Ideology, Religion, and Respect
My former student Carolyn Homer has written a characteristically thoughtful and passionate post arguing that Trumpism is akin to a religion. Others have argued that Wokeness is essentially a religious movement, or that both Evangelicalism and Wokeness are. And one can find critiques arguing that economics is a religion or that libertarianism is a false faith. Secular humanism can be a religion too. These arguments do not all claim that ideologies are religious in the sense that they take positions on the superhuman power of God, but that ideological movements are often similar to religious movements in their organization and in that their belief structures ultimately reduce to assumptions that are matters of faith in the relevant communities.
Humans use essentially the same cognitive processes to derive their religious beliefs and their ideological views. Because individual experience is limited, many of our beliefs are based on decisions to place faith in the conclusions of others. Often, we believe that groups of thinkers are worthy of epistemic deference because we know people in these groups and believe based on our first-hand experience with them that their beliefs are genuine and that they are unlikely to be trying to deceive us about their views. This helps explain why people often have views similar to those of other people in their community. It is not just that we are more exposed to the views of our friends and neighbors (though that is surely important as well), but also that we tend to trust our friends and neighbors. It also helps explain why individuals who feel less comfortable socially in a community are more likely than others to reject that community’s ideological or religious beliefs.
I do not mean this merely to be a claim about other people’s beliefs. It is very much a claim about my own beliefs. For example, I have great confidence in my own views of climate science, specifically that the best evidence indicates that anthropogenic global warming is occurring. But that is not based on any detailed study of the models that climate scientists use. Rather, it is based on an assumption that climate scientists are unlikely to be engaged in a global hoax. This is a belief that I can hold with great confidence even though
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