Aspect Blindness and Personality

I wanted to note these points here following the reading posts by Ibrahim and Sam on the following blogs:



The charge that atheists suffer from Aspect Blindness regarding religion can be just as easily, if not more so, directed at the religious.

I think part the absolute commitment to the religious view is part of one’s personal makeup, but put more generally it is a consequence of certain personalities.

I have had experience of religion. I was raised a Christian, I had doubts in my teens but wasn’t fully aware of the strength of the atheistic alternative (I was agnostic), and eventually came to realise the flaws in the religious view. But, I’ve been around enough religious people to recognise several types. Some are religious by default, as JustBrowsing describes. Some really are strong unquestioning believers that simply reject any alternative, with some element of fear, either of the spiritual consequences, or simply of the unknown. Many are what I’d class as ‘troubled’, in that they desperately want to find something spiritual as a source of comfort and guidance because they have some sort of difficulty with the basic physical world and what they see as all its nastiness – such as crime and ‘evil’, or natural disasters, things that from my point of view I can classify simply and naturalistically as “some people aren’t nice to each other” and “shit happens”. I’m not troubled by the world and its problems and the fact that I can’t fix them all. I’m not saying I’m heartless or fearless – I feel deeply disturbed to witness human and animal suffering, and I’d be as scared as the next person if I were mugged; but I can put these things into context so that I’m not fretting every minute of the day. I don’t become depressed with the state of the world or my personal life. I do have a driving need to learn new stuff, but I’m not disturbed by the lack of answers.

In some cases the religious view is one of ‘blind faith’, the outright unquestioned denial of the possibility of an atheistic view. But in many case I’d describe faith more as ‘tunnel vision’ or ‘aspect blindness’, rather than simply ‘blind’, as a consequence of personality, where critical reasoning is accepted and used, but sufficiently distorted and abused to affirm the religious view.

Maybe I have personality issues that drive me towards a critical questioning and a general scepticism that results in my atheism, and maybe it’s difficult for me recognise it in myself. I’m open to analysis, by professionals or amateurs.

It might be said that I’m this way because I haven’t had a religious experience, and that if I had I’d know. I can’t refute this categorically, but by the same token how am I supposed to know? And how would anyone else know what I have and haven’t experienced? Maybe I have similar ‘spiritual’ experiences, but just as people have different thresholds of pain I have a low threshold of the ‘spiritual’ experience. Maybe that’s all it boils down to, different strengths of ‘zap’ in the brain, and that the brains of those that perceive a stronger ‘zap’ interpret it all anthropomorphically as some superior presence. How would you tell the difference between that and a real religious God invoked revalatory event?

17 thoughts on “Aspect Blindness and Personality

  1. I think that what I would emphasise is that there are lots of different sorts of atheist. Some atheists understand the religious point of view and still reject it, some simply don’t understand a religious point of view. It’s only the latter that I think suffer from a form of aspect-blindness.

  2. Hi Sam,Okay, fair point, just as there are many religious points of view. In this context I would classify ‘faith atheism’ as a separate category, and say that the real debate is between ‘rational’ atheists (based on reason, science and scepticism) and theists that reject reason in regard to their particular belief. Whether atheists ‘understand’ mysticism to the same degree as a theist, I don’t think is that crucial, unless it can be shared and compared – which of course it can’t. In the current state of affairs a non-theist that doesn’t place any significance on mysticism as a means to truth has no way of knowing how real the experience of the theis is; and then of course there still remains the question of the religious baggage that comes with it.With that in mind too, do you see the point I’m making, that aspect blindness in the theist can be likened to tunnel vision, when it comes to using reason. The claim of absolute truth in the belief in God necessarily distorts the use of reason. Whereas in most spheres reason and science cause (or should cause – bad reasoning and bad science apart) us to follow where they lead, with the premise of absolute belief you would not allow reason to lead you to reject it.

