General Question

Siren's avatar

Has religion become the new four-letter word?

Asked by Siren (3386 points ) January 31st, 2009

Why is it, that especially on this site, people get uptight when a topic surrounding religion is posted? It seems to be a four-letter word. Sometimes the questions (ones I have posted myself) are asking the opinions of others within a certain religion, yet people jump on board to answer and defend their non-beliefs. I just don’t understand it.

Has religion become a four-letter word? Is it terrible to discuss the fact that you have and follow a religion? Does it upset others who do not? I am very comfortable following my own religion and don’t try to convince others to do the same, however, it seems some people consider it a direct attack on themselves…and I just don’t get it. I respect the fact that there are believers, atheists and agnostics out there, and have thought they would similarly respect each other…but it is proving wrong on this particular site.

Just chalk it up to religion, politics and race being touchy subjects, or that some people need to tolerate one another better?

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82 Answers

AstroChuck's avatar

I hate to break it to you but religion has eight letters.

Siren's avatar

@AstroChuck: har har but good one :)

Vinifera7's avatar

First of all, there is nothing intrisically wrong with four-letter words. But I’m not sure why people are touchy about religion, politics, etc. For me, there’s a wealth of discussion that’s not taking place just because some people feel uncomfortable about it.

Tantigirl's avatar

As a non-believer, no, I don’t think it is terrible to discuss the fact that you have and follow a religion. I think that the trouble starts when the other person isn’t interested in discussing it with you. Unfortunately some people feel the need to bludgeon others with it when they are either disagreed with, or when another person is simply not interested.

Siren's avatar

@Vinifera7: Good point. I think because the discussion tends to degenerate (at least on this site) to whether there’s a God or not, and it turns into a science versus faith debate. I don’t call that tolerance – I call that picking apart someone’s beliefs instead of asking them about it.

jonsblond's avatar

Just don’t knock on my door with a pamphlet and I’ll be happy.

Siren's avatar

@Tantigirl: I hear you. It can get sickening to hear (or read). But why assume someone will do it, or is it a knee-jerk reaction for some to having been previously subjected to nonstop religious propaganda?

Vinifera7's avatar

@Siren
Fluther might not be the ideal place to discuss religion, but the fact that it happens at all is encouraging to me.

Siren's avatar

@Vinifera: I can’t disagree with that comment. :)

cookieman's avatar

and here I thought “Bush” was the new four-letter-word

Siren's avatar

Maybe it is Bush’s fault.

Elumas's avatar

I’ve always believed in being an example to others, in my experience shoving a bible down someone’s throat rarely works.

Siren's avatar

Good words Elumas. Good words.

Tantigirl's avatar

@Siren: Yes, you’re right, I do think it is a knee-jerk reaction. I think that atheists do the same thing to theists, and so expect to receive it in return, and then the theist does it for the same reason, and we can end up with a never ending cycle.

I also wonder how much depends on how you were brought up. I grew up in The Salvation Army, and so I had and still have a very religious family. My personal experience has been that when a theist finds out that I grew up with religion, they will maybe ask why I no longer believe, however, even if I don’t wish to give them an explanation, they are not as likely to try to convert me as they might others.

Siren's avatar

@Tantigirl: Well said. You know, I don’t think it really matters if you follow your religion any longer – I think who you are is more important than anything else. just my opinion

sndfreQ's avatar

Zealotry from either side seems to be the ingredient that usually leads to snap judgment and that “taste” one gets in their mouth from these type of discussions when they take a turn.

Speaking for myself, I would like to see that anyone who does choose to engage such topics remembers to keep an open mind, and to keep intentions up front and honest, because when they stay on the up an up, they’re (the discussions) extremely educational and interesting and are of value to this community.

My $0.02

Siren's avatar

Can you make it a nickel, please?

Tantigirl's avatar

@sndfreQ: I agree with you 100%, very well said.

Siren's avatar

I meant I agreed as well. Certainly worth more than a nickel :)

Tantigirl's avatar

nice catch there Siren ;)

shilolo's avatar

Well, to answer your question, it continues to be the case that so-called “believers” post questions and quips that (frequently) have a not-so-subtle message of (to put it mildly) persuasion. Many people, including myself, take great offense to that. Moreover, the polemic nature of many “believers” creates animosity. Finally, (getting back to where this question probably arose), there are many scientific types on here who find the constant rehashing of creationism talking points to be boring, at best.

Vinifera7's avatar

@shilolo
Do you mean questions that beg the answer, or questions that depend on one’s personal beliefs?

shilolo's avatar

@Vinifera7 Mainly, the former. Several users are fairly well-known for this type of behavior. Conversely, many questions depend on one’s beliefs, and in that, I see no problem. But, for me, “preachy” questions are hard to stomach.

Vinifera7's avatar

Just so everyone else knows what we’re talking about, an example of a question that begs the answer would be “Who created the Universe?”

Bluefreedom's avatar

@sndfreQ. I could have tried to formulate a sensible answer of my own but it wouldn’t have been nearly as good as yours. Well done.

