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On Oppositional Viewpoints, Understanding, and Compassion


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Humanist Voices)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/11/20

Scott is the Founder of Skeptic Meditations. Here we talk about opposing viewpoints, understanding, and compassion.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: The non-religious world is a large collection of different beliefs and orientations to the world. How can the non-religious reach out to those caught inside of a cult?

Scott from I suggest we reframe the question to “What can people with opposing viewpoints do to better understand each other?”.

While I’m sympathetic and often think about “cult-like” behaviors and abhor them, I believe that labeling the other as a “cult” or cult member automatically tends to create an us versus them mentality.

The question, at its core, is a really powerful question: how do we allow unavoidable conflicts of ideas or clashes of worldviews and not allow them to escalate to violence, physical or psychological?

Frankly, I don’t know if there’s any way to address the issues that confront us as a society without slowly, fearlessly addressing our differences head-on. But, as Krishnamurti, an Indian philosopher said: We are the world.

I suggest that we first confront the “cults” or cult-like behaviors in ourselves. I offer that we all harbor dogmatic and unchallengeable assumptions. We may not be aware of them. But they are there.

Not all of them are bad or need to go away. But awareness and humility may help us each, individually and collectively, not get stuck in the “cult” of our own conscious or unconscious conditioning and dogmatism.

Jacobsen: What should a person reaching out to an individual in a cult not do in conversation or interaction?

Scott: Not do? Approach the other person with a “holier than thou” attitude. How can I say this another way? Listen, understand the other person. Not agree.

But realize the other person probably has no choice at this time but to think, feel, and believe what they do. Perhaps, eventually the other person, including ourselves, will be able to let go of current mental models. Then in the freedom of another mental model or worldview change can happen.

I see no escape from all mental models. It’s just are we willing to let go of our pet theories about the world or others so we can experience or see something totally new?

When I was in college I was prescribed eyeglasses and I remember the experience of clarity of seeing the detailed outlines of green leaves on trees. It was a profound experience of seeing with clarity.

Communicating with others this clarity so others see what we see or experience is perhaps the challenge. And then allowing others to challenge our perceptions or assumptions.

Jacobsen: How does the use of reason remain, at times, an ineffective tool in deprogramming someone from a cult mentality, like many who enter a cult were not reasoned into it?

Scott: I’m glad you see the limitations of reasoning other people out their “religion”. “A person convinced against their will is of the same opinion still.” Yet, we see that sometimes people are “deprogrammed” by reason or counter-arguments. I think we have to try to reason with others.

To talk with others using an “emotional logic” can be very compelling. It’s kind of how many believers or religious “reason” emotionally to keep their irrational beliefs. Just reversing it to use emotional logic for an alternative approach or view.

Jacobsen: When can even non-religious groups go wrong, and begin to reflect the Us vs. Them mentality as seen in cults?

Scott: Excellent question. I think we, especially those of us who consider ourselves “non-religious” can reflect that we probably have “religious-like” behaviors and attitudes.

For example, though someone may not pray to a God or go to a Church, we still might be dogmatic in following an unchallengeable authority or ideology. Beliefs in the purity of Nature or the power of science as ultimate truth is probably dogmatic.

Karl Popper, a philosopher of science, has written much about the necessity of falsifying theories or challenging beliefs rather than trying to prove them. We all harbor unchallengeable beliefs that we consider part of our identity or core self.

The trick may be to look for flaws or counter facts that can falsify our assumptions. The fact that we label and put ourselves and other people into buckets or categories, those very underlying criteria or assumptions of categorizing people, might be “religious-like”.

I’m not saying categorization is bad. But when our underlying assumptions are dogmatic or unchallengeable then that behavior is what we label as “religious”. In fact, “religious” = bad assumes or places value on the terms.

We need to be aware of the language and see that we process data through these underlying filters. I like your questions. Thanks for asking.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Scott.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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