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Happiness and Suffering as the Basis for Morality
Posted: 16 December 2007 06:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]  
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Antisocialdarwinist - 16 December 2007 11:12 PM

You may be right, Salt.  My experience with religious people is limited to looking in from outside.  The Christians I know seem pretty well adjusted and happy from that perspective, and I tend to take them at face value.  Maybe it’s all an elaborate facade.  But don’t you think, if pretenders were as common as you say, that sooner or later they’d sort of realize they were all pretending and give it up?

We’re talking here about American religiosity, right?

People construct elaborate pretenses in order to pull off scams of various kinds. I did not mean to imply that they were all pretending “just for the fun of it”, like six-year olds playing in a fort they built under the kitchen table by draping some blankets over the top.

Consider the phishing scam (no relation to the Jesus fish you see on automobiles). Consider the common grifter, who’s just trying to make a buck. People do not pretend to believe in order to convince themselves, they do it for some sort of gain, but it may not be financial. The TV preacher is obviously scamming us, but the people who send him their hard-earned (and not abundant) money? What are they getting? Aren’t they just pretending to be part of that glitzy guy’s entourage? They’re pretending to be “saved”, and these folks are more like the six-year-olds under the kitchen table. I think they emerge from their pretenses periodically and experience some heavy-duty shit. That’s about the time they get wasted and beat up their spouses. Then they pretend that their object of faith can absolve them.

The moderates, as I say, like pretending that they are all having such a good time because of Jesus’ grace, and this saves some of them the trouble of figuring out what drives them so hard to have a good time. They pretend that this is what God has ordained for them. Pretend, pretend, pretend.

Some people pretend to believe in God when what they really believe is that they can determine the future, like the End-Timers and the Dominionists. Or the Quantum-bleeping-woo-woo types.

Antisocialdarwinist - 16 December 2007 11:22 PM

Speaking hypothetically, (hypothetically a person can find happiness through faith) I think your argument is sound.  After all, by the time someone reaches the point where they’re supposed to be in heaven, they’ll never know they didn’t actually get there.  That’s the difference between believing in heaven and believing there’s a diamond buried in your backyard.

Yeah, but this has nothing to do with ethics, and has more to do with drug addiction. I think people should pay rational prices for their drugs, which is why tax exemption for churches should be eliminated.

[ Edited: 16 December 2007 06:39 PM by Traces Elk]
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Posted: 16 December 2007 06:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]  
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derekjames - 16 December 2007 10:40 PM

What I was on about was the contradiction in Sam Harris’ assertion that increasing happiness and reducing suffering should be the basis for morality, and his criticism of belief in falsehoods that increase happiness and reduce suffering.

It would only appear to be a contradiction if one focuses only on the individual’s own happiness and suffering. From my reading of Sam’s books, his point is that belief in falsehoods leads an individual to act in ways that reduce others’ happiness and increase others’ suffering.

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Posted: 16 December 2007 09:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]  
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Salt Creek - 16 December 2007 11:35 PM

The moderates, as I say, like pretending that they are all having such a good time because of Jesus’ grace, and this saves some of them the trouble of figuring out what drives them so hard to have a good time. They pretend that this is what God has ordained for them. Pretend, pretend, pretend.

Maybe they’re not completely pretending, but it’s more like they’re exaggerating their belief and how good it makes them feel.  Sort of like a woman who doesn’t completely fake her orgasms, but exaggerates them, squirming and squealing and carrying on excessively.

Salt Creek - 16 December 2007 11:35 PM

I think people should pay rational prices for their drugs, which is why tax exemption for churches should be eliminated.

I agree with you there.  100%.

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Do-gooding is like treating hemophilia—the real cure is to let hemophiliacs bleed to death, before they breed more hemophiliacs. -Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

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Posted: 17 December 2007 04:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]  
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Antisocialdarwinist - 17 December 2007 02:24 AM
Salt Creek - 16 December 2007 11:35 PM

The moderates, as I say, like pretending that they are all having such a good time because of Jesus’ grace, and this saves some of them the trouble of figuring out what drives them so hard to have a good time. They pretend that this is what God has ordained for them. Pretend, pretend, pretend.

Maybe they’re not completely pretending, but it’s more like they’re exaggerating their belief and how good it makes them feel.  Sort of like a woman who doesn’t completely fake her orgasms, but exaggerates them, squirming and squealing and carrying on excessively.

Salt Creek - 16 December 2007 11:35 PM

I think people should pay rational prices for their drugs, which is why tax exemption for churches should be eliminated.

I agree with you there.  100%.

