I have written quite a bit about how holding faith-based beliefs can and usually does adversely affect one’s ability to perceive reality as it is, confusing attribution with causation. This problem of perception – of what comes from where – is nothing new, nor are faith-based beliefs the only guilty party. The tremendous success of consumer marketing, for example, relies on exactly this confusion: convincing consumers that values they themselves already hold come from, or can be enhanced by, owning the objects or ideas being offered for sale, values which are not inherent in these objects or ideas – in the thing itself – but can be experienced as if they were… by a process of attributing what we believe to the object. For example,
We want to believe that pleasure is simple, that our delight in a fine painting or bottle of wine is due entirely to the thing itself. But that’s not the way reality works. Whenever we experience anything, that experience is shaped by factors and beliefs that are not visible on the canvas or present in the glass. (From the article, How Does the Brain Perceive Art? Wired)
These factors reside in the person doing the attributing and can be rather complex:
Our findings support the idea that when people make aesthetic judgements, they are subject to a variety of influences. Not all of these are immediately articulated. Indeed, some may be inaccessible to direct introspection but their presence might be revealed by brain imaging. It suggests that different regions of the brain interact together when a complex judgment is formed, rather than there being a single area of the brain that deals with aesthetic judgements.
In other words, we may not be aware of what it is within us that is influencing our value judgements and associated beliefs about the source from where that assigned value actually resides.
With this in mind, let us visit the central tenet of religious faith relied upon by so many christian writers on the web: revelation… a transforming personal experience that connects the person to the ‘reality’ of god, what the Encyclopaedia Britannica describes as the disclosure of divine or sacred reality or purpose to humanity. My question returns, as always, to the central point made by those who use revelation as evidence for god: Is it true and how can we know?
I find it really interesting that no one I’ve come across claims to have had a revelation of divine reality from Nergal. Why is that? Well, I’ve had theists explain to me that Nergal is a false god, you see, so it’s perfectly understandable that no one would have such a revelation; there is no Nergal. Well, duh. That no one has ever heard of such a god, aka Erra aka Meslamta-ea, doesn’t even merit any consideration when one is already sure that such a god is false. But is the god false because it doesn’t exist or is it false because I don’t believe it exists? This is not a trivial question and bears an important consideration for gods that people do believe exist, believed to be the very source of their revelation. Can one still have a revelation from a god that one does not believe exists?
The god that is revealed to christians just so happens to be the very same one inculcated throughout their culture. What are the chances that this god – and not an obscure Sumerian one like Nergal – just so happens to be the very one revealed? Might there be a better understanding of what it is that is actually being revealed than to assume a personal disclosure by an cosmic agency hiding in the supernatural? By golly, maybe there is! Maybe – just like is revealed in marketing – the source of this divine disclosure is in fact ourselves, which may explain with – with no need for supernatural personal visitations – why the best predictor of which particular religious belief an individual identifies with is geography. And history. And familiarity.