Tell me if you’ve heard this excuse for religion before. Religion isn’t really about what people believe — all that stuff about salvation and an afterlife and heaven and hell and holy books isn’t that important, it’s instead all about comforting rituals and emotion and feelings. It’s like art, like poetry — nobody really believes in that stuff literally, except crazy people, so all those rabid atheists are barking up the wrong tree.
That is so tired, so old, so familiar that anyone who tries to advance such a stupid argument ought to be ashamed at how out of touch they are. John Gray, that favored religious apologist for the British press, drags out the old fleabag and tries to coax it around the track once more. That horse is dead, though, and all the flogging is doing nothing but making the bones and hide bounce about.
The summary blurb at the top of the piece says it all.
Too many athiests miss the point of religion, it’s about how we live and not what we believe, writes John Gray.
WRONG. Atheists understand that point precisely: it is about how we live. And we say people should live in reality, not some airy fantasy of myth and tradition. Gray, as is fitting for a fellow who makes excuses for bullshit, tries pompously to deny the facts: atheists know that there are many reasons independent of rational thought for people to accept religion, but that there are also tenets of belief and consequences of false belief…and Gray just tries to deny that.
We tend to assume that religion is a question of what we believe or don’t believe. It’s an assumption with a long history in western philosophy, which has been reinforced in recent years by the dull debate on atheism.
In this view belonging to a religion involves accepting a set of beliefs, which are held before the mind and assessed in terms of the evidence that exists for and against them. Religion is then not fundamentally different from science, both seem like attempts to frame true beliefs about the world. That way of thinking tends to see science and religion as rivals, and it then becomes tempting to conclude that there’s no longer any need for religion.
No. Religion does involve accepting a set of beliefs, but they are not assessed against the evidence. Religion is fundamentally different from science because the absence of evidence or the existence of evidence contrary to those beliefs is irrelevant. Religion is about what people want to believe about the nature of the world, science is about discerning what the world actually is.
The whole essay is full of this kind of nonsense in which Gray conflates religion and science, muddling them both up as equivalent except that science is flawed and weak and limited, complaints that he omits to make about faith. Gray is a practicing science denialist whose first approach in addressing the conflict between science and religion is to tear down science and claim it is just another “vehicle for myths”.
He’s also a religion denialist.
The idea that religions are essentially creeds, lists of propositions that you have to accept, doesn’t come from religion. It’s an inheritance from Greek philosophy, which shaped much of western Christianity and led to practitioners trying to defend their way of life as an expression of what they believe.
This is where Frazer and the new atheists today come in. When they attack religion they are assuming that religion is what this western tradition says it is – a body of beliefs that needs to be given a rational justification.
In Asia, Buddhists pray to Buddha for favors and blessings. The prayer wheels spin, the chants go up. In India and China you can find Vedic “medicine”, the caste system, traditional Chinese “medicine”, Tao, reincarnation, chi, ghosts, veneration of ancestors, a messy welter of beliefs all tangled up in the supernatural and religion. Tibetan Buddhists are just as fiercely misogynistic as Abrahamic patriarchs. Don’t even try to claim this mechanic of faith is a purely Western invention — the urge to ask gods for favors and appease their anger is worldwide, as is the fear of death and wishful thinking.
But even if this were not the case, and all the non-Western nations were careful to confine their beliefs to the temple and an occasional holy day, never impinging significantly on social life, day-to-day behaviors, or politics, it wouldn’t change the fact that Islam and Christianity and Orthodox Judaism do. Apparently, John Gray has never experienced the ostracism that comes from not believing as your neighbors do; has not had his behaviors judged as displeasing to the Lord and sure to damn him to Hell; has not had his children regarded as a taint in the community, pariahs who must not be allowed to expose themselves to the delicate minds of the children of faith. He hasn’t noticed that attitudes and laws towards women and gays are aligned with religious views, or that the policy discussions about the reproductive health of women are dictated by religious dogma, or that, for instance, American policy towards Israel is steered by people who openly admit that they are guided by the Biblical prophecies in the book of Revelation. Oh, no, Gray wants to argue, the objective truth of religious beliefs are of little consequence.
“it’s only religious fundamentalists and ignorant rationalists who think the myths we live by are literal truths,”, he claims. Tell that to the Catholics who were outraged that someone would treat a communion wafer with something less than the adoration the literal body of Christ deserves. Tell that to the Muslims who rioted because Mohammed was mocked. Go to an everyday Christian funeral and reassure everyone that Heaven is only a myth to make everyone feel good, and that true consolation is found in the practice of the ritual. Gray has managed to define almost all Christians as religious fundamentalists — he’s gone even farther than I ever would!
Ultimately, Gray sounds exactly like a New Atheist, except for the fact that he’s got to sneer at 99% of the people in the world, atheist and theist alike, to make himself superior to them all. Part of his conclusion sounds like something I would say, part is raving codswallop.
Evangelical atheists who want to convert the world to unbelief are copying religion at its dogmatic worst. They think human life would be vastly improved if only everyone believed as they do, when a little history shows that trying to get everyone to believe the same thing is a recipe for unending conflict.
We’d all be better off if we stopped believing in belief. Not everyone needs a religion. But if you do, you shouldn’t be bothered about finding arguments for joining or practising one. Just go into the church, synagogue, mosque or temple and take it from there.
What we believe doesn’t in the end matter very much. What matters is how we live.
You want to believe in Jesus, or Zeus, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Go ahead. No one can control what you believe. In my perfect world of the grand atheist future, there would still be churches, and art galleries, and poetry readings, and fantasy role playing games, and even palm readers and psychics…it’s just that no one would turn to the experts in those domains and ask them to make suggestions for energy policy, or how to teach our children, or who we need to go to war with. Of all those examples I listed, no one does that now, with one exception: religion. Religion is granted an unwarranted privilege and authority on far too many aspects of our lives, and that is what atheists would like to see end right now. You should be able to write a poem or attend a church or be dungeon master — but we should all laugh at you when you stand up at a school board meeting and pretend to have jurisdiction over what science should be taught.
But that last sentence? That’s appalling idiocy, especially coming from a philosopher. We are human beings. What we believe affects how we live. How can anyone with the slightest spark of awareness deny that?
I’m not a philosopher. I’m just an atheist. I think we should live for the truth, as best as we can determine it. And truth matters, damn it.
Glen Davidson says
Unfortunately for his many sound observations, what we’re experiencing in the Western world is a battle of beliefs (and yes, we believe, however justified our beliefs are). If he can reset the world and have religion be what we do, we’ll probably all be better off, but this was just a sermon that we all ought to see religion in a way that few actually do.
And since “faith” is to many (especially American) religionists about not demanding adequate knowledge for belief, there’s no way that science can reconcile with that form of faith.
He didn’t need to take such an ill-informed potshot at evolution, either:
Darwin’s theory already is known not to be the final truth, ignorant one. Evolutionary theory is quite different from Darwin’s sketch, and no one expects what we have to be the final word, either. And, does anyone think that General Relativity was the final word in physics?
Yes, human knowledge is limited. That’s what science understands so well, and much of religion so poorly.
chigau (...---...) says
I prefer Shinto.
iscan be a sacred ritual.
I call this tactic “committing theological suicide” and playing dead in hopes that critics will just go away.
“You know what’s wrong about atheism? They think theists really believe the shit we spout. But we don’t! It’s all just metaphor and myth! It’s poetry and ritual! We’re playacting and going through the motions like at a Ren Faire! God? Who the hell knows or cares what it is or even if it is? Atheists are missing the point: it’s a story. It’s an attitude. It’s a way of behaving. It’s not factually true, it’s psychologically true. It speaks to us and the human condition. Atheists just don’t understand stories.” And so on, and so forth.
Don’t believe it. They don’t mean it — even when they think they do. Instead, they’re dancing on the edge of ambiguity, believing two opposing ideas at once. They’re mixing up “story” with “explanation.” As Greta Christina has pointed out, if they really truly just think of their holy books as collections of myths, then why the hell do they get so damn pissed off when atheists say the stories are myths?
And they do. The worst thing you can be is an atheist, because it’s so shallow. Atheists think sacred truths are nothing but (scornful voice) “myths.” But they’re not — they’re (impressed voice) myths.
The hope is that if they invoke the image of poetry and art enough — talk about goodness and deeds — then people who have been analyzing their views for the truth of their views will be disarmed and confused. Oh, ok. Dead body. Nothing to see here then. We’ll just walk away.
No we won’t. The only people they’re apparently fooling is themselves.
From John Gray:
I doubt very much if Gray thinks getting everyone to believe the same thing about helping the environment, preventing violence, and promoting good health is a ‘recipe for unending conflict.’ It’s just religion that’s the problem. For a reason.