ASD, SC has brought up a subtle psychological point. Adherence to any religion is tricky, to say the least. Deep down in the core of your body you know better. Or most do, I suspect. When your faith is lacking, you surround yourself with people who have strong faith, to prop yourself up. When making everyday life decisions, you often need to ignore the falsely constructed “reality” of religion. You constantly seek out magical signs pointing to God’s existence and Him seeing you and your life decisions favorably. You pray for faith. You pray for understanding of completely absurd scriptural instruction. You pray you’ll make it through another day as a Christian. You pray you even are a Christian. You never know with anything resembling certainty that you will in fact end up being saved from eventual eternal hellfire. It’s a highly neurotic way to carry on with life, in which pretending becomes an essential survival skill. If you can’t pretend, you can’t be religious.

Salt Creek has never been religious, but he’s observed enough of it to know all of this, without having had the personal experience to phrase it quite this way. Please correct me if I’ve mischaracterized your observations, S.C.

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Posted: 17 December 2007 07:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]  
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homunculus - 17 December 2007 09:47 AM
Antisocialdarwinist - 17 December 2007 02:24 AM
Salt Creek - 16 December 2007 11:35 PM

The moderates, as I say, like pretending that they are all having such a good time because of Jesus’ grace, and this saves some of them the trouble of figuring out what drives them so hard to have a good time. They pretend that this is what God has ordained for them. Pretend, pretend, pretend.

Maybe they’re not completely pretending, but it’s more like they’re exaggerating their belief and how good it makes them feel.  Sort of like a woman who doesn’t completely fake her orgasms, but exaggerates them, squirming and squealing and carrying on excessively.

Salt Creek - 16 December 2007 11:35 PM

I think people should pay rational prices for their drugs, which is why tax exemption for churches should be eliminated.

I agree with you there.  100%.

ASD, SC has brought up a subtle psychological point. Adherence to any religion is tricky, to say the least. Deep down in the core of your body you know better. Or most do, I suspect. When your faith is lacking, you surround yourself with people who have strong faith, to prop yourself up. When making everyday life decisions, you often need to ignore the falsely constructed “reality” of religion. You constantly seek out magical signs pointing to God’s existence and Him seeing you and your life decisions favorably. You pray for faith. You pray for understanding of completely absurd scriptural instruction. You pray you’ll make it through another day as a Christian. You pray you even are a Christian. You never know with anything resembling certainty that you will in fact end up being saved from eventual eternal hellfire. It’s a highly neurotic way to carry on with life, in which pretending becomes an essential survival skill. If you can’t pretend, you can’t be religious.

Salt Creek has never been religious, but he’s observed enough of it to know all of this, without having had the personal experience to phrase it quite this way. Please correct me if I’ve mischaracterized your observations, S.C.

Pascal recommended this pretense, arguing that eventually it would become real (that is a bastardization of his argument, but gives the gist of it).  What you are describing from the outside in a diagnostic way is, from the inside, the struggle that is required for a person following a path of religious belief/faith.  For some, it actually works and they become true “saints” (although most won’t be recognized as such by their religion, in fact may be excommunicated).  This is the faith based equivalent of the struggle a person on a path of knowledge must undergo to learn how to distinguish true from false impressions, to learn to reason, to learn about their own mind (“know thyself”), and so on.  No free lunch.

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Posted: 17 December 2007 07:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]  
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homunculus - 17 December 2007 09:47 AM

Salt Creek has never been religious, but he’s observed enough of it to know all of this, without having had the personal experience to phrase it quite this way. Please correct me if I’ve mischaracterized your observations, S.C.

It’s a developing idea, homunculus. I just want to apply it to my observations of “believers” and see where it goes. I am not completely committed to it, if you know what I mean. An unwilling subject cannot be hypnotized.

blank stare

Nevertheless, this is starting to bear some fruit. I make a distinction between individuals who engage in human or animal sacrifice, and “what we like to call moderate believers”. Even clay4him is kind of moderate by those standards. He, for example, expresses certainty that preaching vigorously affords him something more than simply agreeing to the tenets of his religion. He gets a real buzz out of this “role-playing” game. I don’t know to what degree he is “pretending”; only he knows that. I feel rather certain at this point that a significant portion of it is pretense, and I think he gains lots of prestige in his chosen social group for engaging in this pretense. His knowledge of the texts, however, cannot be faked. What one makes of a text is subject to all sorts of mysteries, no?

