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May 31 2013

My yacht is the very best yacht

A Stanford professor of anthropology, T.M. Luhrmann, has a curious op-ed in the NY Times. She studies evangelical religions, and she takes the time to explain to us atheists and other secular people why people like to go to church. You know all those questions we ask, about whether god exists or what evidence there is for gods? They don’t think about that. We’re missing the point if we think that those are real problems for evangelicals.

These are the questions that university-educated liberals ask about faith. They are deep questions. But they are also abstract and intellectual. They are philosophical questions. In an evangelical church, the questions would probably have circled around how to feel God’s love and how to be more aware of God’s presence. Those are fundamentally practical questions.

Unfortunately, Dr Luhrmann is missing the point herself. We already know that. Seriously, I don’t know any atheist who believes that all we have to do is lay out the logical case for atheism and the believers will abandon the church. We still try to explain the problem with believing in god, though, just like we point out the moral failings of church leaders, the injustices of church policies, and the harm that religion does in the real world because the way you wake someone out of the delusion of faith is to jar them with the contradictions between what the religion claims and how the world actually works, and get them thinking about both the abstract questions and the practical questions.

The “practical questions” she cites are simply not. The answer to the abstract question that all these evangelicals are skirting, the existence of god, is no, gods don’t exist, which makes all their fussing about how to please the gods and appreciate the gods more wildly impractical.

It’s as if I were trying to deal with all the pragmatic minutiae of owning a yacht — leasing a dock, picking the best brand of brass polish, buying a fancy commodore’s hat so that I look good while striding about the deck. Only I don’t own a yacht, and don’t even live anywhere near where I could sail a yacht. So sure, I could doddle about, trying to make a real decision about whether I want this hat or that one, and I might even have fun exploring the choices, but to call it practical when the fundamental core of my hobby, the yacht, is completely absent is, at best, over-generous. When that core belief makes people invest unwisely, or leads them to make unfair or injust choices, it does active harm, all in the name of a feel-good phantasm.

The anthropologist needs to spend a little time looking at seculars in addition to the religious, though. She really doesn’t understand us at all.

To be clear, I am not arguing that belief is not important to Christians. It is obviously important. But secular Americans often think that the most important thing to understand about religion is why people believe in God, because we think that belief precedes action and explains choice. That’s part of our folk model of the mind: that belief comes first.

And that was not really what I saw after my years spending time in evangelical churches. I saw that people went to church to experience joy and to learn how to have more of it. These days I find that it is more helpful to think about faith as the questions people choose to focus on, rather than the propositions observers think they must hold.

Uh, no. I have no illusion that people talk themselves into god-belief and then go looking for a church that accommodates them — that doesn’t even make sense. Why then would people so often end up in the same church as their parents? Personally, I spent much of my childhood going to church without believing in god at all. It was only when I was told that believing was part of the deal with being a Lutheran (remember the Nicene creed? It’s basically an oath saying you promise to believe in X, Y, and Z as part of the church) that I parted company with them. But I was in the church in the first place because that’s where my family went, that’s where all my neighborhood buddies of similar ethnic persuasion were, it was part of the tradition. I was kept in the church by a net of obligations: Thursday was choir practice, the pastor would make altar boy assignments for which of the two services I’d have to attend, I’d have my assigned bible readings and verses to memorize for Sunday School, there was VBS in June.

I know that you can have a satisfying time going through the motions of church attendance, focusing on just the day-by-day patterns and interactions. So why is Luhrmann lecturing me on the obvious, as if we atheists are completely clueless about the daily rhythms of religion? Does she think we’re stupid or something?

I think she’s just setting up her happy-clappy conclusion by loading up on the straw premises.

If you can sidestep the problem of belief — and the related politics, which can be so distracting — it is easier to see that the evangelical view of the world is full of joy. God is good. The world is good. Things will be good, even if they don’t seem good now. That’s what draws people to church. It is understandably hard for secular observers to sidestep the problem of belief. But it is worth appreciating that in belief is the reach for joy, and the reason many people go to church in the first place.

“If you can sidestep the problem of belief” — right. Tiny little problem, we’ll just pretend it doesn’t exist at all, then we can continue to blithely troop off to church and do whatever without worrying about whether it’s important or not. It doesn’t matter whether my yacht exists at all, as long as I’m happy wearing my hat. That people can be readily sucked into an illusion is nothing controversial psychologically, but we generally think that well-adjusted, productive people are better attuned to reality.

“and the related politics, which can be so distracting” — WTF? Distracting? Look, if all religion were was a hobby, a cheerful little game that brought people together socially, I’d have no objection to it at all. But to pretend that it doesn’t bring along a cargo container worth of bad baggage is ludicrous. Those evangelicals are corrupting science education, because their religious beliefs tell them that evolution is false. It has fanatics throwing women on the pyre of their idolatry of the embryo. It justifies ostracizing, jailing, and even killing people who have different sexual interests. Those are mere “distractions”? They are minor problems Dr Luhrmann will wave away in her efforts to explain how freaking happy religions make people?

I understand that people join a church because it makes them feel good (sometimes, though, the reason they feel good about is the church loads them up with so much false fear and guilt that they feel compelled to alleviate it — it’s an elaborate circular engine of self-serving pain). The shot of joy, that pandering to a smug, small-minded sense of importance, is certainly an important component in the process of maintaining involvement in religion, but that doesn’t make it good or virtuous.

Even if it isn’t a proximate cause of church attendance, ultimately the question of whether god (or the yacht!) exists is essential in determining whether their faith matters in the world. That human beings are really good at closing their eyes and pretending is not an argument for living in a delusion.


Oh. Luhrmann has won a Templeton Foundation grant. All is explained.

109 comments

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  1. 1
    Zeno

    And if you’re lucky enough to have a pastor who zips through the service then you have more social time with friends and family members you’re accustomed to seeing each week. And that part works even if the sermon was gibberish (which is often the case). This kind of social inertia can keep you going to church long after you’ve discarded the last shreds of dogma, but at some point the shreds of intellectual dignity may force you to end the fraud. Or you can just show up for the social hour.

  2. 2
    dalbryn

    Religious people often have a tendency to forget that many, many atheists use to be religious themselves. In my case, I was very religious; mission trips, choir, praying out loud in public places, religious boarding academy for high school, etc. No one needs to explain to me how evangelicals think since I use to be one.

    People in churches, especially young people, do ask questions about god’s existence but those are seriously frowned upon by church leadership.

  3. 3
    rturpin

    Yes! I would add a comment and a quibble.

    First, a consequence of all the above is that there are many atheists in churches. It’s entirely possible that in the US, the atheists in churches outnumber the atheists outside and identified as atheists. Many who attend church for all the reasons explain can’t bring themselves to swallow the doctrinal nonsense.

    Second, I think it is incorrect to say that faith “matters in the world” only if it is correct. Churches and religions have significant social influence, no matter that their doctrines are nonsense. But ultimately, those who support a church, even if only by showing up on Sunday with family, are helping propagate and sustain those doctrines.

  4. 4
    Gregory in Seattle

    I’m curious: why no Comic Sans?

    Anyway, I love the yacht analogy.

  5. 5
    raven

    it is easier to see that the evangelical view of the world is full of joy. God is good. The world is good. Things will be good, even if they don’t seem good now.

    I’ve never noticed that at all. Most of what I have gotten from the fundie xians is vicious death threats from terrorists and wannabe killers.

    Fundie isn’t the same as Evangelical but there is a lot of overlap.

    1. They live in a demon haunted world. We are surrounded by demons and angels fighting titantic battles. Demons can possess people and make them sick, Democrats, or college educated. Satan is another powerful god and everywhere doing everything while the sky god is seemingly asleep or dead.

    2. Fundie-ism is based on hate.

    3. Fundie-ism is based on lies and hypocrisy.

    4. Most of the time it is just right wing extremist politics with a few crosses stuck on for show.

    Lurhmann appears to be profoundly delusional or outright lying.

    Data. Just look at the fundie leaders. Robertson, Falwell, Palin, Bachmann, Hagee, Parsley, Dobson, Brian Fischer, the New Apostles i.e Joyner, Jacobs, Ken Ham, et al. and on and on. They are all vaguely humanoid toads who spout lies and hatred whenever they are awake.

  6. 6
    Avo, also nigelTheBold

    It’s like she considers evangelical churches weekly cosplay or something.

