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An atheist meditation on our seemingly natural pull towards religious thinking.

My wife is a Unitarian Universalist. She takes our kids to church with her every Sunday, and the church nourishes my family. They talk a lot about social justice topics, inclusiveness, respecting each others' spiritual journeys, etcetera. I have only been able to attend occassionally over the past few years because of my work schedule--I work at a homeless shelter in the city, and homelessness does not take the weekend off--but recently my schedule has changed, and I've been tagging along.

 I like it. I like the people, I like the way they embrace my family, and I like the overall message. The Unitarian Universalist church has done a great thing by creating a community setting that allows people to deepen their own personal life journeys, explore their own accumulated life philosophies, and share their experiences with others in an open and unafraid way. I am also very big on the social justice element of their mission.

 As I was typing the above paragraph, I could feel the looming 'but' hanging over me. 'I love the UU church, but...'. But there is no 'but'. Not really. What I have learned from the UU church is that I have become a little harder than I had realized, and that the human mind naturally orients itself towards religion.

 On my hardness: It was inevitable. All of my life I have romanticized troubled men, and taken exception to things that are beyond my individual control. That's a topic for another essay, maybe. The other part...that the human mind naturally orients itself towards religion, has been dawning on me in bits and pieces for the past few years.

 The minister talked to us about how we all carried within us 'the divine', or that we all were 'the divine', or something like that. Ultimately, her purpose was to lead us to a place where we recognized 'the divine' in others, but also, a twin purpose seemed to have been to protect her own need to use words like 'god' and 'religion' in a positive connotation. It was painful to watch a baseless assertion be carried into a formula for doing good. If we cannot deliver justice without a god, we're in trouble, because gods do not exist.

 So there was that. People who largely could be described as atheists, agnostics, pantheists, and deists, cloaking all of their good works and their experiences in a language that upon only a little prodding would be revealed to be the currency of myth. There's nothing wrong with poetic language, mind you, but people don't defend mere metaphor the same way they defend literal belief, and when you're dealing with the religious--however liberal--the style of defense seems awfully close to the kind of defense we mount of vulnerable literal beliefs.

 I've also been reading about Leon Trotsky a lot lately. I like him. Of course, I always see a lot of myself reflected in the lives of great men, so I identify with him. His story has just the mix of romance, iconoclasm, and tragedy that gets to me. The 'Old Man' of bolshevism could be said to be the farthest thing away from religion that you might find. I know I'm not the first to say it, but Soviet communism couldn't be closer to religion, with it's doctrines, enforcers, icons, and inflexible dogmas. The religion of communism put blinders on Trotsky's brilliance.

John Dewey's final assessment of Trotsky, as found in Bertrand Patendaude's 'Trotsky: Downfall of a Revolutionary':

"Dewey, the pragmatist, was alert to the mutual shaping of ends and means. Trotsky, the Marxist, was guided by his belief in an iron law of historical progress. To Dewey, Trotsky was the prisoner of an ideology. 'He was tragic,' Dewey said in delivering his ultimate verdict on Trotsky a dozen years later. 'To see such brilliant native intelligence locked up in absolutes'."

Which is very close to how I feel about all of my highly intelligent religious friends. Personally, I think much of my own cleverness grew out of the need to defend my own religious views when I was an evangelical. There was never any greater challenger to my faith than my own reason, and my wit sharpened considerably defending against it. This is what I suspect of all of my brilliant theologian friends as well, but that's probably another conversation.

 Other people have said it before, but I've always bucked at it. I have been burned by religion, so I don't want to believe it is something that is needed. I'm still not sure it is needed, but it seems to be something everyone bends towards.

Andy Thompson:

 Lucifer is my favorite character in all of literature. To me, he represents rebellion in the face of tyranny, creativity, humanism, reason, and life. He is also the perfect embodiment of the tragic hero. This is the Lucifer as portrayed in the works of Mark Twain, Arthur Miller, Milton, and Neil Gaiman, perhaps best embodied in our age by the 'Good-Guy Lucifer' meme, and the dedication to Saul Alinsky's 'Rules For Radicals':

 “Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins — or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer "

Since this has been so, it makes sense that Anton LaVey and I would have crossed paths eventually. There is much to love about LaVey, but there is also much to scoff at. He seems to have shared the same kind of appreciation for Satan that I do, but he also gummed up the whole thing with a lot of stupid objectivism and social Darwinism. I understand now that LaVey, in his heart, was a serious nerd, and that Satanism is, at it's core, a religion for nerds. None of this is more evident than in the current black pope's meditation on time travel*. I am a nerd too, but I've been convinced that I didn't need any kind of religious structure. After sitting through the UU sermon I sat through this weekend, and reading a lot about Leon Trotsky and his secular religion lately, I am beginning to see how the structure of religion pops up in everyone's life in one way or the other, and that LaVey was ultimately right when he said:

"Man needs ritual and dogma, but no law states that an externalized god is necessary in order to engage in ritual and ceremony performed in God's name!"