Gray is of course making a false equivalence between fundamentalists and atheists. Using reason and evidence to try to persuade people towards a consensus doesn’t divide people, it unites them. Look at science, look at democracy, look at any system which assumes a common ground between people and tries ideas in open debate. Gnu atheists aren’t trying to “convert” people but change their minds by getting them to think — and to think carefully.
Religious fundamentalists — and religions in general — instead try to convert people by emotional appeals and unsupported proclamations and special revelations and social bribes and veiled and not-so-veiled threats. Trying to get everyone to believe the same thing in religion certainly is a recipe for unending conflict because there’s no rational, secular court of appeal for settling disputes about the supernatural. Faith comes down to “choosing” beliefs out of a commitment and desire to be the kind of person who “chooses” a particular belief and not the kind of person who “chooses” to reject that belief because of not being the right kind of person. No wonder it’s divisive.
One of the mantras of accomodationism is this insistence that we all need to “agree to disagree on religion and talk about something else.” Don’t analyze religious beliefs. Don’t challenge them. Don’t take them seriously. Don’t care about what’s true or what isn’t. Religious people will like atheists just fine if the atheists simply shut up about why they don’t believe — and allow the theists to continue to believe and agree amongst themselves that it’s because atheists are empty, perverse people who hate goodness and lack sensitivity and depth. No offense.
The problem is, Religion makes promises it can’t deliver on.
Religion promises easy answers to complex questions, like why are we here, how did we come to be, etc, but when you look into the so-called answers you find very thin gruel indeed. Mostly, it’s some variant on “God Did it”.
Religion makes the claim that it’s adherents will be upstanding moral people, but then you find that every faith has it’s share of blackguards. Religion — particularly western religions — claim to be the font of charity and goodwill toward others, yet many sects openly espouse misogyny and racism.
another version of xtianity that is trotted out is “existential Christianity,” modeled after the writings of Kierkegaard.
this version allows them to maintain the special snowflake view of humankind but contain all the cognitive dissonance within the word “paradox.”
to me, it is far, far more comforting to accept that, with the level of knowledge that is available to the human mind, the world is what it is – in the way that Camus understood this issue – the suffering of the mind to decide whether or not to live is a deception of self awareness. the idea of meaning apart from this life only matters when fear makes it too difficult to accept that what is is what is – imagining something else, apart from this life, is a useful exercise, but not if it makes you think it gives you license to impose this imaginary world on others.
you are on earth. you exist. you live. you make peace with your awareness of your mortality and you decide to live in such a way that your time here adds to the benefit of the human community as much as possible and detracts as little as possible because, after you’re gone, your descendants or those of your loved ones will remain.
in the meantime, this world is full of wonders and pleasure. so why not enjoy?
Noticed this one on the BBC site yesterday
They closed comments almost immediately after posting the article so I didn’t get chance to weigh in on it unfortunately -.-
The BBC are normally pretty good but this is an opinion piece, nothing more.
Wait, what? Religion isn’t about believing stupid stuff, it’s about doing stupid stuff?
Unjustified beliefs lead to unjust actions
Gregory Greenwood says
So, when a member of the religious right in America decries homosexuality or abortion as an ‘affront to god’, they are talking about a deity they don’t really believe in?
When theists say that it is not possible to be good without god, and thus atheists are to blame for every evil in the world from genocide to cold sores, the ‘god’ in question is not believed to be a literal deity, but rather a belief in a lie that is supposedly necessary for humans not to crack open each other’s skulls and eat the gooey goodness within?
When ranting believers state that the ‘wrath of god’ will strike *insert reviled minority of the week*, the wrathfullness is purely allegorical in the minds of the faithful?
When Islamic extremists strap bombs to themselves and yell Allah Akbar just before they blow themselves (and, as often as not, a bunch innocent people) up, they are saying ‘god is great’ ironically?
When Pakistan passes laws that ensure that the murder of ‘apostates’ carries no legal sanction, then these laws are there to allow the murder of those who don’t believe in god by… other people who don’t really believe in god, but just say they do?
What a strange world it is that Mr Gray inhabits…
Luke Scientiae says
There I was contemplating the way to attack John Gray’s nonsense on my blog, and along comes PZ Myers: articulate, wiley and bang-on right about the Gray’s nonsense.
Gray separates two variables with no justification. He says beliefs aren’t where the action is, it’s how we live. Problem is, of course, beliefs influence actions. So, beleifs mattera after all. They mattered in matters scientific, as for Galileo and his religious oppressors, and they matter in matters moral, as for the innumerable victims of religious violence, Biblically and Koraniclaly-inspired justification of slavery, and the parents of kids beaten to death because they thought demons were real in the 21st century.
Just one more, REALLY important point: It’s up to the rationalists to sort this out. The brain-washed, indoctrined religious people can’t break the spell on their own. Religiosity is something we can all strive to minimize, humiliate and criticise as appropriate. If you reject religion on a moral basis, then you’re not neutral. So make it known.
Luke Scientiae says
Apologies for the spelling mistakes. Rush typing. And angry typing. Together. Sorry.
John Gray fits perfectly Bertie Wooster’s description of Schopenhauer: “A grouch of the most pronounced description.” He had a youthful infatuation with Thatcherism, and in his disillusion with that political faith, now denies any possibility of improving human life by rational means. Basically, he thinks people were happier when they lived mostly on turnips and died of rotting molars in their thirties.
No, I think this is very wrong. Creeds, rules, dogma, and lists of propositions you have to accept most certainly do come from religion and religious thought. Where does he think the term “creed” originated? Not from philosophy. Prophets, mystics, and holy men do not rationally try to persuade followers using debate arguments and demonstration: they proclaim revealed Truths. Accept this. It’s true. Because it is.
What did eventually come out of philosophy was apologetics:”The branch of theology that is concerned with defending or proving the truth of Christian doctrines.” But as we well know, apologetics tend to be circular, props supporting conclusions which weren’t arrived at through the arguments themselves. They’re only to shore up the belief of the believer. Philosophers don’t generally look kindly on theological “reasoning.”
“[The earth] has been here 6,000 years, long before anybody had environmental laws, and somehow it hasn’t been done away with.” “We need to get the uranium here in Arizona, so this state can get the money from it.” -Arizona State Senator Sylvia Allen, June 25, 2009.
Hey, John Gray, I think she really believes it.
Gray also keeps flogging the idea that myths are an essential good in society. Not everyone agrees with this view – because this view is, in essence, conservatism.
He lies when he states that atheists view science as salvation. Science is a vehicle to transmit the thinking behind the issues of Enlightenment – or the human ability to govern and decide how to live in the world without divine intervention (and, as such Scalia has declared this is sad thing in his talk, God’s Justice and Ours,” in which a Supreme Court Justice tries to justify the death penalty by the teachings of Paul, i.e. let god sort them out.)
In essence, these Christian arguments boil down to a preference for a pre-Enlightenment mindset. This is reactionary, no matter how mildly the words are couched. Or rather, this is a habit of mind that is pre-Enlightenment, while taking advantage of all the comforts Enlightenment-based technology affords.
But back when the world was shaken up by revolutions in the 1700s, after the initial awakening of the Enlightenment, an essential idea was to undermine myths (especially the xtian ones that allowed political privilege and abuse of people in the name of god) in order to imagine a world in which humans have equal rights.
Mary Wollstonecraft, one of the early feminist thinkers, specifically wrote that society had to dispense with the “myth of Prometheus” – which, in earliest form, included the story of Pandora who brings misery into the world (and is the creation of the female “species.”)
These myths are hateful creations, just as the stories of the murder of children in the bible are hateful creations – who would want to know such a spiteful, nasty “god?” These “gods” are merely the conservative view of how human relations are, ever so, not how human relations may be, if we work to disabuse ourselves of the bias these ever-present cultural tropes bring to everyone’s existence, whether we want them to or not, because they are the stories that were preserved by the powerful.
No, we don’t live without myths, or stories. But we don’t have to continue to repeat the same ones that perpetuate stereotypes that are offensive. Christianity became more powerful than the Greek and Roman religions because it retold myths – it re-formed them to give themselves special power from god.
The Christians just don’t like it that other myths are challenging their claim to dominance.
Gregory Greenwood says
(adopts David Attenborough-esque intonation)
What we are privileged to see here is a rare glimpse of that most elusive and changeable of parasites – the Lesser Sophisticated Theology. It has a defense mechanism unmatched in the world of ontology. Whenever a predator, such as the feared, Gnu Atheicus Baby-Eaterus appears on the scene and threatens the worldview of the host with toxic reality, the Lesser Sophisticated Theology undergoes a marvelous transformation. The principle predatory tactic of Gnu Atheicus Baby-Eaterus is to apply logic, evidence and reason to test any proposition, and so the Lesser Sophisticated Theology is never the same thing twice. Whenever Gnu Atheicus Baby-Eaterus believes it is arguing against the Lesser Sophisticated Theology, it is actually arguing against something else – something that naturally no serious theist actually believes. Thus the plucky Lesser Sophisticated Theology endures, despite making no sense and not really bearing any relationship to the day to day realities of religious belief – Ah! There it goes now! It has just morphed into a state that has caused its host to loudly proclaim that no one actually believes in a literal god, and religion is really more about how theists live, not what they believe. How fascinating…
Barefoot Bree says
John Gray says:
In addition to what Sastra says about this paragraph above, Gray is also trying to have it both ways.
