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Don’t forget the other coping strategies

In a rather cheerful article about the increasing numbers of Americans who insist on secularism, especially among the youth, we get a number of explanations for why young people are leaving religion.

A third explanation [the others being demographic shifts and increasing levels of education --pzm] for the rise of Americans claiming no religion is the increasing politicization of religion. Michael Hout and Claude Fischer argue that the political right has become so identified with a conservative religious agenda that it has alienated moderates who consider organized “religion” a synonym for an antigay, antiabortion, procivic religion agenda. At the same time, while they may feel disenfranchised from organized religion, many of them remain privately religious or “spiritual.” This reaction against the politicization of religion is seen particularly among young adults.

I agree with this. I see it as a psychological coping strategy: as it becomes increasingly obvious that religious explanations fit real world situations poorly, as there is increasing dissonance between faith and reality, people deal with it in rational ways. One way is to distance oneself from specific claims, to generalize, and adopt an increasingly vague term to describe oneself. “Spiritual” is popular. It’s so open and meaningless that conflicts are minimized…and that’s what all of this is about, is reducing disparities between your mental model of how the universe works and your functional behavior.

The article is all about how people and families have adjusted to the declining importance of religion, but I have to say that they left out a few strategies that worry me.

One important long term strategy: we have to recognize that religions are flexible and plastic — even, or especially, the oldest ones are capable of remarkable shifts over time. As dissonance between science and faith increases, don’t expect religions to break. Expect them to adapt and coopt instead (how do you think they managed to last so long, anyway?) We’re already seeing remarkable plasticity in Christianity. Megachurches are crucibles of religious evolution, where the selective pressures are high and the pastors are sensitive to losses in membership and income. Atheists should worry: one beneficial mutation and a new religion could erupt (or possibly worse, atheism becomes that religion).

But the other coping mechanism that we see in play right now is self-reinforcing tribalism. It would be less deleterious to our society for a popular new religion to emerge that accommodates itself to reality better, than for what we see right now: a society fracturing itself as groups wall themselves off into little hothouses of sanctimonious delusion.

The history of creationism is instructive. As we came out of the 19th century, religious people were sincerely trying to reconcile the Bible with science. There were many models proposed for how the book of Genesis, for instance, could accommodate the new geology: there was the gap theory and the day-age theory, and lots of less well integrated attempts to solder faith and rocks together with revelation. But the model that won out, that is now the dominant (but not sole!) form of creationism, is rigid denial. They simply reject the testimony of the rocks, because there is no way their stories can be reconciled.

And how can they do that? Just by forming tight little groups where they repeat their messages to each other incessantly — they are self-affirming enclaves that find vindication by finding other people who want to believe the same things they do. Apes are good social animals who are quite adept at doing that: what rocks and trees and stars are saying is far less significant to an ape-mind than what that other ape who grooms your hair is saying. How do you think Answers in Genesis and the Tea Party can persist, when the real world is shrieking at them at full volume that their myths are false? They simply don’t care.

So I’m a bit more pessimistic than that article. The secular nones are rising, and we could get lucky and just see religious movements slowly fade away and become little more than traditional social groups. But don’t ever lose sight of the fact that, like any group of pathogenic parasites, religions are trying adapt and exploit us, and also that human beings have an amazing capacity for forming weird little subgroups that can have a deadly effect on the body politic.

I’m always getting asked if I think religion will go away and secularism will become dominant. I think the trends are going that way, fortunately, but there’s always this nagging thought in my head that innovation and changing circumstances can bring about novelties that completely upset any trends.


A related story about a religious innovation: That’s what objectivism is, and it certainly does appeal to a subset of the population.

Comments

  1. says

    Interesting. I’ve been working on a future history for a science fiction series; during a period of global wars and intense natural disasters, three new major religions arise. One of them is atheist. I will have to read this essay and see what I can integrate.

  2. unbound says

    I agree completely with religions’s co-opting of anything else to keep membership up. Christmas has nothing to do with christianity, but was a great tool to pull in a bunch of pagans by twisting a large portion of christian history to fit a need.

    You see smaller examples of this already with things like christians rationalizing the 12 days of christmas as actually code for suppressed christians trying to keep god in their lives. Utter BS, but it has gotten traction among the christians and they’ll continue to spin such tales as much as they can to survive.