As with all religious writings, the overuse of exclamation points makes me cringe, but experience seems to bear out his basic claim. Even among many followers of popular atheist bloggers, you see a lot of arguments from authority ("As P.Z. Myers says..."), and heretic shaming (remember when Neil De Grasse Tyson dared to call himself an agnostic?), and mindless meme regurgitation ("science flies people to the moon, religion flies people into buildings.").

Maybe our mind's most pressing desire is to be comfortable. Unfortunately, personal growth requires constant motion and battle--both internal and external. But we need rest, we need assurance, and we need structure.

 I'm uncomfortable with religion. I'm uncomfortable endorsing it as a benign thing...but I recognize the inclination towards it in everyone around me, and in myself. I want to say 'this is this way because of this', and 'this is the law', and instead of giving an argument for why 'this is the law', I want to point to the law book and say, 'because it is thus written'. That's what's in my heart, and I don't like it. I want to be happy with not knowing why everything is the way it is, and bravely accept my life as the dwindling flame on a match head that it is, but I am greedy.

It's become my opinion that mankind naturally reverts to religion if it is not diligent. Anton LaVey wants to have his cake and eat it too when he seeks to free himself of religion while chaining himself to man's 'need' for dogma and ritual. Somewhere inside of me I want to follow him, but I don't think that would be the right thing to do.


 *The Satanic Scriptures, by Peter H. Gilmore, page 201,'Time Travel: Cheap and Easy'. Scapegoat Publishing, 2007.

Originally posted to Spencer Troxell on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 11:32 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight and Street Prophets .

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (32+ / 0-)

    "Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." ~ Samuel Johnson

    by Spencer Troxell on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 11:32:00 AM PDT

  •  On what, exactly, do you (7+ / 0-)

    base this assertion:

    the human mind naturally orients itself towards religion.
    Your own experience?

    My husband and I went to a UU church just a few months ago, looking for a social-justice oriented community. Within five minutes of walking into the place we knew we'd made a mistake and stayed put through the service out of politeness.

    Far, far too churchy for either one of us; we don't need it, weren't seeking it and were repelled by it when we found it.

    Should I therefore conclude that all of humanity is wired to avoid religion?

    When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained. - Mark Twain

    by Late Again on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 12:18:21 PM PDT

    •  Show me a culture without religion. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pixxer, DJ Rix

      Any time in human history.

      Whatchya got?

      •  You did not refer to 'culture' (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        yaque, a gilas girl, notrouble, ubertar, bkamr

        in your diary, you referred to "the human mind", which I took to mean the individual human mind and not the collective.

        Pardon me if I mistook your meaning.

        When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained. - Mark Twain

        by Late Again on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 01:27:55 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Book religions (10+ / 0-)

        Are of a very different order than the spiritual domains of life in cultures with oral traditions. For example- the Native Americans could never understand why their christian conquerers (yeah- ponder conquest in the name of the god of love for a moment or two) only gave their attention to the Great Mystery one day a week. In their lives the recognition of the spiritual dimension of reality was interwoven with their daily experience of life.

        "Political ends as sad remains will die." - YES 'And You and I' ; -8.88, -9.54

        by US Blues on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 07:41:55 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  thanks usblues (0+ / 0-)

          for reminding us of the Old Ways.

          god has got a bad name lately, not for leaving paralysed kids in their pain so much, or allowing the daily carnage we see in the bleedia.

          i think the way he's been worshipped the last few thousand years would piss any god off, if she existed, and if she were so ungodly as to get angry.

          plenty of interesting things to think about in this diary, and the comments.

          i think we project on god what our little brains think they want from him. this is a mishmash of kind daddy and superhero cartoon figure, so that's just we're the products of a warped environment, oh well.

          but where the belief wheels really jump the track is when we project omnipotence. where is it written that god is omnipotent? (other than by some foaming human)?

          maybe there are galactic gods and our local one is in a long chain of gods, reporting to their superiors deeper in the void.

          god is definitely out there, iow, but he has a god too. see how it works?

          you can give him-her any shape you want, any name, any attribute... god is an idea (about an idea), a vehicle, a mysterious force that we can invite and play with, or disdain without engaging, such as atheists do.

          how can it be disdain when there is no one out there to disdain anyway?

          no refuting that logic!

          wait till you feel it... then the fun begins, as you try with your feeble little mind to encompass what that might mean, that reality is numinous, charged with the finest of invisible energies that link us all in humanity.

          there is no final understanding in an ever changing universe, but somehow there are eternal verities, one of which is god creates atheists to have interesting discussions about ethics, ideals and morality, forgiveness, redemption and magic with. give me a smart atheist rather than a dumb believer for good company any day!

          i'd steer clear of mcvey. not even a very effective magician, unsurprisingly considering his mental architecture.

          better john michael greer, who has one of the best takes -should i say gives?- on spirituality.

          it is possible to have a perfectly respectable, abundantly, excellently fine life here as an atheist.

          just as one can live fully without garlic or music.

          that free will thingy is amazing...


          why? just kos..... *just cause*

          by melo on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 03:27:11 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  I'm in the middle of an interesting book (0+ / 0-)

        that elucidates the idea that the tendency towards religious feeling is an evolved trait of humans, b/c in our hunter-gatherer days religious practice, which involved community dancing and trances and the like, increased cohesion of the community, and thus survival of the community. (He also justifies this foray into the contested realm of "group selection," for those kossaks who just reacted against it :) This clearly supports your main point. You night find it worth a look:

        The Faith Instinct, by Nicholas Wade.