  7. 7
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    Also, she seems to be missing that a lot of that “joy” she goes on about is actually schadenfreude. *We* are saved, and everyone else is gonna fry. How healthy, how pleasant is that really?

  8. 8
    rorschach

    In an evangelical church, the questions would probably have circled around how to feel God’s love and how to be more aware of God’s presence. Those are fundamentally practical questions.

    Partner and I went to a gallery with European art exhibit from the Middle Ages today, lots of religion porn on display. Depiction of the Virgin Mary, and she asked me “how do they prove she never had sex?”. That’s what I call a practical question.

  9. 9
    Thomathy, Such A 'Mo

    weekly cosplay or something

    So, I need to buy a saddle for my unicorn for the upcoming battle, there are a few options. Any idea where I can find a unicorn?

    __________

    It’s as though she doesn’t realise that she’s engaged in a massive non-sequitur.

  10. 10
    steve oberski

    This post goes into my save list along side the Courtier’s Reply and Planet of the Hats.

    There is nothing like the use of a simple analogy/metaphor to make it so clear what a house of cards the whole enterprise of religious accommodation is.

  11. 11
    raven

    Tanya Marie Luhrmann – Stanford University
    www. stanford. edu/dept/anthropology/cgi-bin/web/?q=system/files/…‎

    Tanya Marie Luhrmann. Department of … 1985-9: Research Fellow, Christ’s College. Four year tenure. … 2007: John Templeton Foundation grant, ‘Spiritual Disciplines and their Sensory Consequences’ …. Sociological perspectives. 42(l).

    I’m not sure who Tanya M. Luhrmann is.

    But I’d be very suspicious of anything she says or publishes.

    There is a flaming sword/smoking gun/bloody knife/mushroom cloud here.

    She is a Templeton Foundation awardee!!!

    This is always a bad sign for anything being coherent or true.

  12. 12
    Eamon Knight

    Many who attend church for all the reasons explain can’t bring themselves to swallow the doctrinal nonsense.

    Indeed. In the last church I was a member of, people had beliefs that were all over the map, often only tenuously related to the official creed (itself a watered-down feel-good liberal statement), including complete unbelief. They were there for the socialization, the in-group help, or the charitable projects. Which is why my wife is trying to build our local atheist group along the same lines (albeit with nothing like the infrastructure to support it).

  13. 13
    Thomathy, Such A 'Mo

    This is always a bad sign for anything being coherent or true.

    Oh, so she might realise what she’s done here, but she doesn’t care; she might have an ideological horse to race.

  14. 14
    Scr... Archivist

    Raven @5,

    Don’t forget the likes of Rousas John Rushdoony, Francis Schaeffer, and Gary North.

    ———–

    And as for P.Z.’s yacht, that reminds me of Sagan’s Invisible Dragon. It would easy to modify the dragon story to make the same point. But for Luhrmann, the punchline would have to be, “But I only bought the yacht so I could wear this nifty hat. All my friends at the marina love it!”

  15. 15
    Reginald Selkirk

    Here’s a report of as serious study you should take seriously:
    No atheists in foxholes: WWII vets remain religious
    In which a marketing professor and a chair of religious studies attempt a sociological study, and conclude that is would be helpful to market religion to veterans.

  16. 16
    Ing

    The Klan sure seems to be happy in those pics of lynch picnics

  17. 17
    raven

    Oh, so she might realise what she’s done here, but she doesn’t care; she might have an ideological horse to race.

    Almost certainly.

    Luhrmann is delusional, lying, or both.

    What she says might be true for rank and file Charismics, the holy roller speaking in tongues, laying on of hands, faith healing, demon exorcizing xians.

    But these are likely to be a tiny minority of fundies.

    Most of them are Tea Party, NRA, GOP, anti-science creationists who think Obama is a Reptilian shapeshifting, Kenyan born, Moslem terrorist. The SBC, Ken Ham, James Dobson, Liberty U., Pat Robertson, Sarah Palin, Fox News kind.

  18. 18
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    God is good. The world is good. Things will be good, even if they don’t seem good now. That’s what draws people to church.

    {looks at bookshelf} Yeah, I seened that afore: Dr Pangloss, in Voltaire’s “Candide”. Methinks that was supposed to be a joke (joshing the goddist, Leibniz), goddists.

  19. 19
    David Marjanović

    It’s like she considers evangelical churches weekly cosplay or something.

    I bet some of them are. “Evangelical” can mean pretty much anything in the USA, where even Catholics have called themselves “evangelical” – the German word evangelisch, for comparison, means “Protestant”.

    When I read about all that joy, the first thing that came to mind was the Westboro Baptist Church: there is no joy, there’s just hate, God hates this, God hates that, God hates everyone – and if (hah!) God hates you, you’ll burn in hell forever.

  20. 20
    raven

    Raven @5,

    Don’t forget the likes of Rousas John Rushdoony, Francis Schaeffer, and Gary North.

    I didn’t. Or the creationists of the ICR, Dishonesty Institute, and Creation Pseudomuseum.

    So many vaguely humanoid toad fundie leaders, so little comment box space.

    A lot of fundies are xian Dominionists who openly hate democracy, the US government, and would overthrow it if they could to set up a new Dark Ages theocracy. They have their own political party for this, the Tea Party/GOP.

    If you actually look at the fundie leaders, they are about as far away from Luhrmann’s fantasy as one can get.

  21. 21
    Nemo

    I gotta say, the evangelicals I’m familiar with don’t seem that joyful — more often fearful. Almost none would agree that “the world is good”: This world is the realm of the fallen, Satan’s realm, and the thing the faithful most look forward to is its end.

  22. 22
    Daz: Experiencing A Slight Gravitas Shortfall

    If you can sidestep the problem of belief — and the related politics, which can be so distracting — it is easier to see that the evangelical view of the world is full of joy.

    “Don’t look behind the curtain!—[Ignore the nasty consequences.]—Look. Smiley children and kittens! Aww, cute!”

    People get paid for writing this shit?

  23. 23
    Donnie

    Our yacht,
    Is a very, very fine yacht
    Two hats up on the yard
    White Castle in the lard

    Our yacht…..

  24. 24
    notsont

    She may be right about why many people actually go to church, I used to work for someone who was heavily religious and I had to participate in many of his church functions. Most of it is BBQs and Party games, well that is if your a male, if your a female most of it was preparing food, delivering drinks, and watching the children. Once in a while the women would get to listen to the men sing. It was really really creepy to me, but you could see the appeal it had for them and I imagine if I was not raised so differently I could have easily been sucked in by it.

    The actual church and sermon part was minor.

  25. 25
    Naked Bunny with a Whip

    The world is good. Things will be good, even if they don’t seem good now. That’s what draws people to church.

    Maybe that’s why I don’t feel drawn to church. I’m an optimist who already believes that the world is largely a good place, not a self-loathing pessimist who wants to be convinced he’s wrong.

  26. 26
    Deen

    Many atheists are well aware that religious beliefs are often not so much seen as a set of truth claims about the world, but as a set of tribal markers. It’s just that we question the value of that too.

  27. 27
    Naked Bunny with a Whip

    People get paid for writing this shit?

    Sure. That’s the Templeton Foundation’s raison d’être.

  28. 28
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    Also relevant: Boyer’s Religion Explained.

    Boyer explains:

    Children pretend-pour pretend-tea out of an empty teapot into several cups.

    This kind of virtuouso performance is in fact involved in all situations of pretence. The child’s cognitive system can handle the nonfactual assumptions of the situation and run inferences of the intuitive ontology that make sense in that imagined context but not in the real context.

    The crucial point to remember about decoupled thoughts is that they run the inference systems in the same way as if the situation were actual.¹

    ¹ Ask a goddist about the imaginary sky-god. They know a fuck-of-a-lot more about Him (He has a Penis ™ , therefore “Him“) than they have ever been taught. Why? Because they infer knowledge about Him. GAWD is constantly reconstituting Himself in labile minds. The assumptions made by goddists, once the hypothesis has been accepted, are obvious and pedestrian.)

  29. 29
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    Oy Vey! My comment disappeareded. Yeah, “cosplay” is a good description. For a little while we suspend reality, even as our old inferences continue to operate. Only: The goddists never take their costumes off. Ever.

  30. 30
    CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain

    @theophontes #28:

    The goddists never take their costumes off. Ever.

    Sometimes literally, in the case of Mormon and Sikh underwear.

  31. 31
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    Ok, maybe it disapeareded from the linky what was attached:

    Also relevant: Boyer’s “Religion Explained”.

