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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Belle, I've often heard people who'd quit smoking express sympathy for people who still smoke.

You opened your second paragraph above with a similar sympathy, only to find that I am at odds with myself.

Your third and fourth paragraphs cite Weber to provide intellectual support for your position.

You open your fifth paragraph with I do not believe religion is a phenomenon we should be hostile towards, which restates your position.

In your final paragraph you recommend your sociological approach to others.

I quit Catholicism with a crash 55 years ago when my mom told me what she and my dad had decided, that I was going to college because I was too lazy to get a job. I threw them and their religion out of my life. I can say I hate Catholicism. I can also say some Catholics are first class nuisances and the others are slaves who are unable to leave the plantation.

I do say I will always have in me bits and pieces of the Catholic I once was.

I feel no need to justify the empathy I have for the Catholic I once was. It's there and it's okay.

Acknowledge the empathy you feel for the believer you once were, and let go of the belief.

I hate Catholicism. I despise the people who bully others to keep them on the plantation. The people who bring children onto the plantation will someday be seen as child abusers, if a mass self-extinction doesn't interfere.

@Tom: I do have empathy for believers, but I am not trying to bring emotion into this discussion. My emotions and feelings on the matter are irrelevant.

"My emotions and feelings on the matter are irrelevant." "And resistance is futile," says Eight of Seven --

I recall a time when your emotions and feelings were all you had - ahh, kids, they grow up SO quickly --

Belle: ...but I am not trying to bring emotion into this discussion.

1) You have empathy for believers. Do you have empathy for the Belle you once were?

2) Have emotions ever not been in this discussion? They motivate life itself.

3) You surely know Rene Descartes' words: I think therefore I am.

Do you disagree with He didn't feel; he only half-was?

I agree with your general premise.  I don't even think everyone should be an atheist. 

The difference between atheism and religion is not just the difference about believing in God.  Religious people have access to a spirituality which atheists do not, and the atheists don't even see it.  It's true that many religious people miss out on it too. 

Two examples are the "forgiveness" doctrine of Jesus and the concept of Seva in Sikhism - doing compassionate work with no thought of return.  These are both examples of selfless unconditional love.  This concept is at the heart of spirituality. 

Simon- "Religious people have access to a spirituality which atheists do not, and the atheists don't even see it."

Disagree. Spirituality is many things to many different people. A person can practice or reap the benefits of spirituality without any involvement in the belief of an invisible being. For instance, I live deep in the woods of the Ozark forest because it is my favorite type of domain. I consider my relationship with plant life and, trees in particular, to be on a spiritual level. This may sound wacky for those who don't possess the awe and fascination of Mother Nature's intricacies but it works for me.  

"I don't even think everyone should be an atheist."

Eventually our civilization will progress intellectually to the point that atheism is the default position and religion is shelved alongside superstition and myth. The continuing mountain of evidence against belief systems in general will make it embarrassing to entertain in the future.

@Ed -

"I consider my relationship with plant life and, trees in particular, to be on a spiritual level. "

I agree with you.  Surprising as it may seem, I see "selfless unconditional love" to be part of that plane too. 

Exactly what part of "worship me, or go to hell" is about unconditional love and forgiveness my friend? And you are also under a misapprehension if you believe an atheist can't access spirituality. It's the human spirit that an atheist can rejoice in and it is comprised of all the great human qualities as well as art, music, and science without the need be a sinful slave to a fictitious master.



I have every reason to believe, Robert, that what he is erroneously calling "spituality," which, of necessity, by its very definition, would involve a spirit of some sort, I see as awe and wonder at the incredible complexity of the world in which we live, which I feel everyday. Why anyone would feel a need to romanticize the concept by calling it "spirituality," and thus connecting it to a religious experience, when no such romanticization is needed, I fail to understand, as the wonder and awe is sufficient unto itself.

@RobertPiano -

"Exactly what part of "worship me, or go to hell" is about unconditional love and forgiveness my friend?

It's very interesting that you should say that.  This is very embarrassing to admit, especially with Archaeopteryx here, so Arch, here is your Christmas present. 

You know I keep mentioning my weird neighbour downstairs?  I responded to his stupidness by getting far too heavy, and scaring the bejesus out of him, and now I've got a deranged stalker on my hands.  At the same time, although I did pour a can of petrol on the flames, he was a screwup anyway and as soon as me and him got together, there was bound to be a gasoline explosion.  We're both crazy mad as hell at our fathers, and we each see him in each other.  So now, for all I know, I can be knifed just walking along.  However, you know me, I don't give a fuck about that.  All it means is I've got to finish my work off quickly. 

I'm going to work with the landlords and the mental health services to attempt to fix him.  I'm sure he must prefer to be happy rather than deranged.  Whatever happens, I'll deal with it, and once you're dead, there's nothing more anyone can do to you. 

"unconditional love and forgiveness" - this is what I'm using on him now, and it's not out of fear. 

"so Arch, here is your Christmas present."

The fact that you're writing this, can only mean you have given me an empty box.

Religious people have access to a fantasy land, full of elves and fairies and unicorns, which atheists do not, and the atheists don't even see it.


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