        I got a little nervous about it in the first pages (as an atheist myself) but followed through and have found it a pretty interesting read.

        "Maybe this is how empires die - their citizens just don't deserve to be world leaders anymore." -Kossack Puddytat, In a Comment 18 Sept 2011

        by pixxer on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 09:17:02 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I read a similar theory (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          in a very different book; it was either 'The Third Chimpanzee' or 'Guns, Germs, and Steel', both by Jared Diamond.

          Diamond's theory was that cultures which operate in relatively small groups (hunter-gatherer bands and tribes) have less of a reliance on religion than large groups like kingdoms. This is because with small groups, if one meets a stranger, they have to find something in common to justify not killing each other. In a kingdom, contact between strangers is going to be common, so religion is used to make everyone members of the same 'group', as opposed to the non-religious 'out-group'.

          A businessman once asked a villager, "Why will you not let me buy this forest from you?" The villager answered, "Why not ask the birds? It is their home you will burn."

          by EcoMorph on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 11:24:47 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  But if Jared Diamond is right, then religious (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            bkamr, pixxer

            tolerance and separation of church and state are unstable in the long run. They won't keep "the kingdom" together. Therefore, respect for a fellow citizen would have to be based on something else.

            Is the rise of modern nationalism a by-product of the decline of religious cohesion in Europe after the Reformation? It's worth considering.

            "Mistress of the Topaz" is now available in paperback! Link here:

            by Kimball Cross on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 04:35:45 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  The opposite of Wade, who cites the idea (0+ / 0-)

              that religious feeling was originally selected for in hunter-gatherer groups.

              Note, however, that Diamond is a scientist and Wade a journalist.

              "Maybe this is how empires die - their citizens just don't deserve to be world leaders anymore." -Kossack Puddytat, In a Comment 18 Sept 2011

              by pixxer on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 08:32:17 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

        •  I have wondered why evolution hasn't been used (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          in a more extensive way as an explanation for religious tendencies.

          The Bird of Paradise has elaborate plumage which is attractive to prospective mates. A finer point about sexual selection which I don't see often made, is that  selection for an arbitrary characteristic - say, extra fur or distinctive color - may result in an increase in hardiness for the whole species.

          A characteristic which is selected for, but has no direct survival use, has to be a handicap which increases the "cost" of survival. Brilliant plumage or colorful fins may increase sexual desirability, but are a detriment when their carrier is trying to escape predators or beat out a rival for food. So the owner of such handicaps must evolve a greater speed, strength, or intelligence, in order to overcome the "drag" of a vain trait.

          And this greater capacity to carry an extra load may be passed on to offspring of either sex - so the female bird, unburdened by brilliant plumage, is made more robust by being the daughter of a beautiful father.

          I believe in the co-evolution of, at least, small groups - bands of hunter/gatherers - who compete with each other in limited landscapes. I think that a tribe that was religious - paid some attention to ritual, sacrifice, art works designed to honor diety, etc. may evolve to a greater capacity for survival, than a tribe that has no such handicap.

          If food, for instance, is set aside for sacrifice, then the ability to get that extra food may be useful in times of scarcity. If the religion counsels odd customs, like dancing at certain times of the year, or making drums or musical instruments, these extraneous energy drains must make the tribe more resilient when hardship strikes.

          Almost any not-directly-involved-in-survival custom or trait, must in the end produce more hardiness, if carried on for generations.

          "Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what's right." - Isaac Asimov

          by greenotron on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 07:39:47 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  sexual competition (0+ / 0-)

            I read in Dawkins boook Evolution, the greatest show on earth - about a evolutionary bioligist that did a study on goldfish.  Placing goldfish in ponds where the background and the predation were altered against a group of "control" ponds.  IN ponds where there was predation - succesful generation of living goldfish would eventually leer towards a scale pattern that matched their backgorund and thus become more camouflaged. However the less predation - the goldfish faced higher sexual selection comepetition - so the goldfish wore more "bling" in succerssful generations in order to attract the female  I have also read somewhere in the past that the birds of paradise, nearly all are island birds, and the predation is lessened and sexual selection comeptiton is much higher - so this expains fashion, gold chains, pimping your ride - all to attract a mate.. in time of war, nobody drives down the street with their car stereo at full blast bump a rythym trying to atract the ho.  Joking aside - sexual competition does not have to result in any survival trait - when over population or lack of predation occurs.  Sexual slection has its own competition vs selection.

      •  Sweden 2005 (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ubertar, bkamr

        The atheist/agnostic population in Sweden has been estimated at around 85%.

        Yes, primitive cultures seem to have universally used the supernatural to explain natural phenomena they did not understand.  And modern cultures seem to have  trouble dispensing with their primitive beliefs, but there doesn't seem to be anything natural about it.  My human mind has no trouble understanding the world without a need for orienting itself towards religion.