    Boyer explains:

    Children pretend-pour pretend-tea out of an empty teapot into several cups.

    This kind of virtuouso performance is in fact involved in all situations of pretence. The child’s cognitive system can handle the nonfactual assumptions of the situation and run inferences of the intuitive ontology that make sense in that imagined context but not in the real context.

    The crucial point to remember about decoupled thoughts is that they run the inference systems in the same way as if the situation were actual.¹

    ¹ Ask a goddist about the imaginary sky-god. They know a fuck-of-a-lot more about Him (He has a Penis ™ , therefore “Him“) than they have ever been taught. Why? Because they infer knowledge about Him. GAWD is constantly reconstituting Himself in labile minds. The assumptions made by goddists, once the hypothesis has been accepted, are obvious and pedestrian.)

  32. 32
    dogfightwithdogma

    The intellectual pablum offered up in church sermons is mind-numbing, intellectually insulting, and corrosive of critical thinking. Why suffer this torment to get the happy feelings that come from social communing. I can get feelings of joy sitting round a table with my friends at a picnic or a barstool, and spare myself the discomfort of the sermon and the pew.

  33. 33
    sigurd jorsalfar

    Lately I’ve been reading various things that argue that ‘well-adjusted, productive people’ are not especially attuned to reality and that depressed people are the most attuned to reality. There’s really no evidence to indicate that we atheists are better adjusted and more attuned to reality than the religious. Slymepit ring a bell?

    That being said, I think Prof Luhrmann’s piece is clap-trap. “I saw that people went to church to experience joy and to learn how to have more of it.” What about when they aren’t in church, Perfessor? What about when they are persecuting gays and telling the rest of us we are going to hell? Is that them experiencing joy and having more of it?

    I’ve been to movies and concerts, spent time in the great outdoors, and with family, friends and loved ones where I experienced more joy than I ever found in any church, all without having to believe (or having to pretend to believe) in the fires of everlasting hell.

    The piece is just another in the long line of ‘whether or not god exists, religion does a lot of good for people so lay off, atheist dickheads’ line of argument. Spending time watching a bunch of evangelicals waving their hands in the air while they listen to their ‘worship leader’ play his Ovation doesn’t lend more credibility to Luhrmann’s version of this tired old argument.

  34. 34
    timgueguen

    The “But it makes them happy.” line Lehrmann seems to be pushing sounds like the “The masses need religion to keep them moral.” line. It’s pretty much an insult, an argument that believers really aren’t that bright, that they can’t handle reality. That they need to be lied to or they’ll get in trouble. Not like smart people like Lehrmann.

  35. 35
    shallit

    the evangelical view of the world is full of joy

    She’s kidding, right? The evangelical world may be full of joy, but it’s equally full of hatred, fear, and desperation. Hatred of anyone different from them: Jews, atheists, Muslims, gay people. Fear of the US and/or the Earth being destroyed by an angry god because not everyone kowtows to their supreme fascist. Desperation because so many people don’t believe their bullshit anymore.

  36. 36
    georgelocke

    Luhrmann’s book, When God Talks Back, is a great explanation of the experience of communion with God – her subjects do things like pour God a cup of coffee in the morning and take walks with God, constant conversation with an imaginary being. Highly recommended.

  37. 37
    raven

    the evangelical view of the world is full of joy

    She’s kidding, right?

    No. She is lying.

    40% of the US population thinks the jesus will come back in the next 50 years according to a recent poll.

    They are so depressed and fearful that their best idea is to sit around in a catatonic trance and hope jesus comes back, 2000 years late, and kills them and 7 billion other people and destroys the earth.

  38. 38
    SallyStrange

    God is good. The world is good. Things will be good, even if they don’t seem good now. That’s what draws people to church. It is understandably hard for secular observers to sidestep the problem of belief. But it is worth appreciating that in belief is the reach for joy, and the reason many people go to church in the first place.

    If that’s all they’re after, they’d be better off attending a New Age drum circle. If you can sidestep the problem of belief, you can participate in all kinds of uplifting pretend games. Goddess worship – fantastic for your self-esteem if you’re a woman brought up in a patriarchal society that denigrates femininity. Feeling the need to get back to nature? Why not try a nice round of sacred sweat lodge ceremonies, brought to you by the blurred traditions of the Plains Indians? Finances getting you down? Make a puja to Ganesh, the Hindu elephant-headed god who is famous for removing obstacles to success!

    She doesn’t really mean “sidestep the problem of belief,” because doing that raises more questions than she’s willing to deal with. What she really means is “turn off your cerebral cortex and stop asking pesky questions!” Yeah, yeah. Community and joy are, quite frankly, everywhere. It’s a part of human experience. And you don’t have to pretend to believe in nonsense in order to get a hit of that nice communal feeling. A contra dance will do the trick just as well, and you get some good exercise in the process.

  39. 39
    Eamon Knight

    @28: I’ve floated that idea in this space before (so I want credit!!!). We should regard religion as a RPG (actually several RPGs, with different themes and rule-sets). As long as they aren’t bothering non-players, or obnoxiously insisting that non-players must join in, or otherwise obey the rules as if they were playing, and as long as it isn’t dysfunctional for their own lives, then basic tolerance says we should mostly leave it alone. You can play with god if I can play with my little trains.

    Except of course, way too many of the religion-players are persistently blurring the in-game/out-game boundary, thus there has to be some push-back.

  40. 40
    Thomathy, Such A 'Mo

    raven @ #17

    Oh, I agree. We know these Templeton types.

    It’s interesting that she might be talking about only a minority. I just as well assume she’s making it up wholesale. I mean, does she really think she can take the piss on anyone with this? Most of what she says about the feeling and community of these church-goers is trivially true, although PZ touches on the truth behind that feeling, even if the community might be real. Sure, they have a sense of joy (I don’t believe that joy is the joy she thinks it is, if she’s even being honest). But, honestly, so-the-fuck-what? Luhrmann has written an article about nothing, expecting, I suppose, that people will nod their heads and never look back at evangelical Christianity in the States. They’re just joyful people, so full of joy. And what’s wrong so wrong with joy?

    Ugh.

  41. 41
    raven

    Documentation for comment #36.

    Jesus will return by 2050, say 40pc of Americans - Telegraph
    www. telegraph. co.uk › News › Religion

    Jun 22, 2010 – More than 40 per cent of Americans believe Jesus Christ will return … And 56 percent predicted the US economy would be stronger in 40 years …

    Luhrmann is so obviously wrong that it isn’t a question.

    The real question is where she went off the rails.

    It looks like she is looking at a small group of holy roller Charismatics and vastly overextrapolating to what most of the fundies do most of the time. It’s garbage research.

  42. 42
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    There is a certain childish joy in naïveté, I can imagine.

    What is it about repressive systems that they try to cultivate in the subject a form of intellectual neoteny? If everyone remains intellectually prepubescent (and thereby not advancing to the stage of discovering one’s (obstreperous) selfhood), one is more likely to blindly follow authority.

    The point of religion is then to keep people in a permanent state of pretence, playing childish games and interacting with a false (and surely comforting) distortion of reality. Forever looked after and yet, also, forever beholden to teh skydaddy ™ and jeebus pseudomommy.

  43. 43
    Howard Bannister

    If you can sidestep the problem of belief — and the related politics, which can be so distracting — it is easier to see that the evangelical view of the world is full of joy. God is good. The world is good. Things will be good, even if they don’t seem good now.

    DUH. If you can sidestep whether you believe in God, then … ASSUMING YOU BELIEVE IN GOD … you can have joy.

    What is that joy?

    The joy of knowing you are firmly morally right in doing the most heinous things in His Unholy Name.

    The joy of consigning the mass of humanity to eternal suffering.

    JOY!

    I do miss that joy, sometimes, actually. The joy of never having to wonder what’s right or wrong, and work it out for myself. The joy of not having to think. The joy of believing that I’m right, and everybody else is wrong. The simple joy of thinking ‘you will certainly get yours, no matter how many people you fool right now.’

    I miss those things, sometimes.

    But those joys made me a worse person, and made me do bad things.

    Shouldn’t that be part of this equation?

  44. 44
    Pierce R. Butler

    … in belief is the reach for joy…

    Evidently Dr. Luhrmann’s education failed to include any of that “opiate of the masses” stuff.

  45. 45
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    @ Eamon Knight

    I’ve floated that idea in this space before (so I want credit!!!)

