Occasionally on the Internet I find myself reading a discussion on the characteristics of religious people. Since few of the contributors are themselves religious we would not expect them to be flattering. Of course such criticisms do not apply to my own readers so our knickers can remain untwisted. However It does no harm to review such ideas, if only to warn us to give good examples to the secular world.
It is well established that human beings, from an early age, find solace in religious or cultic beliefs. We seem to be programmed with the question ‘what’s it all about?’, and we are likely to find an answer in some kind of supernatural explanation from, say, the simple idea of fate right up to the concept of an infinite God.
This is likely to involve relating to a group who believe the same answer and have built a lifestyle around it. And there is good evidence that such a life tends to be happier and healthier than those without a belief. We might want to claim that this need for the ultimate answer is not an outcome of evolution but in itself constitutes evidence for God’s existence. Bernard Shaw, however, said “The fact that a believer is happier than a sceptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.”
Unsurprisingly the unbeliever thinks that this is just intellectually lazy. We would rather conjure up an answer to life which can neither be proved nor disproved since hard evidence is lacking. Moreover, unlike many ordinary beliefs, we are obliged to bring others into the fold. History tells us that believers not only disapprove of non believers, they are inclined to condemn and punish them. We only have to look at Christianity in its several forms, to say nothing of Islam, to see this in action.
Here are a few quotes to review:
“It is always better to have no ideas than false ones; to believe nothing, than to believe what is wrong.”
Thomas Jefferson (1788)
“The most detestable wickedness, the most horrid cruelties, and the greatest miseries, that have afflicted the human race have had their origin in this thing called revelation, or revealed religion.”
Thomas Paine (1795)
“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.”
Friedrich Nietzsche (1882)
“Scepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the one unpardonable sin.”
Thomas Huxley (1907)
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
Richard Dawkins (2006)
Thomas Paine, of course, was writing well before the non-religious (anti-religious?) twentieth-century regimes of Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot and others. I wonder would he have changed his views, had he known.
With most of those people you have quoted, what I see here is reversed psycology. God haters, proud, arrogant and for all their cleverness, especially Dawkins, for the most part, prove my point. Have they not read, Man, by taking thought cannot find out God.
This the begs the question, if thought cannot find out God, what does? I hope we all know the answer and the experience of this?
I fancy Dawkins wrote those things about The God of the Old Testament before he fully enciuntered the god of Islam – I think today he might sing a slightly different tune. It is materialism, in my view, that is intellectually lazy, and an evasion of the need to look for answers to ultimate questions – they are all that is important in this life … Also, it is a route to (supposed) security, in that it promises no ultimate consequences for any action. I call myself a Militant Theist – I just wish all other theists were like this, on the attack …
I don’t see the necessity for the consequences of my actions to be either eternal or assured for them to be important to me. Short term consequences aren’t insignificant when you believe you’ve a short term existence.
The Jefferson quotation
“It is always better to have no ideas than false ones; to believe nothing, than to believe what is wrong.”
seems to me particularly pertinent in this age of continually shifting belief systems. Humans have a belief gene. They *must* believe. That’s how our brains work. Today, with hundreds of millions of people engaged simultaneously in a never-ending, overlapping, chaotic conversation, thousands of partially-baked beliefs are always on display, competing for pride of place in hundreds of millions of minds. The Christian God fits into this somehow, somewhere, but He has to contend with an enormous amount of competition, far more than ever before in human history. Statistically speaking, it seems likely that organized religion can only lose ground.
To be fair to Dawkins the OT God is portrayed as such at times. When we recognise it was man projecting their own characteristics onto God there is no problem accepting it.
Similarly, wasn’t Nietzsche claiming that ‘man’ had ‘killed’ the true concept of God, by replacing it with their own ideas?
As for “History tells us that believers not only disapprove of non believers, they are inclined to condemn and punish them.” …..
(Sadly) This is still very true for the majority of ‘believers’ (of any faith) who are uncertain about the Unconditional Acceptance & Love God Is (given to all ‘sinners’ unconditionally).
Which causes a self inflicted unconscious need to avoid ‘god’s condemnation’ for getting it wrong (and we all do!) and leads to projecting self inflicted unconscious ‘condemnation’ onto others to placate a ‘vengeful god’ who might reject them.
