I’ve been staying away from discussions about god and religion. The two topics are not interchangeable because they can mean different things to different people. However, the two are linked in the minds of most. Occasionally, I get to the point where I am moved to jot down my thoughts on the matter.
In the piece titled “Atheist, am I” my musings wander over the field of purpose and belief. In the piece titled “Religion . . . still fun to discuss (occasionally)” I interact with what I consider a dishonest believer.
But the honest believer . . . the honest believer comes right out and tell you they believe because they want to believe. It’s a choice, you see. They have faith in something that gives meaning to their lives, something that has a purpose in mind for them and guides their journey through this brief period we call our lives.
They call it god. By the way, I typically don’t capitalize the word ‘god’ or even the names of religions . . . to do so would give them power and respect they have not earned.
Anyway, many people will tell you they believe in god. The statement on its own is devoid of meaning until they start giving attributes to this entity. Until then, they might as well have said ‘waffles’.
So, where do most people get their concept of what god is? That’s the frustrating part for me. Even when people share an organized religious belief (religion), people have “fuzzy” definitions for what they believe in. Not only that, different believers adapt the definitions to an arbitrary level predicated on their own understanding of the world, and not on some predefined or commonly understood definition. If that is the case, then why not ‘waffles’?
Even with that ‘adaptive’ belief’ people’s ideas and understanding is deeply rooted in the culture and religion they were raised in.
You don’t hear a christian kid say “But mom, I don’t see Jesus in that piece of toast; I see Shiva.”
Believers invariably claim they have a personal rapport with their god, and that their god has made itself known to them. They then parrot what they learned from their parents or community, often with limited understanding of the deeper issues associated with simplified and dogmatic beliefs.
“What is wrong with that?”
There is a current push in conservative circles to limit the discussion of religion in the name of religious freedom. They are not interested in discussions; they want their beliefs recognized as personal and sacrosanct.
As I say in my About, the issue is not the belief itself. It is what it leads to, and it invariably leads to bad things. Not that anyone ever admits they are bad things . . . after all, their personal Waffle says it’s OK.
Let me give you an example . . . if I told you the Waffle I believe in mandates that people between the ages of 20 and 60 should not be allowed to blog, and that it further says they should be shunned (or imprisoned, or stoned) if they do blog . . . well, then; you might get the urge to discuss it, question it, and perhaps even argue it.
If you are between the ages of 20 and 60 you would definitely want to know why the Waffle speaks thus, and further would want to know what authority this Waffle has to impose limits on what adults can do. “It’s so written in the Box from which we get Waffles” is not something many would readily accept. In fact, it would prompt a slew of other questions; question believers don’t want to entertain.
Both for Waffle and god, the biggest question is “WHY?”
“WHY do you believe in a god?”
. . . and specifically . . .
“WHY do you believe in your god, and not someone else’s god?”
I’ve already stated one’s belief is rooted in the culture and religious exposure they had before adulthood (and sometimes after adulthood). They are no more than a reflection of what they have been taught and failed to challenge.
BUT . . . some people will tell you they studied various religions, and came to their beliefs through a process of discovery. Assuming they are not lying, assuming they studied all the religions (some 2,000 and counting), the question remains . . . “WHY did you choose your particular belief system?”
At that question, a large number of believers will raise shields and engage evasive maneuvers. They think they are answering the question, but they are not. In fact, they are running away from it at warp speed.
“I see the hand of god all around me. The flowers, the trees , the smile in a baby’s face; life all around us.”
There are other explanations for all those items, much more plausible and demonstrable than any particular god, but even if you are ‘special’ and can see divine influence all around us, “WHY that particular ‘understanding’ of god, and not some other?”
Plus, additional questions arise . . . if you base your belief in observational quasi-evidence, why ignore the nasty things? Death is at least as well represented as life. Disease, natural catastrophes, suffering . . . are those also not from the hand of god? “WHY believe in such a god?”
And if your god is not responsible for all the nasty stuff . . . “WHY did you come to that conclusion?”
“Mine is a loving god.”
“It says so in a book!”
“WHY did you choose to believe that book, and not some other book?”
“Because the book says it is true.”
At this point one gets into Tautological roadblock.
But note . . . the question is never answered. ‘Why?’ is such a simple question, but the ramifications of trying to answer it get you into all sorts of entanglements, and none of the discussions I’ve had in the past 40+ years ever went past the equivalent of “because!”
The question remains unanswered.
And so we return to the sleight-of-hand answer.
“I believe because I want to believe.”
It may give believers comfort, it may bolster their self image, their self importance, the supposed purpose of their lives. That is an answer of sorts . . . but again, belief in god is not insular; there is baggage attached.
Some people go to great lengths to ditch that baggage. They divorce themselves from organized religion. They claim a different god from what religion teaches . . . but really, not too different.
In doing all that, they have to make decisions . . . what to keep, what to get rid of, the power of their personal god, the limits of their god . . . in doing so they retrace steps along a path their ancestors traveled every time the challenge to their concept of god became too great to overcome; they invent a new version of god.
But the question remains. “WHY even ponder the existence of such a being?”
And when one does so, how can one hope to grasp what, if it existed, is surely an infinite and powerful entity outside and greater than our infinite universe?
How does one go about picking attributes for a god? And when one does pick those attributes, how does one ensure they leave the baggage behind. How does one give purpose to the universe. How can one ensure such purpose is not limiting?
For that is the problem . . .
. . . individuals are limited by the shared understanding at the time of their lives. That limit is the limit of knowledge we have about ourselves and the universe we live in while we we are alive in it, and every religion has had to face the shattering of those limits as time marches on and knowledge grows. So many religions did not survive . . . and the current religions will perish as well.