  3. hillaryrettig says

    super smart post on many levels – and it points to why it’s so important that we come out as atheists as often as possible. the more atheists who come out, the more who will come out, and the more marginalized religion gets.

  4. hillaryrettig says

    >But don’t ever lose sight of the fact that, like any group of pathogenic parasites, religions are trying adapt and exploit us, and also that human beings have an amazing capacity for forming weird little subgroups that can have a deadly effect on the body politic.

    the minute religion becomes unprofitable the threat of this mostly goes away. getting rid of the tax exemption for churches, here in the US, would be a great start.

    in the end, it’s all about the money. people can be good, spiritual, communal, etc., in the absence of churches, but grifters gotta grift.

  5. jstackpo says

    Re: Megachurches (or any size for that matter) as crucibles of religious evolution:

    Isn’t this the subject matter of Dan Dennitt’s “Breaking the Spell”? Read it some years back (forgotten the details – time for a reread); his subtitle is “Religion as a natural phenomenon”.

  6. microraptor says

    I’ve personally been wondering how long it was going to be until selective pressure drove megachurches extinct.

  7. thinkfree83 says

    I’m not very optimistic on the overall spread of atheism from a global perspective. Pentecostalism, with its emphasis on miracles, exorcism, and speaking in tongues, is the world’s fastest growing religion, especially in the developing world, whereas atheism is nary a blip on the radar. It seems that the only way to combat this would be to send out atheist missionaries of our own, which seems unlikely to happen.

  8. slatham says

    The new pope seems to be taking a very different tack. I found myself reading about this much more human (to me) pope and wondering whether I ought to cheer him on. I’d like the church to be better, but I don’t want them to be popular….

  9. nora says

    I’m also cheered by the fact that more young people appear to be rejecting religion.

    But its disheartening that some still believe in all kinds of other woo like astrology and feeling the spirit of departed loved ones. And of course, there’s the obligatory and uncritical Halloween stories about haunted houses. No one ever says in those stories that there is no evidence that ghosts exist. It’s taken as a given that some houses are truly haunted.

  10. hillaryrettig says

    Nora #10 – one good guide is how your enemies feel about a thing. A lot of churches are against astrology, haunted houses, etc., which tells me that they’re probably not that bad. (They are certainly not the monolithic opponent/oppressor that organized religion is.)

    Or, as another example – progressives are bitching endlessly about Obamacare – and I agree, we need single payer. But OC is driving the right absolutely bonkers, which is a clear sign it’s a step in the right direction.

    Sometimes the enemy sees our progress more clearly than we do.

  11. nora says

    But I wasn’t quoting anyone. Those were all my words. Did I accidentally plagerize?

    Sorry if I did.

  12. says

    @#9, Slatham

    The new pope seems to be taking a very different tack. I found myself reading about this much more human (to me) pope and wondering whether I ought to cheer him on. I’d like the church to be better, but I don’t want them to be popular….

    I take Pope Francis with a large grain of salt. Notice that every time he says something nice, someone from the Vatican basically says “Not really”.

    Pope: “Atheists can find God’s grace.”
    Vatican: “Lol, J/k, you’re gonna burn.”

    Pope: “Gays need our love”
    Vatican: “But you’re still unrepentant sinners who’re gonna BURN lolol”.

    Sure, he disciplined the German “Bishop of Bling”, but he hasn’t touched Sanal Edamaruku, the Magdalene Laundries, or the child abuse scandals.

    Then remember his creepy fascination with exorcism.

    I really think he’s meant to be a “nice old man” to distract people from what the RCC is doing.

  13. says

    thinkfree83:

    Pentecostalism, with its emphasis on miracles, exorcism, and speaking in tongues, is the world’s fastest growing religion, especially in the developing world, whereas atheism is nary a blip on the radar. It seems that the only way to combat this would be to send out atheist missionaries of our own, which seems unlikely to happen.

    Religion has long flourished in the soils of ignorance, poverty, and oppression. Goals of secular humanism should include education and social safety nets, both of which correspond to a high degree of secularism.

