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The Dangers of Belief

27 April 2008 No Comment

I’ve written in the past on how we as humans are hard-wired to "believe", that is accept things without question. There have been volumes written on the inherent tendency we have to "trick" ourselves. I’m sure there are evolutionary advantages to this in some ways but that’s not the focus of this post.

This post is about the tangible dangers of unquestioning belief + group dynamics. Two recent articles highlight what I’m talking about:

  • a)’Penis Thefts’ Cause Panic In The Congo [LINK]
    • "Congolese police have arrested 13 suspected sorcerers accused of stealing men’s penises after a wave of panic and attempted lynchings triggered by reports of the witchcraft."
  • b) Thieves cut off holy man’s ‘magic’ leg [LINK]
    • "Police are hunting two men who attacked a holy man and chopped off his right leg. The men apparently believed the leg had magical powers. The holy man, Yanadi Kondaiah, 80, claimed that those who touched his leg would be cured of illness or have wishes granted."

The first story speaks for itself. Somehow there’s a market for severed penises. Great.

The second I heard about on the Skeptic’s Guide the Universe [LINK] and is even more bizarre. First if the leg was indeed magic, why didn’t the holy man just wish the attackers away? Or why didn’t he just cop to it in the midst of the attack and say "listen, I was just kidding, my leg’s not really magic". And how stupid were the attackers? Was the plan to just take the leg, then open up shop elsewhere with a severed rotting appendage? Once they got back to their hideout, how long before they realized "hey, this leg is stinking, can we wish away the smell?".

These are extreme examples but it just goes to show the lengths believers will go to. And guess what…YOU’re a believer too. There are things which you hold as truths. They might not be magic legs but there are things. Just because they’re more mainstream beliefs, doesn’t make them accurate. Remember up until a few hundred years ago folks thought the Earth was flat [1].

So you must ALWAYS question and in my instance, I’ve even forgotten WHAT to question. Beliefs become so ingrained that they subtly become fact.  Case in point; The example I JUST gave of a Flat Earth….is actually a Myth [LINK].

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