John, it’s been 2000-plus years since the Greek philosophers. If that inheritance “shaped much of Christianity”, then guess what – it’s part and parcel of what Christianity IS. That “inheritance” turned Christianity (and the other western religions) INTO creeds, lists of propositions that must be accepted.
Well done Mr. Greenwood. Comment 17 is outstanding!
I was about to make Barefoot Bree’s point, less pithily. Even limiting this influence of Greek philosophy to “western Christianity” covers the great majority of Christians, and in fact it would be odd if Greek philosophy had somehow had more effect on the Latin-speaking churchmen and theologians of the west than on their Greek-speaking countreparts in the east, who actually had access to far more of ancient Greek thought. Even if Gray were right that belief is of little importance in religions outside Christianity and Islam (he’s not), that would still cover several billion people, and the societies in which most gnu atheists live. To criticise them for focusing on the religions that most affect them is bizarre.
Tim DeLaney says
Let’s see, John Gray is telling us that they really don’t believe that shit, at least not in a literal sense.
So, Fred Phelps, Mohammed Atta, Rick Perry, Pat Robertson, Jim Jones, Michelle Bachmann, and Osama bin Laden are/were all just trying to make metaphorical or philosophical points? They didn’t really take their shit seriously? Is Gray tellng us that religion is all just pious rhetoric designed to make us feel good and do the right thing?
No, sorry, I still think religion is inherently evil. The evidence is overwhelming that religion is a horrid nasty meme that causes its adherents to do terrible things to their fellow humans.
David Marjanović, OM says
Of course he hasn’t. That’s because he doesn’t live in a Bible belt.
That’s why he gets away with being an atheist and believing <everyone else, except the half-mythical fundamentalists who dwell in faraway lands like Texas and Saudi Arabia, is an atheist, too.
He’s also a poor religion historian.
The creeds and doctrines of western Christianity have everything to do with religion. They are the direct result of the religious politics of the Mediterranean world of Late Antiquity. No creed, no vow, no doctrine, no sacrament, no traditional interpretation of the bible which we can recognize today was born fully formed and with complete consensus, but each was adopted gradually by council, piece by piece, in direct response to various alternate teachings(the literal meaning of haeresis whence heresy) in areas of the Mediterranean world. Name any traditional Christian teaching: the divinity of christ, the trinity, the significance of the death, even which books represent the canon of christian teachings, etc etc, and you will find somewhere during this time an alternate interpretation or view which gained currency. Some of these heresies even gained significant political status and followers, such as Arianism: an anti-Trinitarian view among the Byzantines and later the Visigoths. In response to this and other alternate interpretations, councils during this period formalized a number of edicts (among them the famous creed of Nice) which contained specific language that denied these alternate teachings; and which would be used to identify the orthodox from the heterodox. All of this has absolutely nothing to do with Greek Philosophy, and everything to do with the very new exploration in Late Antiquity of religious belief as a multi-national political force.
Occam's Blunt Instrument says
Why go to a church, synagogue, or mosque when you can join a knitting club, learn to home-brew, compete in slam poetry, build a park for local kids, argue about Star Trek, hike down the street picking up trash, or any of a virtual infinity of community-oriented, story-telling, loving, gentle, social activities that aren’t based on bullshit?
If belief really didn’t matter, then why are people so offended when the “new atheists” bring up their falsity? Surely they should agree and shrug.
Huh. This seems to be the new scam in the UK at the moment, pretending that religious beliefs being taken seriously is some fictional scam made up by Richard Dawkins so he could sell books. Well, except for “fundamentalists” (you know, the ones with brown skin that pray to the wrong God or the occasional whackadoodle from America who makes the British press), but they are hardly the majority and honestly, why can’t you just shut up forever and join a religion, it’s so silly.
Which, I’m struggling to understand the value of religion in this setup. So we have a monomaniacal book group that has severe restrictions on how you live your life. Why would you join? If it’s meaningless, if it’s not promising fictional pleasures and reliefs, a chance to escape bittersweet or fucked up lives or all the other traps religion uses to prey on the weak, then what is it supposedly offering? If they admit it’s all made up, then why the need to inherently go to a religion and avoid being an atheist? Why not, just not believe, save your Sundays and connect with friends and family, enjoy your life and not worry about what a bunch of old perverts think about anything.
I mean, this is the 21st century. Even if we had some burning desire to hear some “wise man” pontificate about things or be connected with other people, we have book groups and social meetups, we have twitter and facebook, we have blogs and forums. We can read a person we see as wise in book form, on the internet, and on the internet anywhere and all from our pocket if we so choose.
Going to an hourly set lecture just doesn’t hold the same appeal and if it does, then an actual lecture at an actual university (including community college) is going to hold more appeal as a chance to learn something about a topic you’re interested in or to expand skills or skillsets. Or hell, just watch one of the youtube videos that college professors sometimes do explaining difficult concepts or recording their talks at various conferences. Or go to a conference.
The options are so broad that without the cudgel of all that religion has always entailed, all the unearned “gravitas” and “importance”, there really is no point in going. By arguing that his religion is meaningless and thus unimportant to criticism, he is arguing that his religion is pointless.
Actually, more than pointless. There are all manner of things that are stupid intentionally, designed to be meaningless fluff and nothing more. And not even they are immune to criticism. There is no end to various internet celebrities ripping apart children’s television, shlocky horror movies, B movies, video games. Even video game cutscenes. None of these things are immune to critique or analysis or get all het up on themselves when they are subjected to it.
But somehow religion wants to be immune from this criticism because it’s so pitifully unimportant. As if it worked that way, as if there hasn’t been a long history of trying to “live and let live” that has only seen religion consistently stretch its boundaries and thus be necessary to combat for the very survival of certain minority groups or the ending of horrific oppressions or mindless violence.
And it’s because they got nothing. They know that they are worthless, yet dangerous, unnecessary but with the power to destroy nations, and that without the pomp and circumstance, they are a second rate book club often lead by power-mad lunatics.
Of course it ends in a begathon for people to walk into a religious office. They are reduced to pretending they don’t matter and scared stiff that people will go “yeah, you’re right, let’s go to the pub and see Man U.”
Jim Lippard says
Sastra (in #14): I think you’ve misread Gray. He’s not saying that creeds and doctrines don’t come from religion. He’s saying that the idea that the essential core of a religion is in its creeds and doctrines doesn’t come from religion. I.e., religions are primarily social practices rather than doctrines. This is consistent with the work in anthropology of religion of Pascal Boyer (e.g., ch. 8 of _Religion Explained_, titled “Why doctrines, exclusion, and violence”) and Scott Atran (e.g., ch. 6 of _In Gods We Trust_, titled “Ritual and Revelation”).
Occam's Blunt Instrument says
Other than the “sacred” part, we atheists are free to live lives that as as full of ritual as we like. That’s a point we need to keep making to the religious when they say our lives are empty! NO! We can make big hats and wear any size hat we like! We can choose to not eat liver with onions on any day ending with ‘-y’! We can declare ham and garlic mashed potatoes to be the special meal that we eat huge amounts of one day a year. We can make it a family tradition to dance at weddings wearing frogman’s flippers. We can, in fact, hold these traditions as extra super special because we chose them ourselves! I feel bad for the poor religiots who feel they have to do ridiculous things of other people’s choosing – there are so many fine and wonderful ridiculous things we can do on our own volition! In fact, in honor of this comment, I hereby declare tonight “mint chocolate chip milkshake night” BRB.
Which also brings up how little they understand poetry and art. They just think “these are impressive seeming things that don’t get all these protestors, so yeah, just think of those good things when you think of us.”
But somehow they think that literature and art are somehow immune to criticism. Rather than one of the most scrutinized past-times there are. Each work of literature, especially works seen as “great or influential” receives huge amounts of criticism, tearing it apart by how its character works, narrative works, grammar works, how it relates to other works. And on biting criticism? Wooee, if there’s even a remote angle that has not aged well or is problematic racially, sexually, logically, thematically, or so on? Wow, that element will be so thoroughly parsed that there will be long running arguments about specific words in Chapter 24. And that’s not just the “experts”, fans of books do even more tearing apart of a work and endless debates about perceived inconsistencies or world-building.
And art is no less thorough including long debates on single brush-strokes or the type of canvas selected.