      •  The folks at CERN (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ubertar, bkamr, Icicle68

        who are very familiar with ideas about what happened before the big bang. There is no longer any reason to believe it takes a miracle to get a universe -- just physics.

        Of course you could make religion compatible with a self-creative nature: ancient paganism had a self-creative nature. An organic sort of religion, focused in nature, is still possible. But the west turned its back on that sort of religion 2000 years ago, when it decided that God was outside nature commanding nature through the Logos. Modern physics dispensed with God but kept the Logos -- the ultimately simple laws of Nature, the dream of the Theory of Everything. But now even the Logos seems to be evaporating. If Nature is universes making universes through eternal chaotic inflation, or if our universe arises through some ekpyrotic clangor of branes, then stuff itself is the demiurge, and eternally comes from stuff.

        •  Stuff happens. (0+ / 0-)

          Plutocracy (noun) Greek ploutokratia, from ploutos wealth; 1) government by the wealthy; 2) 21st c. U.S.A.; 3) 22nd c. The World

          by bkamr on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 07:25:58 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I sometimes wonder if "God's will" isn't the (0+ / 0-)

            natural forces in the universe, and if so, wouldn't our scientists actually be the most committed amongst us in seeking to know and understand His will?

            Plutocracy (noun) Greek ploutokratia, from ploutos wealth; 1) government by the wealthy; 2) 21st c. U.S.A.; 3) 22nd c. The World

            by bkamr on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 07:29:22 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  I think you're missing a quotation (4+ / 0-)

    The dedication to Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals?  You might want to edit and add it.

    Your meditation is so nicely done, I missed it, and want the whole enchilada.

    "I speak the truth, not as much as I would, but as much as I dare, and I dare a little the more, as I grow older." --Montaigne

    by DrLori on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 01:42:59 PM PDT

  •  prayer = hope (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    A farmer who sees his crop wither in the sun can try to water it, or harvest early and sell for fodder, etc, but at some point, he'll have to concede that all or most is lost. A prayer for rain will give him one more thing to do, and the good feeling that he really, really did everything in his power.

    Man needs ritual and dogma, but no law states that an externalized god is necessary in order to engage in ritual and ceremony performed in God's name!"
    But what point is there in praying when there is no god?

    Freedom is not just a word. 'Freedom' is a noun.

    by intruder from Old Europe on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 03:16:00 PM PDT

    •  You have to pray (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      crose, bnasley, notrouble, melo

      To the proper deities. Yahweh, for example, is notoriously stingy, and is not native to North America.

      "Political ends as sad remains will die." - YES 'And You and I' ; -8.88, -9.54

      by US Blues on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 07:43:35 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  atheist's point of view (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I had the impression that the diary was written from an atheist's point of view, but still making the case that prayers/rituals somehow made sense or they wouldn't be so widespread.

        Freedom is not just a word. 'Freedom' is a noun.

        by intruder from Old Europe on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 07:51:39 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Liberal Christian here. (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          lorzie, Fiona West, melo

          I'm still a practicing Presbyterian. But I see Christianity and other religions as trying to get at the truth through metaphor, not through literal description.

          Which is not to say I don't believe in God. But whatever God is, God can only be understood by humans dimly and quite incompletely.

          If one believes in a personal, omniscient God, then God already knows what you need even better than you do. Jesus says the same thing--the Holy Spirit knows what you need even before you ask, and intercedes for you with sighs too deep for words. The purpose of prayer is, I believe, to get the one doing the praying to think hard about what to ask for. You want forgiveness? Well, who have you forgiven lately? You want material sustenance? What have you done lately to make a society in which the poor are cared for? Are your actions reflecting the same priorities as your prayer requests?

          If one believes in an impersonal, deepest-force-of-nature God, prayer still serves the same purpose.

          Perhaps the main thing that makes humans human is the ability to recognize patterns and make deductions about subtler forces at work, and use those patterns and deductions to project present trends into the future. We form hypotheses and slowly refine them in response to observed events. This is so deeply ingrained in our subconscious that it cannot be switched on and off. It's who we are. We keep applying our attempts at understanding even to things we obviously cannot understand--like death, suffering, disparities in fate, the existence of the universe and of our own consciousness.

          And that, I believe, is why the diarist is absolutely correct in saying the human mind is predisposed to religion.

          Check out this video of the stars visible from the Atacama Desert in Chile, and ask yourself this: is it any coincidence that widespread loss of religious faith has followed so closely the use of the electric light?

          "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

          by HeyMikey on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 08:39:11 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  purpose of prayer (0+ / 0-)
            The purpose of prayer is, I believe, to get the one doing the praying to think hard about what to ask for. You want forgiveness? Well, who have you forgiven lately? You want material sustenance? What have you done lately to make a society in which the poor are cared for? Are your actions reflecting the same priorities as your prayer requests?
            Would that it were so. Do you really believe people invented prayer to better question themselves? I can't imagine.
            And that, I believe, is why the diarist is absolutely correct in saying the human mind is predisposed to religion.
            I do believe that the assumption is correct, that the human mind is predisposed to religion. Mind you, even chimpanzees engage in a ritual apparently intended to scare off some kind of thunderstorm entity.
            I outlined above why I think that praying makes people feel better.
            What I disagree ist this hypothesis by the diarist:
            Man needs ritual and dogma, but no law states that an externalized god is necessary in order to engage in ritual and ceremony performed in God's name!"
            The moment one comes to the conlusion that there is no god, there is no point in praying any more. Therefore, for ritual and dogma, it is essential to assume there is some externalized god.

