the mind has a nearly infinite ability to believe that which brings it comfort

This ability to believe often seems to correlate more with the comfort of the idea than it's veracity. How many of us go around thinking we are right all the time. In my own case this frequently comes to mind when I disagree with someone. Statistically, it is unlikely that I really am right any more than 50% of the time ;-)

A related, erroneous belief that I greatly suffer from is the thought that I'm smarter than the people around me. Sure it is sometimes true, but I believe it much more than that, I almost always believe it. Besides, what difference does it make? Can't less smart people say things that are correct? Are not highly intelligent people often wrong?

This ability to believe is more obvious in the young. We encourage this in children under the monicker of "stimulating the imagination". I think we all know how hard it is to grow up, which in large part consists of learning that just because we want something does not make it so.

Like intelligence, adults exist in a broad spectrum of ability to handle other beliefs. We hide behind a wall of shared belief to some degree or another. We group together with like minded people, so we have less dissonance to deal with. In my experiences with the power structure of corporations, this is one of the hardest things to deal with. One person wants something, so he (it usually is a he) tells his subordinates to "make it so". Unlike in Star Trek: The Next Generation1, in the corporate world, this is often not preceeded by the underling saying "we can do that". So, it often results in a difficulty for the subordinate, who is faced with the options of 1) telling the boss, "we can't do that" or 2) trying and failing. I suspect much of the corporate scandals we are witnessing today got there genisis in this way. When you are an accountant the answer is rarely "we can't do that" all you have to do is write down the wrong number and like magic, Puff, you've done it!

Enough about the corporate world. The most interesting part of this phenomena for me is around religion. Through religion, people believe things like so:

Some of the wacky stuff is in the definitions of good and bad. Sometimes good is being compassionate & empathetic. Sometimes being good is being intolerant, or murderous. While these beliefs are presented as abstract facts, they often play out this way: I and my friends are good and going to be happy. Other people are bad and going to be unhappy.

Some people feel this is twisting religion around, that religion is good and those people that are intolerance are bad and irreligeous. For example this view was espoused by President Bush just after the Sept 11 terror attacks. While I'm glad he said that, because it may have prevented more violence against Islam in the US, in principle it is just a sematic question with no weight.

My definition of religion is something like "belief in a conscience creator" or "belief in an afterlife or permanent soul". Their definition is a subset of mine that excludes bad people (as they define them). I am not discussing this subset, as I don't have the notion of bad people that I can exclude. Just so I am clear, practically speaking, I'm not entirely opposed to religion. There are many things religion gets people to do that I enjoy and support. Amung them sing, dance, shake hands, hug, talk with each other. It also promotes things like flying planes into buildings. Well, I'm horrified by any belief that convices people to do that. I said practically speaking. By that I mean as I observe it in the world today. As a belief system, I am completely opposed to religion. I believe it is strong , they say someth are entirely untestable in the scientific notion.

1 - If you aren't familiar with The Next Generation, on of the main characters, Commander Picard often says "Make it so." in an authoritative voice. This is always preceeded by a good suggested course of action by either the first mate or the science officer. Notice that his title is "Commander", he who commands.