Trying to plop it into literature or art as if that was some safe-haven for fluff not only insults those disciplines, but shows the complete ignorance that they would expect less criticism if we were to investigate the Bible simply as a book rather than “this big thing, because”. Hell, those who have investigated it without favors or unearned sympathy have found it to be terribly lacking, abysmally paced, woefully inconsistent, consistent with being the cobbled together works of at least 50 different sources none of whom were recounting anything real and whose moral teachings were either heinous or clashing with other authors.
As a book it would be forgettable, a passing fad much like the Twilight Saga, inexplicably popular, but failing to engage with modern audiences and borrowing heavily from older better literature in the form of the Babylonian epics and the works of neighboring tribes.
There is only one place he will get the lack of real deconstruction he craves and that’s religion. If that’s no longer “hands off” enough, I suggest he invest in a giant bubble because it’s only going to be downhill from here.
David Marshall says
Faux #16: Something in your post piques my curiosity. You say,
“Mary Wollstonecraft, one of the early feminist thinkers, specifically wrote that society had to dispense with the ‘myth of Prometheus.’”
Her daughter, Mary Shelley, wrote Frankenstein, which was subtitled “The New Prometheus.” Of course that story doesn’t end well.
Mary Jr.’s husband, Percy Shelley, wrote Prometheus Unbound, and was a leader in the romantic movement.
Marx and Engels were entranced with the myth of Prometheus, and with the poetry of Shelley, whom Engels called “the genius, the prophet.”
Whatever Wollstonecraft meant — I haven’t read her books — the myth didn’t go quietly into the night, even in her own family. Do you have any more insight into what she had in mind? Her daughter was young when she died; I always wonder how the work of a parent he never had the chance to know affects a child.
PZ: “Truth matters, damn it.”
Yeah, odd how the assumption that there is ritual and community with religion or nothing at all.
Routines are a human thing, it’s something we like to do. Remove any pomp and circumstance rituals and humans will still be making tiny rituals (the way we set our mealplaces, the way we initiate a bondage session, the way we do our pre-sleep routines before bed, even the unconscious stuff like nervous habits or anti-stress routines).
Beyond that, there is any amount of spectacle we can create out of anything and any amount of ritual we turn to habit.
And community rituals? Well, we apparently need to tell Comic Con, Rennaisance Faires, Gay Pride Parades, Thanksgiving Parades, all manner of “Holiday Events”, birthdays, etc…
As you point out, so many things that involve no religion.
And there is the casual admission.
What they have to offer is simply routine.
When you were a child you did this because your parents told you to, as an adult you do this because you are used to doing this, and because you keep doing it it must be important or else why wouldn’t you stop doing it. So why not keep doing it.
Does it connect you to your fellow pew-mates? Well, you’re not allowed to talk to each other except at additional “church events” or after the ceremonies, so about as much as going to the movies or attending a college lecture.
One so interested could easily find other events that had more connection and less dead time listening to a boring man pontificate about things that are fictional or unimportant or deliberately counter to being a good and productive person.
But they have routine and they hope that can last them long enough so that the younger chumps are the ones who have to turn the lights out on the whole thing
'Tis Himself, OM says
Gregory Greenwood wins one internets.
'Tis Himself, OM says
Recently I had a discussion with two intelligent, educated Mormons about their faith. Contra John Gray, they either deeply and honestly believe what their religion teaches or they are the two best liars in the world.
I really wish these apologists (Feagletosh, Spong, Armstrong &c &c &Fc would bother to sit down and talk this out with The Pope, The Lama and The Archbish, before they bother lecturing us.
I agree this is what he is trying to say, but this is about as nonsensical a statement as they come. Even if we agree that a “statement of belief” has its roots in Greek Philosophy (and this is very much in doubt), to these same philosophers, a “statement of belief” is given as a beginning of a dialectical argument. In the world of religion, a “statement of belief” is given in order to end an argument. This same method of proposition is used for two very different purposes and so one has a hard time seeing how one came from the other. In a very facile and crude way one can say, yes, the Greek Philosophers stated their opinions boldly and seemingly without contradiction and this may have influenced Christian theologians like any other rhetorical writers in Antiquity would have; but the intention of the philosophers was not to end discussion on the matter, only to begin it, or further it along. A religious creed or doctrine on the other hand serves an entirely different purpose, as I’ve said above, to separate the orthodox from the heterodox. They are, above all, the political statements of believers.
So very much this.
Beliefs are important because they dictate how we assess situations and decide upon our actions. Those who believe a gay person or those who have life experiences outside the norm to be something demonic will be more likely to view such people without compassion and seek actively to hurt them or see their suffering as minor or wholly fictional. Similarly, people who view themselves as special or as a “higher version” of their fellow man will be less interested in communal solutions and working right by their fellow man. Both of these will be true regardless of whether they would naturally be the type of person who was compassionate or understood their life depended on the aid of others.
And it’s one hell of a denialism, because the “actions” of religious people has been the main source of criticism of atheists. It’s not like atheists are just kicking down doors to the local UU church and saying their viewpoints are stupid. The anger and righteousness mostly comes from the heinous actions the faithful have done, claiming to be following their “beliefs”. The dehumanization of LGBT people and women and the attacks or delays on their rights. The wars that have been supported by “they have the wrong religion or are the wrong color or are someway not ‘good people’ who matter”. The meddling in medical ethical procedures because of ascientific views on the personhood of women. The meddling in education and science because of similar “deeply held beliefs”. The starving of the poor, the usurption of government in favor of evangelism, evangelism in general, the suffering of Africa, missionaries in general, the idea that government services should be replaced by religious charity, etc… All actions claimed to be undertaken in great faith. Deliberate actions by the faithful designed to impair the lives of the rest of us who couldn’t honestly give a flying fuck if they waste their Sundays or spend most of their time on their knees.
They don’t want us to look at the actions either. They just want religion to be thought of with smiles and butterflies and never ever criticized. An abusive husband also just wants to be thought of as good and will tolerate no criticism. I just don’t know why the analogy popped in my head all of a sudden.
They do that now. In the US, at least.
Gray is right.
About 1% of all the religious.
The fundament of ALL religious belief is causation and when people like Gray take that out, all they have is meaningful fiction. This is why liberal religion has a historical track record of waning. Liberal religion doesn’t motivate because it doesn’t stress a god’s active agency.
People believe in God because they like to believe that “He” will do stuff for them like answer prayers. A god that doesn’t do much doesn’t get many believers.
And the bit about “how they live”?
Yeah, the religious seem to have the most limited, unhappy, and prone to conflict private lives of anyone I know.
And it’s really perfectly understandable to why. Most every religion has severe restrictions on what is the “right way to live” versus what is the “wrong way to live” or at the very least has severe additions of guilt and importance of fictional beings in every day actions which interfere subconsciously when you are trying to do certain activities.
As such, the potential to live a life faithful to who you are gets truncated. If you fit naturally, yay, but if not, ooh there are some serious growing pains.
The most obvious example is any person who has tried to stuff themselves into a closet because “being gay was wrong”, the number of people who limited their ability to love and be themselves for years because it was scary and wrong and there own brain rebelled against itself. Beyond that, the number of women who have had guilt complexes for falling prey to the Feminine Mystique and being unsatisfied in “God’s plan for them”.
Most dire of course is all the shit about sex and what type of sex is okay to enjoy, how often, and when it’s “acceptable” to be horny” and so on. That by itself limits so many options and leads to unnecessary sadness among the 99% who are sexual and constant pressure and possible rapes among the 1% who aren’t. Not to mention the bitterness and frustration and how that leaks into negative interactions with family and friends.
You have the people being trained to hate large groups of “others” for praying to the wrong God or having the wrong skin or “being the race that killed your God” or any other such shit. Those being crushed because they believe that God micromanages their lives and bad shit nonetheless happens to them. Similarly those crushed because why did God take grandma right before that big vacation she was going to take after so many years of suffering or take their child before he got a chance to live or let so many bad people thrive and so many good people suffer.
And that’s before the people who are twisted into fucking themselves over because of their beliefs about how God works and who God hates and what is important.
And that’s all before noting the Rapturists, a bunch of suicidal fucks who live deliberately unfulfilling lives because they are being promised a chance to die any day now and go to Heaven early and escape this hellhole of cognitive dissonance but aren’t allowed to kill themselves because that’s a ticket to Hell.
On impact on life, it seems the dire evils of atheism (sleeping in on “holy days”) can scarcely compare. No wonders that their biggest lies are always how fucked up atheists must be in comparison and how even less fulfilling those lives are.
But yeah, a life wherein one is allowed all one’s possibilities and the freedom to be oneself will always be more fulfilling than one truncated.
Or just a lesser version of a community hangout location and book group sort of deal.