            Freedom is not just a word. 'Freedom' is a noun.

            by intruder from Old Europe on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 04:05:16 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Define purpose. (0+ / 0-)

              Practices persist because they accomplish something. Perhaps not what the practitioners intend beforehand, or what they think they have accomplished afterward. But the practice serves some function, for the individual or the group.

              E.g., laughter. It has been documented that people laugh much more in groups than alone, even at the same jokes. The working hypothesis is that a major function of laughter is to cement social bonds. But most people think they laugh because they can't help it when things are funny, and don't think about laughter having a "purpose."

              Which is to say, I don't think prayer or ritual were invented by a committee who drafted mission statements for them first. They are cultural memes that evolved and persisted. If they didn't serve some purpose, they wouldn't have persisted.

              Certainly it's reasonable to assume that any given practice will persist for some time after it's outlived its usefulness, before dying out completely. Perhaps we're now in that phase-out period for prayer or ritual or both. (a) It's too soon to say. (b) Even if so, we may still be the poorer for their loss.

              All the above is, I believe, true whether or not there is a God.

              "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

              by HeyMikey on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 08:51:17 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

      •  God answers 7 year old paralyzed boy's prayers (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Calamity Jean

        "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean there isn't an invisible demon about to eat your face" & "Polka will never die." - H. Dresden.

        by bnasley on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 08:59:09 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Cthulu! n/t (0+ / 0-)

        Mitt Romney = Draco Malfoy

        by ubertar on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 07:16:52 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      But what point is there in praying when there is no god?
      Exactly. No point at all. You can cross prayer off of your list of things to do. Personally once I realized that, things got a whole lot less dark.
  •  faith, religion, church (5+ / 0-)

    while related and all decidedly human practices, they are not the same thing.

    I'm wondering if some of your musings might be glossing over distinctions between these that might better be underscored to lead to more productive discussion and thinking...(?)

    Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

    by a gilas girl on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 04:20:43 PM PDT

  •  Ive thought about this. (6+ / 0-)

    And I tend to not push away unpleasant thoughts. So I have figured out what I believe to be the only conclusion about life:

    Its not fair. Its not fair that I have to die. that those I love have to die. Its not fair. its wrong. it feels wrong. It feels not just wrong, it feels Impossible!

    It makes me want to cry. or scream. or have someone say they can make it all stop. And then I get sad, and my chest hurts from the sad chest-hurty type of pain, whatever causes that.

    And thats it. Thats as far as I can see. I can lay out all the rational facts. they work, sure. But when it comes ot it, I'm still back to the righteous indignation, fear and sadness.

    And my story ends in that most unsatisfying place. I still want to scream, or cry, or have someone make it all go away.

    ...But I dont see it. I mean, I don't get it even slightly. I can see why people believe but it happens. I find it very confusing. Ive heard that a lot of people wiht my autism spectrum disorder don't quite get religion either.

    Dont know if its true. Doesnt matter really. Because its still sad and I still want it to go away. Sometimes, i wonder how many adults i knew during my childhood..were on the edge sof those thoughts too.

    I feel bad now. Im giong to go take a bath.

    Already, I've a kingdom in my prospects, a land to rule. What to ask for? Perhaps a frozen scone...

    by kamrom on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 07:59:15 PM PDT

    •  (((((kamrom))))) nt (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bnasley, wishingwell
    •  My son has Asperger's, and he feels exactly the (0+ / 0-)

      same way.  I pay attention and give weight to what he says in such matters, because I know how he thinks.  He thinks in logical progression and cannot abide specious arguments without a basis in rationality.

      The funny thing is, he gives everything the benefit of the doubt before examining it.  It is not natural for him to think he is being lied to.  He often appears painfully naive when he hears something for the first time.  When he first heard about God and Jesus, he believed for no other reason than he had been told.

      But once something contradicts what he has been told, he examines it rationally and thoroughly.  He will not hesitate to change his mind if what he thinks cannot withstand the scrutiny of reason (he would make a terrible Republican).  If he rejects something as irrational, it's irrational.

      So, I will not say "there is no god," simply because I do not know.  However, I can say without hesitation that a belief in a god is not rational.  Doesn't mean there is no god, just that belief in the existence of a god cannot be arrived at through human rational thought.

      I would probably be an atheist, except that if there is a god, then anything is possible, even things that do not pass the human test of rationality.  Humans think they are the smartest creatures on earth.  

      But then, my dog probably thinks the same thing about herself.  And she has outsmarted me.  Not that outsmarting me would prove anything.  I've been outsmarted by people dumber than my dog.  

      I wonder if Einstein was ever outsmarted by his dog.

