The following quote from Michael Gerson came up in one of my Atheist Quote of the Day widgets, and I found it interesting. The quote is:

Britain is exhibit A for the secularization thesis - the idea that modernization and scientific rationality will cause religion to wither and die. That is manifestly false in places such as Africa, India or the Muslim world. Only in Europe does it feel true.

-- Michael Gerson

I believe that, at least anectdotally, it is true. I think the primary cause for this European Secularization is education - Europe has had a strong education system, by-and-large, for many many years (centuries?), maybe even since the Renaissance. As we all know education is the enemy of religion, and so I believe that education has help Europe finally break the bonds of religion.

Maybe that's why America is still largely religious - we haven't had a good education system until relatively recently. Just a thought.

I would love to know your thoughts on this - especially from our European members. Is Gerson's observation true? And if so, what do you believe is the cause?

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The number one way kids learn is by 'playing.'

Spot on!  Those who refuse their children play are doing them no favors.

Misunderstand me correctly, children should of course play. :)

It's the insistence on children not being taught anything, left more or less to their own devices while never being held responsible for their actions, which I object to. Kindergartens/after-schools being no more than child warehouses. The concept of "free upbringing" (i.e. J. Juul, W. Kempler) is strong in Scandinavia, unfortunately some misinterpret this as all children should do is run around and do whatever they want, neglecting 'bildung'.

As for it being ideal or not, the research I've seen seem to be generally favorable.

Alright, I'm back on board.  Boundaries are as important as play.

And it's not that difficult to construct a game that also teaches the kids something. Playing and learning, by their powers combined!

When a bunch of bearded malcontents rush a bookstore to threaten an author with bodily harm, how is that secularization?

The rise of Islam in the west is giving me nightmares.

I think Arcus is on to something.  It may not be one single reason.

I'll start with some assumptions. #1 Religion is psychological in nature.  I've read where the human mind is hard wired  to create frameworks for those things it does not understand.  Religion then, may be similar to a fuse that won't allow the circuit to fry from over-thinking.  Some of us are better able to critically examine our environment and existence.  (Is that a fair definition of  intelligence?)  Some of us are better able to face the unknown and live with the notion that when we die, we die, and no contrived man-made explanations are necessary. 

#2 Religion is a social institution used by those in authority to subjugate, control and feed off the population it "serves."  In fairness, along the way, some try to do good things but has there ever been a greater cause of death and destruction?  I can't think of one.

So I think there are several dynamics at work keeping the flock of sheep in line.   Certainly intelligence may play a part.  Someone said 90% of scientists are non-believers and 90% of prison inmates are believers.  Is that because scientists can critically examine things in an unemotional way while those in prison are impulsive and have lower cognitive capacity?  Or could it be a matter of who perceives they have more control over their environment? 

On the subject of control:  Maybe those who live in Europe and areas of the US with temperate climates that have a greater sense of control over their lives don't need to resort to fairy tales to explain why there are natural disasters.   I watch the tornado coverage on the news and one after another, the survivors attribute being saved to the "big guy".  I feel like saying to them, no, you got into your bathtub and saved yourself but I doubt it would register.  Is it that they can't comprehend the randomness of some events?   Maybe prisoners with diminished capacity, need to hang on to some hope by attributing their state to a "higher power."  Is religion a means to assuage their miserable situation?

Is it cultural? Why did poor remote areas in the Middle East produce the 2 religions that dominate almost two thirds of the world's population?  What was it about those cultures that let religion get such a foothold and influence people to so willingly die for, or kill others just to get them to accept their beliefs?

Is it a matter of investment?  As Thomas Paine said,  "That which we obtain to easily we esteem to lightly.  It is dearness only that gives a thing its value."   So after spending countless hours memorizing the Koran, the Torah or the Baltimore Catechism,  most people are not going to throw that investment away and say it was nonsense.  There are plenty of exceptions like Bart Ehrmann but he is of unusual stock.  

So Michael may be right.  It could be primarily education but I suspect there is a lot more going on here. 

Geoff - I believe you've encapsulated it perfectly.

Speaking of tornadoes, when I was a child, a tornado wiped my home town off the map. In one local church, also a casualty, one wall was left standing, along with a picture of Jesus hanging on it. Trust me, a great deal was made of that coincidence.

I'm sure it's a psychological phenomena sufficiently common that it has a name, but it's amazing that believing people can see a thousand such coincidences go against their belief systems, but the one time it goes in favor, you always hear, "See, I told you so!"

Religion stands for order in a naturally chaotic world. People feel better, believing that their lives are firmly in the hands of a wise, benevolent, omnipotent being.

