We've been rolling on a "Religions and absence thereof" thread over on one of the Costa Rica blog sites (until the site owner snaps to the fact that we're discussing nothing about CR and shuts us down) and I thought that it might be an agitation (one of my favorite games) to reproduce that thread over here, plus add some other dreck. So grab onto you cajones, god-squad ... here we go --
--- In CRRealists@yahoogroups.com, Carole Saylor <carolesaylor@...> wrote:
> About time we had something to discuss. :-)
> I have a question for everyone. How did you decide on which religion (or nothing) to believe in? Is it because of how you were raised? Is it because you had an epiphany? Did you arrive at it scientifically? Did you construct your own belief system? Or what?
Then another frequent contributor added:
--- In CRRealists@yahoogroups.com, "lenpetry" <lenpetry@...> wrote:
> I get to my belief system in a backward way.
> Science seems so far incapable of answering the most important questions about existence: why are we here, how did we come to be here?
> To be sure, science has made progress, but when we think of the simplistic science that existed before Copernicus, Newton, Einstein etc, it seems likely that the current state of science will appear equally inadequate to future generations. This is not to dismiss science, but rather to acknowledge that if science is capable of understanding the universe, that day is a long way off in the future.
> I also wonder in quiet moments whether science will ever completely understand the mysteries of existence. The ant cannot understand a human being, so perhaps we human beings don't have the mental apparatus required to understand a supreme power so complex as to be capable of creating the human body, and the universe.
> This is at least a possibility to consider.
> Nor do I think that formal religions have the answer. They all strike me as woefully inadequate human attempts to put the universe into some sort of order, any kind of order, as if any order is better than mystery. But the believers of one religion pick at the others, hoping to make their own religion more valid than the others. So, with so many reasoned criticisms levelled against each religion by informed others, which one to favour? None of them is my answer.
> This line of reasoning could lead one to agnosticism, or atheism, or mysticism (the latter being a belief in the possibility of a supreme being, but not going as far as to ascribe thoughts, intentions, etc to that being).
> Yet atheism won't do. If we can't understand the universe, we are in no position to make assertions about it. If we are in no position to assert that a supreme being exists, nor are we in a position to assert that such a being does NOT exist.
> This leads me by elimination to mysticism and agnosticism, but the more I learn of the mysteries of the universe, how incomprehensibly complex it is, the more I believe in the possibility that it was all created and organized by a supreme being.
> No proofs, of course. No firm declarations. Only an admission of the possibility of a supreme being. And that's as far as my limited human intelligence could ever be expected to take me.
Pretty well thought out. Then, I replied:
As a "hard scrabble" (love that terminology) person of naturalistic views, as
opposed to a person with super-naturalistic views of "why are we here," etc.,
from what I have learned, the most reasonable answer to your question about how
people chose one religion over another is that for the vast majority of
religious people, they are born into it.
If you're born in the USA, there's a very high probability that you'll be
Christian. Which flavor of Christian has everything to do with parents and
friends. Not intellect.
If you're born in Saudi Arabia, there's a stupendously high probability that
you'll be a follower of Islam.
India = Hindu
Israel = Jewish
Tibet = Buddhism etc., etc.
Then, the naturalistic argument becomes, "So, if you're Christian, only because
your parents and friends are Christian, what's the basis of your rock solid
belief that people born Muslim are so wrong?" And, "If there are so many
'right' opinions (from the points of view of the many religions) then,
therefore, they must all be called into question."
Fantastic post. Really well thought out. My only deviation of opinion is that
I have no problem with science continuously updating and improving itself (i.e.,
"being wrong" at first) because that's what real science is about. Looking.
Seeing. Observing. Collecting evidence and then making a reasoned effort to
explain why something is the way it is. And NOT taking into account any myths
or unsubstantiated fairy tales because some barbarian in a tent wrote it down
after drinking too much mead, thousands of years ago.
Regarding religions explanations: I love the argument that in religion (e.g.,
the Bible) vs., science -- religion has been proven wrong 100% of the time with
respect to explaining any aspect of our physical universe; whereas, science has
been correct many times and partially correct (and then updated or corrected)
countless more times. What is the basis for an argument that, "Well, THOSE were
just stories and parables but THESE paragraphs are absolutely true and correct."