I have a little soft spot for the Unitarians because they really do work hard to be the “good ones”. They are tolerant to all faiths, they work hard on social justice issues, they regularly discuss secular community building, etc…
But yeah, would someone without religious baggage necessarily seek out the Church if they wanted to get into that stuff? Not really, things like LGBT Centers, book clubs, and X group meetups seem to provide more fulfilling conversation and allow more specialization. On social justice, you can just join a social justice organization directly and feel like you “do more”.
I mean, I have a soft spot, but they basically thrive in the position that they do entirely because they serve as a place of lapsed X religion people who feel the training to go to Church but left their own because of the bigotry, hatred, or exclusion of those other faiths. It’s something to feed the habitual impulse much like a smokeless cigarette or nicotine flavored gum.
You’re right that the real hook is the illusion of God as magic genie or frightening weapon, as something to inspire fear or which removes the uncertainty of life. Without it, religion can be less toxic to human experience, but runs into the problem of being less impactful than secular alternatives.
If someone with church baggage finds church is a good place for them to seek community, ritual, and tradition, even if they don’t actually believe it, then fine. Different strokes for different folks. But if they pretend that the other 99% of people who go to church (or whatever place of worship) are doing the same thing then they’re being dishonest with themselves.
Wowbagger, Madman of Insleyfarne says
That’s the joy of contemporary Christianity – it’s so malleable. And it doesn’t matter what you say you believe to those awful, critical, new atheists; it’s what you believe when you’re in church, safe amongst your co-religionists that really matter.
Which is why they can claim to believe in one kind of god in debates, and a completely different god when they’re on their knees asking him to grant wishes.
chigau, I hope that was a joke about Shinto. Shinto has a lot of baggage from World War II, and some misogynist tendencies…
I don’t know this guy, but I don’t think he’s got catholicism right at least. See, there’s this thing called the creed, it’s some prayer which states everything catholics believe, and you have to believe it. Really.
His message sounds kind of hippy, actually. This “belief doesn’t matter as long as it feels good” business is definitely not what they teach in Sunday school.
Gah! I heard the original broadcast on the radio (well, the first half, as I had other things I needed to do).
His entire argument seemed to be “Silly atheists – thinking religion is about what most religions have been claiming they are about for the past 2500 years!”
Bob Doub says
“Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich”
Jim Lippard says
StarScream (in #38) wrote: “Gray is right.
About 1% of all the religious.”
Where do you get that number? The 2008 ARIS survey asked, “Regarding the existence of God, do you think …” and the available completions were “There is no such thing” (2.3%), “There is no way to know” (4.3%), “I’m not sure” (5.7%), “There is a higher power but no personal God” (12.1%), “There is definitely a personal God” (69.5%), and 6.1% refused to answer. As the ARIS report points out, “These findings about the ‘belief’ aspect of religiosity tend to complicate our interpretation of some of the trends and findings in the earlier tables relating to ‘belonging.’ If 76 percent of Americans self-identify with Christianity and 80 percent with a religion then many millions do not subscribe fully to the theology of the groups with which they identify.”
Given also the over-reporting of church attendance, my opinion is that the percentage of those paying lip service who either don’t believe in the doctrines of their religion or are apathetic about them is much, much higher than 1% in the U.S. (and perhaps a majority of the population in most western European countries).
Cerberus (in #39) wrote: “Yeah, the religious seem to have the most limited, unhappy, and prone to conflict private lives of anyone I know.”
I believe this is in conflict with most empirical research on the subject.
Abelard (in #35) wrote (in response to my #27): “I agree this is what he is trying to say, but this is about as nonsensical a statement as they come.” You go on to write about religions’ use of doctrinal statements as argument enders, which I agree with–that’s exactly a key part of their purpose, as Dennett argues in _Breaking the Spell_. Theologians come up with doctrines for the everyday believers to pay lip service to, so that they (the average Joe believer) can use them to close off challenges that they are not equipped to address. But that is tangential to Gray’s point at issue, which is that religion isn’t primarily about such doctrines, it’s about the social practices.
I think Gray is probably right about *detailed* doctrines like theological arguments, that most believers tend to be ignorant of, and probably also about more liberal religions and religious believers of the sort described in my reply above to StarScream. But if we take Scott Atran’s definition of religion, high-level, core doctrine is important to all of these components: “(1) a community’s costly and hard-to-fake commitment (2) to a counterfactual and counterintuitive world of supernatural agents (3) who master people’s existential anxieties, such as death and deception and (4) demand ritualistic & rhythmic co-ordination of 1, 2, & 3.”
Philip Legge says
I think there’s perhaps some transatlantic cultural differences that John Gray totally misses when going after “evangelical atheists” (what the?). I’m often struck, looking at the ridiculous Religious Right stuff that comes out of the US, or say Lynna’s regular posts on Madness in the Morridor, to the degree that the televangelists and whackaloon cults are so much to the front and centre of the media over there. Apart from the Catholics, Episcopalians, and the Mormons, it seems like every church is its own little denomination: tens of thousands of splinter churches.
Richard Dawkins covered some of this ground in his documentary a few years back, “The Root of All Evil”, and was criticised by commentators in the UK for paying so much attention to the “theological freak show” aspect of the US (I think those are Dawkins’ terms), which seems to be very much less-pronounced in the UK. He was accused of ignoring the “mainstream” (the big denominations I mentioned), but that’s understandable because (they not only refused interviews, but) they are so less omnipresent compared to all those televangelists. If I could make a comparable (and gross) generalisation of churches in the UK, mainstream, non-fundy religion is or has been the more dominant representation there: and rather more “weak tea”, “mushy God-is-Love pap” stuff, as opposed to aggressive “fire and brimstone” evangelical pot-boiling.
So John Gray is conveniently making a false representation by pointing to the mushy mainstream in his own country to flatter religion (e.g. the non-threatening to the point of totally innocuous Church of England sent up by shows like “Vicar of Dibley”), and comparing that with organised atheism US-style, ignoring that US atheism has to be so much more robust given the heavily religiose culture there, and how atheists are viewed by large parts of the population as though they were baby-eaters.
Jim Lippard @47
Most research I’ve seen has shown that less religious communities and countries tend to have more liberal policies, happier lives, happier more fulfilling relationships and sex lives, lower divorce rates, lower abuse rates, lower teen pregnancies, lower drug dependencies, and so on.
Not saying that no religion is a panacea, but just noting that the research that shows that religion is the thing that gives meaning tends to be deeply flawed or non-existant.
Definitely I noticed the severe effect coming from a less religious general culture to a more religious one in a sense of limiting agency and have seen personally and seen confirmed in multiple psychological surveys that those coming from repressive relgious families tend to have the most baggage to unwind and have the hardest time with many issues (such as homosexuality, transsexuality, sexual issues, handling of guilt, depression, and so on), usually owing to the lack of social support network (simple fact a person with a family that supports them is going to have more help than one whose entire support network has disowned them for being a “freak”).
Certainly further surveys of life stories such as those at the Ali Forney Center and others further confirm that and many queer youth on the street often come from abusive or hyper-religious families.
So, wondering what exactly you are referencing because everything I’ve ever seen in Psychology and Sociology has said rather the opposite.
Jim Lippard #47 wrote:
I won’t dispute this, but are the people who pay only lip service to their religion likely to insist that this lack of interest in doctrine is really what their religion is about — not just for themselves, but the ‘real’ meaning? I rather doubt it. I suspect they would admit they were struggling, or apathetic, or uncertain. I also doubt that people in a religion who do take the religious beliefs seriously would be as ready as Gray is to count the people just there for the social and therapeutic aspects and say that these folks are really getting to the heart of the religion. “Oh, a lot of Catholics ignore the pope and don’t much know or care about what the Church says” would be a strange defense of Catholicism if it were coming from Catholics. It sounds like a defense of Catholics coming from humanists.
That people join or stay in a religion due to reasons other than thoughtful rational conviction is no surprise to atheists — it’s what we’ve been saying all along. What’s surprising is when theists take this accusation and try to pretend that it undermines the atheist’s case.
Re “evangelical atheists” (ie atheists who rudely try to make a public case for atheism):
I found this interesting quote from philosopher John Whyte, in response to the question “Aren’t people entitled to their faith?”
Jim Lippard says
Cerberus (#49): It sounds like you’re referencing Gregory Paul’s work, which had some serious methodological problems (see, e.g. http://web.archive.org/web/20070709054338/http://magicstatistics.blogspot.com/2005/09/from-our-bulging-how-not-to-do.html) and isn’t focused on testing a correlation between religiosity and happiness for individuals.
The Wikipedia entry on Religion and happiness covers some of the research I had in mind, including polls of self-reported happiness and religiosity:
This correlation could be due to factors such as social cohesion, the generation of positive illusions (cf. Shelley Taylor’s work), or perhaps discrimination against minority groups (i.e., atheists):
Jim Lippard says
Sastra (#50): ““Oh, a lot of Catholics ignore the pope and don’t much know or care about what the Church says” would be a strange defense of Catholicism if it were coming from Catholics.”
