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September 10, 2007 | by  | in Opinion |
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“The Power Of Wishful Thinking”

“We love the truth, but we love our fantasies even more,” might well be man’s epitaph. His stubborn refusal to put aside childish beliefs will probably be the death of him. Ours is the Age of anti-Reason, whose logical endpoint, barring a second renaissance, is destruction.

Two thousand years of Christianity have been based on a lie, in which countless millions have blithely and willingly believed, notwithstanding its absurdity—in fact, because of its absurdity, as Tertullian proclaimed:

“The Son of God was born: there is no shame, because it is shameful. And the Son of God died: it is wholly credible, because it is inappropriate. And, buried, He rose again: it is certain, because impossible.”

He might have added: “and because something perverse in us makes us want to believe nonsense.”

In our time, Christianity of the woolly Anglican kind is waning, but in its most blatantly irrational fundamentalist form is resurgent. The revelation in her newly-released letters that Mother Teresa felt she was praying to no one all those years might give some cause for pause, but most will rationalise her misery as a “long dark night of the soul” that just happened to be very, very long. They want to believe what Mother Teresa said she believed. Similarly, Kerry Packer’s testimony, after being dead for 15 minutes, that “there’s nothing there” will never begin to compete with stories of seeing loved ones beckoning from the other end of a shiny white tunnel. The latter is what folk want to believe.

Meanwhile, as noted in earlier extraordinarily popular columns by me, Islamic nonsense is also rampant, furnishing incontrovertible evidence of the link between wishful thinking and the committing of atrocities.

Men in the prime of their youth blast themselves and those around them to bloody oblivion, thinking they’ll wake up in paradise being serviced by beautiful virgins.

The very same western “intelligentsia” that makes excuses for Islamo-Fascism has its own strain of apocalypsia—global warming. Because it wants to believe man will pay for his success and his pride in it.

Same old same-old! In the early 15th Century, the Taborites of Bohemia predicted that Christ would return to earth in February 1420. Believers in the prophecy braced themselves. The month came and went—nothing happened. But the non-event didn’t deter the Taborites. They announced that Christ actually had returned, but had decided to join Elvis in hiding somewhere in Karori. Armed with this knowledge, they embarked on 32 years of civil war against those who disputed it. Not to be outdone, the astrologer Johann Stöffler predicted that catastrophe would rain down on Europe in February 1524.

As the date drew near, mass hysteria took hold, much as it is doing now over global warming. Expecting a huge flood, many people built boats or moved to higher ground. The flood never came. But all over the world, folk carried on believing whatever they wanted to believe.

The Puritans were especially enthused about an imminent apocalypse, notwithstanding Jesus’ singular failure to keep any of his previous appointments, and exported their enthusiasm to America, where it’s had a ready audience ever since.

At the forefront of contemporary wishful thinking are smelly students and their lecturers. Name any current insanity … anti-Americanism, “Mordi” spirituality, New Age mumbo-jumbo, the cult of uncertainty, ugly wimmin’s Studies, deconstructionism, postmodernism, outright nihilism, anthropogenic global warming, MBA courses … you name it, it thrives in academia and was probably spawned there. It has smelly students and lecturers all over it, wanting to believe it because it’s fashionable—and because it’s rubbish.

Am I then stricken with apocalypsia myself, believing that destruction born of stupidity and perversity is inevitable?

Not necessarily. Men have free will, and as one of the greatest men ever, Robert Green Ingersoll wrote, “It is a blessed thing that in every age some one has had the individuality enough and courage enough to stand by his own convictions.”

This was not, note, a license for wishful thinking:

“A fact never went into partnership with a miracle. Truth scorns the assistance of wonders. A fact will fit every other fact in the universe, and that is how you can tell whether it is or is not a fact. A lie will not fit anything except another lie.”

There is probably no one reading this who is not beholden to one or more of the forms of wishful thinking touched on above. But in case there is such a one, and as a challenge to the rest of you, let me close with Ingersoll’s invocation to independent thought, in the hope that you’ll be inspired to break free from mindless conformity to trendy subjectivism:

“Surely there is grandeur in knowing that in the realm of thought, at least, you are without a chain; that you have the right to explore all heights and depth; that there are no walls nor fences, nor prohibited places, nor sacred corners in all the vast expanse of thought.”

