comes with a price. (2009, p. 47)

    We already know what this price is: worldview defense, the
    stigmatization of Otherness and difference. These suspicions about
    out-group members scale up to affect the whole of society. Society
    becomes ideologically balkanized, with individuals seeking ideological
    reassurances from the like-minded. These ideological groups and their
    suspicions about each other make modern societies increasingly unstable
    and prone to conflict. As Berger and Zijderveld describe it, “The final
    outcome may be all-out civil strife, between radicalized subcultures and
    the majority society, and/or between/among the several subcultures
    themselves” (2009, p. 86).

    –Beck, Richard (2012-01-10). The Authenticity of Faith: The
    Varieties and Illusions of Religious Experience (pp. 256-257). Abilene
    Christian University Press. Kindle Edition.

    I would argue that it’s not only hobbits that are wicked, tricksy and false, a strong need for closure leading to the downsides pointed out by terror management theory is all three also.

    Richard Beck’s next book on how a Christus Victor sort of understanding of atonement where the work of the Christ is literally driving out this fear of death and its accompanying need for certainty will be out in a few weeks. I read the blog series that it is based on, and already highly recommend the book without reading it yet. 😉

  • Doug

    Umm … he sounds very sure of that! 🙂

  • Jeff Brunsman

    I found quite ironic the statement “those who are most sure are usually most dangerous.” This was all said in the context of the post against YEC people. The suggestion of many was that they needed to be marginalized. Why? Because Evolution is fact and anyone who refuses to believe this fact is dangerous.

    And you don’t even see it about yourselves.

    • Are you saying that feeling confident about well-researched and adequately established matters is bad? That isn’t the sort of thing the post was addressing – it isn’t suggesting that things that are clear, such as that the young-earthers and Holocaust deniers are ideologically-motivated deceivers, should nevertheless be treated as tentative. That would just be letting those who are absolutely certain and clearly wrong wreak their havoc unhindered. But those who know they are wrong know it because we have been willing to doubt and question both sides, and have found the evidence to clearly favor one side rather than the other.

    • Ian

      I find it ironic that you can’t describe the context in anything but the most tendentious terms.

      The context was a commenter who claimed that, it didn’t matter what evidence there was, or how something could be experimentally considered, God had directly revealed the truth to them, and that was it. And furthermore that such a certainty in their interpretation of the bible regardless of evidence was exactly the position that God demands of all Christians.

      If you think that is equivalent to scientists saying “the best evidence we have is that evolution happens in this way, and the evidence overwhelmingly contradicts the YEC position, so let’s please not treat YEC’s as if they were credible, just because they go around with God God on their lips” then you’ve got a very strange sense of perspective.