But haven’t you heard things very close to that from U.S. Catholics on subjects like contraception? This article from 2005 (http://www.usnews.com/usnews/news/articles/050418/18american.htm) says: “According to a recent Gallup Poll, 78 percent of American Catholics support allowing Catholics to use birth control, 63 percent think priests should be able to marry, and 55 percent think women should be ordained as priests. Last week Gallup reported that more Catholics than non-Catholics believe that homosexual behavior, divorce, and stem-cell and human-embryo research are morally acceptable.”
These days it is higher than that. It’s 98%. I suppose the other 2% didn’t understand the question or are nuns.
The RCC priests are so far out of touch with modern reality, that they are in danger of having their own entry in the next edition of the DSM. Hmmm, well, maybe they should.
Wasn’t the research I was thinking of, but I will point out that your “refutation” page doesn’t actually address any statistical errors but rather just seems to make a big show about being snippy about common sociological terms as if they were intending to hide something rather than often used shorthand in the discipline of sociology. In short it is your “refutation” person who doesn’t seem to understand how statistical analysis in sociological studies operates.
I will further note that the “self reporting of happiness” studies would be the ones I note are deeply flawed. The follow-up studies to them quite conclusively noted that the reason for the higher self-reporting of happiness in religious communities was simply due to old-fashioned lying from a culture of positivity and didn’t actually correlate with any side behaviors consistent with a genuinely happy or fulfilled population, nor to any decrease in supposed social ills, even the ones that the religious communities oft spoke against.
Similarly the happiness of minorities in said communities, even in self-reported studies dropped like a brick owing to active and passive oppression by the religious communities and other power structures of the areas.
Actual happiness surveys have found Denmark and other societies that favor high secularism have the highest happiness ratings, owing likely to liberal policies, guaranteed safety nets, lowered oppression rates compared to other countries, and so on, despite the fact that seasonal or meteorological phenomena are designed to produce a greater deal of sadness (in short, Denmark has 6 years of gray skies, it shouldn’t be regularly topping the list of happiest countries).
And yes, I know all about “the plural of anecdote isn’t data” but I will note that you are also asking us to ignore our lying eyes. Some of us have worked with large groups of those broken and abandoned by religious communities because they “didn’t fit”.
Even if it was true that religious lives were more fulfilling for the majority (which they are not by oft observed examination of religious cultures and their societal indicators), the intense damage they do to their minority populations would already be a sign of a diseased culture. In the same way that if the old patriarchal model of wife ownership had made the husbands happier than modern systems (it didn’t), then the system would still need to change for the damage it did to women.
I’m not saying that religion is inherently evil, but it’s correlations are not to the improvement of the human condition, which I’m sure is as much concern to the faithful as it is to us. I mean, since they have such a proven track record of caring about that stuff rather than trying to bury it in obvious denials and wishful thinking based on the least scientific methods they can find.
Oh, last post is answering Jim Lippard @52
I’ll also note that especially for my population, that is queer people, especially queer youth, and even more so queer youth from religious families, the impact on happiness, psychological well-being, and even social and political rights and regard is even more dramatic and even more negative.
No,no, please. Don’t bother actually citing the research you’re “thinking of” or, indeed, supplying any information whatsoever. Your bald assertion that you once read something like that, someplace, in Sociology and/or Psychology, is plenty good enough.
Are you high?
Did you read the linked page?
Which terms are you talking about?
Please explain how statistical analysis in sociological studies operates differently than in other applications.*
Nah, fuck it. If you continue this bullshit line of bullshit, I will link directly to comments that prove that you don’t know the first thing about statistics, e.g., what a standard deviation is.
Note to self to be duly noted: avoid word ‘note’.
No, please. Don’t bother yourself to cite or, like, link to anything that might help somebody–say a ‘skeptic’–follow up on your sources.
As opposed to, like, Sociology, you mean?**
*I went to a Land Grant Universtiy and learned my statistics from a Professor of Animal Science who was old enough to have once been a Professor of Animal Husbandry.
Turns out those Ag guys invented a lot of that shit.
**Apologies to SC for going back on my word here.
Hurin, Nattering Nabob of Negativism says
When I discuss my views on religion with people I actually never insist on this. I don’t have a problem with a rebirth of religion as a collection of stories that people enjoy, with some accompanying pageantry. In fact there are myths that I read and find meaningful. What I do tell people who advance this theology, is that if religion is really just stories and some accompanying pageantry, then it ought to honestly present itself as such.
If religion should really be understood as fable, then religious leaders should present themselves as storytellers and literary critics. They should decline to use their fictions to form the basis of any council of public policy or the nature of universe (after all these people are in the business of meaning, not truth, right?) . Believers (if that term still applies in this scenario) should not have a problem admitting that their beliefs have no place informing any of their more important decisions, including their politics. Both should admit that whatever interpretation they take of their favorite myth is driven by their own aesthetics and prejudices and no more true than anyone Else’s.
For some reason most people find these conditions horribly unfair. I guess I just have an immature relationship with fiction or something.
Well, seeing how the terms that the entire post spends futzing about on is “developed nation” rather than anything related to statistics, I’m going to go with “fuck you” on that one. But good on you for getting a degree in watching pigs fuck*.
And the refutations were on an earlier pharyngula post. Or fuck google denmark happiest country, rates of divorce in red states, rates of suicide or depression in red states, rates of suicide of LGBT teenagers, rates of drug dependency by state, or fuck just read the entire history of an ex-ex-gay site.
Or fuck, google scholar any of the actual research on this field rather than what some smug god-botherer put on wikipedia.
It aint my job to do your basic research for you, especially since I’m not the one being asked to ignore my lying eyes on the issue.
Did you read the fucking “refutation” he cited? Because for most of the post there was NO fucking counter-argument to the claims referenced other than trying to argue that the author was trying to get away with something by only noting correlations of raw data and saying this isn’t enough to show any causation (which is damn true, especially since it would be a bitch to correlate for poverty or pre-existing mental problems (because those who are already having problems are going to be more attracted to a worldview that deliberately targets them and argues it can solve all their problems)). And that’s after a whole metric shit ton of concern trolling over common sociology terms as if they were proof of muddled thinking and “sneaky” data tweaking. Oh, why did he not include Finland, what was he trying to get away with. I’m not saying that, but I want to leave that impression, because I got nothing.
It’s about as much of a refutation as a wet fart.
And frankly if you want to claim stats fu, then you need to fucking do an actual refutation by the failure to live up the ideology it is claiming to make its arguments by.
For instance, let’s look at the cited self-reporting study.
Yeah. That’d be the fucking refutation, right there. Complete self-reporting, no check for accuracy, no check of societal indicators of happiness such as suicide rates, drug dependency, and so on. Nope, just whether or not people with known delusions tell a researcher that they are A-okay.
Yeah, you know what, if I collected a group of 100 suicidal people and sat them in front of a complete stranger and just asked them if they were happy, the people who said yes to that question would not be 0.
It’s why self-reporting statistics can only serve as an extremely rough guesstimate.
Anyone with any knowledge of survey procedure would know that.
Oh wait, you deliberately don’t know that, because you’re too busy shitting on sociology.
Hey, guess what, I’m not a sociologist, though I’ve worked with them before on guess what, statistical analysis (mortality data specifically). I’m actually a biologist with strong bioinformatics roots, which includes some more high level statistical analysis.
But hey, I’m sure your single undergrad class in an unrelated discipline from “the guys that invented statistics (seriously?)” means a lot where you come from.
Which I’m guessing is your own ass.
Fuck people, I’m in the fucking communities that are the fucking psychic dumping ground for these creeps. My friends have been deep in these communities. I’m fucking Jane Goodall here. You’re not going to be able to fucking snow me on this one.
*Apology to all environmental scientists, ecologists, and animal biologists for this one, but sometimes the setup is too fucking good not to take it.
Neil deGrasse Tyson had a slide up yesterday with a statistic showing that less than 1% of philosophers are religious. Elite scientists, 7%.
Gray’s line of arguing is so unbelievably stupid that I don’t know what to say. It is in particular religion where beliefs induce and motivate actions ! The Christian Science parents who don’t bring their seriously ill child to the doctor, the jihadist blowing himself up in a school or market square, the presidential candidate praying for rain, these are all actions brought about by underlying religious beliefs and creeds. How could any sane person deny that ?
Completely different concepts of knowing between science and religion, the one (religion) requires faith and doesn’t need truth, the other (science) demands it and tests its predictions and hypotheses. How ridiculous.
Also, the religion and its practitioners that Gray uses for his “argument” here, presumably good British Anglicans or Catholics, are a misrepresentation of the amount and degree of religious lunacy that is on display and at work in the world today.