I am pondering the levels of this game, because I have pretended to be interested in the tenets of this or that faith in order to examine these people up close. It is a very strange experience when you look at it that way. I never tried to maintain the pretense as far as preaching the doctrine to other people; one has to study some scripture extensively to do this. I cannot fake being “enthralled by scripture”, and I don’t know if other people can. I would like to try to make the distinction between “being enthralled” by it and actually “believing the truth of it”. Being “enthralled” by it seems more to be what Clay is experiencing. I don’t think most Christians have really examined the contents of their “beliefs” to know whether or not they “believe” them. And the ones who have, e.g., popes and TV preachers, are quite cynical about it.

both girl and boy were glad
one kid had it worse than that

‘cause then there was a boy whose
parents made him come directly home right after school
and when they went to their church
they shook and lurched all over the church floor
he couldn’t quite explain it
they’d always just gone there

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Posted: 17 December 2007 07:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]  
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burt - 17 December 2007 12:42 PM

For some, it actually works and they become true “saints” (although most won’t be recognized as such by their religion, in fact may be excommunicated).  This is the faith based equivalent of the struggle a person on a path of knowledge must undergo to learn how to distinguish true from false impressions, to learn to reason, to learn about their own mind (“know thyself”), and so on.  No free lunch.

I may understand what you are proposing here, burt. I think this is probably a useful distinction. I’ll stick to my premise, though, that such people have merely achieved an accurate response to the stream that is coming in on their senses (true versus false impressions). I part company with you when you assert that they are in touch with a “higher” consciousness.

Let’s only say that such “saints” appear really to have been willing to engage in “self” sacrifice. As far as your mumbo jumbo about what the “self’ is, in their case, one can only see it from the outside. Learn to recognize a “selfless” person when you see one. You know, true versus false impressions, no free lunch, and all that rot.

I admit that people can be “enthralled” by powerful language tricks (you know, the kind the Bene Gesserit are so good at.) An unwilling subject cannot be hypnotized.

In my experience, most of what we tend to call “believers” are “individuals” who have given up a part of them"selves” to the thrall of some hypnotic spell or other, but haven’t yet gone completely “selfless”. “Selfless” persons appear to be fully hypnotized, or merely asleep, when seen from the outside.

[ Edited: 17 December 2007 08:11 AM by Traces Elk]
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Posted: 17 December 2007 08:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]  
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I’m reminded of a poster session at the Cognitive Science Society last year (I’m a PhD student in Cognitive Science). The title was something about epistemological justifications for various beliefs. Basically they presented subjects with a list of phenomena, and asked them two things: 1) To what extent did they believe in the phenomena? and 2) What was their justification for that degree of belief?

The list included things like the resurrection, evolution, bigfoot, UFOs, creationism, and other various scientific and pseudoscientific phenomena as well as some conspiracy theories.

The results tended to show that people who tended to believe in science and shun pseudoscience justified their beliefs based on reason, evidence, etc.

Those who held spurious beliefs justified them based on things like “makes me feel good”, “helps maintain family and social relationships”, and so on. Basically, it seemed as if these people knew that the justifications for their beliefs were weak, but their emotional and social needs overrode the need to hold a strong rational justification for those beliefs.

I have one friend in particular who is very intelligent, and very self-aware, and he has essentially admitted to me that he knows the justification for his belief in god is weak, but he simply would not want to live in a world without god (which he views as bleak and empty), so his emotional needs usurp his need to hold logically-consistent beliefs.

I also think it is very easy to intentionally mislead oneself and believe self-delusions on a small scale. We do this whenever we rationalize undesirable behavior, like procrastinating or engaging in an overindulgence. We use justifications which are weak, but are often able to fool ourselves in order to indulge an emotional or physical need.

So I think willful self-deception, for both petty and large beliefs, is much more common and much easier than many people here are willing to admit.

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Posted: 17 December 2007 08:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]  
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It’s an interesting theory.  It seems to “fit,” and there is even some anecdotal evidence to support it.  But how to test it, to determine just how commonplace it really is?  Christians pretending to believe probably wouldn’t admit it if asked.  I spent a little time searching to see if any studies have been done on this topic, but I came up blank. 

I did find this gem which talks about “Conviction Emulation:”

We call this strategy “Conviction Emulation”, but the name is more complex than the method itself. Basically, conviction emulation is the strategy of pretending to have total faith until total faith is actually generated. Let us explain how this works in practise.

Let’s imagine that you have a goal to do something which you have never done before. For example, imagine that you want to write a movie for the cinema. At present, you might not have faith in yourself or your abilities. You might constantly tell yourself how foolish such an idea is, how difficult it is to write a movie and how small the chances of success are. This lack of faith actually prevents you from taking action and getting the movie written because you don’t want to waste your time chasing empty dreams. Thus your lack of faith becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The movie never gets made because you never get around to writing it.