    Hehe … *HIVEMIND!*

    Cosplay does certainly capture some of it. What I am more particularly interested in is examining the psychology of repression. In any book examining charismatic dictators, one gets left with the impression (often, though not always stated) of the dictator as the parent, and the subject as the child. Usually the dictator is male and styles himself as “the father of the nation” or similar.

    In BR Myers’s book “The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why it Matters”, the author goes into quite some detail on this issue. The Kims presented themselves, in turn, as “The Parent”. They have even go so far as to presenting themselves respectively as “Mother”. The ultimate virtue of a (North specifically) Korean, is their racial purity and childlike (read”childish”) nature. It is as if the great crime of the outside world were to seek maturity in thought and action.

    (I can see some sense in this in the context of “cosplay”… in escapism. But for them it is a permanent condition. The North Koreans are the very model of repressed subjects.)

  46. 46
    CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain

    @howard #42:

    The joy of believing that I’m right, and everybody else is wrong. The simple joy of thinking ‘you will certainly get yours, no matter how many people you fool right now.’

    I miss those things, sometimes.

    But those joys made me a worse person, and made me do bad things.

    The crowd at this church does sound joyful…

    Video: Toddler singing “Ain’t no homos gonna make it to heaven”

  47. 47
    Karen Locke

    I was raised Catholic, then attended Evangelical churches for a few years, and recall a lot of… well, I wouldn’t call it joy really, it was more comfort. We were redeemed; all we had to do was keep apologizing for our sins (since we’re all sinners by nature) and heaven would be ours. The churches I attended were probably on the liberal end of the spectrum, just because I grew up and lived in a mostly liberal culture. There was lots of praising God and praising Jesus, and being grateful for the gifts we were given, like a job or food on the table. There were lots of reminders about loving your neighbor. Hymns were uplifting (especially the Catholic ones). We mostly spent our time celebrating each other’s life successes (praise Jesus!) and comforting one another when life turned sour (we can’t understand His plan, we’ll all pray for you about it, etc.) We raised money and goods for charities, and felt good about ourselves.

    It took awhile for my critical thinking skills to come into play, and reject the substance behind all this uplifting stuff. First I abandoned the Catholic church, because I became pro-choice. Then I abandoned the Evangelical churches when it finally dawned on me that these people mostly believed literally in the bible, which went against my still-mostly-Catholic theology.

    But it took awhile even after that to stop thinking of myself as a Christian, and realize I was a humanist atheist. Once you’ve gotten high on the religious Kool-Aid, it can be hard to detox.

  48. 48
    Steve LaBonne

    Re SallyStrange @37:

    If that’s all they’re after, they’d be better off attending a New Age drum circle. If you can sidestep the problem of belief, you can participate in all kinds of uplifting pretend games. Goddess worship – fantastic for your self-esteem if you’re a woman brought up in a patriarchal society that denigrates femininity. Feeling the need to get back to nature? Why not try a nice round of sacred sweat lodge ceremonies, brought to you by the blurred traditions of the Plains Indians? Finances getting you down? Make a puja to Ganesh, the Hindu elephant-headed god who is famous for removing obstacles to success!

    Or attend a UU church where you can do all of the above! (That’s really not even a joke, sadly…)

  49. 49
    Kurt

    Directed to PZ (or the all-knowing-pharyngumind):

    Not knowing whether PZ’s parents are still around or not, I am not sure in what tense to phrase the question, but, did they ever leave the church or are they still members?

  50. 50
    Kevin

    Good fucking grief. Evangelical churches aren’t about “god is good”. Not at all.

    They’re about humans are evil sinful creatures who deserve to go to hell just by virtue of being born.

  51. 51
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    @ Karen Locke

    First I abandoned the Catholic church, because I became pro-choice.

    Tell more. (Not having drunk much of the Kool-Aid ™ , I feel a bit of an outsider to such things.) Did you not experience some cognitive dissonance prior? Surely something as ridiculous as an All-seeing All-knowing Penis-haver raised your suspicions?

    (My question sounds facetious, I realise, but I am merely curious.)

  52. 52
    chigau (違う)

    One thing for which I am grateful in my RC upbringing was the contempt it gave me for all other religions, especially Protestants.
    When I was ‘drifting away’ from Catholicism, joining one of those inferior churches never occurred to me.
    And later, it was easy to include the RCC in the contempt.

  53. 53
    saguache

    I know that you can have a satisfying time going through the motions of church attendance, focusing on just the day-by-day patterns and interactions. So why is Luhrmann lecturing me on the obvious, as if we atheists are completely clueless about the daily rhythms of religion? Does she think we’re stupid or something?

    Ultimately, the problem here, as well as the answer to this rhetorical question, is that evangelical doctrine makes a science of ruling out imagination. Stay with me here. You’ve already gone over the history of your upbringing in which you spent hours and hours of your childhood engaged with Lutherans learning and being indoctrinated into their belief system. These have learned to think a certain way, notions beyond the event horizon and ideas which cannot be observed within their doctrine don’t exist. They have no practice hypothesizing what might exist beyond this monolithic experience and thus they cannot empathize with an atheist because they cannot imagine how we came to think in our peculiar manner.

    I have a younger brother who married into the Mormon church. His situation is such that he needed to become fully indoctrinated in their shared fantasy in order to preserve his family (talk about socio-biological pressures?). As a young man he was able to empathize with me as well as recall the history that lead me to my pursuit of the rational. But after countless days before the alter he is unable to imagine how I might live my life, what I might be thinking, or recall those shared incidents that ultimately led me in a different direction.

    I’ve seen this sort of limited or blinder vision in others as well; it does not matter what they are interested in themselves only that you’re not. How can that be?

  54. 54
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    We should regard religion as a RPG (actually several RPGs, with different themes and rule-sets). As long as they aren’t bothering non-players, or obnoxiously insisting that non-players must join in, or otherwise obey the rules as if they were playing, and as long as it isn’t dysfunctional for their own lives, then basic tolerance says we should mostly leave it alone. You can play with god if I can play with my little trains.

    Only problem with this approach is that they’re always gonna bother a segment of the non-players: their own kids. I mean, imagine if religion were restricted to adults, under the same theory that we restrict minors from entering into contracts or attending restricted movies. How long would it last?

  55. 55
    No One

    If it don’t float or have a means of propulsion, it ain’t a yacht.

  56. 56
    truthspeaker

    She would have a point if:

    1. Churches didn’t have creeds

    2. Clergy and Sunday school teachers answered children’s question honestly: “We don’t expect you to believe this stuff. We pretend to believe it for purposes of social cohesion and tribal marking.”

    The analogy to cosplay was a good one. When I go to a sci-fi convention, I’m not expect to believe the people dressed up as Klingons are really Klingons or keep me doubts to myself. I have fun pretending they’re Klingons, but we all (most of us) know it’s just pretend.

  57. 57
    Howard Bannister

    @theophontes:

    I can’t answer for Karen Locke, but I followed a similar arc. I was firmly ensconced in a fundamentalist church, and the tiniest thing broke through.

    It was statistics that did it for me.

    Rape statistics.

    It was eye-opening to realize that the law-and-order version of the world I had thought I was living in was actually critically unfair to people. Literally eye-opening, because a lot of fundamentalism is the fetishization of that law and order–God makes order, when we make order we’re little gods, etc.

    From there I got to learn a little bit about rape culture. And from there I became a little bit of a feminist.

    Pretty soon I figured out that the people keeping abortion rates high were anti-abortion crusaders.

    Once you start seeing the hypocrisy, once any little nugget is exposed, you have two choices. You can bury it and pretend it doesn’t exist–I have seen grown men so twisted by the inability to allow any contradiction that they will pretend not to understand plain sentences, because they get their assurance of being right from the assurance that there are not contradictions.

    Or you can start peeling off layers, thinking ‘the truth is in here, and when I find it I’ll be the best little Christian in the whole wide world.’

    You know how that ends. There’s nothing under the onion layers. You burrow down and down and down searching for bedrock, and when you’re done there’s nothing left but a book full of errors and contradictions and the big ideas about god turn out to be horribly monstrous in the light of day.

    I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that Karen’s story would be similar.

  58. 58
    PZ Myers

    #48: My father is dead. He never called himself an atheist, but he was highly dismissive of organized religion, and never ever went to church. If he were alive today, he’d be among the “nones”.