  14. slatham says

    @#14, Nathaniel — thanks. I haven’t been following too closely and I see I’ve been exposed almost exclusively to the good stuff. Interesting.

  15. thinkfree83 says

    @Nora: It’s true that giving up church/synagoge/mosque doesn’t mean giving up on woo. However, at least believing in such things is somewhat defensive. Based on my experience, if you ask a lot of people about astrology or some other piece of woo, they’ll admit that they believe because they want to, in spite of the evidence.

  16. blf says

    The current monarch of the raping children cult has said several things which, by comparison with his odious predecessor, are encouraging baby-steps. But that is it. His comments are still a lonnnnnng way from modern / civil society, there is still the adherence to the (by now corrupted) oral legends that started with possibly-drunk Stone Age shepherds, and there is a conspicuous lack of action (albeit on this last point I accept there is considerable inertia in the world-wide cult, so changing course will take time (which means, if he is serious, his age is a concern) and is not the monarch’s sole prerogative).

    Actually, also on the action point, there has been some movement towards reforming the so-called “Vatican Bank”. I assume that happened because the bank was being pounded (investigated) by various financial authorities. Said authorities have teeth, and can (and are known to) bite, and bites would threaten the cult’s riches / income.

  17. says

    In ranking motivations for withdrawing from church due to politicization of religion, I’d be tempted to think of it as a sort of “tribalism triage” before the dilution of religion into “safe” spirituality. When asked to choose between one tribe in the form of personal friends with a bit of diversity and another in the form of a heavily conformist church, a lot of people will choose their friends and mark their ex-church as corrupted. It’s pretty much what I did, mixed with some patriotism for America’s diversity and freedoms. (I’ve since traded my rose colored glasses for jade-tinted, but that’s another topic.)

    Then again, we’ve had generations of religious apologists diluting religion and god, within churches as well as the various spiritual, non-denominational gurus. Plus previously mentioned historical accomodations for pagans. So, I guess it’s a toss up between those two.

    My perception might be biased since I haven’t experienced churches going for the “soft” sale beyond lip service, but I’ve seen family churches get taken over by conservatives as our more liberal preachers retired. I got out at the first signs. It caused my mother a lot of stress, but she eventually severed ties when it became obvious that the church was dead set on getting rid of everyone and everything that produced a sense of belonging.

    Now we’re a family of atheists who can actually enjoy our idle Sunday mornings instead of worrying about which faction is going to take over the sermon.

  18. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    As we came out of the 19th century, religious people were sincerely trying to reconcile the Bible with science. There were many models proposed for how the book of Genesis, for instance, could accommodate the new geology: there was the gap theory and the day-age theory, and lots of less well integrated attempts to solder faith and rocks together with revelation. But the model that won out, that is now the dominant (but not sole!) form of creationism, is rigid denial. They simply reject the testimony of the rocks, because there is no way their stories can be reconciled.

    here I’m going to take issue with you, PZ.

    “The model that won out” is not any form of creationism that would be recognized in the 19th century. The model that won out is the rejection of the literal interpretation of genesis in favor of a god more mysterious than the Enlightenment mechanic that simply set inevitable initial conditions and walked away for one who intervenes, but whose interventions can never be specified.

    Essentially the dominant model has agreed the rocks have won, and that genesis must give way before their testimony. “Give way” doesn’t mean “be deleted”. It means “give way” – it means to move religious ideas only so far as is necessary to remove god from any contact with evidence.

    As for the hard core? I wonder how much of this is that reasonable people can’t fail to credit the evidence when put in front of them, so only the unreasonable are left to form a core: that core will then inevitably be pretty dense.

  19. moarscienceplz says

    Atheists should worry: one beneficial mutation and a new religion could erupt (or possibly worse, atheism becomes that religion).

    Arrrgh!!! PZ, I can’t believe you wrote that! You, of all people should know how often we have to fight against the “Atheism is a religion” bullshit. What the heck were you thinking?

  20. says

    I do expect that having a lot of unchurched people will help bolster the number of atheists/skeptics/etcetera, since leaving church was a first step towards atheism for a lot of us, but that trip isn’t guaranteed for everyone. We could just as easily find ourselves surrounded by a larger newage movement or a new wave of liberal churches if enough people decide to “take back” Christianity from the far right.