Of course, religions are fighting back . . . by limiting knowledge, by denying knowledge, by substituting superstition for knowledge, by reinterpreting their books, and by redefining their gods. It may work in the short run, but they are doomed to fail. If not, then humanity is doomed to fail.
There are still others pseudo answers . . .
“WHY do you believe in god?”
“Because that’s where we get our morals.”
They are wrong, of course. Every moral concept one cares to mention, as well as love, compassion, empathy, charity . . . none of them need a god. Demonstrably, morals, ethics, arise out of humans working for the common good. There are flaws in this, of course, as different groups can and do arrive at vastly different ethical systems, but this difference is not solved by the application of any religious belief. In fact, it is most often hindered by such beliefs.
As proof I give you the conditions so many live in, and especially women, around the world. Consistently, people live better lives the freer they are from the shackles of religions and the bindings of superstitious belief.
Also, ponder this question . . . would you trust a person that acts morally and ethically only under the threat of punishment? Because morals from religions are enforced not by recognizing the inherent benefits of a system of ethics, but by the threat of punishment.
Incredibly severe, cruel, and eternal punishment.
So, WHY? WHY believe in gods and all associated religions?
Never having been given an answer, I’ve had to ponder the issue on my own. I came up with a couple of ideas. Not saying these are definitive, nor applicable to all, but . . .
. . . I give you Fear and Power.
Fear of the unknown. Not the fear associated with threats to one’s self, but fear of new things and ideas that change our understanding of ourselves and our universe.
I say onto you “that fear is not rational”. The unknown should elicit curiosity and the desire to learn, to understand. Indeed, the vast majority of human progress and the advancement of knowledge has been fueled by relatively few individuals who had the curiosity and desire to learn and build on the ever-increasing foundation of knowledge, dragging the rest of humanity along with them.
Not that humanity is willing . . . the majority of humans are afraid. Because of it they will readily accept the idea of a protector, savior, or creator that not only is concerned for their well-being, but promises something beyond the limits of mortal life. Fear of death is a powerful motivator for many; the ultimate fear. Religion offers the equivalent of a mother’s skirt hem for frightened little children to hang onto, and hide behind, and the promise of eternal life to boot.
Power is the other motivator. Power to control. Power to subjugate. Power to leverage for wealth.
Think of it as a tribal system. Individual tribes seek to establish power bases so as to safeguard their social, political, and economic standard. What better way to control, direct, and influence large groups of people but through the use of superstition and religion?
It is an effective formula that has worked for thousands of years and for thousands of religions. It is a formula that continues to work, and it does so because people are still tribal in nature, and they want their tribe to have the advantage. But not just have the advantage; they want to be told they deserve it, and should not feel bad because of it.
They want to be told they are are special, and are entitled to more than other people . . . more than people who are not as special, who are not under the protection of a god; the ones who have displeased their god and are being punished. The ones in the other tribes.
“OK, smartass! Answer me this; WHY DON’T YOU BELIEVE in god?”
Well, Bob, I went through my own search many years ago. Read more about religions than the average believer. Read about spirituality (defined differently by each who tried to explain it). Continued to read, learn, and ask questions to this day.
At one time, long ago, I wanted to believe, find the ‘truth’, whatever it was supposed to be. Instead, I found people who, when it came right down to it, just made a choice. They did have one thing in common; they all said theirs was the right choice.
Religion, belief in god, superstition . . . it’s not for me, but I want to clear up something; it’s not because of the ‘logic and precise thinking” of an engineer. Sure, I don’t deny that is a part of it, but it’s a very small part.
The truth is, I don’t like to fool myself. Choosing to believe, be it for comfort or profit, is not something I can do. I can’t understand the ability in others to say “I want to believe, so I do”, even as I understand how the mind can construct versions of realities nearly at will once the decision is made.
Not possible for me, any more than I could say “I want to believe I just ate cake, so I do”, or “I want to believe I can fly, so I do”. Those are purposefully extreme examples, and are not to set up straw man comparisons, or to denigrate people’s own journeys to their own conclusions, but rather to illustrate the feeling I have about saying “I believe because I want to”.
That’s why I can’t understand faith; I can no more will myself to accept a belief in god than to believe I can fly (I usually end that sentence with the ‘god made me that way’ joke).
I don’t minimize what that choice gives the believer, what it provides in their life, but I do want to point out that decision has real consequences, both for the believer and others. Belief forms the basis for both actions and attitudes with respect to others.
I don’t care if someone believes Elvis is alive, or worships a piece of toast. I do care how those beliefs translate to those around them. Make no mistake . . . the beliefs people hold have a fundamental impact on my life and the life of many others.
Because of that fact I not only want to know as much as possible about those beliefs, but beyond that I want the people who hold those beliefs to be secure enough in their views to constantly challenge them. To defend them. To demonstrate to me they did more than just blindly follow in the footsteps of other people’s thinking.
That’s the other ‘why’. Why are people so resistant to challenging their beliefs, why do they accept without question in the face of evidence (or lack thereof), why do they take comfort in fairy tales that have harmed humanity at the individual level and hampered the progress of civilization, and why do they so easily dismiss other people’s beliefs even as they hold on to their own with an ever-increasing determination?
They better be able to say something more than “Because!” when I ask “WHY?!”
Just a reminder about the SmugMug gallery HERE. It has a few more photos than what I posted here (hard to believe, right?).
That’s it . . . . this post has ended, except for the stuff below.
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Astute persons might have noticed these doodles, and correctly surmised they hold some significance for me, and perhaps for humanity at large.
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. . . my FP ward . . . chieken shit.