    My mother is still alive; it was her church we used to go to, and she would send us out every Sunday morning to do our duty but rarely attended herself. She had six kids, I think Sunday mornings were her time to relax a little bit. She’s never rejected the church, but doesn’t attend, either — I think she’s nominally Christian. Strangely, when I’ve asked her about it, she always dodges the question.

  59. 59
    truthspeaker

    Incidentally, my comments make more sense when you side-step my complete inability to type.

  60. 60
    kerrymaxwell

    Loud sirens started going off in my head when I came to the line “These are the questions that university-educated liberals…”. Couldn’t make it to the end of the paragraph without wringing someone’s neck.

  61. 61
    kagekiri

    @51 chigau:

    Haha, yeah. As a fundie Christian, I had all sorts of reasons for why all the non-Protestant churches (or really, any church but my own) and other religions were totally wrong, inconsistent, and incredibly improbable in their claims.

    Once I let my own faith into the same shark pool of religious skepticism, it was just as vulnerable to doubts and criticisms, and my faith didn’t survive much better than all the other faiths I’d thrown into those waters.

    There really was no religious category left for me but atheism.

  62. 62
    Eamon Knight

    Continuing the theme of religion-as-make-believe-game, here are my Five Reasons Why Model Railroading Is Better Than Religion:

    5) I know my little trains exist.
    4) I know the big trains they’re copied from exist.
    3) If there’s anything wrong in the miniature world I’ve created, I know it’s my own damn problem to fix it, instead of blaming it on the little plastic people I put there to inhabit it.
    2) Although, like the religious, model railroaders can take themselves pretty seriously, I never yet heard of two of them killing each other in a dispute over the One True Scale….
    1) ….because, unlike the religious, at the end of the day, we *know* it’s just pretend.

  63. 63
    neuroturtle

    The “joy” of being an evangelical is just the social comfort of belonging to the Chosen Ingroup. It disappears rapidly if you ask questions or question your Assigned Place, especially if you are female. The SBCs and related folks I knew in Alabama were at their most joyful when crowing about how holy they were in their little echo chamber and tut-tutting those Other Folks who didn’t See the Truth(tm).

    I grew up Wisconsin Synod Lutheran, and joy was pretty much contraindicated. If you were happy, you were doing it wrong.

  64. 64
    Kurt

    PZ,

    With six kids, it’s maybe more a wonder she didn’t send you off to the church with the longest service. One of those 4-hour Pentecostal services or something. I also went to Lutheran churches as a young man and you could pretty much set your watch to a one-(hour)-and-done service.

  65. 65
    Pteryxx

    Ultimately, the problem here, as well as the answer to this rhetorical question, is that evangelical doctrine makes a science of ruling out imagination.

    QFFTDCT. (saguache @52)

    In my opinion that’s why real-world fundie religions even suck as RPGs, with horribly flawed justifications and inconsistencies so glaring that a five-year-old Doctor Who fan could do a better job of worldbuilding. (And many of us did!)

    I grew up Wisconsin Synod Lutheran, and joy was pretty much contraindicated. If you were happy, you were doing it wrong.

    ^ This also. (neuroturtle @62) In my natal sect, the only commonality among the “evils” of dancing, or costuming, or spices in food, or artwork that got too interesting, or music that wasn’t vanilla (if you must have music at all) was that everything banned led to enjoyment. No joy, no freedom, no self-expression allowed. And wow, do they get angry when you point out that the rules’ only function is preventing fun.

  66. 66
    consciousness razor

    These are the questions that university-educated liberals ask about faith.

    I guess I must not have asked them when I was in a conservative Catholic elementary school.

    They are deep questions. But they are also abstract and intellectual. They are philosophical questions. In an evangelical church, the questions would probably have circled around how to feel God’s love and how to be more aware of God’s presence. Those are fundamentally practical questions.

    So we’ll be fine if you don’t philosophize, just practice. Preach, but not about anything of course. And don’t practice what you preach.

  67. 67
    Daz: Experiencing A Slight Gravitas Shortfall

    These are the questions that university-educated liberals ask about faith.

    Speaking as a liberal who never went to college, let alone university, I must say I’m somewhat relieved that I can now blame my lack of edumacation for the fact that I’ve never thought of the question “does this God bloke actually exist?”

    Oh, wait…

  68. 68
    SallyStrange
    If that’s all they’re after, they’d be better off attending a New Age drum circle. If you can sidestep the problem of belief, you can participate in all kinds of uplifting pretend games. Goddess worship – fantastic for your self-esteem if you’re a woman brought up in a patriarchal society that denigrates femininity. Feeling the need to get back to nature? Why not try a nice round of sacred sweat lodge ceremonies, brought to you by the blurred traditions of the Plains Indians? Finances getting you down? Make a puja to Ganesh, the Hindu elephant-headed god who is famous for removing obstacles to success!

    Or attend a UU church where you can do all of the above! (That’s really not even a joke, sadly…)

    I was raised in the UU church, and later went on to do all of those things and more… I’ve kind of made it a project to partake in all the major religious ceremonies I can. At first it was a genuine “spiritual journey” (I thought I actually might find something out about the nature of god) but now it’s just anthropological interest. I still haven’t made it to a Sikh religious service.

  69. 69
    poxyhowzes

    In the firm belief that somewhere in the Anglophone world ‘yacht’ rhymes with ‘hat,’, I offer:

    MY HAT

    My Hat it has three corners;
    Three corners has my hat.
    But though it has three corners,
    It won’t “do” on my yacht.

    My Hat it is a beanie;
    Yarmulk-al is my hat.
    But, as a gnu-ish meanie,
    Can’t wear it on my yacht.

    My Hat it is a Stetson,
    Wool Stetson is my hat.
    The wind, when e’er I gets on,
    Just blows it off my yacht.

    My Hat, it’s from ALCOA,
    Of “tin”foil is my hat.
    No alien can know a
    Place upon my yacht.

    My Hat, it is a tall one
    A stovepipe is my hat.
    Too formal for the small fun
    We’ll have upon my yacht.

    My Hat, it’s a deerstalker,
    Sherlockian, my hat…
    To find the vacuous talker
    Who’ll ne’er get on my yacht.

    My Hat’s a Tam O’Shanter
    Informal is my hat.
    But it invokes vain banter,
    It’s not right for my yacht.

    My Hat a ‘mortarboard’ be
    A graduator’s hat
    But when we all aboard be,
    No tassels on my yacht!

    My Hat’s all white and golden,
    Black visor has my hat.
    I’d be the Captain olden
    If I just had a yacht.

  70. 70
    mouthyb, Vagina McTits

    A sociological nitpick on the ‘importance’ of religion to democracy and civilization: here’s the thing about studying religion in society. The vast majority of the studies I’ve had to wade through about religion in society (including papers from the beginning of the twentieth century) have fairly uniformly started with a set of assumptions, including the following:

    religion is the defacto guardian of knowledge, including secular knowledge
    religion is the central organizing force in society
    religion promotes civil engagement
    religion promotes social stability
    religion promotes personal equality

    The religion in question is almost always either Catholicism (ha!) or some variant of Presbyterianism (eyeroll.) The study starts by assuming these things and cherry picks the shit out of the available population or data (including convenience sampling, errors with extrapolation, the occasional post hoc ergo propter hoc and a seemingly endless stream of conjunction fallacies about the emergence of democracy/person freedom).

    Take studies about the importance of religion in societies with a grain of salt; they’re a popular hobby horse in many departments, as well as being popular with the public, and they assume it’s important and go about trying to prove that by whatever means necessary.

  71. 71
    raven

    The vast majority of the studies I’ve had to wade through about religion in society….

    religion is the defacto guardian of knowledge, including secular knowledge
    religion is the central organizing force in society
    religion promotes civil engagement
    religion promotes social stability
    religion promotes personal equality

    Hitchens figured all that out.

    Religion poisons everything. All you need to know.

  72. 72
    Daz: Experiencing A Slight Gravitas Shortfall

    poxyhowzes

    Hmm…

    I’ve printed out the diagrams of all the tricky knots.
    I’ve got mesel’ a hat as well, but there’s summat I’ve forgot…
    There’s green oil for the starboard lamp, and for the port there’s red.
    I’ve scuba gear for diving, down to the ocean-bed.
    I’m sure I needed summat else, but can’t remember what.
    Oh bugger! I know what it is. I haven’t got a yacht!

  73. 73
    mouthyb, Vagina McTits

    raven: Hitchens is not a sociologist. I’m speaking specifically of the social sciences.

  74. 74
    raven

    raven: Hitchens is not a sociologist. I’m speaking specifically of the social sciences.

