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Pardalis
1st November 2008, 12:57 AM
I was wondering about something, and I'm kind of torn between like and dislike about it.

The non-religious are a growing percentage of the population, but how many of these people have become non-believers because of a personal choice they've made? Is it really a decision, of just a default position? How many of them really know what this means to be a non-believer?

I'll explain. Alot of people around me I suspect are non-religious not because of a slow intellectual process. I suspect not a great many of them has bothered to think of things like our place in the universe and sat back and acknowledged the wonders science gives us. Their non-belief really is just the result of not caring one way or the other. And this is what I'm wondering about, is this a good thing? I'm an atheist, but I know why.

Alot of people I know consider themselves non-practicing Catholics, which is to say they're really self-ignoring atheists who haven't thought it through. They're atheists by default. Religion or any kind of "deep questions" doesn't play a part in their lives so they've never given it much thought. They don't practice mostly because they don't want to bother, but they'll say they're Christians because they culturally identify with Christianity. But that itself isn't an intellectually honest position, IMO, because they support an entire set of ideas without being aware of the implications of what they are endorsing.

But the religious by-default are not better, because most of them practice their religion and worship but also haven't thought it through, they do what they've been told to since childhood, they haven't read the Bible and just take the priest's word for it.

But then again people have a right to pick and choose what they like in their religion, but then one could ask why not just pick and choose what you think is good without the religous connotation altogether? Just say I believe this to be good, period. Which brings me to what I hear often people of no religious affiliation say:"I invent my own religion", they pick from every religion or spiritual ideologies and make up their own idea, which I think is a good way to go about it. It's personal and it doesn't involve preaching to others. I hope most people do that, as it is in my opinion perhaps the answer to my dilemma. But people who do that really do that because they are thinking about it, not because they just happen to not be of a certain faith, or have gradually lost interest.

But also I suspect alot more people say this but it's really just another way of saying: "I've never thought about it but if I ever get around to it I'll think of something". Which to me isn't really a good thing, because for one thing, it can lead to alot of woo, like sects and E.T. and new age idiocy. It's also lazy, and uninspiring. Sometimes I think I respect the religious for at least having questions about the deeper meanings of life. I think they're wrong but at least they're are thinking about things other than their dayly shores.

A lack of interest isn't a good thing, people should be in awe and admiration for what is around us, and for that they have to be interested. People who aren't interested in those things haven't been stimulated by science, and the wonders it unravels, or inversily, haven't been influence by the reassuring answers of religion. I think both secularists and religious people can be inspiring, like Carl Sagan or Franco Zeffirelli for example, both have made very beautful bodies of work in their own way, the fact that they are in admiration is what makes their work beautiful.

But I'm thinking that a lack of interest can be a good thing also. Our secular nations have developped an interesting thing, people of different ideologies living side-by side in relative harmony. The fact that we've been accustomed to not being upset about other people's beliefs made us more tolerant. The fact that alot of people don't care themselves about their own beliefs should then follow and make us even more tolerant. We've created sort of a cultural reflex of dislike of dogma, usually one who doesn't care won't try to enforce their non-beliefs onto others, they won't even notice the other's belief. Strangely enough, individualism makes us less antagonistic.

Ultimately, an ideal world would be without religion, and therefore the idea of the supernatural would eventually wither away by natural selection. If the question of dogma and the supernatural becomes naturall not even an issue in our minds, then at least we'll have gotten rid of a pesky human trait. If people just naturally don't care, or don't think about it, then we'll have gone a long way, people will go about they're day peacefully like we do in most secular countries. So in a way, not involving one's self about these issues can payoff.

So I'm kind of torn, I think natural non-belief is a good thing, but at least I think we should know why, or be aware of it, because one way or the other, the universe really is a thing to contemplate, and it would be a waste if we never stop to think about it for a moment.

Fiona
1st November 2008, 04:02 AM
You have raised a good many issues in this post, Pardalis. I suspect many people are in a similar place and it is well worth exploriing what you have raised. Not sure I agree with all you say, though, but for what it is worth:

The non-religious are a growing percentage of the population,

First, is this really true? There is another thread which seems to demonstrate that outright atheism is still quite rare, though that does not actually challenge your point, I agree. There is perhaps stronger evidence here:

http://humaniststudies.org/enews/?id=281&article=0

though this is a humanist site and can be expected to focus on studies which tend to demonstrate that trend. Unfortunately it seems to rely on opinion poll data. I think it is very difficult to design a poll so that you even know what people are talking about. However they may be accurate, and without more detail it is impossible to judge.

Let us accept this is true however, for the purpose of this discussion


but how many of these people have become non-believers because of a personal choice they've made? Is it really a decision, of just a default position? How many of them really know what this means to be a non-believer?

