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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uhm religion is based on authoritarian and literalist ideaology, which basically is described with the word dogma, instead of religion just being a club of interest or beliefs , it becomes a personal army throwing threats to people who are not part of the club or disagree with the ideology and beliefs of the club.Spirituality focuses on one's self and does not impose beliefs on others and threaten them to comply such as "believe in god or burn in hell" kind of thing... if all religions were spiritualities there would be no friction and violence between the theists.

@danielle -

"if all religions were spiritualities there would be no friction and violence between the theists.

All religions are spiritualities, but the spirituality is buried among a load of complicated stories and culture.  I feel I have a challenge in making my spirituality available to everyone.  Really it amounts to experimenting (whoops) and trying to explain it to as many different people as possible.  

I actually have to agree with Danielle on this--religion by default is dogmatic and people who abstract what they think makes sense and ditch the rest--thereby becoming someone you can actually live next to in spite of not thinking exactly the same way--are actually violating its tenets though they can rationalize away all they want.

Wesley, I downloaded and read Bob Altemeyer's paper on right wing authoritarianism.

He describes well the extremists among the people who gave me two doses of authoritarianism: my sometimes violent dad and the Catholic schools he sent me to. Four years of hardball politics and fifteen years of assorted therapies and research for a book on assertiveness in politics helped me get rid of most of it.

I think what people tend to forget is that religion as it currently and dogmatically stands has an extremely long evolutionary history.   We need to look at the 'soup' from which it sprung and follow the different trails it took to get to where it stands today to get an idea of where it may be going. 

Think of a many different branching family tree that doesn't necessarily have a single set of roots, but many...

There is a definite movement to a more 'flexible' and less dogmatic way of thinking about religion that's been going on for quite a long time... To be dismissive of them is to ignore a very real part of the religious memeplex.

It is this form of 'religious' thinking that will survive into the future.  Unitarianism is an example of religious evolution in this direction.  Your liberal theologians in the larger protestant churches are evolving (albeit much more slowly) in this direction.

There is a movement in mysticism to become unchained by dogma.. many mystics moved away from dogmatic beliefs because of their personal 'inner' experiences and reflections.  They got tired of being bogged down by both eastern and western mystical cosmology...

I am the son of both a liberal theologian and a mystic... whose father was also a mystic...Which made it that much LONGER a trip for me in my journey towards 'enlightenment'.. LOL  I mean Atheism.

My own religious journey was an evolution in this direction.   I couldn't abide dogmatic assertions and authoritarianism..  If there things were real I had to 'see' and 'experience' them myself... This mindset led me to Christian mysticism and eventually to eastern mysticism and eventually yoga and a guru.     I know without a shadow of a doubt the phenomenalogical experiences are  real....  what I no longer accept are the interpretations of these experiences and their various cosmologies.   Ironically, it was the continuing search for truth which eventually led me away from the mystical memeplex and supernaturalism altogether.

"Weber is an idealist like myself, (why I like him so much…)...."

In the 20th Century, political ideals have led to the deaths of many millions.

I haven't read Max Weber's The Sociology of Religion so I'm not saying his idealism will lead to similar results.

I am saying the language of idealism (should, should not) is a step away from the language of democracy toward the language of authoritarianism (must, cannot) and toward the language of totalitarianism (shall, shall not).

Decades have passed since I heard of a Weber who linked Protestantism with Capitalism. I will look up Max Weber.

Editing: Yes, it's the same Weber. I'll read some more.

Frankly, I can't imagine Tom Sarbeck having difficulty reading anything he pleases.

Thank you, arch, but I'm having difficulty with general relativity.

With the math? Because I certainly can't imagine you having any trouble grasping the concept. I do recall that you have a math background, which I admittedly do not - is that what it is?

Actually, I loved higher math and did quite well at it, but then life got in the way, and I took another direction - last month, my grandson asked me to help him with his elementary Algebra, and I was lost - it had all gone away!

I was studying physics, intending to do low temperature work, and realized that my BA in math wasn't enough. Happily, I had enough math to persuade a company working on NASA's Apollo Project to hire me.

I got special relativity. It was fun imagining myself moving fast enough to see a red shift-like effect with light moving in the same direction. I didn't need the math.

I've just started Andrew Thomas' Hidden in Plain Sight: The simple link between relativity and quantum mechanics. It ain't simple and I haven't gotten to the math yet.

If he has truly shown a link then he should get a Nobel prize.

I wonder if it is even possible to reason with a theist who believes, today, that the sun revolves around the earth.  Yes, that is taking place folks: today, Christians are reading the Bible and saying, "The Bible clearly states that the sun revolves around Earth, and not what science 'wants' us to believe."  Here's the proof (I had difficulty believing such ignorance could exist in our modern world, but it's catching on) Bible Forum.  I am not a member of that forum, but a friend of mine mentioned that there is a growing number of theists who are reclaiming the geocentric model of our solar system/universe.  I was dumbfounded so I had to see it for myself.  Needless to say, I am ashamed of such ignorance.


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