As it happens, PETA president Ingrid Newkirk visited my animal rights class the day after I finished reading Zoe Heller's novel The Believers . The book (which will be the topic of my next TPM column) is great fun and probably shouldn't be read as saying p or q, because novels aren't in the business of saying p or q. But if I really had to pin a p or q on it, The Believers says "don't be a Believer." Sure, we all have beliefs, but don't be militant, overcertain, dogmatic, fanatical.
The characters Zeller focuses on happen to be left-wing atheists but it's clear she'd be happy to satirize any super-Believing crowd. What fun she'd have with Ingrid Newkirk and the gang at PETA headquarters. They really, really Believe that animals are horribly mistreated in our world, and something has to be done about it. Or is Heller's point more subtle? Maybe the Believers in the novel are Bad because they lack empathy, they don't listen, they don't think. I was extremely impressed with Ms. Newkirk yesterday because not only was she passionate and inspiring and full of interesting information, but she was a very good listener.
We need to be careful about this sin of over-belief, because the world needs Believers. The last Believer I listened to was Rachel Andres of Jewish World Watch, head of a project that supplies Darfuri refugees with solar cookers so they don't have to risk rape by walking miles to collect firewood. To do work like that, it will not do to hem and haw, see the truth on two sides, and just believe with a small b.
As a philosopher, it's my duty to be circumspect, but true believers in good causes are a treasure.