  3. Now this sounds much more promising ;-)I think there are parties on both sides that are unreasonable, and I certainly recognise your description of some religious believers as having ‘tunnel vision’ which distorts their use of reason. I just don’t think this applies to every religious believer; in other words, I think it possible to retain intellectual integrity and still have a religious outlook.In that respect I’m very different to Ibrahim. I think it was Simone Weil who once said (I paraphrase) ‘If it came to a choice between Jesus and the truth I would choose the truth, because the truth will always lead back to Jesus. If I chose Jesus instead of the truth I would lose both.’ I believe the same.

  4. Hi Sam,If you choose truth, and you’re certain that will lead back to Jesus, that already presupposes that Jesus and the truth are linked, and that Jesus already contains/represents/is the truth. But why would you think that in the first place? How can you be sure the truth will lead to Jesus?

  5. You can’t! But what you can be certain of, if you do believe that Jesus is the truth, is that if there is a conflict between ‘Jesus’ and the truth, you have to follow the truth… Which is the point I was wanting to make.

  6. A)Ron: How can you be sure the truth will lead to Jesus?Sam: You can’t!But in “the truth will always lead back to Jesus” the ‘always’ seems pretty certain.B)I would expect that for a Christian the premise that ‘Jesus is truth’ is beyond doubt, which would make the conditional redundant:1) Jesus = Truth2) IF (NOT Jesus = Truth) THEN Choose Truth ELSE Choose Jesus3) THEREFORE Choose Jesus, by 1 and 2 (i.e. the conditional is never true, and therefore provides no information)4) THEREFORE Truth = Jesus, by 3 and 1i.e.1) Jesus = Truth would be sufficient to state your view.Can you enlighten me on A or B.

  7. I feel like a comedian asked to explain a joke… (this might actually be an example of the aspect-blindness we’re discussing, but I’m not sure).Anyhow, the point is this:a) Jesus says ‘the truth will set you free’ et cetera;b) Christians (or, let’s say, some Christians) therefore take ‘truth’ as something not to be afraid of, and to be pursued;c) where there appears to be a conflict between truth and [what has so far been understood to be] Jesus then the choice of truth can be defended as being faithful to Jesus, ie the decision is to proceed along the path of truth no matter what (because the faith claim is that truth, whatever it may prove to be, will end up being compatible with Jesus. That’s part of the ‘grammar’ of the faith claim.)I wonder if this is difficult to put across because there’s a transitory element to what the word ‘Jesus’ is referring to, ie ‘Jesus as I understand him to be now’ and ‘Jesus as I might further understand him to be in the future’. In other words it functions as much as an expression of intent or expectation as much as a matter of already concrete understanding. It seems that what you’re wanting to do is to tie the word ‘Jesus’ in the paraphrase down to a fixed and closed sense, whereas the whole point of the paraphrase is that this is precisely what can’t be done. Raises the whole question of religious language again! The more I ponder it, the more I think that this could be a good example of aspect blindness.

  8. Hi Sam,My interpretation of that is…If inerrancy can be shown to be false, then that truth should be accepted above Jesus, if it conflicts with Jesus. But, does it conflict?If inerrancy is false then it is possible Jesus could be false, but as far as we know the Bible could be true with regard to Jesus, even if it’s in error in many other respects. So the falsehood of inerrancy doesn’t necessarily say anything about Jesus, and so doesn’t necessarily conflict with Jesus.If the Bible is the sole source of Jesus (i.e. you discount, say, something like, “I believe in Jesus. The Bible is mereley about him, or backs up my claim.” as opposed to “I believe in Jesus because of the Bible”), then, at best, all the falsehood of inerrancy can say is: that source of Jesus is not reliable (not necessaily wrong), so it would help if you came up with another source.Would you care to expand?

  9. Hi Sam, Ron.I think you guys have posted more on my blog this week than I have :)Ron, Sam refers to us both in his latest post. You win on the naming front. I was labelled ‘humourless’, though I’m reasonably sure that wasn’t meant to imply I have no sense of humor, only that I don’t get it.You got ‘sopisticated’. I’m jealous. I have been trying to follow this debate on the various blogs but have not had enough time…….damn work. Hope I can join in a bit more soon. Keep posting gents.

  10. Actually Gary I most certainly wouldn’t call you humourless, not least because you are willing to have a conversation. I wouldn’t call Ron humourless either, but that’s just because he’s a Manchester City supporter 😉

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