  21. says

    The current form of creationism would be regarded as heretical and dangerous in the 19th century. But the model of creationism that has won out is the AiG, biblical literalist version.

    Many popular religions, like Catholicism, have basically punted. They have no model of creationism at all, but merely wave theologically at a creator god who did something or other.

  22. anteprepro says

    Arrrgh!!! PZ, I can’t believe you wrote that! You, of all people should know how often we have to fight against the “Atheism is a religion” bullshit. What the heck were you thinking?

    Becomes =/= Is

    Also: The very fact that he is speaking of it as a negative outcome undermines the “Atheism is a religion” narrative as well.

  23. John Horstman says

    Nationalism is also a religion (well, a class of religions) better-adapted to physical reality that many others, as is the cult of ‘free’ market economics and its ‘invisible hand’ (they even kept the god analogy as an explanation for the functioning of market systems).

  24. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @PZ:

    I don’t disagree – I was only saying that the model that won out wasn’t a creationist model at all, and maybe that’s hopeful.

    As for what would be heretical in the 19th century, I don’t know anything at all, really, about creationism in the 19th century. Got a book to recommend?

  25. left0ver1under says

    I’m always getting asked if I think religion will go away and secularism will become dominant. I think the trends are going that way, fortunately, but there’s always this nagging thought in my head that innovation and changing circumstances can bring about novelties that completely upset any trends.

    Religion will always remain popular as long as it provides and easy path to social status, power, and claims of “wisdom” that don’t require effort. It’s the short cut for the lazy and the disingenuous, for the con man who wants to get in your wallet, your pants or both. It will die when it has no ability to influence or intimidate others.

  26. moarscienceplz says

    #28

    I understand your point, although I feel you are stretching the definition of religion a bit too far. However, Atheism is, if anything, the very antithesis of a religion. You possibly may be conflating scientism with Atheism. I do agree with PZ’s point about certain groups developing an unhealthy “us vs. them” attitude, and Atheism is absolutely not immune to that, but to think that any sane person believes that Atheism might, in and of itself, provide the benefits (beyond those of simply being in a social group) that nearly all religions claim, is beyond the pale.

  27. blf says

    Whilst the “cretinist model which won out” does seem to be the selective “literal” interpretation (including flud catastrophe) plus an imaginary timeline (but sans flat-earthism and (I think) also sans geocentralism), is there any actual evidence that that particular model is indeed the “winner” (in USAlienstan or other locations (excepting fundie cult towns and similar highly-biased locations)) ?

    I seem to recall — very possibly mistakenly — surveys being a bit inconsistent here, with the cretinism (or, perhaps more correctly, anti-evolution) plus imaginary timeline (or, perhaps more correctly, creation in six ill-defined “days”) being “widely” believed, but not a “literal” interpretation (excepting the flud), and with a surprising level of geocentralism, albeit little flat-earthism.

  28. abewoelk says

    There are two reasons religion isn’t going anywhere. First, unlike cold hard reason, it’s warm and cuddly. It’s comforting to believe that the Creator of the Universe is my best friend who cares so deeply about my little life that he died on the cross for me. It’s not at all warm and cuddly to believe that we’re on our own and there’s nobody out there who cares if we live or die. That, all by itself, is why atheism will always have an uphill battle.

    Second, religion is better than secular humanism at creating local communities for people to feel connected to. I haven’t been to church in 20 years and I still miss the communitarian aspects of it.

    But I think some forms of religious nonsense are less toxic than others, and I think there is hope that the worst of them are in the process of being de-fanged. IIRC, humans have existed for about 100,000 years; the three Abrahamic religons have existed for about 4,000 years and are on their way out; just not soon enough to suit me. Paganism seems to me to have been the dominant religious expression for most of human history and I think we may be headed back in that direction. I think that in the Third World things will get worse before they get better, but even there they will eventually get better.

  29. Jonathan, der Ewige Noobe says

    Bronze Dog @21,

    Never forget that Christ was a non-denominational guru by iron age Jewish standards–and then Saul of Tarsus went all Macklemore on his dogma, and what we wound up with was sort of the Rare Earth cover of ben Yosef’s original apocalyptic ravings. Evolution in action, baby.

