1. The uncritical attribution of malignant design
I know a man who is paranoid. I don’t mean he is sometimes anxious that others are out to get him, or that he is occasionally dramatic about threats. No, he is paranoid, which means he observes a phenomenon, and then projects onto the unseen backstage of that occurrence a malignant conspiracy, without evidence, and as a matter of routine. He is certain of the conspiracy he sees. He has no moments of uncertainty about his interpretations, no doubts like the rest of us struggle with.
We underestimate the strength of the paranoid view. We should not think the conspiracy theorist simply looks at the evidence the rest of us see and mis-interprets it — no, quite the opposite. He does not need evidence of any kind. The existence of evidence for a malignant design in one instance does indeed fuel his delusion in the next instance, but the absence of evidence today does not diminish his paranoia tomorrow.
Because it is bred in his bones. It is the color of his glasses, not the color of the world. The conspiracy theorist is seeing his own soul, draped over the contours of the world.
Paranoia has nothing to do with intelligence, or education, or training in critical thinking. The man I know is smart and terminally degreed in the sciences, and quite successful in his field.
Again, as I have said so many times, the world-view is not a cognitive product. It is a product of the heart, and will absolutely overwhelm the cognitive faculty, for a whole lifetime. But it appears, from the inside looking out, like a cognitive product. We all think we are seeing the world through the lens of pure rationality.
What is wrong with the paranoid heart? How did it come to be?
Forgive me a little amateur psychoanalysis. We see in the external universe the mirror of our own soul. The child who is not loved well, the child who suffers the manipulations of selfish adults, is formed in the soul by these acts of his narcissistic caregivers. He is designed.
He is not peaceful around his keepers. He learns early they will use him or neglect him for their own pleasure or laziness. He must care for his own survival — if only emotionally — at a much younger age than any child should have to feel the weight of his own existence. At the plastic stage he is takes on an impression, which becomes the shape of his seeing, forever.
To him, it is normal. Most of us see around us a landscape where threats stand out from the benign backdrop. The paranoid, though, does not see a threat as an occasional looming exception against a pattern of nuetrality; he sees threat, period. It’s all threat to him. It requires no effort, nor is it the result of any discursive reasoning. He thinks you see it, too.
2. The uncritical attribution of benevolent design
In the same way, the child who is loved is formed by those acts of love. His soul is formed in a million little ways by mom and dad’s selfless regard and care, so that as he ages and becomes more self-aware he sees internally — as he looks at his own mind and emotions and will — he sees in his internal landscape the result of conscious, benevolent design. And when you see good things in your character that you recognize came not from yourself but from someone who loved you without self regard, you feel gratitude.
When you then look out on the world and see beauty and goodness, it is normal to see these as benevolently intended by some overarching personality. It is as normal as the backside of your eyelids. It requires no effort, nor is it the result of any discursive reasoning. You think I see it too.
3. The vision of design in Paul
That text in Romans has always puzzled me — you know the reference — where Paul says that those who look out on the universe and see God’s great works but do not give Him gratitude or acknowledge Him start down a slope that ends in perdition. Notice he is not making a cognitive argument. Paul is saying their hearts do not function, they do not feel gratitude, and this lack of personalistic perception is the definition of corruption.
I’ve never been comforted by all the talk of “awe and mystery” from some religionists. We are supposed to behold the starry skies, say these, and feel the “awe” of the greatness of God, and worship Him and so on. Well, awe only prompts the right response when we perceive the great work as for us. I can be awed by the huge, even beautiful universe but still only feel far away from this huge, distant architect.
4. Conclusion, as usual: love is all
I’m convinced the biggest determinant of world-view is the depth and skill of parental love, and the only thing that changes world-view in the adult is love. Personal love, within friendship, enfleshed stuff.
When you have been loved you perceive love. When you have not been loved like you should have been, you have been abused and used, and bitterness and fear are normal to you. The conspiracy theorist is an extreme degree of this, of course. I’m not saying you are either a theist or paranoid. I’m only illustrating a spectrum by its two extremes.
None of us are capable of stepping outside of what looks normal to us and “proving” by arguments to ourselves or others an alternate reality, any more than we are capable of seeing around our corneas by straining harder. Since we cannot do this for ourselves, it is worse than useless to try and get others to do the same.
What we can do, is love. Only love touches the heart, and only the heart touches the mind.