      Because stupid people are so sure they're smart, they often act smart, and sometimes even smart people are too stupid to recognize that the stupid people acting smart really ARE stupid.

      by ZedMont on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 06:38:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It is rational. (0+ / 0-)

        Assuming that there is a god, praying to him and following his commands is fully rational as long as you acknowledge the slimmest chance that this god person might exist and condemn you to eternal hell. Should it turn out that he does not exist after all, ok, you forwent shellfish and pork for no good reason, but you probably had a nice life. Should he exist and you failed to do as told, you will be tortured for eternity. Rational thing would be to adhere just in case.

        That being said, I am (rationally, I think) convinced enough that there is in fact no god, so I don't take such precaution.

        My regards to your son and your dog.

        Freedom is not just a word. 'Freedom' is a noun.

        by intruder from Old Europe on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 04:20:57 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Place of worship (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wishingwell, David PA, ubertar

    You do understand that Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists read this, and that not even all Christians worship in a structure called a "church," right?

    -7.75, -8.10; All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

    by Dave in Northridge on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 08:26:05 PM PDT

  •  athiest (6+ / 0-)

    Sorry, but I am. I'm also a scientist (neuro) so I'm open to observation and interpretation, but unless something jars me in ways I can't imagine, an atheist I'll stay.

    I believe our existence is luck, fleeting, and the universe is not fair. Make what we can of our lives. Consciousness is beautiful and possibly ephemeral and indescribably inscrutable. Don't wait.

  •  Well, Spencer, most but not all people (8+ / 0-)

    There is the minority of us who are not religious at all and see not the slightest need for it:

    Because religion cannot, for us, explain theodicy

    Because religion cannot comfort us when we face tragedy

    Because religion does not feed our search for truth, only sickens us with dogma

    Because religion cannot compete with the breathtaking simplicity and rationality of the atomic theory of existence. . .read My Diary for a summary of this viewpoint . . .established well before christianity, even the UU variety

    Because religion is too often sickeningly cruel. Not always, but too often.

    Because religion tells us what is, and we do not accept anyone telling us what to think and believe

    And because religion so often and so obviously has, well, the unmistakeable imprint of the human about it.

    So I can only speak for one human mind. My own. And not only does it not orient itself toward any religion, but it is immeasureably  glad that it does not.

    An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

    by MichiganChet on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 08:36:44 PM PDT

    •  Thanks MC... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ...I clicked your link to "My Diary" and it sent me off on a very interesting string of links on Epicurianism, On the Nature of Things by Lucretius, Atomism, and etc. for an hour long diversion into a realm that interests me very much - Greek and Indian philosophy, the nature of Being (Be-ing, be-ing, being-there, being-human - see Heidegger's "An Introduction to Metaphysics" for distinctions), and a very enjoyable thread.

      Existence always was and always will be.

      by Seattle Mark on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 10:33:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You're welcome. In another time (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Seattle Mark

        We could get a great thread going on this. . . which is sort of what I hoped would happen when I wrote my Lucretius diary

        An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

        by MichiganChet on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 04:52:55 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Thank You - N/T (0+ / 0-)

    "Upward, not Northward" - Flatland, by EA Abbott

    by linkage on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 08:58:34 PM PDT

  •  You might be surprised (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dirkster42, wishingwell, David PA

    how many of us here who believe in a personal God are not locked up in absolutes regarding what that God does for us or wants from us.  I was raised in a protestant denomination that, while worshiping "The Risen Christ," was far more interested  in encouraging good ethics,  moderation, & good singing.

    I don't think many Jews or Buddhists are offended by the use of the word "church" in the context you use it. Even UUs must think it a quaint & not entirely accurate word for where they meet, just a tradition.

    "There ain't no sanity clause." Chico Marx

    by DJ Rix on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 09:22:02 PM PDT

  •  Thank you for sharing your reflections and process (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dirkster42, Oh Mary Oh, wishingwell

    I don't think all human minds bend toward religion; but a number of them do.  I think we should feel free to follow our "bent," and see where it leads us, but without making assumptions whether that will mean remaining "religious" or not.  

    I enjoyed sharing a part of your journey.

    --------------------- “These are troubling times. Corporation are treated like people. People are treated like things. …And if we ever needed to vote, we sure do need to vote now.” -- Rev. Dr. William J. Barber

    by Fiona West on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 09:57:34 PM PDT

  •  I have long thought (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    melo, ZedMont

    that the predisposition of humans is a longing for a god. A god to watch over us, to intervene when life gets tough, to reward us when we are good. But mostly just not to feel alone in this vast universe.

    And the strong feeling that there is more to life than meets the eye only sharpens this suspicion. When I read the mystics of any tradition they speak to me. I don't believe in a god, but I also don't disbelieve. I have learned to swim in the mystery instead of demanding answers.