  30. raven says

    Michael Hout and Claude Fischer argue that the political right has become so identified with a conservative religious agenda that it has alienated moderates who consider organized “religion” a synonym for an antigay, antiabortion, procivic religion agenda.

    This is true.

    Most of fundie xianity is just right wing extremist politics with a few crosses stuck on for show.

    The right wing politicians frequently claim that god wants them to do this or that. In the last presidential primary, three people claimed god wanted them to run, Bachmann, Caine, and Satanorum. Three!!! The xian god seems to have a hard time making up its mind.

  31. knowknot says

    re #12

    … good guide is how your enemies feel about a thing. A lot of churches are against astrology, haunted houses, etc., which tells me that they’re probably not that bad.

    Well, kinda. If “things” are very cautiosly selected. But if it gets out of hand and you were to construct a platform of “everything they disagree with,” depending on the enemy you’d still be likely to end up with something very distasteful. And if your enemies were “liberals” you might accidentally create teapublicanism.
    Generally, the “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” approach has problems. Granted the suggested use is limited… but I’m always telling my daughters “everyone, EVERYONE, including me, believes something nonsensical.” Simply because we are limited, and forever, because those limitations aren’t filled by some heavenly spigot.
    Not to make too much of it, because I’m pretty sure you didn’t mean to, but belief an any variety of nonsense seems to me to create or sustain a susceptibility to various or varieties of nonsense. Which is why Scientologists and Mormons (as examples) have a “milk before solid food” system of doctrinal infusion.
    Also, nonsense mitigates and sustains resistance to science. Can’t tell youmhow many times I’ve seen someones vague and otherwise innocuous “spirituality” mitigate against a meaningful, and sometimes fundemental bit of scientific thought.
    And in some cases, the sustained “spiritual yearning” tends toward a collapse back toward the original enemy when the protective qualities of vagueness fail.
    I’m probably making too much of this. I really DON’T want to suggest diluting the message by suggesting a list of “every idea that needs to be attacked today.” But, um…

  32. knowknot says

    re #36

    Most of fundie xianity is just right wing extremist politics with a few crosses stuck on for show.

    Toward the end of my christian career that in amongst the decent folks there was a reasonably strong contingent who would have bolted aggressively if the church had suddenly become focused solely on what Jesus had been reported to say.
    I remember being in a group setting and saying “so… what we’re really saying is that we’ve gotten the love one another thing down so well that we need something else to occupy our time?” Obviously it wasn’t a terribly deep nor clever question, but given the source and the stated beliefs of the group one would EXPECT a response other than insert nothing .

  33. raven says

    There is ample evidence that god/jesus are just sockpuppets, created by humans to mirror their thoughts back to them.

    Below is a discussion of Republican Jesus and Tea Party Jesus. It’s humorous but with a serious point.

    ht tp://ww w.addictinginfo. org/2013/10/23/tea-party-jesus/ (extensively deleted many paragraphs for length reasons)

    Tea Party Jesus is the dimwitted illegitimate child of Republican Jesus and a roll of tinfoil from Ayn Rand’s kitchen cabinet.

    Perhaps you have already met my good friend Republican Jesus™? He’s that guy that Republicans claim is the loving son of God. The only problem is that he seems to hate pretty much everything and everyone except for his “chosen people.”

    Are you not white? Republican Jesus™ hates you.
    Are you a woman? Republican Jesus™ hates you.
    Are you gay? Republican Jesus REALLY hates you. And so on.
    We’ve all become pretty familiar with Republican Jesus™ over the last couple of decades. He’s the motivating force behind conservative politics. Or at least he was until Tea Party Jesus came along and told Republican Jesus™ he wasn’t Republican enough.

    Who the hell is Tea Party Jesus?

    Well, herein lies the problem. Republican Jesus™ is full of hate. It’s what he thrives on. But Republican Jesus™ doesn’t really hate any of the things he claims to hate. All that anti-gay, anti-black stuff is for the suckers at the voting booth. Republican Jesus™ knows that hate sells and it sells well. If his anti-this or anti-that rhetoric reaches the point of diminishing returns, Republican Jesus™ drops it like a hot potato. But not Tea Party Jesus.

