We all have a need to believe something. For many of us that need comes from faith, for others from science. Ultimately, we all make both conscious and unconscious determinations on what we are going to believe in. One person's truth becomes another person's lie. That which one person believes becomes a circus of lunacy to others.
What we recognize is that there are two areas where belief often trumps facts. In both the venues of religion and politics, demonstrable truth makes little to no difference to the believer, even when that truth is opposite their belief. There is no better time to look at this phenomenon than during the presidential election season.
In order to understand this phenomenon, the reader has to accept a singular truth. That truth is that in presidential politics, both parties lie. They tell large lies and they tell small lies. Most of those lies are what the political scientists have euphemistically labeled political spin. There is also a singular truth that must be accepted when speaking about religion. That truth is that every believer thinks that their religion has all the answers and other religions do not have the answers. That is their religion tells the truth and the other religions lie. From a psychological point of view, we must recognize that these perceptions are being made in a fact free environment. That means that the environment itself may be rife with lies.
Why am I bringing this up? As many of the viners know, I write on an almost daily basis on the areas of politics and religion. My training and one of my doctorates is in the area of psychology. In many of my posts, I start by stating my biases. I am a liberal democrat and I am an atheist. I do not usually tell people that I started in politics as a republican and was originally thinking of training at the seminary to become a Rabbi. That is who I was, not who I am. This issue of truth is an important one for me. Of all the values that I have, those that I see as the truth are most valuable. Generally, I attempt to legitimately research issues and find out where the preponderance of the evidence leads. I am not naive. I have never voted for a perfect candidate, nor have I ever worked against a totally evil candidate. That is my position again in this election cycle.
This presidential debate the past week was a prime example of the psychological imperative to believing. If one looks at the debate, people on both ideological camps agreed that Mr. Romney won the style debate. The interesting part of this debate, however, was the inability of either side to see or accept the untruths that their candidate stated during the debate. President Obama was less than truthful when he spoke about social security and Simpson-Bowles among seven total untruths. Mr. Romney was documented to have made 23 demonstrable untruths including his discussion about tax cuts, medicare, medicaid, healthcare, etc.
Fact checkers have identified 82 untruths from the democratic campaign and 616 untruths from the Romney campaign to date. Now, I am not giving either side a pass here. Lying is lying and it is wrong to lie to the American people on these major issues that will affect who we hire as our next CEO. What I am indicting, or rather attempting to explain, is the propensity of people to accept lies as truth because we want to do so. We want to identify with a candidate. We want to associate that candidate with a sense of omnipotence. That means we have to believe what he says.
We only have to look at our religious beliefs to understand this concept. There is not, and probably never will be any, proof of an existence of an omnipotent god that created man. In fact the scientific evidence indicates that the opposite is probably true. There is probably a good chance that scientific proof will be found. That will not change the opinion of the believer. Ask the most fundamental believer if evolution or creationism is true. The evidence is overwhelming for evolution. But those with the need to believe will tell you that creationism is true. The same for the age of the earth..... billions of years or 6500 years. Those with a need to believe will tell you 6500 years. Facts are an irrelevancy. Belief is all encompassing.
One of the interesting psychological observations of politics and religion is that there is a correlation between fundamentalist belief and republican politics. That correlation might explain the willingness of those supporting Mr. Romney to be willing to support the phantasmagorical when it comes to accepting untruths. There is some evidence that those who are more scientific thinkers accept unsupported much less in untruthful behavior, or at least in the expectation of greater explanations. From a purely non-scientific observation, it may be the reason why there is an 8:1 ration difference in number of lies during this campaign.
Truth can be relative, not absolute. Study after study tells us that we perceive the truth differently. What makes me laugh in my dotage is that those on the right who are accepting a version of political truth that is being proven untrue on a daily basis, are those who argue that their truth is absolute. They are the people who are arguing a "my way or the highway" approach. They are the people who see only one truth, both in the political arena and in the religious arena. Republicanism and religion have been morphing in the last thirty years. One only has to look at the "war on religion", the "anti-choice" movement, the "anti-contraception" movement, and the "anti-Islamicist" movement to see the merger of religion and politics. It is a psychological imperative for most people and is becoming more and more evident by the day.