    While many minority groups are the target for discrimination, few face this hostility without the support and acceptance of their family as do many glbt youth.

    by azrefugee on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 12:00:16 AM PDT

    •  So as not to take it all too gloomily... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Because stupid people are so sure they're smart, they often act smart, and sometimes even smart people are too stupid to recognize that the stupid people acting smart really ARE stupid.

      by ZedMont on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 05:56:29 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I hear you... (0+ / 0-)
      I have long thought...
      that the predisposition of humans is a longing for a god. A god to watch over us, to intervene when life gets tough, to reward us when we are good. But mostly just not to feel alone in this vast universe.
      I was raised Methodist, sang in a non-denominational Chapel Choir for five years at college, spent many years as a paid singer in the Episcopal Church, where I learned to love the liturgy, and am now an officer (Elder) in a Presbyterian Church.

      The churches I've known are places of worship and gratitude, but also places of doubt and uncertainty, questioning, learning and grace.  

      Yes, we ask God to watch over us, but we know that doesn't mean we are protected from harm. We trust that God will help us find, within ourselves, the strength we need when life gets tough, and we should never expect any God-lollipops for being "good."

      As for the feeling of loneliness -- I believe that God wants us to find the remedy for that with other humans, in service and in love.

      I don't believe in a god, but I also don't disbelieve. I have learned to swim in the mystery instead of demanding answers.
      When new officers are elected in my Presbyterian church, they have to write and deliver a short "statement of faith" before the current Elders.  I had to do that 2 years ago, and have now heard these statements from two incoming sets of officers.  You might be very surprised to hear the uncertainty in these statements...this denomination is not one of dogma and rules.

      Many, many people are swimming in the mystery with you. In the end, it is not our beliefs that matter most, but what we do in the world to make it better for all.

      "I think in America, the opposite of poverty is justice." Bryan Stevenson

      by gfre on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 09:33:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Someone out there to watch over us (0+ / 0-)
      that the predisposition of humans is a longing for a god. A god to watch over us, to intervene when life gets tough, to reward us when we are good. But mostly just not to feel alone in this vast universe.
      Precisely. Besides, we don't want all to end at death; we hope to live on, and hope to see our long-departed loved ones once again, preferably in a better place.
      Acknowledging that all of this is very unlikely, since we don't have the slightest hint that it may exist/happen, can be very despiriting.

      Freedom is not just a word. 'Freedom' is a noun.

      by intruder from Old Europe on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 04:41:27 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  "Man needs ritual and dogma" (0+ / 0-)

    This should be modified to read, "uneducated man needs ritual and dogma to fill the void and assure him that his helplessness is good."

    Old Hippies Never Give Up!

    by ravenrdr on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 02:09:49 AM PDT

  •  a couple of things... (0+ / 0-)

    your broad conclusion that "the human mind naturally orients itself toward religion"..yes and no, depending on what you mean by the word religion. The human mind most certainly seeks security (even though there is no such thing, since we're all temporal and will die eventually). And one thing that the human mind seeks security in is tradition, including the religious tradition. It gives us a feeling of safety and security, even if that religious tradition and the security it seems to provides i just a construct of the mind.

    To me tradition is not really religion and so-called religious organizations (all of them) are not really religious and don't necessarily provide us religion...according to my definition of religion. Once we free ourselves from the conditioning of our tradition, which, basically, puts blinders on us...then...yes...there is natural tendency for the truly free be...more religious.

    Religion to me is actually a wholistic way of looking and seeing things as they really are (vs. many/most religious organizations that are trying to cram pre-conceived notions down people's throats). Observing and being aware of oneself in relationship (to others and the world at large)... is true religion. Churches aren't necessarily "religious" just because they call themselves that.

  •  I may be incorrect, but my perception of folks who (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    attend UU services is that they were formerly brought up in fairly religious households and while they no longer believe in the religion of their upbringing, they long for the sense of community and fellowship that they felt in the church.  So, it's not so much that they're reverting back to god, but wanting to have the experience of church without the superstition and judgement.

    Again, just my perception, which could be totally incorrect.  I myself am an atheist that occasionally went to church as a kid but do not have any desire whatsoever for this kind of social interaction.

    "Give to every other human being every right that you claim for yourself." - Robert G. Ingersoll

    by Apost8 on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 08:08:20 AM PDT

  •  Spirituality or the transcendental experience (0+ / 0-)

    Is an important emotion for human beings. It is, indeed, a fundamental aspect of being human. Since its very nature is connected to the subjective and the intangible, I suppose it is no surprise that individuals and groups have dotted our history who “discover” one or another of the methods of reliably eliciting such experiences. And, given our other propensities, it is no surprise that many of those groups have dedicated themselves to the use of their “ownership” of the tools of elicitation as a means of gaining influence, power, and riches (not to ignore that this control has also often been used to to good).

    In our modern, largely literate, globally interconnected web of humanity, it is surprising that individuals don't seize this knowledge for themselves instead of submitting to churches, temples, mosques, and charlatans who dole it out little by little. Perhaps it has to do with things like the gradual process of intellectual, emotional, and spiritual maturation in childhood, during which time authority is all important. Regardless, it is clear that the institution of religion has figured out long ago the science of self-perpetuation.

