Rationalists - do you give any magical thinking a break?

Setting: Hard core capital A Atheist/rationalist/secular Humanist here, as are my wife and kids, and several of our closest friends. One of the firmest elements of my being is that I reject all supernatural. I am friends with many folk who believe an various things, but I do not respect or understand that portion of the person that thinks/believes irrationally.

Recently I and a similar thinker met several religious people at a party. They weren’t pushy with their beliefs, but did say some stupid things like if you pray a steel rosary long enough the beads will turn to gold. One woman’s 10-11 yr-old dtr had died a couple of years past, and she told about her daughter sending down a rainbow to communicate with her.

None of us heathens said anything to these people, but later on we were discussing it with others, and some accused others of being unnecessarily mean in criticizing the mother of the dead girl.

I’m surprisingly confused about this. On one hand, the belief that a dead person is communicating is as ridiculous and worthy of mockery as steel turning to gold. But I found myself willing to give a pass to a grieving parent. But then I wondered if that path slid down to atheists in foxholes.

A significant portion of our family’s mindset involves the rejection of supernatural, and the celebration of the natural. If you feel similarly, do you draw any lines?

I personally give it a lot of breaks. If it’s going to offer any hope or consolation to a grieving parent, they can believe in whatever the hell they want, and I’ll shut my mouth about it too. Similarly, if you’re religious in any version of belief that empowers you against some shitty circumstances, then, by all means, go for it, and I won’t waste my breath on trying to convince you otherwise. If, on the other hand, you’re claiming rationality and trying to integrate it into any belief system, that’s when I won’t shut up.

I cannot believe that I am immune to magical thinking, however much I might like to be. So I don’t have much room to judge.

Beyond that, as a mental health professional I give a lot of magical/fuzzy/nonrational thinking a break. Objective reality is rarely objective.

Yea, I cut them some slack. If they really believe that stuff, anything I say to criticize (or even discuss) would just be an attack. Plus, I’m swimming in a sea full of people like this. To criticize/discuss would be a full time job.

Slippery slope? Maybe. I think that comes down to how convinced you are in **your ** *faith *(or lack of) more than how you respond to someone else’s beliefs.

Sorry if I wasn’t clear - I was asking about how/whether you discuss such things among other nonbelievers. At the party, we were all “sorry for your loss” and basically just listened to the goofy stuff, grunting politely. But when we were discussing it later among ourselves, different people apparently felt differently.

Some folk criticized others for talking critically about others who weren’ t there, while the others said such discussions were necessary for nonbelievers to figure how to function in a world of believers.

Personally, someone can believe whatever they want. My preference is generally that they keep any magical thinking to themselves. And I’ll go to great lengths to avoid confronting them. But privately (at least inside my head), I’ll consider magical beliefs ridiculous.

“Hard core capital A Atheist/rationalist/secular Humanist here.” Same here, for the record.

I don’t see what’s wrong, either morally or objectively, with criticizing her belief while at the same time understanding why she’s susceptible to it. Criticizing should not be conflated with blaming.

IFFF the reason for this discussion is the latter part, then I suppose it is time well spent.

If the goal/focus is talk about how wrong and stupid some other people are, then IMO at best it is a waste of time and at worst that’s a behavior that is not exactly a good thing.

Not that I don’t enjoy a good bitchfest/thats stupid every now and then. But if its becoming a habit, I would personally try to change it.

I have discussed this sort of thing in company, always trying to be polite (as in, not like in the Internet) and non-disparaging.

Except with the aliens building pyramids thing. Then it’s open season for mockery.

But in anything else, yeah, the placebo effect is real, and whatever gets you through the day is fine.

Yeah - this really touches on what happened. I was just shocked at how quickly this blew into a big deal, with people drawing all kinds of different fine lines. Some folk focused on not wanting to be the type of person who says negative things. Others saying if they cannot express their views in that setting with those people, where could they?

Myself, I tend to be as critical and unyielding as anyone. But I pissed off the commenter by saying I would likely “give a pass” to a grieving parent. And after, I found myself wondering whether I really felt that way and, if so, why.

Magical thinking is junk food for the brain. A steady diet of it is terrible for you, and if enough people use it all the time society will be a lot worse off. Sometimes, though, if you’re dealing with a tragedy or stressful situation, a little of it it can be a real comfort.

Which is just another way of saying:

Bolding mine.

Hey, if the broken beer bottles didn’t come out that’s a start :slight_smile:

Now back to the bolded part.


Gotta bitch about something? Blow of some steam. Call someone a moron…blah blah blah. Do it on net with random strangers.

Something is not right about that sentence. How could you have been mean to the mother if you didn’t say anything? Did you give her dirty looks or something?

Well, if you pray an iron-55 rosary long enough it’ll turn into stable manganese.

Yeah, I got nothing.

My best guess is that he was thought of as mean-spirited in the sense that he begrudged the mother her “magical thinking” rather than mean in the sense of being rude to her face. Whether that is cromulent usage of the word “mean” is debatable, but it is the only interpretation that makes sense to me.

I think one should pick ones battles wisely…I perhaps would say “thats very nice” or something similar…losing a child, as compared to aliens and pyramids…I dunno, different brush required…

Reminds me of when people start talking about horoscopes (anywhere!) …theres a subject you can get your days worth of Krazy in…

“what sign are you?”:cool:

I’m curious what you think about an article like this: Why “Magical Thinking” Works for Some People.

If superstitions or magical beliefs do in fact “work,” through a sort of placebo effect, is it wrong to disdain the people for whom they work?

Well, whatever the meaning, I’m a hard-core rationalist, but not an evangelical one. If a mother wants to think her dead child is sending rainbows, I’m not going to purposely burst her bubble. Unless, that is, she insisted that I weigh in on the matter.

If that’s giving someone “a break”, I guess I can live with that.

None whatsoever. [knock wood]

If, god forbid, I lost my son, who knows what crazy shit I might do to cope? Maybe not believe he sends me rainbows, but maybe get divorced, shave my head, start smoking crack. . .I don’t want to speculate. Should that happen, I really wouldn’t want my friends clucking their tongues and calling me stupid behind my back, even if I never knew. So I wouldn’t do the same to someone else.

You can be mean to someone behind their back. Watch:

Speaking as a “hard” atheist and skeptic, that commentator is an asshole. I mean, half points for not being a dick about it to her face, I guess, but if someone tells you about how they just lost your child, and there’s some part of you that’s going, “I can’t wait 'til she’s gone so I can talk about how stupid her grieving process is!” then you’re kind of a garbage person.