    Tea Party Jesus really does hate. He hates so much, he’s completely forgotten that he’s not supposed to say this stuff out loud. Republican Jesus™ figured out, decades ago, that open racism is bad for business. The same goes for openly treating women like whores and property. Even gay bashing is out of favor among the general public. But Tea Party Jesus doesn’t care. He just can’t keep his mouth shut. Worse, he’s proud of his hate!

    Deleted paragraphs.

    Tea Party Jesus wants you to know how much he hates the very idea of government and that’s why you should put him in charge of it.
    Tea Party Jesus says these things in private, in public, on stage and in front of cameras. Over and over and over again. It’s like a form of Tourette’s except instead of cursing, he says what he’s really thinking. Loudly.
    Deleted paragraphs

    This is not how a functional democracy works but then again, according to Tea Party Jesus, that’s the whole point. Do it his way or scorched earth for everyone! We can only hope that Republican Jesus™ has the strength to drown his monstrous offspring before it’s too late. Otherwise, the villagers will have to get out the pitchforks and torches. Or maybe just vote them out of office in the next election…

  34. says

    Bronze Dog @24:

    We could just as easily find ourselves surrounded by…a new wave of liberal churches if enough people decide to “take back” Christianity from the far right.

    I could certainly live with that. (Actually, as a Canadian I more-or-less already do. Now if we could just replace Harper with one of those people….)

    Crip Dyke @30: If you’re up for a serious scholarly treatment, try to find C.C.Gillispie’s Genesis and Geology, which will take you up to c. 1830. AIG & friends are *behind* where people like Buckland and Sedgwick were almost two centuries ago.

    Re: Pope Frank. I remain of two minds. OT1H, the question of just what he was doing during Argentina’s Dirty War seems to have dropped off the radar without being properly answered. And of course, he runs the Catholic Church. OTOH, he’s certainly said some encouraging things, which I don’t automatically discount because other sources have repudiated them. Keep in mind that the RCC has 1) two millenia worth of inertia, and associated well-vested interests, and 2) a huge amount of diversity — the equivalent of what on the Protestant side would be everything from the Unitarians through to Pat Robertson, under one enormous tent. The effect of #1 is that changing course takes time, even for a theoretically absolute dictator. The effect of #2 is that emanations from the Vatican are often crafted to be taken several different ways, so as to allow everyone to continue to imagine themselves faithful Catholics, even while advocating diametrically opposed things.

    I’d like to take the optimistic view of Francis, because whether I like it or not, what the RCC does has considerable real-world effect.

  35. unclefrogy says

    there is more going on about religion than conventional western religion and spirituality.
    I think we make a mistake when we ignore it.
    There is what an old band mate called the religion of people what I have to call the boggy down religion while it does not have conventional gods as such it does have living idols and is very important to people, they like to go on a friday or saturday night and often taking drugs and or alcohol and doggy down whether it is a band, or some guy with two turntables and a microphone they come as if to a church service for the celebration and catharsis.
    The other part of religion that we ignore is the search for the religious experience of which the boggy down religion is a small part. I mean meditation and its purpose of eliciting the religious experience. It is very common in the east and has many forms . It has had in the west some popularity see transcendental meditation and the krishna cult, but there are other more conventional schools of meditation and spiritual practice adopted by westerners, Buddhist and Hindu practice are not uncommon neither of which are based on belief as much as practice compared to say baptists.
    There is one universal belief that from what I see none that wish to survive and prosper should get very far from. That is the religious belief in “more room more stuff”.
    any conflict with that will insure a short and small history though it may have had influence over the greater society in some areas. think Shakers and probably had something to do with the failure of the soviet block among many other obvious reasons.
    there is more to religion than belief in god
    uncle frogy

  36. moarscienceplz says

    re #39

    Tea Party Jesus wants you to know how much he hates the very idea of government and that’s why you should put him in charge of it.

    Exactly. This is something I’m working on. I’d like to get it to fit on a t-shirt, I just haven’t figured out how to shorten it:

    Voting Republican is like inviting a Somali Pirate to captain your cruise ship.

  37. raven says

    Voting Republican is like inviting a Somali Pirate to captain your cruise ship.