    Given the quality of some social sciences, many would say that is a point in Hitchens’ favor.

    You don’t have to be a Stanford sociologist with a Templeton grant to know Luhrmann is just writing gibberish.

    Although many of the fundie leaders probably are indeed pretty happy. They’ve scammed tens of milions and up to a billion bucks off their followers. The Crouches are alleged by their former accountant (and granddaughter) to have spent their loot on 12 mansions, 3 private jets, a $100,000 mobile doghouse, and a bunch of other stuff.

  75. 75
    truthspeaker

    Pteryxx

    31 May 2013 at 12:19 pm (UTC -5) Link to this comment

    ^ This also. (neuroturtle @62) In my natal sect, the only commonality among the “evils” of dancing, or costuming, or spices in food,

    Wait, spices in food? I need to hear more about this.

    I’ve met people who have an aversion to spicy food that seemed cultural in origin, but I’ve never heard of it being explicitly religious.

  76. 76
    imthegenieicandoanything

    Has anyone checked her birth date? She was probably born yesterday.

    (Cheeses! A TEMPLETON grant! Why not get a crucifix tattooed on your face? Or the words “I am not to be taken seriously!”)

  77. 77
    chrisdevries

    Ugh. What utter bull.

    Also, it’s bad enough that the media and a large percentage of religious individuals misuse the word “secular”; I would expect more from an academic from an Ivy League university. “Secular” is not a synonym for non-believing; to be secular is to believe that religion should be kept out of government and that people should not be discriminated because of their faith (or lack thereof) or forced to abide by religious doctrines. Plenty of devout religious people are secularists.

  78. 78
    Peggy

    “I have no illusion that people talk themselves into god-belief and then go looking for a church that accommodates them — that doesn’t even make sense. Why then would people so often end up in the same church as their parents?”

    In liberal church circles (where people can be very much into having a strong “religious” feeling, with a sense of divine presence and a calling that is taken very seriously) I’ve noticed something a bit different. These are people who have wandered a bit from the conventional faith of their families of origin, but remain religious. They find a church that does let them be LBGTQ friendly, environmentalist, vegetarian, and all the things their parents’ churches did not support. Once they find this particular kind of liberal church, if they move to a new city, they *do* spend considerable time and effort finding another church that accommodates their eccentric god-belief as well as their old liberal church did. Finding the “right” church, then, becomes a long, frustrating hunt.

  79. 79
    spastic6particle

    I’m sorry, but did an academic basically say, “If you ignore this big, honking core of evidence, and all of the ramifications that erupt from said big, honking core of evidence, then everything is hunky-dory”?

    I need more doughnuts. My current sugar high isn’t strong enough to contemplate this without being highly offensive.

  80. 80
    Scientismist

    My questions to Professor Luhrmann: How do you propose to continue to advance your scientific understanding of the human condition while the society around you denies that the human condition can be understood scientifically? And when the climate warms, and the oceans rise, and the refugees flee, and the wars begin, will your joyous evangelicals be willing to take their share of the responsibility for happily doing nothing to prevent it? I am sorry, but belief does precede and explain choice of action — or of inaction (Belief in biblical end-times stifling climate change action in U.S.: study).

  81. 81
    Pteryxx

    truthspeaker, re spices in food: (incoming tangential rant)

    first Rev. Graham (of the Graham cracker) and then John Kellogg (a Seventh-Day Adventist) believed that flavorful food led to masturbation, one of the greatest evils and the cause of most diseases etc. So they invented bland, purifying foods to suppress lust and thereby promote health:

    http://theairspace.net/commentary/revealed-graham-crackers-religious-roots/

    Graham was a devout puritan and moral reformer who wanted to transform America’s sinful culture into a pure one, devoid of slavery, alcohol, and the equally sinful white flour. According to the article, Graham “believed alcohol, coffee, tea, sugar, meat, and refined grains were all unhealthy because of their distance from the ‘organic vitality’ of nature.” Graham held that such substances “taxed” the body, diminished one’s vitality, and, most curiously, led to sexual appetite. Graham included sex and masturbation on his list of both unhealthy and sinful activities that his parishioners must be free from, and famously urged them to eat bland foods to curb their lust.

    http://www.stayfreemagazine.org/10/graham.htm

    Though unpleasant to the taste, Granula found a ready-made market at Jackson’s sanitarium in Dansville, NY, where it was digested by residents. It was here that Sister Ellen White of the Seventh Day Adventists visited on the advice of an angel. And it was here that she received a message from above instructing her to duplicate the Dansville setup and open a two-meal-a-day facility for Adventists. Thus was born the Western Health Reform Institute in Battle Creek, Michigan.

    At the time, Battle Creek was the world headquarters for Seventh Day Adventists, a fundamentalist “society of the faithful.” Convinced vegetarians, the Adventists followed Genesis literally where it says, “Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed…to you it shall be meat.” Known later as the Kellogg Sanitarium or just The San, the Institute was to play a key roll in revolutionizing the American breakfast, making Battle Creek the international Cereal City.

    That’s the history, anyway, which I didn’t learn until very recently. (And every time I look up citations to answer somebody’s questions, I learn more… for instance, that Graham was inspired by homeopathy. Really?) Growing up in it, however, all I know was that our food was boring and often nasty, vegetables boiled into mush being typical fare. We kids didn’t see anything as exotic as mustard or garlic in real life, much less understand why – they just said most ‘outside’ foods were impure or sinful indulgences. Obviously giving a reason would’ve meant telling us masturbation existed. *headshake* To this day, if I make something like deviled eggs for family, I’m encouraging them to walk on the wild side if I add a little mustard to the filling.

    Oh, and I take it as a personal triumph that I realized brussels sprouts were actually GOOD if just steamed a bit instead of boiled into oblivion. My family won’t eat them my way though; they save them as leftovers and then boil them later in the guise of ‘reheating’. *heavy sigh*

  82. 82
    mouthyb, Vagina McTits

    raven: *cough* I study in the social sciences. Thanks for the ‘some’ modifier.

  83. 83
    David Marjanović

    Surely something as ridiculous as an All-seeing All-knowing Penis-haver raised your suspicions?

    It didn’t raise mine. I grew up with the idea, and, you see, as long as it doesn’t contradict something I already know, I believe what I’m told by default.

  84. 84
    David Marjanović

    And when the climate warms, and the oceans rise, and the refugees flee, and the wars begin

    IN A.D. 2101
    WAR WAS BEGINNING.

    Sorry.

    believed that flavorful food led to masturbation

    *facepalm*

    Convinced vegetarians, the Adventists followed Genesis literally where it says, “Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed…to you it shall be meat.”

    :-o

    Holy changes in meaning over a few centuries, Batman!!!

    It just means “food” here! Flesh is not implied!

  85. 85
    consciousness razor

    Also, it’s bad enough that the media and a large percentage of religious individuals misuse the word “secular”; I would expect more from an academic from an Ivy League university.

    Well, a Templeton scholar as well apparently. So that changes my expectations, Ivy League or not.

    Also, the word “evangelical.” Let’s check a dictionary here, even though it’s not going to give anything like rigorous sociological information, or make a clean division between the concepts of evangelicals vs. non-evangelicals (but who are we kidding? Neither is she):

    1. Also, e·van·gel·ic. pertaining to or in keeping with the gospel and its teachings.
    2. belonging to or designating the Christian churches that emphasize the teachings and authority of the Scriptures, especially of the new testament, in opposition to the institutional authority of the church itself, and that stress as paramount the tenet that salvation is achieved by personal conversion to faith in the atonement of Christ.
    3. designating Christians, especially of the late 1970s, eschewing the designation of fundamentalist but holding to a conservative interpretation of the Bible.
    4. pertaining to certain movements in the Protestant churches in the 18th and 19th centuries that stressed the importance of personal experience of guilt for sin, and of reconciliation to God through Christ.
    5. marked by ardent or zealous enthusiasm for a cause.

    There is very little stress on “practice” here, of putting works before or after faith, etc. It’s concerned with a certain kind of disposition to particular theological issues: exactly the “philosophical questions” she’s claiming they don’t care much about. You might be “evangelical” in the sense that you want to go around spreading the Gospel to others (i.e., evangelizing, being an unofficial sort of missionary), but that simply doesn’t happen without a Gospel to spread.

  86. 86
    thecalmone

    @2 dalbryn – “praying out loud in public places” – yikes!

