Is One’s Choice of Religion Really a Choice?

March 28, 2006 | By | 2 Replies More

Many of us don’t consciously choose some of the most important aspects of our lives.  This includes the choice of religion.  Many people claim that we don’t really choose the religion we end up following.  After all, many of us end up adopting the religion of our parents. Is there a problem with this approach?  There often is.

Those of us who fail to constantly raise such important questions on our own are falling prey to what Hannah Arendt termed “the banality of evil.”

Of Adolf Eichmann, Arendt wrote that he “never realized what he was doing . . .  He was not stupid.  It was sheer thoughtlessness—something by no means identical with stupidity—that predisposed him to become one of the greatest criminals of that period.   Arendt claimed that “such remoteness from reality and such thoughtlessness can wreak more havoc than all the evil instincts taken together . . .”

Therefore, it is not saintly, or even OK, to thoughtlessly take important aspects of one’s self as givens.  It is not OK even if most of us do it most of the time.  Being thoughtless and unquestioning is, more than anything else, dangerous.


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Category: Psychology Cognition, Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (2)

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  1. John Campbell says:


    You seem to be saying that ignorance is NOT bliss. Shame on you iff I miss a TV show tonight thinking about what you wrote. I jest, but you do threaten something very sacred to many: the status quo.

    It is fascinating, maybe frightening, that our childhoods echo far into our adulthoods. Our religion, our politics, or whether or not we wear hats at the dinner table are shaped in large part by our early experiences. (Dad swears that ballcaps have no place at dinner, and I still can't wear a hat to supper without a twinge of guilt.)

    If we are the sum of our experiences, perhaps the problem is how many people are content to experience so little. Christians are often taught that questioning God is blasphemy. Some are even taught it is an unforgivable sin. The same holds true for many world religions. The walls of faith are too often supported by the doctrine of blindness. See no, hear no…and all that jazz.

    In my mind it is tied up with rule worship…Stopping at red lights at 4am on empty streets, no elbows on the table and vacuuming the carpet every Thursday are rituals without meaning. We do because we should. The spirit of the rule is forgotten and the letter remains.

    Your are right. This IS dangerous. People guard their safe spots, their unquestioned beliefs, fiercely, and in the process, we all pay for the resistance. It is hard enough to seek…get lost….and seek again. It is made all the more difficult when it seems the world, or at least a large part of it, is fighting free thinkers every step of the way. Unfortunatley, this isn't new.

    Einstein said, "Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocre minds. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence and fulfills the duty to express the results of his thoughts in clear form."

    The battle for intellectual honesty, with others and with one's self, has always been uphill, and the resistance has always been "violent." The road "less traveled" has always been lonely.

    Perhaps it is every thinker's duty to meet the forces of stagnation with passion equal to their violent opposition.

  2. Erika Price says:

    Assuming that choice exists at all. It seems to me that we follow the patterns of social animals, just like migrating deer or endangered dodo, or any other animal, far too closely for much wiggle room to exist. Every population has its majority of sheeplike followers, and the odds seem to state that a few stragglers or goats emerge, and the way they behave seems oddly predictable, too.

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