Matt Penfold says
Please stop with the Only what happens in American counts crap.
Got any data from Sub-Saharan Africa ?
From David Marshall:
It’s been a while since I spent a lot of time reading that era but Wollstonecraft wrote “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” at the beginning of the French Revolution – before the Terror, before the Jacobins in France changed the calendar to a ten month, rather than 12 mo. one, renamed the months therein.. and this was, truly, trying to undo the myths of Christianity and the divine right of kings…before the monarch of France was executed… her work was in response to Edmund Burke, who remains the father of George Will-ish conservatism (as opposed to the tea bagger and religious nutcase versions.)
Burke’s (simplified) argument was that the monarchy provided social cohesion, that traditional institutions were good because they created a lineage for a social contract…basically the argument you get from people like Gray, now, regarding religious institutions.
Wollstonecraft also wrote about The Terror because she was in France and witnessed it. She opposed both The Terror and the monarchy. She was more aligned with the Girondins, who were executed by Robespierre’s Jacobins. It got complicated back then…
But all the revolutionaries in both France and America looked to Greece and Rome to find other “traditional institutions” to provide a lineage for their claims for the validity of democracy as a form of social cohesion and a philosophy that did not adhere to the “divine right of kings” and the history of western political/religious thought that had evolved from feudalism. This is something conservatives in the U.S. like to forget – the American revolutionaries were far more hostile toward institutional Christianity than we are taught as children because those forms had merged with state power. French Revolutionaries, in a place in which the church and state were even more indistinguishable, executed bishops and priests and seized church lands for the (revolutionary) state to try to entirely undo the Catholic church’s power. This has remained a tactic for some revolutionaries into the 20th c.
Wollstonecraft’s view of Prometheus was more in line with the idea that these religious myths needed to be undone in order for govts to govern rationally, and in order for females to be considered capable of rational thought.
Dissenters (chiefly, unitarians) in both the U.S. and the UK led the scientific revolution because they were excluded from Oxford and Cambridge b/c of their refusal to accede to the Anglican church. They conducted experiments and shared results of the same and attended religious services that upheld their fight against conservative power. (John Adams, when visiting the UK, attended Dissenter services with Wollstonecraft, btw.) “Lunar Men,” by Jenny Uglow, is an interesting look at this time for the men who were involved in carrying out scientific experimentation. Richard Holmes’ “Age of Wonder” covers these concerns of the next generation.
Wollstonecraft’s idea, along with other females of the time – Olympia de Gouges in France, and even Abigail Adams with her “don’t forget the women” remark – was that females were also part of the social contract and deserved the rights that were argued for (too often only white) males. Females who wrote about these things, in general, saw themselves as “different but equal” – there was no literature or myth of females who rationally interacted in the world as independent agents. There was no cultural construct that made it possible for females to have rights apart from their relationships with males in western society. Wollstonecraft’s argument was that females could engage in rational thought if they were allowed to be educated. This was a radical position at the time.
Wollstonecraft died giving birth to Mary Shelley – so, yeah, people have had a lot of fun wondering about this Frankenstein, the Modern Prometheus – considering that her mother was reviled in the time in which Shelley grew up – people wrote nasty things about Wollstonecraft (who was the most famous women of her time in the U.S. and UK) and about her “unnatural” views of females. Shelley was more conservative than her mother – and her work was in line with her era’s view of the horrors of an industrial era with no protections for those who were the creations of this industrial world. Some people wonder if Shelly saw herself as the monster who destroyed her creator.
After the Terror in France there was also a backlash against revolutionary-era thought – this was also the time in which the middle class was becoming established in Europe and literary works of the time posited the middle class as the bulwark against both aristocratic privilege and radical 18th c. thought. Jane Austen best exemplifies this time – and her work is still enjoyed for its conservative pov and its positioning of the middle class as the “sensible” way to conduct oneself in the world. “Sensibility” – the sublime in art and political thought – was part of the 18th c. revolutionary world view. Churches also were instrumental in educating workers so that they could meet the demands of industrial jobs. Churches also saw this as a way to educate/civilize the lower classes.
Percy Shelly was more radical than his wife (and maybe a little insane.) He was also an atheist – and an aristocrat. His concern was with the subjugation of humans to institutions. (Bryon was also “mad” and so his daughter, Ada Lovelace,” was tutored by the greatest logicians of her time to counter this familial tendency toward “madness.” And this is how she became the “first computer programmer.”)
It is my understanding that Marx loved the story of Prometheus as a working-class hero, rather than viewing the story, as Wollstonecraft did, as a myth that talked about the punishment of the gods for the boldness of stealing fire and the subsequent punishment of bringing human females into existence – or as a story that relied upon myth rather than rational thought as a way to view humans (specifically females) and how they could conduct themselves. At his time in history, the British were busy industrializing their nation and colonizing others for raw materials while the French were still fighting over republic, monarchy (or Napoleonic emperor) – and also colonizing other nations for raw materials.
Different ages take different myths and retool them to argue for their positions – this is what the 18th c. revolutionaries did and this is what the 19th c. social philosophers did, what Freud did, and this is what we do now. These myths are part of our western cultural heritage and every age finds ways to incorporate or appropriate them to justify their views – to use the argument of history to say that what one era views as the best way to live in the world isn’t scary because it is unknown – because, see, way back in the past others had this same idea and the world did not end.
Myths (and stories) do not go quietly. But they are reworked and, sometimes, ignored to reflect the pov and concerns of the era in which various people live. This is also why women have rewritten the story of Jane Eyre, for instance, to reflect the pov of the “madwoman in the attic” or why people even care what Freud had to say and work to find a theory of development for females when he couldn’t be bothered because, in his view, females were simply “unknowable.”
Myths are ways to placate when change make people scared.
I have – and as Sastra says, it’s a very strange defense of Catholicism coming from Catholicism. “I don’t agree with what the pope says, I just encourage my kids to take confirmation classes where they teach the pope is infallible and make a statement at confirmation affirming a belief in the authority of the pope along with other things I don’t believe in.”
re Catholics outside of US
I have no studies, only sort of anecdotal data based on my own experiences and those of a Western HIV prevention activist in a very poor, predominantly Catholic region in Southeast Asia:
– condom use is almost unheard of. according to HIV activist, that is more due to shame rather than to poverty or dogma, i.e. buying or accepting a condom would signal to the environment that one is about to engage in extra-marital sex
– despite of this, extramarital sex occurs often, I’ve lost count of children lost born of wedlock. this side of Catholic teachings aren’t taken very seriously, it seems.
– other aspects of Catholic dogma were. Whenever someone does not eat their cracker, they get beaten up, and end up locked up in the police station cell. There were riots once because a cracker desecrator only got two years in prison. Another case once got six years. (The same law could be used to prosecute Mohammed caricaturists too)
that should have been
“I’ve lost count of children born out of wedlock” (I mean stories referring to other people of course)
Matt Penfold says
I do know that in Sub-Saharan Africa the majority of the Anglican churches are very ant-homosexuality.
But I guess Gray and Lippard both think the majority of Anglicans in Africa really do not think gays are immoral monsters.
Interesting enough, with the pope visiting his homeland, he will be greeted by a Catholic president and a Catholic mayor in Berlin. The president being a divorced remarried Catholic, and the mayor an openly gay man with his partner standing by his side on election night.
When the mayor was asked in a television show about his faith, he totally deflected the question whether he was a practicing Catholic or not, and that the pope will be shown the hospitality due a guest of state while acknowledging the problems many German Catholics have with some of the dogmas..
James Sweet says
When someone refers to the atheism debates as “dull”, and wants to shift from truth claims to some half-baked stuff about tradition, feeling, etc., that is all fine and good… but they must first assert without equivocation that all religious truth claims are utter bullshit. If they refuse to assert that, then we still have something to argue about before even getting to the touchy-feely stuff!
European Catholics have been going through some changes as the huge pedophile scandals have come to light – first in Ireland, then Germany, Belgium… and in South American nations, too.
European Catholics that I know are “cultural Catholics.” Separation of church and state doesn’t exist as it does here – but I also no of no European with a basic high school education that would ever argue for creationism/ID or care what the church had to say about birth control.
Union membership and solidarity had a big impact on religious belief and schools don’t have to fight with religious people over what they teach. Athletics are done in clubs, rather than schools. Cheerleaders don’t exist. The culture of Catholic nations, tho, is bound up in feast days, pageants, and all the rest, going back hundreds and hundreds of years.
One elderly person explained it to me this way about a decade ago: In the 1960s, she and her husband talked to their priest about using birth control because she had had a stillborn child, had four other children, her health could not sustain another pregnancy and her husband did not make enough money to have more children.
