Dogmatic vs Pragmatic: Rise of the Reddit Intellectuals.

I can’t say dogmatic beliefs always bugged me as I was your typical non-practising Christian up until the age of about 13. At that age though, soon after my (voluntary) exodus  from an Anglican high school, things about religion stopped making sense for me. Whilst I didn’t call my atheist then I was definitely without a religion but it wasn’t until some years later that I came across the identifier. For me the process of becoming atheist was one of mounting evidence overwhelming the scripture that was presented to me as gospel truth, pushing me down a path of rational thinking. Since then I’ve tried to focus much of life on evidence based ideals rather than succumbing to dogmatic ideas.

Since then the atheist movement has come a long way with many on and offline communities sprouting up. For someone like me who grew up not knowing any other atheists it’s been great to know that there are so many like minded people out there. Honestly though it’s not like I had much of a hard time with the idea, Australia as a general rule is pretty secular and someone’s religion is never really a topic of conversation. The only time I was close to some potential trouble was when I was meeting my now wife’s family who were devoutly religious, but even they were accepting of someone who was not of their faith (and to their credit didn’t even try to convert me).

What has started to irk me though is the rise of what I like to call Reddit Intellectuals. Don’t take the name too seriously (I’ve already had a couple long time Redditors take offence to it, but I mean no harm) as it’s not a rule I apply to all Redditors generally. More it’s symptomatic of communities and the group think that they generate, not something that I directly blame on Reddit itself. No the Reddit Intellectuals are those who have taken up the generally held beliefs of the wider Reddit community, usually under the atheist subreddit, as dogmatic principle without undergoing any kind of pragmatic process. For these people the ideas of the Reddit community are simply a straight up replacement for religion, held in the same high regard as believers hold in their faith.

The reason this rubs me the wrong way is because instead of rationally deciding that faith is not for them they are instead adopting someone else’s world view, in essence becoming dogmatic atheists. For me this greatly undermines the principle of the atheism, eroding the idea that we’ve looked at the evidence, decided that religion doesn’t make any rational sense and then left it on our own volition. To just simply “believe” the ideas of atheism means that you’ve put no rational thought into the idea and would just as likely have joined the Church of Cthulhu had they made a shiny website with an active community.

Indeed the problem isn’t just isolated to atheist circles, I could have easily coined the term Wikipedian Intellectuals to the same effect. Any online community has the tendency to generate individuals with dogmatic beliefs that reflect the majority’s opinion and depending on what that community is centred around that will determine what kind of followers they generate. Reddit and Wikipedia are just 2 examples of communities that generate people who believe they’re smarter than others simply because they can look up (or have already read) something on a website. In reality true understanding comes from being able to read those sources and then verify them with others. Just simply reading a site and not doing at least some rudimentary fact checking on it (and for something like Wikipedia that’s incredibly easy to do, they give you the links!) is akin to accepting dogmatic beliefs because you read them in a book that that nice guy at church gave you.

Thankfully people like this are the minority and are relatively easy to weed out once you start probing their knowledge. These communities also tend to be somewhat self correcting as once new evidence comes out that refutes a popular stance the rational actors amongst them will shift their view point much quicker than the dogmatic ones, making their identification quite easy.

Maybe its the engineer in me or the IT professional who’s run up against the saying “because this is the way we’ve always done it” far too often but I find dogmatic beliefs have a tendency to be harmful for both the individual and the group. The Reddit Intellectuals are just the symptom of those who have not developed the critical thinking skills to come to the same conclusions by themselves. I don’t pretend to know of a solution to this but if you find yourself believing something that’s been written on the Internet holistically without verification you might want take a step back. You could be one of the Reddit Intellectuals.

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