This was posted over on Ex-Christian.net. Thought it was worth spreading it here too.
“If you’re a Christian, or on the fence about your beliefs, I would like to recommend that you give a little thought to something important.
The Bible, and Christian clergy, writers, and apologists all make a very big deal of hewing to the faith, of shunning doubt and constantly “working on” one’s faith. They make it sound like actually thinking about and researching the truth values of your Christian beliefs is an insult to god. To question the teachings you’ve received, and actually question the truth of the Jesus story, they claim, is to “turn away from god.”
But is this really the right way to look at it? Why do they insist that you believe whatever you’re told in the Bible and in sermons? Why do they say, “Just take my word for it”?” …………
First a definition: Pathological – deviating from normal, healthy, or efficient
Next some considerations of pathology in the context of evolution and society:
Evolution – The proper purpose of behavior in evolutionary understanding is to maximize the survival likelihood of the individual, the genetic line of the individual, and the species of which the individual is a member. There may be many ways to accomplish these ends but of course the ones to be preferred are those that are most efficient since individuals have limited life spans and resources.
From the definition provided above we can see that an individual who is not acting toward the named purposes in efficient ways is pathological from an evolutionary standpoint.
Society – Generally speaking societal behaviors or norms that are preserved in nearly all societies over nearly all times are evolutionarily favorable (and probably evolutionarily directed). Thus such things as family closeness, clannishness, community cooperation, patriotism, traditions, belief systems, and so on are likely to be positive, evolutionary survival behaviors since they can all provide a measure of security, and support that enhances survivability.
Once again, we can conclude that individuals who go outside these lines would fit the definition of ‘pathological’ since they place themselves not only out of the norms but may imperil their own survival by losing the support of community, family, etc.
If my reasoning is right then, I think we may safely conclude that we deconverts are pathological. :D
Matt 5:23,24 – “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”
There’s a nice principle. If you have a problem with someone else, you go and reconcile with them FIRST: THEN you come talk to your god. But honestly is this how it really works? No, we know it isn’t.
The church has this set of teachings that say, “God is the one most offended by your sins…. He’s the one you really must apologize to… Get right with him.” And along with those maxims goes the teaching that if you just confess to god, then you’ll be forgiven, shriven, cleansed. You’ll be back in good graces with your imaginary friend and all will be right. ….. or will it?
Haven’t you forgotten someone? What about the real, flesh and bone person who was truly offended and hurt by what you did? He/She is still there. Did you confess to him/her? How’s that relationship?
It’s so easy, so cheap to confess to the air and imagine that everything’s OK. You imagine your deity smiles on you. You may hear your priest pronounce forgiveness for you. But try going to that person you really hurt. Will he/she smile and forgive so readily? Or will you have to actually DO SOMETHING to earn your forgiveness? Might you actually have to change your ways? (That’s another actual bible concept called repentance.)
Yeah, confession is easy. Pronounced and imagined forgiveness from an imaginary being is cheap. But real repentance is hard, and real forgiveness is earned, and confessing to a real person you’ve actually harmed is scary.
But hey, religion is there to comfort folks, not challenge or change them. Not to make them better, just to make them happy.
So go to your altars; and if you have any real issues with real people, don’t worry; tell it to the air, then imagine all is well.
I don’t know the gal who wrote this, but I LOVE IT! :D
Just who the heck am I talking about here?
- Keeps track of who is being good and bad
- Rewards according to the list
- Knows what you are doing at all times
- Is aware of your requests for gifts and such
- Parents teach their children about him
- Has helpers of lesser abilities than himself
- Has supernatural powers
- Is known as loving and kind
- No one ever sees him
- Gets credit for things he doesn’t actually do
- Lots of songs about him
- May have origins in some historical character
- His example may inspire generosity in some people
- Does some rather weird miraculous things
Happy holidays whilst you figure on that. :D
Isn’t that a terribly common cry to hear from those who still believe? You try to engage them in some sort of dialogue about your doubts, they give some pat answers, you shoot those down easily, and then they act like you’re attacking their faith, they get defensive, and they cry, “Why can’t you just respect my beliefs?”
I have to admit that my first thought in response to this accords with a quote I found by Bertrand Russell. “There is something feeble and a little contemptible about a man who cannot face the perils of life without the help of comfortable myths. Almost inevitably some part of him is aware that they are myths and that he believes them only because they are comforting. But he dare not face this thought! Moreover, since he is aware, however dimly, that his opinions are not rational, he becomes furious when they are disputed.”
How perceptive of Mr. Russell. The real problem with believers, and the real reason they are so easily upset, is a deep-seated insecurity. As I brought up in a previous post, God is really a surrogate parent. So believers who have their faith challenged are afraid of losing their parent, and by extension, their whole “faith family”. The cry, “Why can’t you just respect my beliefs?” can be translated more realistically to “Don’t take away my comfort and security! You’re scaring me!”
For me this realization brings me to wonder, “How do I get past this blockage? How do I help someone to set aside their insecurities and face their fears? How do I help them to grow up enough to face the world as an independent adult when they’ve been leaning on a parental figure for so long?”
