Why Bad Beliefs Don't Die

by garybuss 5 Replies latest jw friends

  • garybuss

    Here is an a short article I liked a lot. It explains the dynamics we often see in our former groups.


    Why Bad Beliefs Don't Die
    Gregory W Lester asked "Why Bad Beliefs Dont Die" (November December 2000). Some other answers are admirably explored in Expecting Armageddon: Essential Readings in Failed Prophecy, edited by Jon R. Stone (Routledge: New York and London, 2000). First of all, bad beliefs are usually part of a complex ideological system; for example, when Jesus Christ did not usher in the Last Judgment on April 23, 1843, as preacher William Miller had predicted, his followers drew on many other shared beliefs and experiences (for instance, the importance of avoiding sin and the catharsis of banding together in prayer groups) to comfort themselves amidst the failure of Miller?s prophecy. Thus, instead of being deprived of a core belief, the adherents usually feel they have simply lost one of many equally important beliefs. And while one prediction may fail, others will be fulfilled by random chance alone, so long as the prophetic leader is shrewd enough to make multiple (and flexible) forecasts of future events.

    Secondly, when beliefs are disconfirmed, their adherents simply revise them spontaneously and retroactively; for example, if the world did not end physically on a certain day, then it must have ended spiritually, and we the believers are now the enlightened citizens of the world beyond. (Or, perhaps, we did not ?deserve? to have the prophecy fulfilled; thus, the prediction was rendered false by our own failure, not that of the prophet.)

    Finally, beliefs survive best when their adherents feel they are part of a cohesive community; an ideologue who gives his followers a sense of ?belonging? has already won the battle against skeptics who seek to disconfirm his teachings. His followers can simply point to all the other members who still endorse the beliefs, prophecies, or principles that have not (yet) been disproven. The more of these people there are, the greater the ?proof? that the leader speaks the truth. ?How could so many of us all be wrong?? the believer will ask.
    Skeptics who criticize illogical group beliefs need to be aware of these realities. ... More importantly, skeptics need to remember that the people who buy into such beliefs are seeking a sense of meaning in their lives. The reason they so viciously resist the assault of logic is because they cannot bear to be stripped of their sense of belonging. Their devotion to the charismatic founder of their group makes them feel both protected and privileged, often for the first time in their lives. . .

    Jason Zweig
    Investing Columnist
    Money Magazine
    New York, NY

    SKEPTICAL INQUIRER March/April 2001 page 65



  • under74

    Interesting. Thanks for that Gary...it's nicely put. I think I might have to look up the book mentioned.

  • garybuss

    I spent my time trying to understand the how and the why of it all. I got quite an education.

    My most interesting study was the Christian Adventist movement and how they handled the various disconfirmations and grew and prospered in spite of it all. Obviously the Witness publishing writers have been researching the Second Advent movement as well since they copied every strategy used by the Adventists.

    The Witnesses really don't have anything they can call all their own. Even their Jewish Kosher diet translated into blood medical treatment ban is not unique to them. The current partial blood treatment ban may be unique. I guess stupidity on that level is not very original when I think about it.

  • NameWithheld

    Try this link ...


    Very good article!

  • baysixforme

    I enjoyed reading this post.

    By sheer coincidence I have just had an exam today where one of the questions was to outline the processes that underpin false beliefs. During my research one of the main conclusions that I drew was the misperception of randomness: e.g Carl jung and how his theory of synchronicity that he attributes to an unknown force accounts for the many coincidences that occur far more frequently than one might expect and its many similarities to how religous adherents claim that coincidences are acts of god.

    According to sociocognitive theory, false beliefs are maintained quite often and especially if the individual has invested vast amounts of time, money, energy etc, usually in an attempt to save 'face'. This is known as cognitive dissonance whereby the individual desiring to alleviate discord, will elevate or extoll the virtues of said practice and downplay the weaknesses.

    Facinating subject.


  • garybuss

    "Skeptical thinkers must realize that because of the survival value of beliefs,
    disconfirming evidence will rarely, if ever, be sufficient to change beliefs,
    even in "otherwise intelligent" people. "

    This is surely something I have found true.

    The knee jerk defense of the assumption called belief is why I have come to the conclusion it is never advisable to confront a person. Almost always, loss of rapport has come from confrontation, and loss of rapport was the opposite of the goal.

    I have not noticed a relevance of the size of the reaction to the size of the assumption. Some items of assumed reality are small to me, like the Witness elder's reaction to the information showing that Adam and Eve were created in the same year according to the Watch Tower Publishing Corporation. That item was HUGE to him, but minor to me.

    It's a great article. Thanks for the link.

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