I guess I've always been an adventurer, and as such, I seem to enjoy the chaos - I can't wait to see what happens next!

pax vobiscum,


Thanks for the kind feedback.  I have been fascinated with the psychology of this subject and have a many questions that I need help with.  But that is the point isn't it?  If I thought I knew the answers,  I suppose I would be like them,  wouldn't I?  

Which brings up another question.  It is good to find a site with open and like-minded people.  There is something about sharing thoughts and ideas that is satisfying to the  psyche. Which could be another reason for religion's longevity, couldn't it?  With the important distinction being one has an open dialogue and the other is quite closed. 

But perhaps the grouping or tribal instinct could be something that we share with them?

As for your observations, I couldn't agree more.  So much relevance placed on random and statistically possible happenings borders on, or is, superstition. I bet there were pictures on those other 3 walls.  And like you and many others here, I'm not afraid of not having pat answers.  I guess we are risk takers and rebels.

Which brings up another thought but I tend to be too long so I'll stop now.

You seem intent, Geoff, on researching psychological reasons for why people adopt religions. One likely reason is, as I said above, Religion stands for order in a naturally chaotic world. People feel better, believing that their lives are firmly in the hands of a wise, benevolent, omnipotent being.

I've also been posting on another T/A thread in which you might be interested, the one entitled, "I'm Scarred." Yes, it's misspelled, but the young girl who started it is from Equador and English is not her first language, so allowances must be made.

She was raised in Ecuador amid a highly religious atmosphere, yet decided she's an atheist, and is having problems finding acceptance among her friends and family, despite the fact that she's the same person they all loved and accepted before her announcement.

This made me realize what a significant role group dynamics and peer pressure play on reinforcing religion. I can't help wondering how many profess a religion simply because rejecting it means facing their own rejection from friends and family and losing a sense of belonging.

Often, the converse is also true: identification with one's faith seems to lead many religious people to feel that if you invalidate their belief, you're by extension, invalidating them.

As for the Middle East's susceptibility to religion, for my own website, I've been deep into research of the region, and have learned that each of the dozen or so city-states in ancient Mesopotamia had its own bevy of gods, and since musical city-states was an ongoing game in the area, with conquest after conquest rocking the region for millennia, both from among the various rulers of the city-states and from outside tribes wanting a share of the "good life," with each conquest, the conquerors brought their own gaggle of gods which the residents ultimately adopted and worshiped alongside their own until the next conquest and the introduction of still more gods.

The Judeo/Christian/Islamic god began there, under the name of Amurru, then was backpacked to Cannan where he became El, the god worshiped by Abraham, Issac and Jacob/Israel, but the god Moses "met," Yahweh, was a Kennite storm god, whom he decided fit the stories he'd heard about Abe, Ike and Jake 400 years earlier, and the rest, as they say, is psuedo-history.

Islam was begun by an epileptic whose seizures were interpreted as conversations with god, as Muhammad often came out of them describing "visions" he'd had. He was enthralled by the Hebrew faith but was rejected by orthodox Jews as having radical ideas, and so incorporated his edited version of their stories into his own writings. He was also rejected by his own people in Mecca and was forced to escape to Medina, but over time, converted enough supporters to capture Mecca and reestablish himself there. Smart man though - he proclaimed himself "the last prophet."

Throughout history, violence and religion have been strange bedfellows. As David Viaene once said, "Gods don't kill people. People with gods kill people."

pax vobiscum,

That is a great insight about the power and influence of peer pressure.    My sister (another non-believer) recently moved to a southern state.  She was smothered by requests to join various churches.  The inquiries were presented as if it were a foregone conclusion that she would join.  Both she and her husband had the fortitude to decline but she recognized the blatant intrusion into her personal life and the pressure she felt was quite palpable. 

That may be why I escaped as neither of my parents were particularly religious.  That may be why my kids are non-believers as well.  Or could this be another Nature/Nurture debate? 

Thanks for the interesting background on the Middle East.  I did check out your site and plan to go back again.

Yes, "the last prophet"  moniker was certainly a brilliant stratagem. Can't have any competition can we?  Of course he may have learned that from Rome.  Their motto was "the one true church"  right up to the time I was in school. 

"Man is the religious animal. He is the only religious animal. He is the only animal that has the TRUE religion - several of them."
-- Mark Twain --

Doesn't it also have a lot to do with the Cold War.

Because America hated the USSR, and hated it Communism, they tried to be as anti-communist as possible, during the red-scare being an Atheist (something the USSR advocated militantly) was seen by some as a sign of communism by some and people tried extra hard to be clearly religious whilst much of the world was becoming more Atheist


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