From the experiences of just about everyone on this forum, I think it must be concluded that this process happens in a stepwise fashion, not all at once. These steps of course can differ for everyone, but there are some common elements.
- Doubts have to lodge in the mind of a believer and grow there.
- The believer needs to have some idea of life apart from his/her known faith.
- The believer has to develop some firm idea that something is true apart from what he/she has held heretofore.
- The believer has to be able to figure out how to deal with the cost of deconversion. After all he/she stands to lose friends, family, and more.
Of course there are probably more elements to add, but these are ones I can readily think of. The upshot of all of them is that respecting someone’s beliefs, or if you will not exacerbating someone’s fears, can be complicated. Still and all we do need to take the trouble to try to awaken people from their errors.
Why that last statement? Quite simply because religious beliefs aren’t just benign and powerless. They’re not like Easter Bunny myths. No, religious beliefs are constantly being thrust into politics, laws, school systems, and into the next generation of vulnerable, young brains.
I admit that I’m not the sort of fellow who likes to upset my religious friends and acquaintances by yanking away their security blankets and setting them into crying fits. But I also don’t want to live under Sharia law, or Old Testament law, or under some interpretation of New Testament law.
And I must hasten to add this point. At the end of the day, religious people aren’t usually very respectful of unbelief are they? Not really. Not often. Do unto others and so forth is supposed to be a prinicple they live by though isn’t it? (I not the one who make that rule up ya know.)
So here’s the conclusion that I get pulled to: I can’t respect your belief if that means letting you go on disrespecting mine, or demanding that your beliefs dictate how I should live, or allowing fantasies and poor performance to substitute for education. None of that deserves respect. In the end that’s really the final answer to the question isn’t it?
“Why can’t you just respect my beliefs?” …… “Because your beliefs don’t earn respect.” :(
Once again I am lifting verbiage directly from someone who has been absolutely brilliant. In this case the poster on another site is know only as Dr. X. I know nothing more of him. Only that this post of his is wonderful in it’s insight. No one theory is likely to cover everyone and this one surely leaves out some people, but I find it highly resonant with me and surely with many others on this site. I think it provides insight into the inner motivations of so many people who are reluctant to change and may even may even strengthen belief in the face of conflicting evidence (the backfire effect).
There is abundant evidence from psychological research that irrationality is built into us, and that pre-rational heuristics govern our beliefs far more than rationality. Ideologies, social bonds and group identifications, not training, determine the ability of most of us to process evidence in dealing with matters related to our sense of social alliances. It’s easy to see how this powerful tendency was selected in human beings and no reason to assume that vulnerability to bias is trained into people or that we can be trained out of bias in some general sense during childhood. My mother loved me when I was born, not because of any inherent quality in me that made me more worthy of love. She regularly acted with disregard for her own interests to protect me. So much of our survival is based on pre-rational, preconscious tendencies and heuristics, while reason is a rather lowly step-child in social relations, and that would generally hold true for group identity.
Reasoning is only a shaky overlay on non-conscious, pre-rational processes. One problem is that reasoning can actually be used quite effectively to support pre-determined views. In people who are more intelligent, the tendency is all the more pronounced. Smart people can talk themselves into a lot of things that aren’t true and sound very thoughtful and rational while they do it. A less intelligent person will be more comfortable with blunt denial. A brighter person will erect complex intellectual systems of justification without awareness that their opinion was already formed. It isn’t that those systems and reasons are necessarily wrong; quite often they’re right. The point is that the intellectual wouldn’t have gotten there if a strong tribal identification was standing in the way. Quite often, smart people who can earn an A+ in a Logic 101, go into false territory and cannot be talked out of it because of an existing group identification and the perception that the enemy holds an opposing position.
I think wingnuts are especially crazy at this time because of the power of their group identity and the perception of a serious threat to the group. The evolved adaptive response to this situation is to become nuts in support of the tribe and nuts in contempt for the opposition.
I also think that the history of the American South in relation to race and to Washington, the capital of the n-loving conqueror, is at the core of the wingnut identity. Republicans have ruthlessly and successfully exploited a fusion between downtrodden (read threatened) Southern, white group identity and an assortment of geographical, educational and religious markers, as well as a variety of cultural tics and habits that extend the identity well beyond the American South. In each of these areas, the idea has been promoted that white people, especially non-urban white men, are members of a unified tribe that is in a fight for its life, under attack from outside enemies. A person who identifies with that group and takes on that sense of life or death threat will not join the discussion as a reasoning, evidence-processing participant. They’re at war with the mental equivalent of Hitler or Stalin or pick your historical enemy who was beyond a reasoning and good-faith discussion.
Why do some of us decouple from our early group identities and change our beliefs? I think there are many circumstantial and internal reasons that it can happen. I used to think I reasoned my way out of my early tribal alliances, but I’m now convinced that reason was only introduced to the extent that my tribal bonds were fraying for other reasons.
Religion, rather than poisoning everything, is IMO usually a group identity not unlike any other group identity. It’s impact become poisonous when that identity feels threatened, but that’s not because religious people aren’t taught to reason. It’s because of group identification and evolved responses to group threat.
Huge thanks to Dr. X