I recall. Springtime 1946, probably a weekend or Easter vacation because it was mid-afternoon and I was alone in my room doing -- something. On the radio, a hellfire-and-damnation preacher bloviating about “stupid, evil heathens”. In those days programming was eclectic. News, popular music, comedy, talk, opera, baseball, preaching -- including diatribes like the one I was hearing, but not listening to -- would be broadcast from time to time on the same station.
I’d had my Bar Mitzvah a few months before and had sworn that I would attend services every Saturday. I never did. However, I believed that a benign God supervised the world and knew of me, so I prayed occasionally. I believed that evil was punished and playing by the rules was rewarded; that sex was dirty and that good girls (which included almost all of them) wanted only to marry clean-cut, hard-working guys and have babies; that strictures (mostly) on sexual behavior and on sexual content in all media were necessary. Everyone I knew believed such things, even those who ignored them with obvious impunity.
I believed the sanitized history taught in school, for example: that “the one God” realization had saved humanity from the foolishness of polytheism, that the Crusades were a glorious campaign to rescue the Holy Land from Moslems and that the US was the most virtuous of nations with no stain on its history, except slavery which had been corrected by the civil war.
I was aware of blemishes. There were the horrors of WWII and the Holocaust, the segregation and lynchings in southern US, the evidence that too often suffering (disease, injury, privation) is inflicted on the most innocent while gratification (wealth, power, pleasure) is awarded to the most evil. I had recently discovered details of just how despicably my country had abused the Indians. I was learning more about the prejudice against and maltreatment of immigrant and ethnic groups. Very troubling. But these were exceptions, weren’t they? Anyway, there were the reassuring sophistries: “God loves you!”, “Good triumphs over evil, if not in this life, then the next.”, “We cannot understand the mind of God.”, “You have to have faith!”
After a while, just who the “stupid, evil heathens” were penetrated my consciousness, -- the Chinese. The Chinese? What the $#%&? I had assumed that he was ranting about witchcraft or voodoo or cannibalism or something like that -- but the Chinese! That ancient culture, admired for its sophistication, its resilience, its respect for learning and for its strong family values. A people who had endured and suffered so much in the war! Absurd! Crazy!
If that voice of authority could be so stupidly wrong how about others? During the following week or so I questioned everything I’d grown up with, the very bases of everything I knew. What if there wasn’t even a God? Thinking about it, I realized how much that would explain: why good luck and bad luck, joy and misery are, obviously, apportioned with such little regard to virtue or wickedness; how God could be on both sides in a war or an election; how sometimes “God’s work” is murder and massacre; how the will and the characteristics of God differed from time to time, from place to place and from one religion, pastor or cleric to another; most of all it explained why the “mind of God” could not be understood.
With these recognitions the cacophony of contradictions in my brain abated, almost vanished. What a relief! Something like the relief that is felt when one is in a very noisy place and suddenly the noise stops. It felt that good!
So my bullshit detector was born. It’s far from perfect, but it’s always awake. Politicians, commentators and talking heads, spokespersons, advocates, -- nothing that they say is to be accepted without examination. Teachers, advisers, scientists can be wrong.There are experts and there are “experts”; one needs to be alert. Holy men, sectarians, futurists and anything labeled “THE TRUTH” are especially suspect.
Faith has been completely replace by skepticism and by belief based on evidence and/or experience. In this way outcomes conform better to expectations. Seeing how often the faithful are betrayed in their faith, this way is more comfortable.
I soon realized that the most prolific sources of the most egregious bullshit are those which: establish a dogma, discipline heretics and use bullshit to overwhelm dissent; for example the monotheistic religions. Their objective is to spread and intensify faith and they sense that ignorance is its most fertile soil. Their sophistries and their propagation of nonsense -- such as the superposition of childish myth over cosmological and biological evidence -- are tools for dumbing down and controlling the people. The much extolled, good that they do pales to insignificance when compared to the, usually ignored, conflict and suffering that they cause.
This article will be in my forthcoming book:
"Unexamined Belief, Tyranny of the Fanatical and other CONTRIBUTIONS to the Cacophony"