    LOL

    One cartoon has:

    A woman voting for the GOP is like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders.

  38. says

    @Eamon Knight 41

    I’m going to remain unconvinced by Pope Francis’ honeyed words until I see actual action being taken by the church.

    Heck, I’m not even necessarily going to expect big stuff right away. Small tokens, like telling the archdiocese responsible for Sanal Edamaruku to back off and let him come home unmolested. Or apologizing for Savita Halappanavar’s death.

    Little things like that would go a long way in convincing me that both the Pope and the Church are willing to make a good faith effort to play nice in a pluralistic society, and that maybe eventually bigger changes might be on the horizion.

    Because you’re right. The RCC has a lot of power in the world. Which means to me that we cannot allow ourselves to be hoodwinked by a golden tongue and a kind face if they’re only being put forward to hide the fact that the church is going to continue it’s course unrepentantly.

  39. grumpyoldfart says

    Some of those youngsters will be heading back to the church as soon as something (big or small) goes wrong in their lives. As unbelievers they have to accept responsibility for their actions but if they go back to church they can avoid responsibility by pointing that, “It wasn’t my fault. It’s all part of god’s master plan – nothing to do with me.” And the other churchgoers will accept that excuse because they intend to use it themselves when things go wrong in the future.

  40. Akira MacKenzie says

    Or, they’ll go back as soon as they reproduce in order to instill some “values” on their spawn, or when they need to be part of a (gag, spit) “community.”

  41. AMM says

    Or, they’ll go back as soon as they reproduce in order to instill some “values” on their spawn,

    Because, of course, they should want their spawn to adopt the values of people like Schermer, Grothe, Dawkins, or the folks who are oh so politely disagreeing with Rebecca Watson’s “don’t do that.”

    or when they need to be part of a (gag, spit) “community.”

    Do you, by any chance, have children?

    Those of us who have children are painfully aware that it is not enough for us to model and teach our values. We live in a country (USA) whose lived communal values include misogyny, racism, xenophobia, and arbitrary hatred; greed, exploitation, rape, self-centeredness, and pursuit of power without responsibility. If we do not share those “values” (gag, spit), but do not bring them in regular contact with many other people who espouse and live by different values, they are likely to adopt the values of the wider culture. For that matter, even adults have a hard time holding to their values if they don’t spend time with people who share them. And, in the USA, at this time in history, most of the “communities” that aspire to values better than the usual “misogyny, etc.” are religious.

    So, yes, we do bring our children to religious communities, often visiting dozens until we find one that is more or less in tune with our own values. If their values — the ones they live by — are good, we don’t worry so much about what they say about some Sky Daddy or some robed guy from 2,000 or 3,000 years ago.

    FWIW, I’ve had to choose between a “community” whose beliefs I could accept and whose stated values I agreed with, versus a community whose beliefs I can’t make heads or tails of, but whose lived values agreed with my own (actually, they’re a bit better than mine), and I ended up deciding that values were more important than beliefs.

  42. AMM says

    “Spiritual” is popular. [snip] …and that’s what all of this is about, is reducing disparities between your mental model of how the universe works and your functional behavior.

    Maybe for you.

    For many, maybe even most people, the function of religion is to give what we loosely call “meaning” to life. “Reason,” as we understand it today, tells us that we don’t matter and nothing we do matters — in a century or two, we and everything we do or feel or suffer, all our good and all our evil, will have turned to dust and been forgotten and erased by the currents of time. So it doesn’t matter whether we work hard or just lie in bed until we die of starvation, whether we try to do right or simply kill random people on the street. I don’t know if any human being can build a life based on the idea that you don’t matter and nothing you do matters, but most of us can’t.

    This “meaning” doesn’t have to be formally religious — it can be as simple as wanting a better life for one’s children, or a belief that all (human?) life is worthy of respect. And there are plenty of people who, as adults, think that they believe nothing matters — but were raised differently and actually live as if what they do does matter.

    But I don’t think “atheism” as we know it today will take the place of religions in people’s lives. So far, atheism simply offers a negative — a not-believing in something, which doesn’t offer much to people looking for a way of viewing the world around which they can structure their lives.