The strategy of conviction emulation simply says this: Pretend that you have what it takes to succeed. Pretend that your success is assured. Pretend that you have already got all the talent, discipline and skill it takes to write a movie.

So you do. You spend some time “getting into character” and then you act as if your success as a movie writer is assured. You put the hours in, write the pages and send it off to a movie producer. Not because you had genuine unswerving faith, but simply because you emulated that kind of faith. Your emulated conviction allowed you to take action and get the job done.

This is a very practical application of the conviction emulation strategy, and the power of faith is always practical. If you want to get a better job, just have faith that a better job is out there, then go find it. If you can’t muster the faith, pretend that you already have the faith and act on that emulation. Similarly, if you want to increase your income by ten per cent, don’t wait until you feel genuinely convinced of your ability to earn more. Simply pretend that you are convinced and act on that pretence.

Pretending to have faith might sound strange, but it really works. It opens up the possibility of a manifestation taking place, and as you follow your emulated faith with action, results happen automatically.

This is why religious and spiritual leaders throughout the ages have told their followers to imitate them. Because by imitating a spiritual leader who had total genuine faith, the follower himself taps into the power of conviction emulation and results happen just as they would with real faith.

But the magic doesn’t stop there. For as soon as a result has been achieved by acting on emulated or “pretend” faith, your real faith is boosted a notch. For example, the movie you wrote based on pretend faith may lead you to a legitimate writing assignment.

If I read this correctly, pretend belief is a step in the journey to actual belief.  It seems reasonable to assume that one might get stuck at this stage, and that there might be quite a few Christians stuck at this stage.  But again, this is still pure speculation.

(edit) How ironic that this person sees spiritual leaders as having “genuine faith,” when in reality they’re more likely to be faking it for purely exploitive reasons.

[ Edited: 17 December 2007 08:51 AM by Antisocialdarwinist]
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Posted: 17 December 2007 08:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]  
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derekjames - 17 December 2007 01:16 PM

he simply would not want to live in a world without god (which he views as bleak and empty), so his emotional needs usurp his need to hold logically-consistent beliefs.

Ding! I would urge your friend to examine WHY he does not want to live in such a world.

derekjames - 17 December 2007 01:16 PM

So I think willful self-deception, for both petty and large beliefs, is much more common and much easier than many people here are willing to admit.

I’ve been acknowledging that in many of my posts. Of course breaking through the self-deception is difficult, but the costs of holding on to the deception are much worse for all of society.

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Posted: 17 December 2007 09:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]  
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1)At the beginning of the journey of cognition and perception, the one walking on the mountain path will look at the mountains along the path and have the cognition that this is the beautiful scenery of mountains.

2)While half way along the path, the one walking the path will begin to notice and have the cognition and perceptions that these mountains are not mountains.

3)Upon reaching the end of the path and the top of the mountain, and thus making a turn back to the starting point, the one walking will once again have the cognition and perception that these are still the mountains.

A)At the begining of the path there is the perception and cognition of ‘belief/knowledge/truth’.

B)Halfway along the path, the perception and cognition of ‘belief/knowledge/truth’ is not the ‘belief/knowledge/truth’.

C)Upon reaching the top of the mountain and thus returning to the starting point of the path, the perception and cogntion of ‘belief/knowledge/truth’ is once again still the ‘belief/knowledge/truth’.

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Posted: 17 December 2007 09:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]  
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derekjames - 17 December 2007 01:16 PM

. . .
I also think it is very easy to intentionally mislead oneself and believe self-delusions on a small scale. We do this whenever we rationalize undesirable behavior, like procrastinating or engaging in an overindulgence. We use justifications which are weak, but are often able to fool ourselves in order to indulge an emotional or physical need. . . .

Did you learn this in Ph.D. school, derek? Most people learn it in 9th-grade sociology class, even if they’re underachievers. Teach us something valuable.

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Posted: 17 December 2007 09:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]  
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Antisocialdarwinist - 17 December 2007 01:39 PM

If I read this correctly, pretend belief is a step in the journey to actual belief.  It seems reasonable to assume that one might get stuck at this stage, and that there might be quite a few Christians stuck at this stage.  But again, this is still pure speculation.

That little “gem” of yours has a bit of flim-flam in it, largely because it never mentions important features of screenwriting such as “writing talent” or “business savvy” (which you need to select an agent) and “contacts in the industry”, which nobody can fake.

Religious faith waits on a railway platform for a train that never arrives. Eventually, it just starts walking down the tracks, largely because it feels sure that the train will never come, and still has to go somewhere.

Eventually it walks into a tunnel and says, “the sky has disappeared”.

