A few days ago I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and happened across a 9/11 conspiracy claim. The owners of the World Trade Centre had apparently taken out insurance against terrorist attacks mere months before fundamentalists flew 747s filled with passengers through the upper floor windows. Foolishly I commented to the person sitting next to me “Look at this. It’s probably not true anyway”. This resulted in a reaction I was not expecting, or prepared for.
“Why are you such a skeptic?”
Somehow, and suddenly, not accepting every claim at face value was as a negative trait – a flaw in my character. The fact I am not supremely gullible was used to insult me. Why is that? Why is asking simple questions to determine whether a claim is true or not so wrong? I was perplexed.
I tried to explain that accepting claims without question leaves you vulnerable to manipulation, fills your head with irrational nonsense, can adversely affect your future decisions – often with harmful results. This did not satisfy my interlocutor, who replied:
“But why do you care what other people think?”
In my opponents eyes it’s seems to be better just to let people believe whatever they like – consequences be damned. If people want to believe the owners of the World Trade Centre orchestrated the death of thousands to make billions of dollars from a fake terrorist attack in an elaborate insurance fraud, who was I to judge?
Except I wasn’t judging. I was merely questioning the claim. Did the owners really take out terrorist insurance months before the 9/11 attacks? If so, was this just prudent risk management or were they preparing for the attack they had planned all along? You see, even if they had taken out terrorist insurance it does not demonstrate the claim they concocted, planned, financed, or executed one of the most diabolical cases of insurance fraud in history. That claim requires vastly more evidence than just an insurance policy.
There was something else at work here too. My conversational partner is mildly religious and I suspect wants to believe in belief. If others can be permitted to believe something to be true without being challenged, then so can they. Weirdly this is the kind of relativism we’re often told is a major weakness of the atheist position being used to defend religious faith.
However, I cannot simply let people believe whatever they wish. Beliefs inform actions and actions have measurable effects on the world we live in. Bad beliefs will result bad decisions with bad consequences.
So why should I care about what people believe? Why should I care when little girls are shot in the face because they want to learn things? Why should I care if Muslim fundamentalists behead apostates? Why should I care when Christians pressure the government to discriminate against their own citizens? Why should I care if people believe abortion is evil because “the soul enters the zygote at the moment of conception”?
Why should I care? Really? You actually need to ask that question?
I want everyone to be able to live freely and comfortably without the fear they will be shot for attempting to learn something. I don’t think people should have their heads cut off because they changed their minds. I believe the government should act fairly and equally towards all of its citizens. I believe there are case where abortions, even in the most tragic of cases, are necessary. I care because I wish to prevent suffering, persecution, inequality, and death in this world. I care because I am a compassionate, empathic, human being.
If that means I have to rudely question people’s claims when they expect to be taken seriously, then so be it.
@SecuLawyer Luckily not. BTW, I’ll be creating new videos when I get my new laptop.
@peace_way23 Keep telling yourself; eventually you’ll believe your own lies.
“@Michael_Flora: No one is an atheist ten seconds before an orgasm” // Yeah - my wife thinks I’m a sex god.