The Power of Illogic

Lost among the impassioned finger-pointing that has accompanied the opening of “The Da Vinci Code,” the blockbuster movie based on the blockbuster book, is an alarming trend gripping our society’s discourse (or lack thereof): the inclination to justify one’s position without offering reasonable justification.

Organized religion has been pulling this trick with no small measure of success for centuries. It’s ironic that the heretical Dan Brown, the author of the book in question, and his acolytes seem to have adopted the same rubric. Brown’s potboiler has become a worldwide phenomenon in large part because he insists that his tale of murder, conspiracy, and art-history investigation is based on fact. No matter how much credible evidence surfaces that suggests his source materials, which he regards as unimpeachably authentic, are probably fraudulent or, at best, unreliable, he and his true believers insist that his novel — a work of fiction — is built on a foundation of inarguable fact.

The Brownies who would rewrite the Jesus myth find themselves echoing the justifying sentiments of those who wouldn’t dream of revising the Catholic version of history. Both camps declare that their position is true because they believe it is true, and to question their belief is disrespectful and divisive.

Much of the mess America is in at the moment can be traced to our President’s unerring faith in a certain book that, some would argue, ought not to be taken literally. Bush and his cronies — and millions of church-going voters — believe the Bible is fact, just as many “Da Vinci Code” fans believe their favorite story is grounded in truth. The Republicans use His Word (as transcribed by His apostles) to dismiss science and the knowledge it brings us. Patently foolish positions come of this — creationsim; the rejection of global warming — and those who criticize or even question the wisdom of these conclusions are cast as apostates “out of touch” with “mainstream” America. Popular support for invading Iraq was drummed up from the pulpits of our nation’s churches, which portrayed Saddaam as the Devil’s man on the ground and Baghdad as a modern Babylon. It was (and still is) impossible to engage prelates and their flock on the firm turf of logic and reason. They, like most Americans, prefer to splash about in the swamp of Personal Belief, where illogic is just as legitimate as logic.

In a world where every idea and assertion has legitimacy simply because someone believes it to be true, every notion falls victim to relativism. It’s not important to argue clearly and convincingly when nonsense is accorded as much value as sense.

What’s important is to remind critical thinkers how precious one’s beliefs are, that they’re like a prized possession handed down through generations of family. The power of illogic used to fade in the harsh light of classical inquiry. These days, it blinds us all.

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