    That said, social groups, including churches, are also very important for human beings. Daily Kos itself, for example, fulfills a social purpose similar to that of a church, albeit virtually and secularly. Various kinds of groups and clubs do the same. Amateur sports or performing groups, writers groups, professional groups, wine tasting groups, cigar smoking groups, bridge clubs, even exercise and dance classes, can all play a social role not different from that played by churches. If you don't do any of those things, then you are a social outcast, but really, any of them, be they religious or not, will bring you into society and into a more socially connected life. And this is very important to one's soul (not in the religious sense, but in the sense of the essence of one's human consciousness).

    When my kids were little, my wife and I, both atheists, decided that it would be important for them to experience a range of religions, and so we visited several churches, and when they were invited by their friends to go church with them, encouraged them to do so. In our home school, we included critical reading and discussion of the Bible, on the grounds that it is important in our Western literary tradition to have some knowledge of it. And, for several years, we attended our local UU church.

    When we began there, the minister was an atheist/agnostic guy who was attempting to deal with an influx of theists into the congregation. (It is important to note that the UU tradition has not historically been atheist, but rather a conflux of Christian heresies downplaying the Trinity and personal salvation. In the 20th Century, the two heresies joined and began to accept humanists and atheists in most but not all congregations.) In any case, our local church, which had always been resolutely non-theist since its founding in the 1950s, was reflecting a demographic shift toward theism as younger families and individuals left other, more conventionally Christian churches and explored UUism because of its emphasis on liberal tolerance and social justice, and because of its policy of accepting the full range of beliefs about gods. However, a number of older church members, plus our family although we had joined the church more recently, became pretty upset about the praying and the “God stuff”. For me, the final straw was when the new minister (the older one having been forced into retirement because of his non-theistic positions) performed, soon after her arrival, a Trinitarian blessing of the congregation. I mean, talk about being unclear on the concept of Unitarianism. So, we stopped going.

    Our kids kept their friends, though, and we occasionally run into someone we knew there. It's no big deal. In fact, lots of people left at that time and lots of new ones came in. I've not been back for many years, but I'm sure they're all quite content with their liberal, socially active, Trinitarian-Unitarian Universalist congregation.

    Each member of my family has gone in an individual direction in this regard, in terms of finding ways to interact socially with conspecifics. I personally gain at least as much from online groups plus my French conversation group and dance and yoga classes as I ever did from the UU church.

    As for spirituality, for me it's music, art, science, history, and helping my fellow human beings who need it. It always has been. I can remember a handful of spiritually moving moments during the UU years, and they were always about those things, never about the religion per se. In fact, I would imagine that few UUs actually “get off” spiritually from the sermons and from the hodge-podge rituals as much as they do from the social action component of UUism, although I've never really explored the question.

    Well, that's my 2¢ worth.

  •  On LaVey and Religious Metaphors (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Icicle68, Brown Thrasher

    Anton LaVey a nerd? Oh yeah.  Back in the '80s I was selling vintage paperbacks and pulp magazines by catalog, and LaVey came over to the house to buy some.  Nerd from top to bottom, interested in any popular media that presented a skew view of human sexuality.  He had a particular thing about Marilyn Monroe.  "Nice old guy, a little weird" was my take at the time.  Only appropriate, I guess, that the head of the church of Satan arrived in an AMC Gremlin.

    I attend church semi-regularly, but it's been my supposition over the years that the idea of the presence of the divine in all of us is, in practice, a way of getting humanity to recognize that it is all one organism that should take care of itself.  

    If we lived in a world where everybody "recognized the divine" in everyone else, in effect the Divine would be there -- picking up everyone who fell instead of walking on, making sure that everyone had access to the health care they needed instead of leaving it to the "free market" or nattering about "bad choices" and going on your way.  And so on.

    It's a metaphor.  It's a good metaphor, a really good one that when properly used helps us to be good to one another and take care of one another. For the Divine, really, is nothing but humanity at full potential.

    As for miracles, prayers, and synchronicity, I often wonder if there's "stuff" below the everyday surface of reality that links us in ways we don't understand and so we credit it to the Divine -- which is true, if the Divine is us.  But that's just my crazy talk.

  •  that's deep. (0+ / 0-)

    i think religion is very good at ritual. and i think that humans are comforted by rituals.

  •  evolutionary psychology (0+ / 0-)

    We're wired to detect patterns in the world around us, to infer causal relationships, and attribute phenomena to intent and by implication intelligence.  We are so wired to do this that we can infer relationships where none exist and "see" intelligence where none exists.  To primitive people, spirits and gods were less a leap of faith than a logical explanation of the world around them.

    If anything, things get complicated when questions of morality, divine plans, and reward/punishment enter into the picture.  If human beings believed in a god or gods that just did their thing and didn't care how it affected humanity, that would be a more accurate reflection of how the world works.  People would adapt and hedge and go on with their lives.  When priests invent the idea of a relationship with the divine, especially a transactional relationship, then religion begins in earnest.  When people are convinced that anything and everything that anyone says and does provokes a divine reaction, whether good or bad, that can manifest itself in any way, shape, or form, obsessive piety and totalitarianism is going to be the result.

    To those who say the New Deal didn't work: WWII was also government spending

    by Visceral on Sat Jul 21, 2012 at 11:35:59 AM PDT

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