I'll explain. Alot of people around me I suspect are non-religious not because of a slow intellectual process. I suspect not a great many of them has bothered to think of things like our place in the universe and sat back and acknowledged the wonders science gives us. Their non-belief really is just the result of not caring one way or the other. And this is what I'm wondering about, is this a good thing? I'm an atheist, but I know why.

It seem to me that this imports a particular view of the nature of religious belief and that it needs to be defended. It supposes that religious belief is, or perhaps should be, the result of individual decision. This is perhaps true for some, but I think it is at best a partial understanding of the phenomenon. This article is interesting in this respect

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0SOR/is_/ai_53590309

While the importance of the individual is a very strong value and has been dominant in discourse since the enlightenment (perhaps particularly in America) it is not the only value and it is not applicable to all phenomena: we are social and therefore group mechanisms inform much of of our lives and beliefs. I think individualism is an important value in protecting the rights of the dissenting voice: but it is less important in determining what the general social narrative is and what those voices are dissenting from. Religion serves a variety of functions and it is not helpful to assume that it is a private matter: indeed I think that notion is very heavily based on protestant christian thinking and would not be so strongly held in catholic or islamic cultures: and this is what we see.

I am not saying that there is anything wrong with the protestant conception of religion, as contrasted with others, in terms of what and how belief should be held: but I am saying that it is not a complete account, even of that protestant tradition: yet you seem to be taking the value of that approach for granted. I think that is at least partly based on the background religion, and it cannot be assumed. Nor do I think that what we observe suggests that it is all that relevant

Alot of people I know consider themselves non-practicing Catholics, which is to say they're really self-ignoring atheists who haven't thought it through.

They're atheists by default. Religion or any kind of "deep questions" doesn't play a part in their lives so they've never given it much thought. They don't practice mostly because they don't want to bother, but they'll say they're Christians because they culturally identify with Christianity. But that itself isn't an intellectually honest position, IMO, because they support an entire set of ideas without being aware of the implications of what they are endorsing.

But the religious by-default are not better, because most of them practice their religion and worship but also haven't thought it through, they do what they've been told to since childhood, they haven't read the Bible and just take the priest's word for it.

This is not my experience. I also know a lot of lapsed catholics. Since I have not come from any religious tradition at all I can only try to understand the religious from their own statements. Some of them are properly atheist/agnostic, and in my experience they have given this a lot of thought. It was a painful process to get there for many: because it entailed embracing a individualist approach to religion which is at odds with that tradition. Indeed for that group their knowledge of religion and philosophy tends to be higher than my own and I have learned a great deal from them.

A second group are quite clearly what we call here, "cradle catholics". They do not practice the religion in terms of church attendance etc: but nevertheless they practice in terms of observable acts such as baptising their children and having them confirmed and getting married and buried within that tradition. They often do not think much about the deep questions because they have accepted the answers offered by the church. But they are part of a community and they share all the benefits that entails. And they are conscious of that - it is something they value. Group identity is important to them and they rise to defend that group if they perceive a challenge to it. As I see it this plays a very big part in their lives: just not the part that your own tradition expects religion to play. But I question whether that is not thinking deeply about the big questions of life: they are just different questions - about the importance of family and group membership etc, rather than where we came from. Again I think it is a presumption to say that those are NOT the big questions: we cannot assume this.

<snip>

Which brings me to what I hear often people of no religious affiliation say:"I invent my own religion", they pick from every religion or spiritual ideologies and make up their own idea, which I think is a good way to go about it.

It's personal and it doesn't involve preaching to others. I hope most people do that, as it is in my opinion perhaps the answer to my dilemma. But people who do that really do that because they are thinking about it, not because they just happen to not be of a certain faith, or have gradually lost interest.

Only if you believe in the supremacy of the individual. As I said above, I do not think that can be taken for granted at all. It is at least arguable that this approach is doomed, and I am reminded of something attributed to Chesterton
" a man who stops believing in God does not believe in nothing: he believes in anything". There is a serious point encapsulated there: it is not a cheap shot. Of course it is not universally or necessarily true: but it is clear that a lot of the "new age" tendency epitomises the danger.


But also I suspect alot more people say this but it's really just another way of saying: "I've never thought about it but if I ever get around to it I'll think of something". Which to me isn't really a good thing, because for one thing, it can lead to alot of woo, like sects and E.T. and new age idiocy. It's also lazy, and uninspiring. Sometimes I think I respect the religious for at least having questions about the deeper meanings of life. I think they're wrong but at least they're are thinking about things other than their dayly shores.

Yes.