The priest told this couple that they had to rely upon god’s mercy and could not use birth control to limit the number of children they had. The couple looked at each other, basically said, “fuck this shit” (but not in those words) and showed up at the church for holidays in order to enjoy the ceremonies with their family. They were not well educated but the husband was very active in his union and socialism, rather than the church, provided a way to view the workings of the world.
While I don’t choose to practice any religion, I can understand why people enjoy the artifacts, in the same way that people still tell the story of Santa Claus. When they try to argue this position is better than non-belief or non-practice, that’s when I say they are full of shit.
When “liberal Christians” try to claim that understanding the world via science and a dislike of religious belief in general is a sort of fundamentalism, that’s when I say they have declared cultural war and are, therefore, subject to criticism of their beliefs. If they want to keep their religion to themselves, whatever. When they try to argue for the superiority of a religious orientation in the public sphere, I say “fuck this shit.”
consciousness razor says
That is one confused philosopher. Either confused or just a bullshitter.
Sastra was right, as usual:
He isn’t very good at hiding it either. Same old story: religious beliefs are “true,” but not “literally true.” Meanwhile, since we’ve figured out science doesn’t peddle Absolute Truth™, that means anything goes — go wild, time to party!
*prolonged, dramatic eyeroll*
According to his main argument, shouldn’t the first phrase in bold have referred to non-practitioners of religion, and the second to practicality instead of credibility? Indeed, the second is pure denialism with or without the substitution. It’s not remotely believable or practical to raise people from the dead, and it’s abundantly obvious that science already has “remade” the world in numerous ways. That barely requires any belief at all, just some knowledge of history and a shred of honesty. Science just doesn’t do impossible stuff like miracles, you know, like raising people from the dead. I guess getting him to recognize his impossible standard may be the hard part….
Taking this for what it’s worth (not much), then at its worst, some religion is dogmatic, which means it’s about beliefs. He just doesn’t want religion to be like that, so he claims it isn’t … except when it is, because then he can make this silly argument. Quite the apologist.
Who is “we,” if everyone is religious or non-religious, and if neither religion nor atheism consists primarily of religious beliefs? Again, he’s basically admitting that he wasn’t describing religion as it is, but how he wants it to be. He must be very, very confused.
That’s a distinction without a difference. One doesn’t propagate or conform to social practices without a set of beliefs. Such practices don’t just pop into existence out of the void.
Note that none of these are theological, supernatural or metaphysical in nature. While some religious people support such beliefs with theological arguments, others (also religious) think they are the sort of social issue which don’t depend on beliefs in gods or anything supernatural. The latter are right, because it’s obvious that priests getting married, for example, doesn’t involve anything supernatural, unless one is deluded enough to assume in advance that it does. Some religious people aren’t deluded about some things. Big deal.
Even for those who do disagree with actual theological doctrines of their particular brand of religion, that hardly matters, because they believe at least some of their doctrines or else there’s no reason to call them “religious” at all. Perhaps many are trapped in their situations, having no alternatives in their social lives with their families or communities. I’ve been there myself, and it certainly didn’t make me religious. It’s also not much of a selling point.
David Marshall says
Faux: There are remarks there that I’d be inclined to disagree with, but I appreciate your taking the time to offer your interesting and informative take on that swath of intelectual history.
The comparison between Burke and George Will is intriguing, though I get the impression that Burke was more serious about his faith.
I think you underestimate the importance of myth in Marx’ circle, and over-estimate his initial concern for the “working class.” His interest in the Promethean myth predated his economic interests, and seems to have begun as poetic and literary, rather than political: his early poems are full of “Faustian, Promethean, or Demonic themes,” and he continued to rate Aeschylus as one of his favorite authors, even after giving up on the poetry.
Hairy Chris says
What I find most amusing about Gray’s article is that he seems to insult the religious worse then he does atheists!
Really? So they aren’t aware that Anglicanism has been in uproar for decades over the ordination of women, also the gay issue – including the potential for schism between 1st and 2nd/3rd world congregations and people bailing to Catholicism (eg Ann Widdecombe – horrendous UK conservative Conservative ex-pol) over this shite? The churches in Africa are the conservative ones. “Kill Thre Gays?” Yep, them.
It’s an entertaining issue, if only because the 1st world churches are losing members so Anglicanism wants the numbers and resources of the upcoming nations. The cracks get papered over but one day this will blow up.
Pierce R. Butler says
Ahhh… Comic Sans is back where it belongs.
Equilibrium has returned to The Force. Arrr, mateys!
Nice to see Pharyngula addressing some of the decaying trash that occasionally floats to the surface on this side of the Atlantic. NewScientist had something very similar a few months back. Someone please explain how this kind of excretion should eminate from a science magazine:
Starting over: Choosing my religion
Yes, it’s about how they live.
If organizations support the oppression of women, does it matter whether the men running the organization actually think God hates women, or just enjoy their higher status? If someone hates gays, it isn’t going to make any difference to me whether he really believes that God exists and agrees with him.
Gray doesn’t get to talk about the church only as an organization that holds rummage sales and bingo games or runs a daycare program, and ignore the rest of what the church does. What it teaches, where the money from the bingo games goes, and whether the kids are safe in the daycare center.
Ing: Od Wet Rust says
Dogmatic religion and things that act like it are the worst thing ever. So those trying to remove it are engaging in the worst thing ever by attempting to remove the worst thing ever.
Ing: Od Wet Rust says
Odd I’d find it as a condemnation of Catholicism that even the adherents ignore it’s teachings. And of Catholics for not realizing that they are such shitty Catholics already they might as well not even tithe or support the Church
Ophelia Benson says
Quite right about that ridiculous last sentence (coupled with the sentence just before it) –
As if how we live could possibly be in any way independent of what we believe. What a jaw-droppingly ludicrous thing to say! If we believe, for instance, that women are 1) inferior and 2) therefore appropriately subordinate, and that that belief matters, then a lot follows for how we live, as it does if all the terms are reversed, as it does if other words are substituted.
George Will identifies as a “Burkean” conservative – it has to do with tradition in all its forms rather than religious per se. A lot of the non-crazy right wingers identify with Burke. He’s their “go-to guy” for a conservative that doesn’t foam at the mouth.
Hesiod wrote about Prometheus before Aeschylus and had more to say about Pandora. I cannot tell you which version Wollstonecraft read.
As far as Marx – I will defer to you. I knew he had some interest and just extrapolated. P. Shelley changed the end of the Prometheus myth, so that may have been one reason he enjoyed that version so much, but from an early age I liked Shelley b/c he was so obviously rebellious. Burke wrote about the sublime in aesthetics (that would be the Faustian, Promethean horror – also the gothic that pre and post-dated Wollstonecraft.)
Wollstonecraft loved Milton – his defense of freedom of speech was hugely influential in the UK in the 17th c. – but if you (have to, as I did) read Milton – or PL – he’s such a horrid misogynist it makes for a real slog. Nevertheless, in form, if not always content, he matters. In the 18th c. printers were put in jail all the time for engaging in freedom of speech when that speech supported Dissenters or English Jacobins, including printers that Wollstonecraft knew. I would assume her love of Milton had something to do with this fact.
I’m a horrible comic book reader because something like Promethea is totally boring to me – I hate mythic superheroes as stories – which is also why I find too many movies boring. It’s just a turn of mind, I suppose, but “mythic” stories just annoy me to no end.
However Maus or Persepolis or Safe Area: Gorazde, or The Big Lebowski or Arrested Development – those are stories that, to me, are far, far more interesting and meaningful than anything with a “mythic underpinning” – which is my phrase for lazy, boring writing.
Jim Lippard says
Matt Penfold (#66): Please don’t “guess” about what I believe and attribute beliefs to me I don’t hold. You’re wrong.
David Marjanović, OM says
LOL. In theory, yes, but nobody controls that! Nobody has a reason to expect the Spanish Inquisition anymore.
The bishops, yes, but the simple parish priests mostly aren’t. In Austria, several have openly called for disobedience in things like allowing divorced and remarried people to receive communion; their demands go all the way up to allowing women as priests.
LOL. The pope was not mentioned at all in the confirmation classes I was in!
Nothing much of religion was mentioned, actually. We played a lot… brainstormed on “what’s in our heads”… it was more a community thing. Led by the parish priest.
Heh. Yes, it does, when people believed in a religion to begin with.
Thanks for those references – I’ve cited Gregory Paul in argument, but I’ll at least take a much closer look before I do so again. Your wikipedia link says that most of the studies on individual happiness and religiosity have been done in the USA – and that studies in Denmark and Netherlands showed no significant correlation. There’s no reason I can think of to expect such correlations to be the same across cultures.
Matt Penfold says
The evidence suggests otherwise. However feel free to prove me wrong.
Matt Penfold says
I would also note you failed to actually offer any evidence that you were concerned with anywhere besides the US. I asked if you had any evidence for Sub-Saharan Africa. You could not even be bothered to answer.
You proved my point I think, so please stop complaining.