  87. 87
    mikeyb

    Makes you wonder if Luhrmann is on drugs or is trying to win a Templeton prize. Her mushy language is reminiscent of Karen Armstrong or Robert Wright. Beliefs are not important – is this a joke, what planet is she referring to? From early fights over the Nicene creed to the Protestant reformation, squabbles over what are the right sets of beliefs are the very essence of Christianity. Of course practices are important too, but they follow from a set of beliefs. You tube any prominent preacher or turn on any religious channel at any time, protestant catholic or whatever, and what will be primarily talked about – beliefs, and practices that follow from beliefs and practically nothing else. I’ll bet if you went back to the church she worked at and asked the people if they thought beliefs were unimportant, they would find that absurd. This whole “god is good” notion is implausible as well. It reflects more the siege mentality of a subgroup, like the branch Davidians with their apocalyptic views of the world.

    One could argue perhaps that beliefs are less important in other religions like some forms of Judaism, where practices and observance of holidays may be more emphasized. Of course some more liberal Christian groups like Unitarians function largely without any emphasis on required sets of belief, but these represent a minority of a minority.

    Finally, I as an atheist, was once a believer. I grew up going to church but I also held a set of beliefs such as the fall, sin, the resurrection, heaven and hell and the like, standard stuff. As I recall, I really believed this stuff and tried to order my life based on these beliefs, until gradually I unlearned these beliefs through my own investigations, pre-PZ, pre-Dawkins, pre-gnu days on my own.

    So beliefs aren’t the big deal – I can fathom what she is talking about, both from personal experience, experience of other believers, and everything I have ever read about Christianity.

  88. 88
    UnknownEric the Apostate

    Myyyyyyyyyy yacht… is a very very very fine yacht (fine yacht)
    With two cats in the bow, yes you may wonder how
    But everything is easy when you make shit up
    La la lalalalala…

    (Sorry, the title made me think of this.)

  89. 89
    Scientismist

    PZ says in #57:

    My mother is still alive; it was her church we used to go to, and she would send us out every Sunday morning to do our duty but rarely attended herself.

    My mother (who died many years ago) did much the same: she stopped going to “her” church (Methodist) before I started school, but was quite happy when some school friends “saved” my sister and myself and took us to Summer Bible School at the Baptist Church. I attended that church for some years, but stopped sometime before high school, when I ditched it one Sunday to go fishing with my Dad.

    When, in my second year of grad school, I explained to my Mom that some of my research on a bacterial virus might even tell us something about similar processes in humans, because, after all, we’re related by evolution to all of life…. Mom was shocked to learn that I “believed” in evolution. “Mom, I’m studying to be a biological scientist, of course I believe in evolution.” “.. Well, maybe your ancestors were monkeys, but not mine.” I never asked if she was trying to tell me something about my Dad. (It was my Dad who sparked my interest in science by reading science books to me instead of fairy tales — or the Bible — when I was little.)

  90. 90
    Karen Locke

    @theophontes (50):

    Part of my own personal story was that I went to very liberal Catholic schools from 1st through 12th grades. My high school, especially, was a hotbed of liberal nuns who were focused on social justice. We just didn’t focus on the BS too much; they were much more interested in feeding the poor, sheltering the homeless, helping people in other countries (for example, India) whose lives were limited by caste or class or whatever, etc. That’s the sort of thing my religious education focused on.

    Meanwhile, my mother often took me to church on Saturday nights because she hated getting up on Sunday mornings… and the Saturday night service was in Spanish. I could understand a little of it, but as far as Mama was concerned, the task was to go to church every weekend (which the church requires of those who are physically capable), not necessarily to understand the sermon.

    I gave up on the CC itself partly because of the pro-life stance (I was getting old enough to be interested in birth control and female autonomy) and partly because I started to get an inkling that a lot of the ancient church fathers had revealed in their writings that they were misogynist shits. I also could never understand why nuns couldn’t be priests just because they were women.

    When I hung out with the Evangelicals, they too were more interested in doing God’s work than talking about some of his less acceptable pronouncements. That’s why it took me a year to find out they believed in a literal bible. I got into a discussion about evolution (which my nuns firmly believed in) and had my head handed to me.

    Then I bailed and gave up on church. But it took some time to figure out that social justice and caring for your neighbor are not grounded in Christian doctrine Ultimately I got it sorted out in my head, it just took awhile. I got stuck on the fear of hell for awhile; I wondered and read about other religions; I learned and thought and came to my current conclusions.

    The thing is, once a particular cognitive dissonance is very ingrained, it can take a lot of thinking to even realize you have it. That certainly isn’t true for everyone; some of us are just slower than others.

  91. 91
    Hank_Says

    Templeton Poisons Everything.

  92. 92
    evodevo

    I don’t know how many evangelical god-botherers she talked to, but the ones I know personally are the most hag-ridden people I know. They, or someone in the family, is always ill, or emotionally dysfunctional or having financial problems or relationship problems or the teenage daughter got pregnant, or the son is up on drug charges or whatever that they have to “pray about” ….. They are NOT “happy” functioning people. Even when it appears to me that they have nothing to really complain about, there is always a “crisis”. They are the most neurotic people I know. I wonder whether they are fundies BECAUSE they are neurotic, or the fundie way of life feeds innate tendencies and turns them into neurotics. Why didn’t the good doctor study THAT question?

  93. 93
    Hank_Says

    Luhrmann fails to notice that the happy-clappy fundamentalism is, as is any fundamentalism, fundamentally dishonest. Perhaps not by design, but definitely by necessity.

    Even if you do leave out that minor matter of whether there is a god there to be believed in, to be a fundamentalist is to absolutely commit to a standpoint in spite of any past, present or potential contradictory data. Fundamentalists, as we know, as a simple matter of course deny, ignore and elide the verifiable discoveries of science (especially biological, medical and social). Many state, in advance and with no apology (and often ironically claiming the intellectual high ground, like Sye TenB and Kenray Hamfort do), that absolutely nothing could possibly convince them that they might be mistaken. Some go so far as to close the door on the mere possibility of even a hypothetical discussion about anything that might contradict their position. They answer “What could convince you that you might be mistaken?” with “Nothing, ever” and exhort their followers to stick with Scripture if ever a contradiction – internal or external – arises. It’s enforcing and encouraging ignorance and thoughtless obedience and denying the very base human impulse to simply know more. Little wonder that their smiles all too often look pasted on and their eyes vacant.

    If you are not even open to discussion or asking or answering questions, you are being dishonest. No philosophy built around a core of dishonesty can possibly survive on its own merits – hence the generations of childhood indoctrination, rote learning and restriction of external influence, as prevalent in a first-world clappy church with a resident rock band (for the yooth!) as a third-world madrassa with a dirt floor.

    Yet Luhrmann apparently thinks all this dishonesty and intellectual isolation is all good as long as people are happy in their church. Well, they’re hardly given a choice are they? “BE HAPPY WITH US OR BURN IN HELL, LIKE ALL THOSE PEOPLE WHO ASK QUESTIONS” is the sinister undercurrent of this “joyful” fundamentalism.

  94. 94
    myeck waters

    Hankstar AKA Mandrellian

    Templeton Poisons Everything.

    Templeton Weirds Science.

  95. 95
    Hank_Says

    evodevo

    I wonder whether they are fundies BECAUSE they are neurotic, or the fundie way of life feeds innate tendencies and turns them into neurotics. Why didn’t the good doctor study THAT question?

    Good question. I suspect that to the extent that neuroses are present, the fundie-ism was likely responsible. Most of the time, the fundie indoctrination starts more or less immediately, with people being marinated in it before they can even stand up, let alone talk. I imagine a lifetime of being told what questions you can ask (or answer) and what answers are acceptable (to give or receive), being told you’re hellbound by default UNLESS, being told your extra-church friends or family are definitely hellbound (which contributes even more to neuroses, anxiety, insularity and separation from loved ones) and being told what to read and watch and listen to would bring about in me a great deal of neurotic behaviour. I have quite enough, thanks very much, and I’ve been functionally godless for over twenty years.

  96. 96
    Hank_Says

    myeck waters :)

    Templeton Poisons Everything.

    Templeton Weirds Science.

    Templeton Voids Science.

  97. 97
    mikeyb

    Another note, I have encountered believers (as well as read about believers) who basically say they don’t believe in god, they have met god – through some personal experience, the holy spirit, whatever. Of course this is the infamous argument from personal experience/credulity. One might call it the trinity in the waterfall argument, ala Francis Collins. I don’t know if this form of belief (I don’t believe cuz I know/I’ve met God, etc.) is dominant, but it is very common.

