Reductio Ad Absurdum

by Aranyakananda

The last post I wrote had to do with people making judgements on the spiritual path of others, and I compared it to a social trend I have noticed wherein people gravitate toward the crime and court reports in the newspaper. We find ways to pass judgment upon others, just as we find ways to put ourselves up on pedestals letting our egos run amok.

I recently became familiar with the Latin phrase “Reductio Ad Absurdum” which means, simply, to demonstrate that a statement is either true or false by exaggeratedly reducing its opposite to absurdity.

For example, one who wants to debunk the Bible may focus attention on the absurdity of the idea of a talking snake from the Old Testament. Someone who wants to defame Hinduism may focus on the idea that we “think God has the head of an elephant”, or that Krishna lifted a mountain, or the many seemingly other-worldly claims made by various swamis and yogis – all the while equating these items with Hinduism as a whole, as though Sanatana Dharma hinged solely on the item in question. They miss the deeper meaning. Myth of any kind leaves itself open to this type of criticism.

I have personally heard Islam “reduced” to “absurdity” by folks who are quick to judge, classify, and oversimplify world events that have more to do with politics and psychology than the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed.

People all around the world do this when it comes to religion. Talk show host and comic Bill Maher is a prolific practitioner of reductio ad absurdum when it comes to the topic of religion, particularly regarding Christianity, but belief in God in general.

We separate ourselves by mockery, utilizing the most superficial aspects of our respective belief systems to do so. It is like when we were kids and the bully bullied by focusing on superficial characteristics of the victim. People of all faiths have the potential to become guilty of reductio ad absurdum. It is an ego-driven, fear-based tactic to lift oneself up, tear another down, and make oneself feel more confident about the path one is on. But the road to moksha is not akin to a roller derby. It is more like a game of leap-frog, where at one point or another one is assisted by another to move forward, and at others he assists.

Jai Harihara Aum.

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6 Responses to Reductio Ad Absurdum

  1. Great post my friend! I was a victim of just this thing by someone I thought was a friend. He quite literally ridiculed and made fun of my Hindu beliefs, while puffing up his Christian beliefs. I was so utterly taken aback. It is amazing what you learn about people when they show their true colors. He focused on just that about Ganesh having an elephant head and how ridiculous it was. I could not even defend myself. I admit I could not help but tell him what a bigoted ass he was:) I have made it a point to post nothing online that is offensive against anyone’s religious or spiritual beliefs. Thank you for reminding me what I stand for.

    Jai Maa!

  2. Dhrishti says:

    This is interesting, Vasu. Your first paragraph is so true… we look for ways to raise ourselves and step on others – often doing the two in one action. Some people seem to know no other way of operating in the world.

    Although there seems to be truth found in “Reductio Ad Absurdum,” like any stereotype, it does seem a bit unfair. But it also raises a question in my mind… perhaps it doesnt really apply. You gave the example of debunking the Bible with the example of a talking snake and how we’re often prone to using something superficial about someone or something to feel better about our own path. What about something that’s kind of superficial yet still points to something “bigger”? I’m thinking of a post I made where I reference the Christian Flood story and how silly it would be for God to want to annihilate humanity due to its evilness – but save a family of those “evil” humans and planned to use those same evil people to repopulate the earth. It’s a superficial story told in millions of elementary-level Sunday School classes, and while the superficial level of that tale isn’t comprehensive in regard to Christianity as a whole (thus the inappropriateness of Reductio Ad Absurdum), certainly it points to something deeper than just a big boat with animals on it – which is still just about as nonsensical. Would you agree?

    In Hinduism, the superficial remains as holy, and in fact points directly toward, the super-profoundly sacred. The difference I keep seeing here is that in some of those Christian examples, even when you dig deeper than the “talking snake” you still end up with someone pretty questionable. In that context, I think it would depend largely on the starting place in the heart of the one employing Reductio Ad Absurdum – depending on the approach, couldn’t there be instances when this would be nothing more than calling a spade a spade? And in other cases, maybe not with religion specifically, this can be used to shed light on something, no?

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding the concept of Reductio Ad Absurdum? Vasu-bhai, please advise.

    • treadmarkz says:

      Namaste Dhristhti – FIrstly, I think you understand the concept of Reductio Ad Absurdum just fine. Also I think the post of yours that you were referring to was makin a very valid point and a very valid comparison between two similar stories in two traditions. You were not simplifying the Noah’s Ark tale as the essense of Christianity. I am sure there are cases where this is simply as you said “calling a spade a spade” and can be productive. I just feel like I see a lot of it that is counter-productive when it comes to religion. I think your point that it depends on where the person employing it is coming from, is important. As I said, all of us can potentially do it, and I am sure I have on this blog at one point or several others. I want to make a point not to.

  3. Dhrishti says:

    “The difference I keep seeing here is that in some of those Christian examples, even when you dig deeper than the “talking snake” you still end up with someone pretty questionable.” – someone = something.

  4. shree says:

    good post brother…i have studied influence material extensively especially with regards to how cults and organisations use it for their advantage and also on personal 1 on 1 interactions. i have come to learn that you can use specific influence tactics in conversations to make something false win a debate against something just because you win a debate doesn’t make you right.

    a quick example , guy A talks to guy B about a new scientist who has been proposing something radical and his methods though controversial has succeeded in solving hunger on a grand scale.
    Guy B who doesn’t like the idea mentions how the scientist is embroiled in a molestation case now.

    Now the scientist looks like a total bad guy and nothing he says must be true.We can’t comprehend the fact that BOTH him being a pillar for humanity for solving world hunger and him being guilty of this legal case be true.Human tend to look at things in black and white ,not the many layers of grey in between.

    • treadmarkz says:

      an excellent point, Shree. We see this every four years in our presidential election campaigns 🙂

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