I have never liked the comparison that a person who has religious belief is infected with some sort of “virus.” I understand the logic and the eloquent explanation of those who hold this view. I don’t even like the explanation that it is a delusion even though this concept can be substantiated if you manipulate the definition of delusion to conform to the idea that religious practices are oppressive, insulting, and completely irrational, not to mention, man-made, therefore untrue.

I have found myself at times stating that religious beliefs are delusional, only to find that I am at odds with myself. I pushed these feelings aside for some time simply to conform to what many atheists believe. I think many atheists believe this simply because of the “God Delusion” by Dawkins. I think he coined the phrase in a masterful way to give a wake-up call to the absurdity of the belief systems of religious and the harm it can cause humanity. I am not arguing with the concepts that Dawkins wrote about, or even saying that he is wrong.

I do however believe profoundly differently. I take a sociological approach to religion. I think Max Weber got it right in his profound work, “The Sociology of Religion.” His historical analysis begins with a simple…very simple premise: People pursue their interests. Weber is an idealist like myself, (why I like him so much…) His approach to say that ideas are the major influence human action is spot on. Ann Swidler writes: “He does not argue that ideas always or necessarily influence action. He does try to understand variation in the influence of ideas on action.” From these building blocks, “he builds a powerful theory to explain why some kinds of cultural systems have much more influence on economic and political action than others do. He analyzes the critical historical contingencies that determine whether and how ideas guide action.” Furthermore, “Weber argues that once a religion is sufficiently “rationalized” – systematized and unified – its core religious ideas come to have a logic of their own.”

His Verstehen approach (interpretive) allows for a more empathetic, and participatory approach, (notice I did not say condoning approach) towards the understanding, of religion in general.

My own feelings towards the matter: I do not believe religion is a phenomenon we should be hostile towards. Religion is nothing more than a sociological concept. I do believe we should separate the phenomenon itself from the ideas and actions of the individuals who perpetuate, teach, and try to implement, or force into our society. The difference being that we can ultimately evaluate and see religion on an empathic basis rather, than a force to be eliminated.

Religion has evolved with us and through us and has formed much of what we see in culture today. The ideas and actions are what can be poisonous if used (or misused) to have power and control over another person(s), or entity. Just as we would take an approach to rid our society of an imbalance of power and control, (we already do this with other sociological problems such as domestic violence) we can also make a more positive impact politically and interpersonally. I believe the key to being heard and having a TRUE lasting impact, is to take a sociological approach to understanding, and to use this knowledge to rationalize and demonstrate why the atheist position is the more mature approach for humanity. It would seem to me that we might actually see a change in public (religious) opinion, persona, stereotype, and awareness of what atheist actually stand for.

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@Gallup, Dave G Arch and Reg: and anyone else who's listening...

I found this...I think it's a little more palatable than my first link and says what I want to say (in part) much more concisely and with a little more eloquent explanations.

Well, that's a little clearer and I do think that understanding why religions propagate is important. There's a lot of research going on in this area already, you'll find several references to such research on T|A in various conversations, too. Examples abound of people talking about how religion is often used as a method of gaining a sense of control or as a way to cope with otherwise devastating events.

However, this still doesn't explain the 'religion is not the enemy' position. As I see it, the various religions are still dangerous to humanity's well-being and still need to be fought. Learning how and why religions spread is helpful in that.

To use the virus analogy that Mr Ball pish-poshed as too simplistic, let's compare religion to malaria. We can treat malaria, but in order to stop it permanently we need to learn how it spreads so we can disrupt its transmission. And learning how it spreads it not limited to just the mechanics (mosquitoes!), but also important things like patterns of standing water, use of mosquito netting and how it varies in different areas, traditions that may attract or repel mosquitoes, and so forth.

But learning all about how it spreads does not negate the need to treat it until such time as its ability to spread has been wiped out. Doing that may lead to having virulent pockets that could break out again.

Treatment and prevention are needed. And understanding is needed for both.

@Dave:

Examples abound of people talking about how religion is often used as a method of gaining a sense of control or as a way to cope with otherwise devastating events.

Part of what Weber's historical theory conveys is that it's not about control in a domineering sense, but that religion ends up reflecting the values and beliefs and culture that society already posesses. Religion does not form those values. It's the other way around.

I think Gallup asked me for an example. Submission of women. My pet peeve and rage....This was an already existing and prevailing attitude culturally speaking at the time. It was simply written into the scriptures. The scriptures for all intents and purposes became the doctrine that forged the Christian worldview. The ideas that already existed were false and evil. I do not believe that (from what I know and have read - maybe someone can correct me if I'm wrong) the 4Hmen for example have analyzed it this way. They say religion is the enemy. Religion is the product of ideas, values, and social norms that are the real problem.

"Part of what Weber's historical theory conveys is that it's not about control in a domineering sense, but that religion ends up reflecting the values and beliefs and culture that society already posesses. Religion does not form those values. It's the other way around."

Then we don't need religion to give us values we already possess!

In elimination of the religious factor, the, "things are the way they are because god says so," we've stripped away the curtain behind which the "ideas, values, and social norms" that you maintain "are the real problem" are hiding, and we can attack and change those which we wish - they are laid bare as being our own faults - and once the idea of punishment for not following them ("I've GOT to beat my woman, the Q'ran tells me to!") is removed, they're far easier to dislodge.

You're misunderstanding my use of 'control'. I didn't mean it in the domineering sense, but rather that religion and its antecedents offered its adherents a sense of control in a world where often they had none. There was no way for a farmer to force the rain to fall, for example, but the ritual of sacrificing a goat to their deity or performing a ceremonial dance to placate the spirits allowed them to feel as if they had some input into the process. The same thing continues today, with religious people gaining a sense of control (albeit a false one) by the use of intercessory prayer, for example.

The concept of religion?  I would say that the concept of religion, just like the concept of God is just that – a concept. Religion at its very core is based on the idea (delusional one) that a god exists.  What ideas does it offer that are not cantered around that core “concept”? What new and worthwhile ideas has it offered us in the last 1000 years?

The concept of religion

I wasn't hell bent on using that word, You  could say "religion itself"

We need to attack the ideas. It will make more progress. It will be more efficient. It will have a greater impact. Then religion will fade away on it's own.

Don't wear clothing made from two different materials? ... No, wait,

We were dumped into a volcano by an intergalactic overlord? ... Uhh, no, but that probably sounded better in thought

Was it that black people are cursed by god and can become white by being sufficiently holy? ... oh... no wait, hold on...

How about the "I have a Dream Speech" by Martin Luther King Jr.? Yeah I think we can take this one, but it's kind of a cop out because he had the secular motives of world peace in mind. I think we can make an exception on this one. After all, The mathematical irrational constant pi probably repeats itself at least once, so one time in a couple thousand years something good can at least half way come out of religion.

 So rather than say “Religion is not the enemy” do you mean the ideas it compromises are the enemy and should be attacked?  Like attacking individual regiments to defeat an army? How are you defining “Religion”?

Ok. It’s pretty obvious that no one on this thread has truly considered the book I linked, and that’s OK. This article might simplify it a bit better….

The definition of religion is not to be re-defined and I’m not even going to attempt to do that. I would be a fool to try…see the following…maybe this will clarify….

Weber argues for making sense of religious action on its own terms. A religious group or individual is influenced by all kinds of things, he says, but if they claim to be acting in the name of religion, we should attempt to understand their perspective on religious grounds first. 

I do not agree with everything Weber says, but I agree with this. This is my first point....Let's see if we can start here....

So when a religious person says "Kill the infidel", we should try and understand why they want to kill the infidel from the religious perspective. And when we find the line in their holy book that says 'Kill the infidel', then what?

I agree that understanding what the religion says and why it promotes the behavior it does can be useful, but I don't see where the 'religion is not he problem' part comes in.

Shhhh - you'll break her concentration, she's restructuring her thoughts!

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