We have all been conditioned

My previous post provoked an excellent debate. What I want to do now is amplify something I mentioned as little more than a closing remark in the post, because it’s really this remark that lies at the heart of the matter of why I’m so convinced there’s life after death and why athiests are so convinced there isn’t.

It’s the issue of conditioning. We have all been conditioned. Sometimes it’s as overt and obvious as those kids on the Jesus Camp documentary, indoctrinated by their teachers to believe the craziest ideas. And sometimes it’s so subtle that you carry it from the moment you learn it till the moment you die, without ever realising you were imprisoned by it. And the way to escape from it is to question everything, especially why you believe what you believe. Conditioning happens through every means the world throws at us to learn something, be it the media, education, religion, etc. These things are not evil in and of themselves, but we are conditioned every time we take in information and fail to question that information. Every time we get lazy in our thinking.

I’ve been waking up gradually in recent years, and I’m probably nowhere near fully woken up. A while back I wrote a post called “A Christian perspective on Jericho” (the TV series, not the Biblical city), which is an example of how I had started, at that time, to question the idea of Capitalism, something that we in the West are entrenched in. I never questioned Capitalism before, because we’re all Capitalists – so it must be the right way to live, right? Rubbish! That’s like living in 1940s Germany and saying, “The Nazis must be right, because everyone around me is one.” Capitalism is all about the ownership of things and the accumulation of wealth to the detriment of all else, including the welfare of the planet. School is shaped around the idea that the greatest course of action is for a student to stay in education as long as possible, so he can be as qualified as possible, so he can get the best possible job, and make the most money. We are encouraged to spend our lives pursuing the vacuuous quest of the accumulation of wealth. Nine years ago, I was faced with a crossroads. On the one hand there was a low-income job that I knew I would enjoy greatly, and on the other was a more stressful and problematic job that offered more money and status. Thank goodness I chose the former, but the choice was not easy, because I had been conditioned to think that the latter was what I was supposed to pursue and that not choosing it would have been some kind of personal failure. Conditioning! It’s bloody everywhere, and it’s tricky stuff to see!

Now, I’m going to bring into sharp focus what I think is one of the most subtle forms of conditioning. Science has taught us to think like this: “If you want me to believe something, show me verifiable proof. Without proof, I will not believe.” It sounds correct, doesn’t it? Deny it and you might as well start believing in flying pigs, eh? Oh, if only it were that simple, but it’s not, as I will demonstrate …

A man starts off by contemplating his death. He says, “There’s no evidence of an afterlife, so I won’t believe it. Death is the end.” So far, we are agreed. Then he considers the implications of his belief. He realises, ultimately, that his life will be robbed of meaning by his death. It will be as if he never lived, all his memories and experiences lost. He takes it further, and realises that one day, billions of years in the future, the same fate will befall the sun, and it will be as if the human race never existed, all our great achievements and knowledge forgotten. So what does he do? He shrugs and says, “That must be the way it is. Wishing otherwise doesn’t make it so.” Maybe he tries again, and asks himself, “Is there life after death?” And he answers, “There is no evidence, so I cannot believe it. No.”

Here’s where I differ. I give my mind permission to see the absurdity of the idea that the human race is meaningless, to contemplate the mockery this makes of our every achievement. And I allow this new information become a factor in the question. So, I ask it a second time: “Is there life after death?” Yes! When the alternative turns the human race into the greatest cosmic joke of all time, of course there must be life after death. The alternative is absurd beyond imaginging.

We have been conditioned not to allow the full range of our rationality to determine our view of reality. This is the inadequacy of the scientific method. It says that while a thing may be true, the human being has no right to believe it unless he arrives at that belief through an examination of observable evidence.

If you think the only road to truth is through observable evidence, you are thinking from inside a prison of your own making. Learn to see the wider picture of human rationality and break free. Don’t blind yourself with the idea that it’s evidence versus flying pigs, when there’s a hell of a lot more that goes into good clear-headed thinking.

2 thoughts on “We have all been conditioned

  1. Andy

    Surely the only ones that believe that the idea of no life after death would be absurd are certain humans with certain beliefs. I don’t agree that it makes a mockery of our achievements if there isn’t life after death as theres always another generation to appreciate and use and learn from them.
    At the end of the day it makes more sense from a human perspective to believe in some sort of afterlife, but that in itself is not reason enough to believe there is one, because it’s absurd that it all ends after death.
    I think that the bottom line is that humans need to believe in something greater than themselves. When you look up at the night sky and see all that vastness you say that there must be something more than this. I suppose that backs into the other question about life on other planets.
    It’s no more absurd to believe that we are the only lifeforms in the galaxy/universe than it is to believe there is/isn’t life after death. In all that vastness of space we are only lifeforms……………..now that is absurd!

  2. One thing I need do clarifty is to distinguish emotional need rational deduction. I agree it’s wrong to change your view of reality just because you have an emotional need for it to be different. That is, after all, why I stayed an agnostic for a couple of years rather than a couple of minutes. I’m not flexible to that degree.

    Only when I came to see the irrationality of the implications of atheism did I come to understand that I had grounds for dismissing it. That’s really what’s under debate here, if you read the original post closely, not human neediness. In my thinking: It makes no sense for enlightenment and depression to go hand in hand. (Now, I know some folks aren’t agreeing with me about the depression side of things, but from where I sit, that’s how it lies.)

    “It’s no more absurd to believe that we are the only lifeforms in the galaxy/universe than it is to believe there is/isn’t life after death. In all that vastness of space we are only lifeforms … now that is absurd!”

    Agreed (it may surprise you to learn). There was a time when I dismissed extraterrestrial life because of a certain Bible doctrine, but I’ve changed my mind on that one.

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