Thursday, May 22, 2014

True Believers

-In the High Desert"

Several years back the social philosopher, Eric Hoffer, coined the term "True Believers" to describe people who rigidly cling to their beliefs and ideas and are fanatically committed to a cause. "True Believers" are so rabidly committed to their view of things that they will do anything to defend their positions and will not budge an inch to change their rigidly-held perceptions. "True Believers" are so tightly wound that they think any slight change in any part of their beliefs will destroy the entire system. 

As I read the papers, listen to the news, and observe the social media, I think there are an awful lot of "True Believers" around today. This seems to be a growing cultural phenomenon. 

Religions of all sorts are replete with camps of "True Believers." Christian fundamentalists claim that Jesus is the only way to the truth and stand in judgment against any who might find another path.  Muslim extremists in places like Sudan are convinced that Islam is the only way, and so a 27 year-old pregnant mother is condemned to be hanged because she has deviated from the "true faith" of Islam and converted to Christianity.

There are also a number of "True Believer" atheists nowadays as the tide of "new atheism" spreads though out the culture. Every day I browse the social media and I often try to engage in a conversation with atheists, but find it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so. So many self-identified atheists are absolutely and rigidly certain about what they do not believe.  Oftentimes their judgments against believers is based on a very myopic understanding of what faith in "God" is all about, but they simply refuse to entertain the possibility of dialogue. 

And of course, "True Believers" can readily be found in the halls of congress nowadays. Everyone seems to have retreated into their respective camps of certainty and rigidity- Tea Party Conservatives and Libertarians, Establishment Republicans, even Liberal Democrats, each camp sure that they have it right, that they have found the way. And so, they rigidly hold onto their views and are often are so  fanatically committed to their causes as to preclude even the possibility of dialogue or compromise. 

And now there is a new venue in which "True Believers" are "popping up." For me, this is the scariest place of all. 

As I see it, the "University" is bestowed with a sacred trust in this culture. Places of higher learning are venues in which many different people with many different points of view are given open access to air their positions so that a dialogue might take place and wisdom might emerge.  However during this graduation season the "True Believers" phenomenon seems to be rearing its ugly head in those hallowed halls of higher learning. 

An editorial in this morning's Los Angeles Times suggests:

On college campuses all over the country, the classes of 2014 have distinguished themselves like none before - many by chasing away their commencement speakers.

All across the nation, speakers invited to give commencement addresses have been disinvited because some students have lodged vociferous protests that the chosen speakers are too liberal or in most cases not liberal enough - their politics are wrong. And so rather than listening to someone who "may" possibly hold a dissenting point of view, graduating classes across the nation are closing the door and turning their backs, only willing to listen to those who think in the same way they do. 

In my heart of hearts I really am convinced that there are many paths to wisdom and no one possesses the truth. I also believe that we find deeper truth when we are willing and able to enter into dialogue with those who may appear to be different -wisdom emerges in the differences.  

As I see it, civilized people are "seekers of wisdom." Barbarians are guardians of "the true and only way."  

We can all hold onto our beliefs without becoming "True Believers." 


  1. Great post. "... civilized people are "seekers of wisdom." Barbarians are guardians of "the true and only way." Well said.

    As a religious skeptic I accept the critique of atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris when it comes to fundamentalist forms of religious belief, but there are less dogmatic and more sophisticated forms of belief that don't deserve the scorn that is too often delivered against them. Here's to more respectful dialogue!

    1. John. Thanks so much for this comment. Indeed, here is to more respectful dialogue!