The term true believer may have been coined by sociologist Eric Hoffer in his 1951 book. The validity of his observations deserve re-examination. The true believer is anyone who adopts as their personal belief system the principles and belief/dogma of a larger established group. Such individuals tend not to question the authority of the established principles and beliefs of such a group. They are not skeptical of the statements of others and do not challenge the organized bodies principles of belief.
Clearly, one immediately thinks of religious groups of various sizes–ranging from organized established religions to cults. Contemporary religious fundamentalists are examples of true believers. Such individuals willingly sacrifice their own thoughts and lives for the sake of the group’s ideology. Their danger to those who disagree with them is clear. They are beyond discussion or reasoning with others outside of their belief. They are capable of ‘de-humanizing’ the other–therefore the committing of all manner of atrocities upon them is accomplished without any moral discussion or self-doubt.
But religion is not alone is attracting true believers. Tribal group memebers often react as true believers. And the two most powerfully destructive institutions attracting true believers in the 20th century were both atheistic in their doctrines–Hiter’s Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Communist Soviet Union.
Chet Raymo in his book SKEPTICS AND TRUE BELIEVERS points out that scientists can be guilty of being true belivers as well. When they vigorously attack those who disagree with them on issues which are beyond science, when they make metaphysical statments that are not supported by scientific research, they are revealing their own true believer attitudes.
A prime example of a scientific true believer is biologist Richard Dawkins. He is an avowed atheist and attacks religion as an institution for all the right reasons. When he declares that there is no scientific evidence for spirituality or God he is also correct. When he declares that there is no God or soul or spirit–he is making a metaphysical judgment that may reflect his own true believer bias.
In effect, he declares that only science reveals ultimate truth. That which cannot be studied by science is invalid. That last statement is not only NOT a scientific statement, it cannot be disproven by science either. It is his personal metaphysical opinion–nothing more. He should acknowledge it as such.
This does not make it wrong. It reflects his own leap of faith, his own choice to view science as the ultimate determination of what is real. That is the position of a true beliver, not an open-minded skeptic.