Beware Inward Apologetics

Beware oft-rehearsed but rarely-performed arguments on why-our-group-is-right:

Recently I came across a quotation that expressed, with wonderful clarity, something that I kind of half-knew but had not articulated so well to myself.  The historian John P. Meier …:

Despite the theoretical purpose of addressing and confuting one’s adversaries outside, most religious apologetics and polemics are directed inward.  Their real function is to give a sense of assurance and reinforcement to the group producing the polemics.  Most apologetics and polemics are thus an attempt to shore up group solidarity and conviction within a community that feels insecure and under attack.  The a priori conviction of such polemics is simple and unshakeable: “We are right and they are wrong, and now we will think up some reasons to prove that they are wrong.”

… What I am curious about is why this would be an effective means of building group solidarity.  Does the essential irrationality of the arguments have a function in building group solidarity?  Or do group alliances matter only when the subject—politics, religion, scholarship—is so difficult that clear conclusions are impossible to establish?

That is Brian Malley; hat tip to Stan Tsirulnikov.

We can signal loyalty to a group by showing our confidence in its beliefs.  And our ability to offer many reasonable arguments for its beliefs suggests such confidence.  But sometimes we can show even stronger loyalty by showing a willingness to embrace unreasonable arguments for our group’s beliefs.  Someone who supports a group because he thinks it has reasonable supporting arguments might well desert that group should he find better arguments against it.  Someone willing to embrace unreasonable arguments for his group shows a willingness to continue supporting them no matter which way the argument winds blow.

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