For more, get and read Persusions of the Witch's Craft by anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann.
We preserve our identities as skeptical and educated, while changing our interpretative strategies, get entangled in various forms of confirmation bias while ignoring that we are doing this.
Persuasions of the Witch's Craft
"In her groundbreaking sociological work Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft, T. M. Luhrmann writes of a field study she conducted of England’s occult community. In it, she noticed that a Witch’s perceptions slowly shift during the course of her studies in magick to see different symbols and meanings in events, experiences, and responses to the world. Prior to occult study, these connections and interpretations would not have been made..." (unquote)
But in other groups, interpretative drift may take forms that are not benign, but actually breed fear and bondage.
One part of the burden of beliefs that you create your own reality or karma is, you dont just get sick -- you bring it on yourself. That is a horrible burden, as if being ill isnt enough.
Now...lets look at a different type of social setting than the one studied by Luhrman. Groups which consider a living human leader to be infallible and all powerful, and that the leader can never do harm.
For convenience, I will use the term 'guru', but one can just as well use 'pastor' 'lama', 'medium', 'rinpoche', 'teacher', 'pir', 'sheikh', etc.
A person who spent years of training and become a talented artist before encountering his or her guru, may as part of guru devotion, re-interpret her life and become sincerely convinced that all her talent as an artist was given to her by the guru. She will forget or devalue the many years spent in art school before she met the guru.
And part of what forms interpretative drift is spending time with other persons who tell stories and interpret events from a guru centered perspective.
People who are bored or uncomfortable with this will self select and leave.
Persons who share this same interpretative style will remain and reinforce confirmation biases that are defining elements of membership and that lead persons who forget their own talent and their own self agency.
If in a group where the guru is considered infallible, membership in such a group means entails:
* Taking on the belief that there is such a thing as an infallable human being. It may be that a process of interpretative drift is needed to slide into this, especially if one is from a culture where gurus are not normative.
To reach belief that a living person can be infallible and guide your own spiritual progress to a higher level is a stance that will set you apart from those who do not share this belief. In a society where it is not normative to follow gurus, this type of belief becomes something that must be protected.
Now...what happens if the guru does something that contradicts the group's doctrine? Kicks someone out who was a known and trusted custodian of the group's history and teachings. Or this guru commits harm in other ways?
* What if the guru does do something that fails, or generates harm?
If disciples believe that guru is infallable and cannot do harm, they have the burden of
a) Convincing themselves that harmful or contradictory behavior by the guru isnt harmful or contradictory at all.
b) Or, convince themselves that it isnt harm, it is a 'lesson' or 'purification'.
c) Accept the guru's assurance that these are not self indulgent luxuries but a way to bring good karmic influences, or demonstrate how to be spiritually 'sophisticated'.
d) If they have to recognize that harm was done, they may find ways to convince themselves that the guru had nothing to do with it, even though the guru did instigate it. They may ignore that the guru is the one who is a greedy pig, but convince themselves that the guru's assistant has corrupted the guru into luxurious habits. (Scapegoating). Or people troubled by the luxuries may be ridiculed as having a poverty mentality.
So, to believe in such a thing as an infallible guru, one already has to have some manner of interpreting life in a particular way.
Then, when one believes one has found one's infalliable guru, one has to develop further strategies to preserve that image, especially if that guru, or the guru's successor, behaves in ways that induce dissonance.
Finally, one has to retain belief that one is doing this of one's own free will, that one is still intelligent, discerning, and that one is not behaving like a flatterer, enabler, brown-noser, even if one is doing all of these things.
Above all, one has to find ways to convince oneself that one does not feel doubt or misgiving even if one does feel that way.
Meanwhile, you have the task of living a life similar to that of a courtier in the palace of Henry VIII, while functioning as (say) a citizen in 21st Century America.
You have a double life and you started out seeking whole heartedness.
Can you admit this?
Or do you interpret the strain of living this double life as the burden carried
by all initiates into a great cosmic secret?
You become more comfortable with persons who share these same mental habit patterns. Even someone believes in a different guru, competing guru has much more in common with you than those who dont believe in any guru at all.
Anyone who doesnt have a guru but still believes infallible gurus are possible...even they are potentially part of your 'tribe.' You may also revise your own life history as part of interpretative drift.
Saddest of all, friends who cannot share this state of mind may drop away or be rejected, leaving only a social circle which shares these same mental habits.
This can give rise to a quite intense bonding process.
But...if you become doubt ridden, or worse still, become a dissenter, you will find yourself out in the cold.
The thing to keep in mind is that this kind of interpretative drift is so very gradual that people find ways to remain convinced that they are open minded, even skeptical, while falling into a pattern of confirmation bias that favors their guru and disempowers them.
And if the belief system is regarded as quite strange, even deviant, by outside society, members may ways to speak and interact with a potentially skeptical/hostile outside world, a strategy of dissimulation.
One can regard oneself as skeptical, go through the motions of speaking skeptically, but it is an as if stance, one that conceals from oneself and from the outside world, the extent to which one has ceased to function as a citizen but has become a submissive peasant in relation to the guru.
Because being slavishly submissive to the whims of and alleged magical powers of a living human being are behavior considered peculiar and comical by the outside world, such behaviors must be quite carefully hidden when dealing with outsiders.
And to oneself, one must re-interpret such behaviors in ways that preserve one's own dignity.
To face that one has become a slave to a whim ridden guru with luxurious tastes, that one is even decorating one's home and office to look like Liberace's bedroom just because the guru says so -- that would be too humiliating.
But to convince oneself that one is an initiate of a school of spiritual training, and this manner of interior design actually brings in the right balance of astral forces -- that takes sting out of it.
One feels oneself in on a great secret, with the dignity of being an initiate.
One has re-written the script, from slave to some wierdo to initiate preceptor of the Hierophant.
Got news for you.
You can call it sugar, say it is sweet, but it is still feces.
And some part of you will know to your dying moment, that what youve been eating is not sugar.
We can play with words and thoughts and fool our brains. Interpretative drift comes in gradually, like fog.
But...we think and feel with our bodies, and those always know, even if that knowledge is mute.
Good news is...if you can face and name what you are doing to yourself, and
pay the price of regret and embarassment, you can become free again.