For both of you, one of the newest and deeply naturalistic books written in a
long time is by a respected theologian, who's brain finally snapped out of it so
that he could shake off the programming of his life and write, "Why I Became An
Atheist," by John W. Loftus, which is available in hard and Kindle versions.
Some portions are slap-in-the-face clear, yet some are deep philosophical
screeds which I have to read several times to grasp. I have to hand it to him
-- he leaves no stone unturned and might be the new Most Dangerous Man for
Religions of the 21st century.
Keep thinking, y'all.
But I dashed back and had to drop in one more remark --
Ooops. I forgot something ...
> Yet atheism won't do. If we can't understand the universe, we are in no
position to make assertions about it. If we are in no position to assert that a
supreme being exists, nor are we in a position to assert that such a being does
By my definition, atheism is not a belief system and does not attempt to "prove"
anything. It is the lack of a belief system. Simple absence. And, since one
can never prove a negative, there wouldn't be anything to prove, anyway. Some
people don't want to leave the black hole of "I don't know," in their lives and
I guess that's why agnosticism exists. ¿No es así?
Then, shock of shocks, the forum owner jumps in ...
--- In CRRealists@yahoogroups.com, "John Dungan" <grumblesfmarenal@...> wrote:
> I was born to parents who practiced no religion. My mother seemed to lean towards a vague Christian belief, but was pretty turned off to organized religion due to what her mother put her through growing up. My old man's major devotion was to the bottle, so he didn't have room for much else.
> I converted to Catholicism in order to marry my wife (we've now been married over 44 years). I did little more than pay it lip service for many years, but have gradually become a for real 'practicing' Catholic, attending Mass regularly, going to Confession, etc.
> Over the years I have found a certain amount of fellowship in seeing the same familiar faces week after week, and take a measure of comfort in the sharing of the repetitious celebration of the various Church functions.
> I was fortunate to have one-on-one education prior to my conversion from a Priest who taught me that we can and do exercise free will, and we are each responsible for our own actions. I strive to leave my religion out of my political beliefs, and do not pick candidates based on any religious positions they might espouse. (We all need to remember that a politician will say any damn thing to get elected, and then do whatever the hell their backers want them to do once elected; so, never, ever believe what they say).
> So, I guess I'm an exception to the previously stated idea that your birth usually determines your religion, although, having been born in the U. S. A., I would have to say that if one is going to have a religion, odds are very strongly in favor of that religion being Christian.
I think this post elucidates one of the greatest strengths -- and weaknesses -- of Christianity (and Islam, to a lesser extent ... see the end of this mess.)
People are not adhering to Christianity and going to church for intellectual reasons -- They're going because IT MAKES THEM FEEL GOOD. Seeing the people of "their tribe" makes them feel good. Praying makes them feel good. The songs make them feel good. The security of a routine makes them feel good. Joel Osteen makes them feel good. Not very many people give a shit about whether or not there was ever a virgin birth and the philosophical ramifications thereof. Nobody gives a shit about whether or not there was ever really a flood that covered the whole earth. For all except a tiny few it's all about feeling good.
I responded to Mr. John:
> --- In CRRealists@yahoogroups.com, "John Dungan" <grumblesfmarenal@> wrote:
> > Over the years I have found a certain amount of fellowship in seeing the same familiar faces week after week, and take a measure of comfort in the sharing of the repetitious celebration of the various Church functions.
What amazingly parallel lives we've led, John. I too "went Catholic" for marriage and also had the marvelously intelligent Priest, one-on-one. My only difference was that I came into it with a strong formal education in world religions and already knew a fair amount about the non-Christian groups and their beliefs. If anything, this made me more strongly able to support the Catholics in their programs. I am even the co-founder of two highly successful Catholic education programs -- one in TX and one in CA.
Your point, reproduced above, is exactly why I endorsed religious participation for my kids while growing up. It is wonderful and warming to see the same circle of families week after week. (When we "sucked" them into joining in as CCD teachers, we would see them night after night!) All of the kids went through the entire Catholic education, baptism, 1st Communion, Confirmation regimen.
But I also made sure that the kids knew more than most about the other religions out there and I also made sure that they were circumspect, independent thinkers. Scorecard: 2 Full Atheists; 2 Closet Atheists; 1 Born Again Christian (who will drop it like a hot potato if her husband ever does, I think.)