….. Basically scapegoating, i guess.
I can agree with Shaw’s quote to an extent …. The stupor of being drunk on self righteousness makes for a ‘happy believer’.
Until the suppressed lie of condemnation is felt again – ‘Where’s that heretic i can berate?’
All of which is opposite to the imitation of the life and teachings of Jesus of course.
He was the ‘heretic and scapegoat’ of his time; and didn’t condemn his accusers.
And why Christianity has such a bad image maybe?
When it comes to levying criticism at the characteristics of religious people it is hard to beat the caustic outburst of Jesus. (Matthew 23 and others).
When Jesus looks at the practices and views of the religious of that time He leaves these commentators way behind.
And sadly with evil, especially the ecclesiastical type, nothing changes. Dawkins would sound sweet by comparison.
Is “faith” the answer to the question of “what’s it all about”. I don’t think so.
I think science and history are far better responders to this question.
The fascinating discoveries around our place in the universe, the story of evolution and the unfolding cultural narratives bombard us with a plethora of amazing and breathtaking answers.
And from an experiential standpoint, music, literature and art mediate a much closer engagement with the truth around the “all” in “what’s it all about”.
However if “God” is the question then love is the answer.
Faith depends on it and does not exist without it.
Faith springs from freedom and therefore is an act of will.
So given the huge diversity of humanity with its limitless freedom to respond with belief there can be no end to the all the weird and wonderful ways people can define the possession or dispossession of their faith in God. As you demonstrate with your selection of quotes
Nietzsche is like the daily date calendar that is stuck on one day and never gets flipped over. At least he gets to be right on one day every year: Holy Saturday.
God really did die and really did go to hell and the extent of that love is so hard to believe.
Only love can recognise it to be so.
I don’t really think it matters much what people think or say about Him, its all been said and done before. What really matters is how believers act in return. I have come to believe by now that what we say and do tends to reveal, generally speaking, more the condition of our own hearts than anything else; this being equally true for believer and non believer.
It’s proven impossible for the Church establishment to resist the temptation to dilute its liturgy and its theology to appeal to an aggressively secular Western world. Secularizers are pleased, of course, and traditionalists are not. In the short run, enthusiastic adapting to the surrounding society will likely pay off in some staunching of inevitable membership losses consequent on the world’s loss of interest in things transcendent. People are strongly inclined to stick with groups to which they’ve devoted considerable time, energy, and emotion. In the longer term, though – as succeeding generations replace their parents – the result will, I think, be a considerable net loss, as the Church gradually becomes little more than a club for badging people who care deeply about social justice and who look to buttress their inclinations with a vaguely spiritual overlay.
Tom Paine’s argument is one that you hear nowadays from militant atheists; it is a sweeping generalization which with a modicum of historical knowledge is easily refuted. Paine was a self confessed Deist who opposed all ‘revealed’ religion, including Judaism – he rejected Scripture in its entirety. His roots were in Quakerism, but his attack on Christianity alienated even the Quakers, and only six people attended his funeral in 1809.
He threw in his lot with the French Revolution (which was a precursor of the anti-religious tyrannies of the 20th century) and was elected to the Convention. To his credit he voted against the execution of Louis XVI. Imprisoned during the Terror, he narrowly escaped the guillotine.
A fascinating character. Active in the American revolution, he later turned against George Washington; and although he advised Bonaparte on how best to invade England (his native country) he later turned against Napoleon as well.
Most religious people have a genealogy of belief. I am a Christian because my parents were Christian, and their parents before them. GK Chesterton, in one of his works essentially says that where democracy demands we listen to the views of others alive at the same time as us, tradition demands we respect the views of our parents and grandparents.
Most atheists (or agnostics) are only first or second generation. After the second world war religious practice went into decline and many of the structures of society that buttressed religion also changed. This begat a non-churchgoing generation which then begat agnostics some of whom became committed atheists.
Marxism and the rise of scientism (both, dare I say, bastard children of the Enlightenment) provided an ‘faith system’ for this God-free religion.
Religion has to accept some blame for this situation since almost all religions have regressed towards fundamentalism in response to this change rather than trying to understand how to engage it.
you may indeed! Spot on.