[ Edited: 17 December 2007 09:32 AM by Traces Elk]
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Posted: 17 December 2007 10:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]  
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Salt Creek - 17 December 2007 12:53 PM
burt - 17 December 2007 12:42 PM

For some, it actually works and they become true “saints” (although most won’t be recognized as such by their religion, in fact may be excommunicated).  This is the faith based equivalent of the struggle a person on a path of knowledge must undergo to learn how to distinguish true from false impressions, to learn to reason, to learn about their own mind (“know thyself”), and so on.  No free lunch.

I may understand what you are proposing here, burt. I think this is probably a useful distinction. I’ll stick to my premise, though, that such people have merely achieved an accurate response to the stream that is coming in on their senses (true versus false impressions). I part company with you when you assert that they are in touch with a “higher” consciousness.

Let’s only say that such “saints” appear really to have been willing to engage in “self” sacrifice. As far as your mumbo jumbo about what the “self’ is, in their case, one can only see it from the outside. Learn to recognize a “selfless” person when you see one. You know, true versus false impressions, no free lunch, and all that rot.

Amazingly enough, we are pretty much in agreement.  Being in touch with a “higher consciousness” doesn’t have to imply that consciousness is anything other than a “higher” form or operation of ordinary human consciousness.  (As, for example, the difference between somebody who knows the rules of calculus and somebody who actually groks them and so can operate creatively with them (used that word just for you Salt).) 

Salt Creek - 17 December 2007 12:53 PM

I admit that people can be “enthralled” by powerful language tricks (you know, the kind the Bene Gesserit are so good at.) An unwilling subject cannot be hypnotized.

In my experience, most of what we tend to call “believers” are “individuals” who have given up a part of them"selves” to the thrall of some hypnotic spell or other, but haven’t yet gone completely “selfless”. “Selfless” persons appear to be fully hypnotized, or merely asleep, when seen from the outside.



Just watch out for the gom jabbar!  Something I forgot to say before was that most people are lazy, they want the easy way whether it is faith, or knowledge.  Students in math classes want easy formulas to memorize and resist the idea that learning how to prove a theorem isn’t something that can be learned by rote.  Religious believers want easy faith, they don’t want to have to struggle with doubts and so on.  So they organize into self-reinforcing communities where they all say things that support each others beliefs and they they try to get everybody in the world to agree with them. (Actually, most human groups operate this way.)  People who prefer reason scoff at believers for not listening to reason, and those who prefer faith can’t understand how rationalists can ignore the evident value of faith but what is common to both is that for the most part neither appreciates the necessity of real work.

An unwilling subject can be hypnotized, so long as they are not aware that is what is being done to them.  The triad of techniques: hypnosis, brainwashing, conditioning always lurk in the background—in one sense we are all subject to these as we are encultured.  Only later does it become a matter of working back out of the fantasy world to discover something hopfully closer to reality.  Hypnosis: the use of suggestion; brainwashing: sensory/intellectual overload with the same ideas presented in multiple guises; conditioning: stick and carrot, threatening basic instincts.  When a person is aware of the inputs involved in these and recognizes the internal effects they have, it is possible to avoid being “enthralled” and study things more objectively.

[ Edited: 17 December 2007 10:11 AM by burt]
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Posted: 17 December 2007 02:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]  
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Salt Creek - 17 December 2007 01:29 PM

(from this thread)  I think there’s a right way and a wrong way to ask the question about pretense, and it has to do with the way you construct the concept of “belief” itself. By considering the component of “belief” that is “pretense”, one may come to a fuller understanding of “believers”. The evidence that faith is not unshakeable is before you, ASD, and you have only to examine it. The evidence that professions of faith involve a certain component of pretense is before you as well. The implications of this are clear.

Agreed.  But the question isn’t whether faith is unshakeable, the question is how widespread this phenomenon of pretend belief is.  Your theory, if I understand it, is that it’s quite common, that “true” faith is virtually nonexistent (hence the mootness of Derek’s point about the goodness of faith vis-a-vis Harris’s happiness test). You may be right, but the evidence I’ve seen so far is anecdotal.  You wouldn’t want to draw a conclusion based only on anecdotal evidence, would you?  No matter how appealing the conclusion might be? 

I really can’t think of how to phrase the question to get a straight answer.  It’s unlikely that someone pretending to believe would ever admit it.  As you say, they would probably take such a question as an attack.  Maybe the question could be phrased in such a way that it’s not perceived as an attack, and the answer gleaned by reading between the lines of the response.  Or we could ask more ex-believers like homunculus, although one could argue that their experience is atypical.

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