Here, now, in the twilight of my years (no ... I will NOT sing it) I have friends who are "churched," friends who are atheists and me, Mr. Stirs-The-Pot. I'm totally good with that.
This all went on and on. It was probably he longest running thread with the greatest number of written words, ever, for the group. Finally, everyone kind of petered out. They'd all blown their wad and nobody actually went away angry. Pretty rare in this day and age.
So, maybe it's time for me to go off on Islam. Not that this specific religion deserves special scorn for any reason. It's just time. I'm actually a little bit in awe of it. I'm not all that much of an expert on the history of Islam's religious development, such as, "Who thought this or that up?" although it would be interesting to know because some of this stuff is just damn genius. One of the up sides, for the supporters of Islam, is that with their system, I'll bet only a tiny handful have been raised inside the system and have gone on to awaken and become atheists. Here's why:
I've lived among the real Muslims (as opposed to the recently invented Afro-American Muslims) through work and play. I've lived through an entire Ramadan and I've been allowed to stand quietly among them during prayers. Islam is brilliantly unparalleled by any religion at any time in history by its super-clever and all-pervasive methods of ensuring that their faithful remain faithful and that those "faithful" partake of religion so constantly that there isn't much time to sit around and cogitate on "why the hell did I just do that?"
First, unless one has an agenda (e.g., the Afro-Americans) or unless one is under threat of death, there ain't going to be many willing converts stepping forward to join the Muslim flock. It is just too hard and takes up too much time. Any outsider who has experienced any of the other world religions, which are generally (way) less demanding, isn't going to be easily "awakened" by Islam and go running to its bosom. So, my earlier noted principle of "you're born into it," pretty much says it all. And a LOT of people have been born into it. A lot more will be.
Second, the religion's adherents are probably the least philosophically circumspect and open thinkers on the planet. That means that none of the usual intellectual arguments will work on them, so don't bother. That, and there's the "you renounce Islam and we'll kill you" thingy. That might give one pause. The following are the clever methods by which the people are kept from thinking anything but Islam.
The trappings: People have to carry around their prayer rugs or have them stashed, everywhere they'll be (requires thinking about religion.) They have to plan ahead, where they're going to be throughout the day, so that they can perform their purification (i.e., where can I find a spot to wash my damn feet,) know ahead of time (think about) which direction to face, identify a place (think about) to spread out the prayer rug, etc. Also, an amazing number of them physically carry a copy of the Koran, everywhere -- work, play, no matter. Walking around in public, prayers commence, in public, at the appointed times. Therefore, there have to be provisions for people to wash (purify) in the public sphere. So, even if it ain't prayer time, you'll probably be passing washing stations which are another means of reminding adherents, constantly, of their religion. In short, the trappings keep the faithful thinking about the mechanics of Islam worship even more frequently than one would suppose.
The Shouter: National Geographic films, etc., don't do The Shouter (actually called The Muezzin) any justice because the impact of his "call to prayer" just doesn't come across the tiny, tinny speakers of your TV. This is kind of like hearing an AK47 shot in the movies and firing one in your own two hands. Yowzer! There's no comparison. The Shouter is using a PA system the likes of which you've probably never seen or heard. It is so loud that it is guaranteed you ain't going to sleep through it or miss it over the noise of your job during the day. For non-Muslims, I'm willing to bet we all have the same reaction every time he goes off, calling the faithful to prayer ... and that is, "Fucking Shouter!") But no Muslim can say, "I didn't hear it," which brings me to the next point.
Public Prayer: I haven't known Muslims to quietly do a solitary, quiet little prayer to The Big A, such as, "I promise to be really good if you'll just let me pass this test." Nope. (Although, see The Talk, below.) In the Muslim countries it's ALL your neighbors and ALL your coworkers dropping whatever they were doing and getting together as a group to pray five times a day. If someone doesn't show up, it's pretty obvious to a lot of people. You SHALL show up -- and that leaves very little time in between moments of each reminder of Islam during which a Muslim mind might wander.
This isn't just "if it's convenient." Even offshore, on the oil rigs in the Red Sea, the world stops at prayer time, upon the notice of The Shouter, everyone drops everything (there are emergency or safety exceptions) troops to some pre-ordained space on some deck where they can roll out the AstroTurf "prayer rug" wash their feet in the provided ritual ablution facility and get busy with the prayin'. No kidding.