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  1. Lolcademics says:

    This is just getting ridiculous. If Lindsay Lohan-Perigo is just going to write columns insulting students and the university (when he’s not even a student himself!) then what is the point of him even writing for Salient? He should just get a blog.

  2. Michael Oliver says:

    Perigo’s Celeb Gossip Column

  3. Bung says:

    A lecture on wishful thinking from a man who is completely mired in the dogma spewed forth by a charismatic cape waring wanna-be Hollywood screen writer, whose philosophy has had various large trucks driven though its fundamental tenets.
    Truly this is unintentional comedy at its finest.

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5404826610265339909

  4. CMR says:

    The inevitability of the responses to Mr Perigo’s columns are staggeringly sad. The three posts to date all attack/ridicule him. After the vituperation which followed his recent columns I have to ask myself, why bother? This university is a swamp of non-thinking losers.

    I regard the parallel drawn between religious fervour of the “end is nigh” variety with the mass-hysterics surrounding climate-change superbly apt. Who is capable of debating this tenet?

  5. Mitch says:

    CMR, have you been to http://www.solopassion.com? Sign up mate!

  6. Madeleine says:

    Your citation from Tertullian is a common mis-construal of his position. Credo quia absurdum is in fact a rejection of Fideism (which is a strawman as very very few Christians hold to it yet it is popularly put forward as the mainstream position on faith and reason by those seeking to attack an easy caricature). Tertullian did not claim that we can believe something because it is absurd, his point was that the Apostles would not have asserted or promoted the belief in the resurrection of Christ unless they had witnessed it and were certain of it.

    Even Wikipedia concedes this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Credo_quia_absurdum

    My second issue with your article is your erroneous suggestion that the Puritans believed in an imminent return of Christ. Ian Murray, in his study of Puritan eschatology, shows that the main view of the Puritans was a form of Post-Millenialism that maintained that the entire world had to be converted to Christianity (including the Jews) which is a view that is entirely at odds with the claim that a return of Christ was or is imminent.

  7. Madeleine says:

    I hate not being able to edit my posts on this board.

    That last sentence should have had “before Christ would return” after (including the Jews).

  8. Matt says:

    In addition to Madelein’s comments I would add this quote from David Lindberg, Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin from “God and Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter between Christianity and Science.”

    “Tertullian is frequently quoted as having said of the resurrection of Christ, I believe because it is absurd. However, scholars have adequately established first that this is a misquotation, but more importantly that Tertullian is making use of a standard Aristotelian argumentative form, maintaining that the more improbable an event the less likely is anyone to believe, without compelling evidence, that it has occurred; therefore, the very improbability of an alledged event, such as Christ’s ressurection is evidence in its favour. Thus, far from seeking the abolition of reason Tertullian must be seen as appropriating Artistotelian rational techniques and putting them to apologetic use.” [emphasis added]

    Is your beef with Tertullian that he is appropriating Aristotelian thinking Linz? ;-)

  9. Bung says:

    “CMR, have you been to http://www.solopassion.com? Sign up mate!”

    It’s likely from the use of the word ‘vituperation’ that whoever is behind the moniker CMR is probably already familiar with ‘solopassion’ and its ilk. Anyone else interested should check out the mental horsepower on display here (http://www.solopassion.com/node/3164#comment-39198), the reasoning going on here only makes me think that they are a bunch of mixed up sad immature haters who mistake themselves for penetrating thinkers (their views on the treatment of animals seem to demarcate them as budding serial killers), but this may be your thing…

  10. CMR says:

    I have been unmasked.

    Thank you, Bung and Mitch.

    I am already a subscriber to SOLOPassion and am a veteran member of Libz!(1997.)

    Now let’s hear the vituperative screams of the loose lefties who now sadly inhabit my alma-mater! I was once proud of having received a couple of degrees from VUW. I received my degrees at a time when a nominal grasp of English was lauded and logic was respected and pervasive.

    I hear my son speak of the apparently crucial issues of the day on this campus, invariably they embrace prejudice-ridden emotions with as much depth as a bumper-sticker. Sadly this is a final visit to the magazine. I revert to my earlier refrain..”Why bother?”

    (Readers of Salient could well do to ponder the meaning of the title…no, forget that, I give up now!)

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