The Culpability of Gullibility

If the period of 1650 ~ 1800 is known as the Age Of Reason and Enlightenment, what will we call the present age? Isn’t it the Age of Gullibility? Why are we so quick to swallow half-truths, false premises, and outlandish claims? Why are we so credulous, so easily deceived? How did we arrive at the point where we accept ideas with little evidence, with no evidence, or contrary to the evidence? Are you gullible? Be careful, this is a trick question, for if you answered, “No,” you are gullible. You see, it’s gullible to believe you are free from an ailment that inflicts us all. The only difference among us is not the presence or absence of gullibility, but the firmness of its grip on us.

There are others who share this view. For example, in his book “The Courage of Conviction,” comedian, musician, author, and profound thinker Steve Allen had this to say, “No matter how assured we may be about certain aspects of our belief, there are always painful inconsistencies, exceptions, and contradictions. This is true in religion as it is in politics, and is self-evident to all except fanatics and the naive. As for the fanatics, whose number is legion in our own time, we might be advised to leave them to heaven. They will not, unfortunately, do us the same courtesy. They attack us and each other, and whatever their protestations to peaceful intent, the bloody record of history makes clear that they are easily disposed to restore to the sword.”

Yes, we are guilty of gullibility, and the first step in removing it is to recognize its presence in our lives. It’s easy for us to get sucked into false beliefs because we live in the New Age. The Age of Gullibility and Quackery. Marketeers (some would call them racketeers) misuse our language to deceive us, and we are taken in because we fail to look into the validity of their claims. I’ll give you an example of what I mean.

As a teenager, I studied the works of leading hypnotherapists. At that time, hypnotherapists were clinical psychologists who studied and used hypnosis in their practice. But today things are different. Any Tom, Dick, or Harry can become ‘certified’ as a ‘hypnotherapist’ if they are willing to pay $1,200 and go to a six-week training course! Never mind that they have no knowledge of psychology, how the mind works, or a deep understanding of hypnosis. They ‘studied’ six weeks, isn’t that enough? The New Age has ushered in franchise systems in which self-proclaimed ‘experts’ get rich by ‘training’ and ‘certifying’ others as therapists, facilitators, consultants, and practitioners.

Do you have any problems? Not to worry, I can heal you. All you need is a little craniosacral therapy, or past life regression, or iridological analysis. Can I really heal you? Well, at $40 ~ 60 an hour, or more, you will certainly be healed of that lump in your wallet or purse!

We can excuse the naïve or too-trusting person that falls for such shams, but what about those with overactive imaginations that fall prey to conspiracy theories or believe in alien abductions, psychics, seances, and other forms of madness? Aren’t they blind men and women stumbling about in a dark cave in search of a black cat that doesn’t exist? When we’re gullible, we stunt our intellectual growth. Instead of climbing mountains of wisdom, we trip over mounds of half-truths, falsehoods, and deception.

Although we speak of the New Age, there is nothing new with humanity’s gullibility and fascination with the bizarre. That’s why Plato taught, “Whatever deceives men seems to produce a magical enchantment.” And nearly 2400 years later, Carl Sagan wrote, “One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It is simply too painful to acknowledge — even to ourselves — that we’ve been so credulous. So the old bamboozles tend to persist as the new bamboozles rise.”

Why are we so gullible? One reason is modern man’s loss of religious faith. That loss creates a vacuum ready to suck in some new form of belief. The eminent British broadcaster Malcolm Muggeridge (1903 ~ 1990) had this to say on the subject, “One of the peculiar sins of the twentieth century which we’ve developed to a very high level is the sin of credulity. It has been said that when human beings stop believing in God they believe in nothing. The truth is much worse: they believe in anything.”

Why are we so gullible? Another reason is we can’t face the truth. We’re too weak to accept the fact that not all of life’s questions have answers. We want stability, security, and answers. And we would rather find what we hope for or already believe than the truth. We’re willing to sacrifice the truth whenever it makes us feel uncomfortable. But, as Plato taught, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”

If we seek the light of truth, we need to strike a balance between scepticism and open-mindedness. Broadmindedness is called for because every new truth is first ridiculed, then opposed, and finally accepted as self-evident. So, we need time to weigh the evidence. Isn’t it true that we can’t make progress unless we arrive at new conclusions? Yet, scepticism is equally important. Each false belief we cling to diverts us from the truth and wastes precious time.

To discover the truth we need to wear the cloak of humility, for we cannot advance until we realize there is much we do not know. Indeed, there is much we cannot know. However, if we accept that there is truth in opposing views and that the truth is shared by all, we can learn a great deal more. Charles Caleb Colton (1780 ~ 1832) offered this sage advice, “The greatest friend of truth is Time, her greatest enemy is Prejudice, and her constant companion is Humility.” The search for truth is never-ending because our understanding of it is ever evolving. That’s why Andre Gide (1869 ~ 1951) advised, “Believe those who are seeking truth, doubt those who find it.”

When we discover the truth, we must not brandish it about proudly and act superior, for as Albert Einstein (1879 ~ 1955) wrote, “Desire for approval and recognition is a healthy motive, but the desire to be acknowledged as better, stronger or more intelligent than a fellow being or fellow scholar easily leads to an excessively egoistic psychological adjustment, which may become injurious for the individual and for the community.”

Let’s experience the beauty and joy of truth by accepting things as they are rather than as we wish them to be. I’ll end with this Knock-Knock story for you to ponder.

Knock! Knock!
“Who’s there?”
“The Truth.”
“Go away, I’m busy looking for the Truth.”