In addition to this public prayer, the faithful seem to be taught to do little recitations and readings of the Koran during any idle time. (Idle minds might be the devil's playground. Better keep them occupied.)
Peer Pressure: If you don't show up to pray or go to the mosque when you're supposed to, first you'll get the evil eye and questions from your family, friends & neighbors. (This can be defended as being a "good" aspect of Islam. Everybody is "concerned" about everyone else. If Little Hesham doesn't show up for afternoon prayers, he might be sick or in trouble. People will know to go check up on him.) But, that checking up is the real point. You don't pray and you'll be checked up upon, pronto. And it won't be just mommie checking. It always seemed to me that the oldest, nastiest, brutish looking beast-of-a-being was the dude who walked around giving the "official" evil eye to any strays or infidels. Big time "shudder" when they came around. Must be like it was when the Gestapo or the KGB operatives walked into a room -- except, of course, Brutus is a "good" guy.
The Mark: At first I couldn't figure out why so many of the faithful, even top business executives, had these patches of dark marking, about the size of a U.S. quarter, right in the center of their foreheads. Makeup? Hereditary?!? After enough time, you see why. The true faithful touch that spot on their forehead fully down onto their prayer rug, several times per prayer, and the prayers are five times per day, every day, forever. It's a freakin rug burn. Avoidable, but obviously not avoided. I've concluded that it is a mark of the pious, i.e., "See ... I ain't just going through the motions ... I'm actually banging my damn head down on the ground to The Big A!" Brilliant! Here's a religion which has pervaded the culture so totally that the men go to great lengths to bash the shit out of themselves, for god, many times a day.
The Talk: Unlike the Western habit of saying, "Bless you," when somebody sneezes or even Western extremes like the Christian nut-job few who will say, "Go with God," or such when you part their company, etc., in the sphere of Islam I think it is imposible to have a one minute conversation with anybody about anything without some Islamic religious saying being tossed into the transcript. I didn't have a long enough immersion in the culture to know for sure if this is true everywhere; or, if maybe they were piously posturing for the "infidel" but there are more than 30 derivations of common language greetings or wishes which employ the name of Allah and/or Mohammed (none of which are swearing, as a Westerner might say "God damn it" or similar.) For details, see http://arabic.speak7.com/islamic_expressions.htm
Special Times: This ain't just like a few extra trips to church around Easter or Christmas. For instance, Ramadan is an entire freaking month wherein the faithful "fast," every day, from sunrise until after sunset, and cannot eat, drink, smoke, screw or swear -- at all. Lucky-me got to the Red Sea station on the first day of Ramadan (oh, goodie!) . Supposedly, non-Muslims don't have to play by these rules, but, a). see above about Brutus; b). where do you think you're going to get food or drink when all such sources are closed up tight from sunrise to sunset; c). how much shit that you've squirreled off the tables in the mess hall can you carry in your backpack, into the helicopter, out to the platform, before even you're desperate for sundown (and where do you think you can "partake" that is totally out of site of Brutus?) Thus, for an entire month, everybody is up to their who-ha's in religion as they're getting ready, eating like maniacs before The Shouter lets them know, officially, the sun is up, DIEING of thirst and stomach growling all day after about 10am, praying five times (nope, ya don't get to quit doing that) and then sitting around the table, in front of gobs of food and pitchers of drink "praying" for the fucking sun to set (again, announced by The Shouter.)
On top of the actual time of Ramadan, when there are long-into-the-night celebrations (resplendent with food and drink), at the official end of Ramadan there is a huge celebration to end the fast. This party is such a big deal that it requires a lot of planning -- more time to think about things to do with Islam.
There are a whole pot full of other special days and events in Islam, beyond Ramadan, which all work to keep the faith in front of the faithful. If interested, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muslim_holidays
Now, looking back at all of the above, isn't this a brilliantly planned out religious system? There ain't no stopping these guys. They have it all together. My only regret is that I never figured out how to make big money off of their crazy system. Oh well.
That's it for today, friends. Please save your IED's and fatwas for somebody who is really worth it. I'm just one crazy old loon living and loving real paradise.