Believing things to be true because one wishes them to be true is a prime malady of the human condition. It is an opposite of objectivity, reflecting a shortfall of intellectual honesty. It has led to wars, famines and other guarantors of human suffering.
The United States war in Iraq in the first decade of the current millennium offers a blatant example of wish fulfillment. An arrogant administration intent on going to war with Iraq looked for and may have invented excuses to do it. Other episodes in American foreign policy demonstrate the same tragic phenomenon, which occurs when the people in charge have an agenda that is not that of the American people.
- Paul R. Pillar, Intelligence an U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform (Columbia University Press, 2011): "At stake is our ability as a nation to think clearly about what intelligence services can do and for whom they should do it. Standing in the way of getting this straight has been deep public reluctance to recognize two facts — the Bush administration’s role in turning a blind eye to the dangers of terrorist attack before 9/11, and its determination to whip up fears of Iraqi W.M.D.’s, which allowed the president to send an American army into the heart of the Middle East."
- Joshua Rovner, Fixing the Facts: National Security and the Politics of Intelligence (Cornell University Press, 2011).
- Robert Jervis, Why Intelligence Fails: Lessons from the Iranian Revolution and the Iraq War (Cornell University Press, 2010).
Technical and Analytical Readings
People wish to believe that they will live forever in ultimate bliss, protected by a benevolent force. Thus has religion largely been transformed from a force for bringing ourselves into harmony with forces larger than ourselves, into an endless quest to bring those forces into harmony with our desires. When religion indulges the urge for wish fulfillment, it becomes the opposite of what it can be at its best: indulgent instead of responsible, arrogant instead of humble and at odds with instead of seeking harmony with reality.
- Daniel C. Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (Viking Adult, 2006).
- Scott Atran, In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion (Oxford University Press, 2002).
- Pascal Boyer, Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought (Basic Books, 2001).
- Stewart Elliott Guthrie, Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of Religion (Oxford University Press, 1993).
- J. Anderson Thompson, Jr., Why We Believe in God(s): A Concise Guide to the Science of Faith (Pitchstone Publishing, 2011). See also the author's lecture.