The truth of a story is not proportional to our investment in it. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, for example, is a movie franchise worth nearly 23 billion dollars and has no basis reality other than locations. And still, despite being complete fiction, people are obsessed. We treat the characters as if they’re real, repeat their lines, cosplay to participate in the fantasy, and it does seem that many would rather be lost in this exciting world of make-believe than live their actual lives.
It is really interesting how outside observers of religions (other than their own) have no difficulty dismissing the beliefs and practices. The claims of L. Ron Hubbard, or Joseph Smith, or Muhammad ibn Abdullah aren’t all that compelling to non-adherents. I mean, come on, riding through the sky on a horse with a woman’s head and the tail of a peacock sounds more like a crazy acid trip than something to take seriously, right? But for this raised in an Islamic country, this makes more sense than Trinity or resurrection.
I’m quite certain that the Biblical narrative, whether Genesis or the Gospels, would have been far less believable had I not been indoctrinated as a child. I mean, it made sense to me then. My parents and every other respectable adult that I knew held to this belief system. It would actually be rather strange had I rejected this outright. It was only later that the vast differences between even various Mennonite sects, and facing challenges to my assumptions, that I even knew how to question.
Of course, this doesn’t make those raised outside of organized religion any more rational. Secular ideas, like Evolution and Global Warming, have taken on their own narrative framework, similar to religion, that far exceeds the actual evidence. Not all of the gaps can be explained by Natural Selection. And climate apocalypticism has strange similarities to the “end times” prophecies common with many caught up in Evangelicalism. Al Gore is basically Harold Camping with corporate sponsorship.
Most of these narratives can’t be entirely falsified. The decades and decades of dire predictions from climate alarmists haven’t come true, yet they keep moving the goal posts, even making claims in contradiction to those prior, and the next generation of conscientious young people are none the wiser. Likewise, the doctrines and practices of traditional religions evolve and get twisted every which way, to the point that you can’t get people raised in the same denomination to agree.
The strangest thing is how these various movements never die even when their claims are falsified. For example, the Seventh-day Adventists arose from the false Millerite prophecy that Jesus would return on October 22, 1844. The date came and went without event. But, despite this Great Disappointment, some who saw their central claim proven false still regrouped and continued on their way again. Perhaps the investment made was too much to simply give it up?
It’s sort of like I don’t expect the “believe science” midwits to ever comprehend how many times the experts get it wrong or reconsider. They’ll probably go on praising Dr. Fauci as a saint even after the puppy experimentation scandal, even after the NIH now admits to funding of gain-of-function research, and probably because it would cause too much discomfort to consider that their trust may have been misplaced.
It takes a boatload of evidence to overturn these narratives we have built up in our minds. Bad ideas, like Marxism, even if they fail miserably in one place, are often recycled and reintroduced. At the same time, credit for plain luck is given to whatever a person wants to have credit. A boom economy, with the President you voted for, and it is obviously a product of wise leadership, right? The sun came up right after you prayed? Must be the grace of God.
All religion, all political ideologies, the trust we have in certain institutions or people, is part of our embracing narratives. Whether you believe vaccines cause autism or ended Polio depends more on who (or what) you accept as an authority than the actual evidence. Past narratives might seem irrational to you, like the idea that autism was caused by “refrigerator moms,” yet made complete sense to many influential and intelligent ‘scientific’ people at one time. Those who go against the currently popular ‘expert’ consensus can expect persecution.
All this to say that we aren’t as good at discerning truth as we imagine. In many cases what we believe is nearly as much fiction as Captain America fighting against Hydra. It isn’t just the conspiracy theorist kooks buying into narratives despite evidence to the contrary, we all do, we all believe a blend of religious propaganda, political indoctrination, and out-of-context or unqualified facts stitched together, and much of it as absurd as the narratives we reject.