Camaraderie vs. Truth
Throughout my life, the very concept of truth has had a kind of ultimate importance to me. I always want to know what really exists, what really did/does/will happen, the facts of situations, etc. I’ve always figured that truth is the best guide to understanding what is good and how one should act; other paths are unreasonable and lead to contradictions and mistakes. Applying this line of thought to life, I’ve agreed with statements such as “if a man is really innocent of a crime, he should not be punished for it” and “if a religion is really false, nobody should believe in it.” Further, if I’m the worst player on the court, I deserve to be picked last for basketball; if a politician’s policies will not bring good consequences, they should not be implemented, no matter how appealing they are or how passionately the politician argues for them. The primacy of truth just strikes me as the most obvious and fundamental virtue. However, I’ve recently begun to question what sort of value truth actually has. Consider for example how there are many religions in the world and all are basically incompatible with one another. Therefore, at most one religion is true and the rest of the religions in the world are false. Imagine a community where almost everyone believes in one of these false religions. Also imagine that there is a person in that community that doubts the religion and over time he correctly identifies his community’s beliefs as baseless and mythical. Now he possesses the truth, but is he any better off? What is he going to do? Tell others of his thoughts? Heresy has been punishable by death in some cultures. It is unlikely that he would change anyone else’s mind. At best, the person can expect disapproval from his family and friends. He might also be labeled as immoral or a deviant. This would make it difficult for him to interact with people. At the same time, his peers are finding friends and spouses at religious gatherings. How sad that finding the truth has left one lonely while those that accepted lies have found camaraderie in those that agree with them. This is not a difficult scenario to imagine; it happens all over the world. Of course, the person could just keep his mouth shut, but living a lie, supporting a lie, and going through motions in which he doesn’t believe is not very satisfactory either. In any case, it is hard to see the value of truth. Depending on how the person is able to deal with the community, I could be forced to conclude that it is better for him to ignore, forget, or never realize the truth and base his life on a falsehood.
Okay, maybe the idea that knowing truth doesn’t always benefit someone isn’t that groundbreaking, but I find it interesting how the importance of truth can be subverted so easily by the desire to fit in with the community. Case in point, I was recently on a message board and a user posted that atheists should recognize the “cultural value” of religions. I responded that culture has no inherent value to me and the goodness of beliefs is not related to how many support them or how long they persist. I claimed that I will decide my values. He wrote back with some nonsense that I can’t do that because I “don’t rule the world.” Anyway, I was more interested in what he said in a later post. He said that his “problem with being an agnostic” is that “IT’S NOTHING SPECIAL AT ALL. AND I NEED SOMETHING TO FEEL ALL WARM AND SQUISHY ON THE INSIDE.” He goes on to ask agnostics and atheists if they feel that they should have religion because they currently have “no traditions,” “no fun stories to tell,” and “no organization or comradery [sic] among [their] members.” I was shocked that someone would say such things. I mean, I could understand if he was to accept camaraderie without thinking, but he seems to consciously want to believe in a god just to have something in common with other people! I just couldn’t believe that someone would choose a religion this way on purpose.
To try to make him see the absurdity of this, I used an example of the German people living under Hitler. (Although comparing your opponents to Nazis is very cliché on the internet, I felt the example was apt.) Have you ever seen videos of a Nazi rally? Have you seen the thousands of people carrying banners, giving the Hitler salute, and shouting in unison? Are they focused on reality or camaraderie? Camaraderie! Are their focused on their values or cultural values? Cultural values! Do these values turn out to be good to them or bad to them! Bad to them! If you have ever seen those videos, you know that culture cannot define real goodness. Those people had such a sense of purpose! They had no doubt that what they were supporting was right! But they were wrong, just like most religions are wrong. No matter how “warm and squishy” people feel, it doesn’t mean that the values they support will be good to them.