Surprised, surprised

I’m not the only one who is bemused at Julian’s effortful discovery and announcement of what everyone already knew. Eric is too. So is Jerry Coyne.

Eric points out in his title that he could have told Julian that – “that” being, in Julian’s words,

They believe that Jesus is divine, not simply an exceptional human being; that his resurrection was a real, bodily one; that he performed miracles no human being ever could; that he needed to die on the cross so that our sins could be forgiven; and that Jesus is the only way to eternal life. On many of these issues, a significant minority are uncertain but in all cases it is only a small minority who actively disagree, or even just tend to disagree. As for the main reason they go to church, it is not for reflection, spiritual guidance or to be part of a community, but overwhelmingly in order to worship God.

The obvious, in other words: most church-going Christians believe the tenets of Christianity; they’re not all closeted atheists who go for the music and the pretty windows.

Eric observes

…this is how, in my experience, most Christians understand faith. My own attempts to move away from this into more liberal, indeed, more radical revisions of faith in order to make sense of faith in the modern world, while to some degree successful, and actually more attractive to some people’s  more radical understandings of faith, the place of the Bible in determining faith, and the obvious marginalisation of some “believers” because of their inability to accept orthodox ways of understanding both Bible and creed, was of central importance to the core membership of the parish in which I worked. One of these put it quite succinctly when she said that I would not be there forever, and she was prepared to tolerate my radical take on faith, but she knew what she believed, and was quite confident that the next Rector would be more on her side than on mine.

Ray Moscow commented at WEIT –

Good for him for finally talking to some actual religious people.

We former Christians, who know hundreds or thousands of believers and who have sat through hundreds of sermons and Bible classes could have saved him a lot of time, though.  People are taught this crap, and they believe it.

Newman makes the same useful point –

Having been part of the evangelical community in Alabama for 24 years, “I could have told him that,” too. Four years later, I’m still trying to get used to people’s skepticism when I try to tell them that, yes, people actually DO believe all this stuff- and they honestly do believe it absolutely 100% wholeheartedly. I know, because I did too. Perhaps that concept can only be fully grasped by those like me who were completely “one of them” for a very long time.

The funny thing is, though, Julian was once “one of them” too. Russell Blackford reminds us

I can’t resist plugging the fact that Julian Baggini tells his own story of how he came to be a non-believer in his essay in 50 Voices of Disbelief.

I’m not sure how surprised he really is by what he’s finding out, since he has a sort of evangelical religious background himself. He started out being raised as a Catholic and got involved in evangelical Methodism as a teenager.

Given that, his surprise is really rather odd. Maybe it was all just a bit of performance art, or staging, or framing – maybe he was playing a character, like Conrad’s Marlowe.




  1. Dave X says

    Maybe his “My own research shows…” post helps him show that his own anecdote wasn’t just him being particularly gullible, but that it is general across congregations.

    Why aren’t the defenders of religion more soundly criticized by the congregants when they say things like “the gentle, moderate Sunday Christians” “don’t really know what they believe”?

  2. Friakel Wippans says

    I don’t think it was all just a bit of performance art, or staging, or framing. I’d rather suspect rationalization, albeit not of one’s behavior, as it is most common, but of other people’s behavior.
    I wouldn’t be surprised if many “deconverted”(*) walk out of religion thinking that they must have been one of only a few idiots in their congregation that actually believed the whole crazy stuff and that most of the others must be there for the social life, the music, the pretty windows and the careful nurturing of personal prejudices and petty power.
    Once the idiocy of religion becomes apparent to new former believers, I’m sure it’s as hard for them to think that people actually believe that crap as it is for an outsider. “Come on ! People can’t be THAT stupid. There has to be other reasons. . It’s obvious!”. And yet, yes, they actually DO believe that crap just as much as you did at one point. But, psychologically, it’s an ‘unacceptable’ answer. You just don’t want to believe that those people you spent so much time with are “THAT stupid”. You don’t want to think poorly of people you probably still like a lot and want respect despite losing your faith.
    Note (*) I’m only talking of non-traumatic deconversions. Very different story, I imagine, for those who experienced religion as gross psychological abuse or worse.

  3. says

    Hmmmm. But there’s also what Ray and Newman said, Friakel, and what Eric said – they all know from the inside that lots of people do believe it. (That is, they know it as well as anyone can know what other people really believe, which of course is far short of certainty. But they know that everybody isn’t going wink wink, we’re all pretending here.)

  4. Friakel Wippans says

    Ophelia, remember the obvious.

    Former believers are the most inclined to question religion and the sincerity of belief to start with. So it’s tempting for them to ascribe the same feelings to others, but not to the point of coming out or drifting away.

  5. Besomyka says

    I don’t find it hard to believe that as he de-converted he made the assumption that other people were having the same experience. When you come to conclusions and think things through, it can be easy to assume that other people with similar dispositions have done the same thing, when they haven’t.

    I know, for me at least, that was true. I started out Catholic, then became wishy-washy ‘spiritual’, and eventually just gave up on the whole supernatural thing as conceptually absurd. Then I heard about Dover, and it was SO far removed from my line of thinking, I couldn’t believe it. Sure, I knew some people believed, but that was so out there… it was alarming to me, and before that I would have just assumed people were generally closer to my point of view, maybe as far as some stories in the Bible are fable or myth, but the core truth is there ready to be found.

    But its not the case. There are people like that out there, but there are a LOT more anti-reality people that I thought. Might be the case for the author as well.

  6. says

    No, to be frank, given some of the evidence that Julian himself provides, I can’t believe he’s surprised either. As I have pointed out from time to time, Julian has taken quite strongly “new atheist” positions from time to time, and then he had a tendency to back away from those positions — because unpopular in the circles in which he moves?

  7. Friakel Wippans says

    You know, the whole thing makes me think of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project.

    A big “controversy” waved by the global warming denial crowd was the perceived “poor quality” of historical temperature estimates. Heat islands! Systematic bias! Data cherry picking! You name it. Big shot physicist Richard Muller UC Berkeley also had his doubts (and a slight bit of an ego problem, if you ask me) and was appalled – appalled I tell you – by the methodological sloppiness of his climatology colleagues. Goes on to do his own (presumably rigorous) study, paid by Koch money, and … same results as his unserious, sloppy, unreliable, ne’er-do-well colleagues from the climatology department. Ooops, never mind, the globe is warming, indeed, just like they said. It won’t prevent anti-warmists from using the same BS “controversy” but it’s pretty much shot and certainly won’t carry the same punch as when Muller was on their side. They’ll have to move on and go back to other tactics, like the all-time classic (I sh*t you not) “Global warming is good for you”.

    Just look at this little survey by Julian Baggini as his own version of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project. “Oh, shoot, believers actually believe this stuff!!! Gnu Atheists were right after all…”. Good. T’was all a misunderstanding (and for Baggini, I think, a genuine case of rationalization).

  8. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Many Catholics don’t know it’s an article of faith that Mary was bodily taken to Heaven (it’s called the Assumption).* Many Mormons don’t know their cult has the three-in-one trinity and each being in the trinity has a separate, physical body. This is possibly why Baggini thought most believers didn’t believe. They didn’t know what they were supposed to believe and so didn’t actually believe in their sect’s prescribed percepts.

    *This bit of dogma came about because St. Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem in 451, was asked by the Byzantine emperor to provide some relics of Mary. Juvenal couldn’t produce any and so he said there weren’t any because Mary’s body went directly to Heaven.


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