"...I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me..." [Deuteronomy 5:8-10]

Thursday, November 16, 2006


For the longest time, I've been trying to come up with a word to describe the "Religionist" behaviour of saying and believing things which are blatantly untrue.

Take for example the recent changes to the law regarding rape in Pakistan. Until now, four male witnesses were needed for a charge to succeed. Otherwise, a woman complaining of rape would face the very serious charge of adultery. This brough an utterly ludicrous reaction from some Fundamentalists:

Islamist lawmakers walked out of parliament, boycotting the vote, after leader Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman told the assembly the change to the law would encourage free sex.

"This is an attempt to create a free sex zone in Pakistan," he said.
The mind boggles.

Now, Mr Fazal-ur-Rehman isn't lying here, because he fervantly believes what he is saying to be true. But what does one call this extreme level of cognitive dissonance?

I recently came across a description of what is known as "Tolstoy Sydrome" which seems to fit the bill. It's named after description by that great Russian author:
"The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him."
The concept of accepting two mutually contradictory opinions (that tightening rape laws will lead to free sex) was beautifully described by George Orwell in his seminal novel 1984, in his description of Doublethink:
"The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. ... To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies—all this is indispensably necessary."
So, I guess, I don't need a new word. Doublethink and Tolstoy Syndrome (and good old cognative dissonence and blind ignorance) sum up the "religionist" mindset very well.

There's a great example in a recent opinion piece in the wonderfully named Texarkana Gazette, from a chap called Derrell Murphy:
"The liberal Secularists’ actions [in banning school prayer, the public display of the ten commandments, et al.] have overthrown centuries of established legal precedent, based on the Bible."
Whether you believe that prayer in school is bad or good, or the ten commandments should be displayed in public or not, the idea that the legal precedents involved have been "based on the Bible" is just nonsensical. It's wrong, false and untrue. But people keep believing it, because they are told it repeatedly, and because to accept that this is wrong (which as I may have mentioned it is) would demolish their entire argument.

But hey. Such is the world we live in (and, to be fair, and long lived in).


No comments: