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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Then why are most wars caused by religious conflict ? Religion tends to go out trying to convert, and failure to convert, causes aggression , because they maintain or have grown to be dogmatic and intolerant on the diversity of how people know, understand or believe life and the universe to be, hence spirituality focuses on ones self rather than on working to inflict ideology on others.



Perhaps you could expound on this "sociological approach to understanding, and to use this knowledge to rationalize and demonstrate why the atheist position is the more mature approach for humanity."

If you have pondered the task of turning a theist into an atheist and have developed a strategy that avoids criticism and ridicule, which are not really necessary in the first place, then by all means share it with the rest of us. Unfortunately it has been my experience in debate with the religious that they cringe at the first hint of using reason and logic to understand the phenomena that is religion. If it can be agreed upon from the beginning that each side will not resort to personal attacks then there may be a glimmer of hope in getting your atheistic points across. When you consider the evolutionary social development of religion one can only correctly view religion as a psychological disease of the masses. It is heavily influenced by emotion and not considerate of reason and logic. If you can figure out how to prevent the theist from becoming emotional in the defense of their invisible world then perhaps you have a fighting chance to sway them with your arguments. 

Thread digression:

The cognitive functions of the brain are complex and it is overly simplistic to suggest that people adopt religious concepts simply as a result of fearing death, seeking emotional comfort, or explaining natural phenomena. If you study religions worldwide it becomes apparent that there is more to the origins of religion than providing satisfactory explanations for aspects of human experience. Personally I find the science of cognitive psychology and our species evolutionary development of religious thought fascinating. I am not a formally trained or degreed professional in this arena but I believe this field of science provides much insight into why humans are so prone to believe in superstitious concepts. 

Ed, have you ever read about Julian Jaynes theory on the bicameral mind?
I thought it was fascinating, maybe you will too.

"The selection pressure for Jaynesian consciousness as a means for cognitive control is due, in part, to chaotic social disorganizations and the development of new methods of behavioral control such as writing."

Although other cultures in the Middle East developed the written word much earlier, Jaynes' timetable of 1000 BCE does coincide with the development of writing in ancient Israel.

I have no quarrel with religious people that keep their faith to themselves. Remember the video I used in a similar conversation a few month s back? They can play with their own toys in their own homes but don’t demand that I must join in. Watch here.

If someone knocks on my front door and tells me they KNOW the answers to all the important questions in life, which contradicts everything I “believe” and can yet offer no supporting evidence for any of their claim then they are delusional.

With reference your earlier analogies – No, I do not think that anyone that follows the Atkins Diet is delusional. If however you show them the scientific evidence that suggests that it is not a healthy diet and they insist that the science is wrong and further insist that they are still right because they have faith in it, then you should use the word “delusional”. The same with people that would say that only using a toothbrush because they were brought up that way while dismissing the evidence for the benefits of flossing could be termed delusional. It is used in the sense of been misguided and mistaken and not mentally ill.

If people want to have their religion and get comfort or support from it but respect my position of disbelief (and complete lack of interest in their belief system) then I am happy to know them. I have no problem with them and no animosity towards them.

If they however are in positions of authority within their church and use that power to indoctrinate children’s minds, subjugate women, and decide how society must behave, including member of that society that are not of that religion then I do see that religion as the enemy. I am its enemy. I will do whatever I can to make other people aware of that. I will openly blaspheme against it when it demands my respect just because it demands it automatically from me. I see religion as something that is clinging on to so tightly to primitive beliefs that it hinders our progress as a species.

I only respect religions that do not indoctrinate children. I respect any religion that preaches that women are equal to men. I respect any religion that tolerates my lack of belief. I respect any religion that has not being used as an excuse for mass murder. Are you asking which religion that would be?

The rest of them are my enemies. I also see religion as the enemy of the believer because it robs them of so much of what it means to be a freethinking human and forces them to live a life based on a delusion.

I'm still curious as to what you are using as your definition of religion.
It appears as if you are considering religion simply as the carrier of the ideas and unrelated to the ideas themselves. Please let me know if that is the case, as I don't want to disagree with you if it turns out I am wrong in what I think you mean.

As Brutus once said, let me take a stab at it - I believe what she's trying to say is this - I've seen a video, and you may have at some point as well, in which a flock of sheep were herded toward an opening in a gate, that had a rod placed in it, about a foot in height off the ground. The lead sheep jumped the barrier, the next in line did the same - at some point, the barrier was removed, but the sheep continued leaping the now, non-existent barrier, just as if it were still in place.

What I believe Belle is saying, in her own inimitable fashion, is that while some sheep may buy into religion for the delusion, others may do it out of a need to belong, or conform, or to be accepted, and may or may not give the belief system itself any serious consideration., and technically, wouldn't themselves necessarily be guilty of delusion, though admittedly, it's a very thin line.

I can hardly wait - you're on your own, Kid --

I await your response with bated breath. :)

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.

"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.


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