  98. 98
    dexitroboper

    It’s just more apologetics.

  99. 99
    unclefrogy

    are fundies neurotic because they are fundies or are they fundies because they are neurotic?
    Yes ab-so-fucken-lutly! (that spelling is from spell check!)
    both are true and all degrees in between I expect.
    The presence of many problems in their lives is as was stated. The bottom line is they get very few coping skills out of their religion to help with real world human problems save prayer, guilt and impossible expectations for behavior. For which if they are so blessed is salvation after death.

    uncle frogy

  100. 100
    steffp

    # 96
    Same here. But I found that most of these “contact experiences” were pretty lame. I mean, NOT overtaking a slow truck on a curvy road, or NOT eating unknown fungus, or NOT drowning because someone jumped in the water and saved her.. not very impressive. An intelligent, articulate devout once explained that his epiphany happened when he had forgotten important documents at home, but, god willing, found them in his car, in a place he never used to store anything – the pouch at the back of the driver’s seat. And, no, he was NOT joking – he really believed the Lord put them there.
    Checking for “God experiences” in internet fora, I got the impression that an awful lot of hospital doctors tell their patients these days that their special disease can’t be treated, or that their case is hopeless. It sounds like those people still live in a 19th century world, without decent diagnostic, surgical and therapeutic tools.”I have to tell you that people with this malady usually die”…

    Indeed, like kids pouring imaginary tea from an empty teapot into an empty cup, adding imaginary sugar.

  101. 101
    Pteryxx

    <_<

    image link to somethingpositive

  102. 102
    lpetrich

    David Marjanović, the German word evangelisch has a cognate in Danish, Norwegian, Swedish evangelisk — the appropriate English cognate would be “evangelish” (Germanic -ish ~ -isch ~ isk).

    But I understand that they call US evangelicals evangelikal.

  103. 103
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    @ howard & Karen Locke

    Thanks for sharing that.

    I always get the feeling of being on the outside looking in when it comes to religion. My own story is very much like PZ’s #57 while growing up. As much as I attended church and sunday school, for some reason it never took. I cannot say I then thought of myself as an atheist (if mentioned at all, they were the Other) but my best attempts to get into the religious experience failed. Perhaps it was the very docile, Milquetoast (Congregational) church I attended that kept it so.

  104. 104
    LykeX

    (Cheeses! A TEMPLETON grant! Why not get a crucifix tattooed on your face? Or the words “I am not to be taken seriously!”)

    Maybe sorta like this?

  105. 105
    anteprepro

    So, from the first quote, she’s basically saying that evangelicals simply assume God exists and don’t think about it. And calls this “practical” by assuming that they are going to go to church regardless. Interesting quote:

    In a charismatic evangelical church I studied, people often made comments that suggested they had complicated ideas about God’s realness. One devout woman said in a prayer group one evening: “I don’t believe it, but I’m sticking to it. That’s my definition of faith.”

    Perhaps these people just don’t have a coherent definition of “believe”. Shock horror.

    But yeah, she keeps harping on the idea that “you believe in God because you go to church” and not the other way around. I mean, she likes to play faux-skeptic regarding the role of “belief” in all of this, but then she says shit like “people went to church to experience joy and to learn how to have more of it”? Because, really. WHY are people going to church expecting to “experience joy”? What exactly gives people that expectation?

    I’d agree with her if her thesis is that religious beliefs are basically irrational; based on biases, emotions, social connections, rather than logic and abstract propositions. If she admitted that the reason why “belief in God” isn’t that important to the religious is because they simply assume it to be true and are too uncritical to realize it. But no, she tries to get in lots of positive spin. She tries to play word games to make it seem like those elitist libruls don’t know what is what when it comes to religion and those noble savages in conservative churches are just following their hearts. They’re just going off to those Joy Centers known as churches, and totally ignoring the fact that people going off already assuming that churches are a place of joy says something about pre-existing beliefs .

    Templeton is a hell of a drug.

  106. 106
    Raymond Johnson

    “The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunk man is happier than a sober one.” – George Bernard Shaw

  107. 107
    David Marjanović

    Meanwhile, my mother often took me to church on Saturday nights because she hated getting up on Sunday mornings… and the Saturday night service was in Spanish. I could understand a little of it, but as far as Mama was concerned, the task was to go to church every weekend (which the church requires of those who are physically capable), not necessarily to understand the sermon.

    It’s not required anymore since the 2nd Vatican Council, though still strongly recommended.

    As for not understanding the service, that was considered irrelevant before the same council: all services were in Latin.

    image link to somethingpositive

    the appropriate English cognate would be “evangelish”

    …Yeah, except it doesn’t exist. There are reasons for that: -ish isn’t productive, except in the new special meaning seen in “bluish”, “largish” and the like.

    But I understand that they call US evangelicals evangelikal.

    Yep.

    Because, really. WHY are people going to church expecting to “experience joy”? What exactly gives people that expectation?

    I’d agree with her if her thesis is that religious beliefs are basically irrational; based on biases, emotions, social connections, rather than logic and abstract propositions. If she admitted that the reason why “belief in God” isn’t that important to the religious is because they simply assume it to be true and are too uncritical to realize it.

    Bingo and bingo, respectively.

  108. 108
    Pteryxx

    Following up on a few notes…

    I wonder whether they are fundies BECAUSE they are neurotic, or the fundie way of life feeds innate tendencies and turns them into neurotics. Why didn’t the good doctor study THAT question?

    and

    Well, they’re hardly given a choice are they? “BE HAPPY WITH US OR BURN IN HELL, LIKE ALL THOSE PEOPLE WHO ASK QUESTIONS” is the sinister undercurrent of this “joyful” fundamentalism.

    Some of the fundamentalism-survivor bloggers speak to this from firsthand experience. Here’s a recent post on the complete absence of the concept of “rights” in a fundie upbringing:

    You have no rights to your own emotions: it’s not just enough to agree with us, and follow our commands, but you should follow our commands without any expression of frustration, no matter how extreme or ridiculous the commands are. You should be a mindless, happy robot all the time, never acting angry, depressed or anxious– because after all, true happiness come from serving your parents and God the way we say you should. If you do become depressed, we’ll blame you for it. We’ll say that your depression and resulting nervous breakdown was nothing more than “guilt” and “not having a right relationship with God.”

    and from comments:

    I got in trouble as much for a “bad attitude” as I did for any actual actions. When your emotions are forced on you, you eventually start to lose conscious control over them. You just go along with whatever and fake it. It’s still something I struggle with, honestly.

    But hey, we were my mom’s pride and joy, because we were always perfectly polite and always displayed a positive and Christlike attitude no matter what! Everyone thought we were angels!

    …After reading that, I’d be wary of any claims based on self-reporting of joy or happiness in fundamentalist cultures.

  109. 109
    Pteryxx

    Aaaaand this is an even better example of why not to trust that churches are places of joy.

    http://defeatingthedragons.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/silence-will-let-evil-win-so-im-screaming/

    Looking back, now, I can so clearly see what was happening.

    The abused were being silenced.

    If the dozens of families who “abandoned” my church had been able to tell their story, to speak truth, then the evil would have been exposed for what it was. If we had been allowed to communicate with those who had realized that the church-cult and its leader were horribly abusive, then it would have ended.

    But, for all of these families, the only option was silence. Be quiet, don’t rock the boat, keep your head down, and just get out of Dodge as quick as you can. Talking about the abuse they suffered would have been received as “sowing division.” Everyone still in the grips of the cult would have shunned them– just like we did with Anna’s family, when her father tried to tell people what was happening.

    [...]

    It’s been seven years, and I am still hearing this. Not necessarily about that church in particular. No– speaking about abuse in fundamentalism, why, can’t you see that all you’re doing is giving us a bad name? All you’re doing is talking about how much you hate the church– and don’t you see how damaging that is? Don’t you understand that you’re just driving people away from other good IFB churches? You’re putting out a spark of hope, Samantha. You need to forgive. You shouldn’t be angry. We need to love. Pointing out all these wrongs is just hurting churches that are trying to do the right thing. You’re not being very edifying, Samantha. You’re a bully.

    After learning so much about how harassment or rape or racism generally go unnoticed without special effort, I have to wonder just how much unrecognized abuse goes on wherever churches insist on a joyful or Christlike attitude.

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