It has little to do with one’s Intelligence Quotient (IQ). It has a lot to do with one’s Credulity Quotient (CQ), which I invented and explained earlier in this Blog. It has everything to do with what I am presenting here, for the first time in human history and world literature : the Convertibility Quotient (CQ2). Call it the ” Readiness to Doubt” scale, if you’re more comfortable with that.
There are, naturally, two extremes on the CQ2 scale, and different degrees within it. At the extreme right end of the scale are those I have … baptized “BOTBs” (“Believers on the Brink”). In case you’ve forgotten, these are people who may have been gung-ho believers in the past, but who at some point realized that a particular belief was just too silly to swallow. It could be the seminal belief in Jesus’ Resurrection, or – just as incredible – His Ascension into Heaven or His Mum’s Assumption. Or perhaps the central rite of Catholicism, the Mass, at the heart of which is the cannabalistic consuming of Jesus’ body and blood ! Or some other outrageous assault on rationality. These people no longer accept such beliefs but still hesitate to take the final step into atheism. With the help of reflections like those in this Blog, they hopefully will finally find the courage to reject the whole ball of wax. At the other end of the scale, way over there on the left, are the Unshakeables. Don’t even think of trying to convert them ! They KNOW they are right, and nothing a renegade ex-priest become an atheist (like myself) can say, will ever make them change their mind. In between the two extremes, there are multiple degrees of convertibility, indicating different levels of permeability to doubt.
I think I know why there are believers totally immune to religious doubt. I have already spoken here of people who have had a NDE (“Near-Death Experience”) and claim to have had – even though medical personnel may have declared them clinically dead ! – a mystical experience involving visions and voices as real as anything they had ever experienced before, that left them so profoundly affected that nothing could ever again make them doubt the existence of God and of an afterlife. Others base their unshakeable faith on something less dramatic, but almost as convincing. Often it takes the form of recovery from a supposedly terminal illness or fatal accident, but without the NDE. It may even be a vicarious experience, concerning a close relative who survived such … close shaves. Less dramatically, it may be founded on the positive apparent answer to a desperate prayer – often addressed to the Virgin Mary – that made them not only eternally grateful but forever convinced as believers.
There are a number of implications in all this. One is that if the origin of our religious beliefs is in none of these profoundly personal experiences but – like mine – in our family and social traditions and environment, one can, as I did, learn to question and even abandon our faith. Often however it requires more courage than many people can muster. Another implication is the futility of many debates between atheists and non-atheists, and the ineffectiveness of arguments on both sides. The Five “Proofs” of St Thomas Aquinas, for example, are at best mere reinforcement and confirmation of already firm religious convictions. I doubt that they ever converted anyone. People are far more susceptible to emotional experiences than intellectual elucubrations. It may be fun to watch Richard Dawkins and Cardinal Pell contradict each other, but their arguments serve only to confirm pre-established convictions. I don’t even try to convert the gung-ho. My target is the BOTB. I prefer to engage battles I have a fighting chance of winning.