A lack of interest isn't a good thing, people should be in awe and admiration for what is around us, and for that they have to be interested. People who aren't interested in those things haven't been stimulated by science, and the wonders it unravels, or inversily, haven't been influence by the reassuring answers of religion. I think both secularists and religious people can be inspiring, like Carl Sagan or Franco Zeffirelli for example, both have made very beautful bodies of work in their own way, the fact that they are in admiration is what makes their work beautiful.

Here I disagree. I am not interested. This is not because I haven't thought about it. but because I genuinely believe the question is not answerable. I am interested in what people believe and why and how they hold those beliefs: but I am not interested in god or what happens after death etc per se. It is a waste of time, IMO. Being interested in what is around you is part of our nature so far as I can tell, for we are curious. But there is nothing to say that one must be interested in either science or religion any more than art or other things. I tend to agree that the "proper study of man is man", but it is only one point of view: we cannot be interested in everything and we make our choices: why do you wish to privilege religion and science?

But I'm thinking that a lack of interest can be a good thing also. Our secular nations have developped an interesting thing, people of different ideologies living side-by side in relative harmony. The fact that we've been accustomed to not being upset about other people's beliefs made us more tolerant. The fact that alot of people don't care themselves about their own beliefs should then follow and make us even more tolerant. We've created sort of a cultural reflex of dislike of dogma, usually one who doesn't care won't try to enforce their non-beliefs onto others, they won't even notice the other's belief. Strangely enough, individualism makes us less antagonistic.

I cannot accept this either, I am afraid. It is certainly true that we do not fight about religion so much lately: but we fight about other things. Nationalism was the biggest killer ever, in the middle of the last century. It seems to me that if we are going to war we need some big idea to justify it with. That idea is often religion but it is often something else: I have the impression that we are always actually fighting about resources or power; and we disguise this in various ways.

I cannot accept your notion that secular society brings about what you describe for this reason: I have read "Kim". That sounds flippant but from this and other sources it seems to me that one of the astounding things about India as an example was the co-existence of all manner of different religious traditions most of the time: certainly they fought from time to time and at partition it was serious: yet 19 century India seems to have achieved co-existence in terms seldom seen. Perhaps it is romanticised and others here will correct me: but that is my impression. And it is also my impression of Moorish Spain and indeed much of the middle east in earlier times.

Ultimately, an ideal world would be without religion

Not sure. I couldn't care less about private belief and I think in an ideal world it would be private: but we seem to need to be in a society, and we are a long way from seeing all of humanity as "us". That is what I would see as an ideal world and the existence of religion is irrelevant to it

, and therefore the idea of the supernatural would eventually wither away by natural selection.

:confused:. I realise you are impressed by science but where does this come from?

If the question of dogma and the supernatural becomes naturall not even an issue in our minds, then at least we'll have gotten rid of a pesky human trait. If people just naturally don't care, or don't think about it, then we'll have gone a long way, people will go about they're day peacefully like we do in most secular countries. So in a way, not involving one's self about these issues can payoff.

So I'm kind of torn, I think natural non-belief is a good thing, but at least I think we should know why, or be aware of it, because one way or the other, the universe really is a thing to contemplate, and it would be a waste if we never stop to think about it for a moment.

I think everyone thinks about it at some point. But in my case not for very long. I don't know if this has helped in any way but I have enjoyed thinking about it, at least.

Rasmus
1st November 2008, 04:19 AM
Forgive me for not giving both your posts the due analysis for now, but to answer the main question:

Being right is a good thing, even in cases where it's not an achievement of any kind to be right.

If there is no god, then it is by default better not to believe that there is one.

Secondly, which other ridiculous ideas should we be aware of just to have a better understanding of how things really are?

I am somewhat aware of Lamarck, a humour based health model and the 5 elements. Do I really need to know these things to understand and appreciate Darwin, modern medicine or chemistry and physics?

How much Homoeopathy should I read about before studying medicine? And how much Astrology should I know before caring about the cosmos as it really is?

Cavemonster
1st November 2008, 04:34 AM
The truth is that the number of things one could believe in is functionally infinite compared to the time any human has on this earth. If you include ideas that no longer have currency (Greek, Egytptian, and Norse Gods, the magical beliefs of extinct tribes, the conspiracy theories circling around every major event, flat earth, hollow earth and on...)

Of course a considered, thoughtful approach to anything is better, but since you can't explore all of these in depth, and you can't act as if they are true without exploring them (the more so since they are often contradictory) the only way to possibly react to the vast majority of beliefs is to assume them untrue until it is proved otherwise.

It's a logical necessity.

So how does one choose which ideas to explore? That's sort of personal and arbitrary.
The ones that are popular around you are a good start, then maybe the ones that sound interesting etc.

