Daniel Dennett (YouTube - Daniel Dennett--Breaking The Spell (talk at Caltech)) a philosopher who attempted to expose the many inconsistencies of religions once complained that he is chastised the most not by the believers, but by non-believers. His most vehement critics were other atheist philosophers who did not think that the incoherence of religion should be exposed.
Before I lose my readers once again, let it be clear that this thread is not about Dennett and not about the atheist philosophers who chastize him. What I wish to get it is a much deeper concern to us all. Namely, should those of us who do know the truth share it with the ignorant?
Those who criticize Dennett think that he is simply wrong to assume that people would be liberated and enlightened as a result of knowing the truth. Far from becoming free to live their life being true to themselves, they would be destroyed by the disturbing discoveries. Why is that? Because people have an emotional reaction to all that they observe, and when what they see is unpleasant, they become deeply saddened. Would it really be good to awaken them from their slumbers and reveries when their false beliefs make them happy? It seems doubtful to me.
The question that I have in mind is, do we truly want to destroy the most popular myths of society, such as the belief in the potency of the individual, true love, god, immortality of the soul? As for love, what I mean specifically is the romantic fiction that most teenagers hold dearly that there is one true soul-mate for them who will make them happy in all possible ways? Do we want to take this away from them? As for the potency of the individual, consider the following cases; motivational speakers across the country preach the message that if you can puit your mind to the task, you can do anything. For example, the Secret (YouTube - How Can I Make A Six Figure Income? David W Bevan) teaches the public very persuasively that they can literally get what they want by BELIEVING that they can do it. If this truly leads people to be self-confident and successfully convince themselves that they are as capable as they'd like to believe they are, do we want to strip them of such an empowering conviction? With regard to God and immortaility of the soul, what if we are dealing with somebody who subscribes to Rick Warren's ( YouTube - Rick Warren: Living a life of purpose ) dictum that God is all one needs in his life. What if it truly is the case that the belief in God and in immortality is what inspires the person to be strong and together. Should this be taken away?
Finally, for the sake of the general principle, consider the case of a father who has incurred amnesia and mistakenly regards a woman who is not his daughter as his beloved child and continues to do so till the dying breath. Would it truly be better that he be informed of the reality of the situation?
With all that has been said hitherto, is there any reason to believe that the ignorant should be informed? It must be urged that knowing the truth leads to inner peace as well as prevents us from making mistakes. It prevents us from making mistakes because we are simply more informed of how we wish to live. One acquires inner peace as a result of a belief that his beliefs are true. If one earnestly believes in a falsehood, his mind-set would not be at all different from that of the person who earnestly believes in a true statement. This will continue to be the case until the person who believes in a falsehood is forced to discover that his views are not true. Yet, what if such a person is never informed of the falsity of his views? Dennett would say that it is too late, the cat is already out of the bag. If we do not expose his false beliefs, he will have to learn the hard way simply because it is difficult to avoid information that debunks the popular myths in the 21st century. But is the cat truly out of the bag? It is true that people often are forced to question their implausible beliefs for the aforementioned reasons, however, they often have the will power to give themselves hope to continue believing in what they want to believe in. For the very least, the evidence against the popular myths is inconclusive as it does not meet the standards of a strict proof, as such proof is not at all available outside of mathematics and logic. Hence, this means that no statement can be conclusively refuted and it is possible for the person of faith to find inspiration to believe in any absurdity, should he be resolute and self-disciplined enough in the regard of wilfull ignorance.
Truly how far can one go in the regard mentioned above? How much can one deceive himself? In order for this question to be answered, it should be noted that all actions are followed by their consequences. A person who has false beliefs, may incur negative consequences as a result of such beliefs. In some cases, it is safe to say, this serves as a compelling reason why he should not have such beliefs. Can one truly be hit over the head numerous times or collide with the moving trucks and proclaim to be alive and well? It appears doubtful. For the very least, no strength of will shall grant us immortality, or even immunity from the acutest of pains. Man obeys the laws of nature, not the other way around. The assertion that it is the other way around is wishful thinking and a manifest appeal to magic. The superstitious, the ignorant, the vulgar, and the archaic have hitherto maintained that they can change the world by mere incantation. By simply wishing any particular entity into existence and out of this sprang the the belief in miracles which to this day is endorsed by all the prevalent religions of the world. The life and ministry of Jesus as depicted in the Christian book of dogma is the case in point. It is true that such beliefs are absurd and only the most ardent men of faith will have the self-discipline to endorse them with earnestness of heart, yet I return to my previous question; should they be awakened their slumbers, or left asleep? It seems to me that in some cases, it is inevitable that people know the truth. For the very least they must know that they cannot will themselves back into existence after they dive off the edge of the Sears Tower, or that they cannot buckle a moving truck upon impact. In some cases, no degree of self-deception shall entail contentment. Yet, the most important question is, are the popular myths in this category? Or is it possible to endorse obviously false beliefs about such matters which would conduce to happiness of the individual in question more than true beliefs? If it is possible to endorse such false beliefs, then the question is, how much self-discipline is required for one to have strong, nearly unshakeable beliefs about such matters? Are such beliefs easy enough to form that the pleasure they lead to in the end would outweigh the consistent effort one must put forth to establish the beliefs in question in the first place?
At this point I do not wish to voice my judgment regarding this problem. All I want to say is that it might be the case that it is better for the ignorant to be informed, and it might be the case that it is better that they would not be informed. Perhaps even an intermediate point between the two solutions is desirable, whereas in some cases they should be informed, in others they should not. For now, lets just say we should not dogmatize as I have full intentions of leaving this inquiry as open-ended as it could be.
*Note, "I am an atheist but..." was the phrase initially coined by Richard Dawkins to describe non-believers who protest against the exposure of the absurdities and harmfulness of religions.