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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Agreed Strega, however this is why I say, "religion is not the enemy." Regardless of your personal approach or convictions, we can all benefit from understanding Weber's theory and the implications of it.

I think that religion gives a focal point to discrimination and needs to be eliminated.  Ergo, to me it is an enemy.  I think that atheism is a better approach to progress our civilisation.  Ergo, to me it is an ally.

I do not think that the elimination of religion will solve all our problems.  I do think it would be a bloody good start though.

Like a busload of lawyers going off a cliff!

Or the proverbial 500 lawyers at the bottom of NYC's East River.

From what I know of the East River, the bottom is overkill - anything more than a toe dunk is lethal.

And just how the hell do you suppose the East River GOT to be that toxic in the first place?  A lawyer died in it.

There is one other fact that is often not considered in American society. While I could write on this all day (and have) I will just stick to the simple facts. Our society is fear based, and people are so ingrained to this that they prefer to be told what to do and have a set of rules to follow so that they fit in rather than feel like outcasts or have to wander lost in a world with no rules. An individual in America is looked down on; seen as different, and thus not found as acceptable as someone who is a Christian, and fits within the local groups. 

Recall that in the forties and fifties, almost no one would admit being an atheist as that meant immediate social and peer rejection. There were many atheists then but they kept quiet. There are more today with the numbers increasing exponentially in the youth of America. The world is under a sweeping tide of people turning to atheism, or should I say finally admitting that they have no beliefs in an ancient and silly myth that is not backed by any proof.

It is easier today to admit atheism as many people feel a greater freedom with the massive numbers of atheists increasing world wide. Certainly the internet help as it make the movement so visible. However there still remains a large contingent of people over 35 who have lost the ability to claim they have seen the reality of the ancient myths. They are held in place by the expectations of society, the fear to become isolated, and lose a long term peer group association. It is primarily the youth that are pushing the atheist movement to unprecedented levels. As a side, the fastest growing religion is the Islamic faith.         

John, decades ago I heard of a sociologist who described Japan as a shame-based society and America as a guilt-based society.

I'm not a sociologist; my experiences with religion persuades me that human society is fear-based and religion's survival requires fear.

And the fact that so many religions involve either reincarnation or an afterlife, implies that one of the greatest of those fears is that of death. I don't want to die - I'm not afraid of it, it's just that as time goes by, I learn more and more that could make life in the future more meaningful, information I hadn't learned early on, but acquired gradually over time, and having finally acquired it, with the promise of even further acquisition, I simply don't want life to end, with its potential of using all that I have learned.

If we humans had devoted even a fraction of the time we have spent over the centuries on religion, to science, and discovering ways of increasing Human lifespan, we might well be living into the hundreds of years by now, using our full potential, instead of wasting both that time, and all of the learning we've acquired, on the fairy tale of being magically transported to a different world once this life is over.

arch:

...it's just that as time goes by, I learn more and more....

You haven't reached the age at which your body starts coming apart. Good luck.

If we humans had devoted even a fraction of the time we have spent over the centuries on religion, to science, ....

Ho, ho, ho! The people who spent their time doing religion didn't have the ability to do science.

Paraphrasing from Lola's song in Damn Yankees: "Whatever the Grim Reaper wants, the Grim Reaper gets, and archaeoptteryx, the Grim Reaper wants you.."

Resign yourself.

Make the most of what you've got. 

Tom - RE: "You haven't reached the age at which your body starts coming apart." - then what are all of those pieces I keep picking up and Super-Gluing back on?

RE: "The people who spent their time doing religion didn't have the ability to do science." - well, you say that, but if they hadn't devoted so much of their intellectual output to religion, possibly they would have developed science much sooner. Pi, for example was known by some cultures at least a thousand years before the Hebrews even developed writing.

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