But to actually be able to live life, we must dismiss a great number of things unconsidered. Which things those are are personal and I can't fault anyone on their choices. Although I do think intellectual curiosity is quite useful and I hate to see it lessening.

Pardalis
1st November 2008, 03:10 PM
First, is this really true? There is another thread which seems to demonstrate that outright atheism is still quite rare, though that does not actually challenge your point, I agree.I was listening to the Freethought radio podcast the other day and they mentioned that people who don't identify with any religion (not necessarily atheists) was the fastest growing minority in America, and I think I read Dawkins say the same in one of his books.

It seem to me that this imports a particular view of the nature of religious belief and that it needs to be defended. It supposes that religious belief is, or perhaps should be, the result of individual decision. This is perhaps true for some, but I think it is at best a partial understanding of the phenomenon. This article is interesting in this respect

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0SOR/is_/ai_53590309Thanks I'll take a look at it. :)

we are social and therefore group mechanisms inform much of of our lives and beliefs. I think individualism is an important value in protecting the rights of the dissenting voice: but it is less important in determining what the general social narrative is and what those voices are dissenting from. Religion serves a variety of functions and it is not helpful to assume that it is a private matterWhere I live religion has pretty been delegated to the personal sphere, I'm sure it's not the same in the US. People don't talk about religion over here. Maybe it's because we've lived under the strict Catholic church for so long up until the sixties, and now people really have moved on.

This is not my experience. I also know a lot of lapsed catholics. Since I have not come from any religious tradition at all I can only try to understand the religious from their own statements. Some of them are properly atheist/agnostic, and in my experience they have given this a lot of thought. It was a painful process to get there for many: because it entailed embracing a individualist approach to religion which is at odds with that tradition. Indeed for that group their knowledge of religion and philosophy tends to be higher than my own and I have learned a great deal from them. I may have generalized a bit, I refer to the people I know, maybe I'm in the wrong sphere of people, but I get the feeling there is less and less people wanting to ask themselves questions about our existence, everything has become so common and "domestic". And it is encouraged by the media I feel, but it is a feeling, I may be totally wrong.

A second group are quite clearly what we call here, "cradle catholics". They do not practice the religion in terms of church attendance etc: but nevertheless they practice in terms of observable acts such as baptising their children and having them confirmed and getting married and buried within that tradition. They often do not think much about the deep questions because they have accepted the answers offered by the church. But they are part of a community and they share all the benefits that entails. And they are conscious of that - it is something they value. Yes, I understand that and see that alot too, but favouring tradition for the sake of tradition is not intellectually strong IMO. It's superficial, people like the traditions but don't believe in the basic ideas, which I think is inconsistent. Take Christmas for example, everybody dresses their trees and put a crib under it, but don't go to church and worship Jesus. Then why celebrate Christmas at all? Why can't we have a hollyday and reunite with family for just that reason? that would be a good tradition to continue, but why keep the religious paraphenilia?

Here I disagree. I am not interested. This is not because I haven't thought about it. but because I genuinely believe the question is not answerable. I am interested in what people believe and why and how they hold those beliefs: but I am not interested in god or what happens after death etc per se. It is a waste of time, IMO. Being interested in what is around you is part of our nature so far as I can tell, for we are curious.I understand, I wasn't talking necessarily about the existence or non-existence of god when I was talking about "deeper questions". But I get the impression that by not bothering with religion, people have left out the intellectual questions that go along with it.

why do you wish to privilege religion and science? I think there's enough awe in science to give us enough inspiration and humility to replace the need for religion.

That idea is often religion but it is often something else: I have the impression that we are always actually fighting about resources or power; and we disguise this in various ways.
True.

Not sure. I couldn't care less about private belief and I think in an ideal world it would be private: but we seem to need to be in a society, and we are a long way from seeing all of humanity as "us". That is what I would see as an ideal world and the existence of religion is irrelevant to itExactly, but in order to see ourselves as "us", we need to ask ourselves deeper questions about our place in the universe, and our limited time both individually, and as a species? But if you only worry about the day to day life, you never get the chance. For that the religious may have an advantage, they literally stop each week (or five times a day) to think about it (or not think about it, if you ask me ;)). But it also feels like humanism and the writings of people like Sagan and Dawkins are getting more and more popular, which is encouraging. Atheism shouldn't be just an absence of belief, but a philosophy as well, a progressive and humanist one. That's what I guess was my point, people I call "atheists by default" stop at not believing, but what comes next? At least they've got to first base, but one needs to go further than that IMO.

:confused:. I realise you are impressed by science but where does this come from?
I was just thinking that itwould eventually eliminate itself.