Vinifera7's avatar

You have something on your nose. Other side. Got it!

jonsblond's avatar

@shilolo Is it a preachy question, or someone just wanting a healthy debate? Is there a difference? I can see preachy answers, but I haven’t quite noticed a preachy question just yet.

I only ask because I am fairly new here at fluther

jlm11f's avatar

What’s the old four letter word?....Love? No, seriously. I don’t know. Maybe it will be clearer to me at a saner time of the day.

Siren's avatar

@shilolo: So you’re basically saying the problem lies with the believers. What questions do you take offence to, in particular? Is the nature of a question being religious in context itself an affront to you? Please be specific. It would help so that people don’t ask questions which would offend you.

And that creationism/evolution question about classrooms and teaching led into the discussion of science versus evolution. Taking us down the dark road of “God!” “No God”, blah, blah…right?

ark_a_dong's avatar

This question really sparked quick discussion. Perhaps religion is a four letter word!?

lapilofu's avatar

I think that aside from reasons already given, Fluther has a pocket of Dawkins-style atheists—myself included—who believe that faith is unreasonable and detrimental to both society and the individual, and therefore consider it good doing to expose flaws in religion.

LostInParadise's avatar

Have you ever noticed that the things that people argue about most passionately are those things that can’t be proven? Nobody is going to get exercised over 1+1=2. But people will get worked up over religion, politics and morality.

So let me annoy all sides by pointing out the following:

It can not be proved whether or not God exists and if one assumes that there is a God there is no way of proving the correctness of one religion over another.

It is not self-evident that people are born with inalienable rights, in particular it is not self-evident that everyone has a right to vote.

The Golden Rule is not self-evident, and neither is it self-evident that certain supposedly superior individuals have a right to impose their will on others.

What is self-evident is that the Universe is a cold and uncaring place, slavishly obedient to a set of scientific laws. Meaning comes from us. When we declare the worth of each individual and say that each individual has certain rights and further that we should show compassion to those in need, we create something new, wondrous and beautiful. And if some wish to see this through religion and others prefer not to then that really does not seem worth arguing over.

cookieman's avatar

Slow clap for @LostInParadise.

Bravo (and lurve)

dynamicduo's avatar

In my experiences, when religious people bring up a discussion about religion, they don’t intend to have a true discussion, they don’t intend to change any of their views, they just want to use it as a soapbox to preach their message, and I don’t appreciate that one bit (cause I live by the Golden Rule, and since I don’t want to be preached at about one’s beliefs, I don’t preach my beliefs either). This is why I personally am wary when religious discussions happen and also why I don’t often participate.

The entire history of many mainstream religions is rife with inequalities, horrific acts of the followers, war and persecution in name of God, explanations of the way the world works which we now know are false, and blatant contradictions of every type. Not to mention, many aspects of religion fail miserably when logic is applied. Some of us have recognized religion for what it is, what it was, and just like our appendix, we don’t make fun of it because it’s there, we accept that it was a part of how we got to where we are, but we are not obliged to keep using it and so we don’t. I don’t make fun of someone who uses crutches when they have a broken leg, but I’m not going to sit back and allow that person to beat me over the head with that crutch just because of their current situation. Same with religion.

Sorceren's avatar

No, I don’t see “religion” as the new four-letter word, but then I edit for a living. The nastiest FLW I can think of, because of the horrifying uses to which the thing referred to is put, is “taxes.” (In which FLW stands for five-letter word.)

I don’t see people getting uptight about religion unless it is used as a club, a cattle prod, or a fire-starter. Or unless it is used to try to gain some perceived moral high ground — or to justify enacting a law that unfairly gives profit to some while taking it away from others.

OTOH, religion is a great tool on Fluther; it’s bound to get you some points and force some people to show their asses.

I grew up in some of the more restrictive protestant religions; my Dad was an on-again, off-again lay minister before he went to school and got his doctorate. At middle age, I’m a Buddhist (Nichiren Shoshu) witch. Be very careful how you respond; you’re dickin’ around with both karma and the Threefold Law, here.

fireside's avatar

Well comments like these:
-shoving a bible down someone’s throat
-the polemic nature of many “believers” creates animosity
-faith is unreasonable and detrimental to both society and the individual
-I don’t want to be preached at about one’s beliefs
-religion is a great tool on Fluther; it’s bound to get you some points

Just seem to reinforce the validity of comments like these:
-Fluther might not be the ideal place to discuss religion
-there’s a wealth of discussion that’s not taking place just because some people feel uncomfortable
-I don’t call that tolerance – I call that picking apart someone’s beliefs instead of asking them about it

Kind of sad. I guess collectively, our tolerance of each other is not much more advanced than the kids in Lord of the Flies. Somewhat ironic since religion, in my mind, was always about teaching people how to get over their individual ego and build a more vibrant community.

Sorry if that sounds preachy

Sorceren's avatar

@fireside—“Kind of sad. I guess collectively, our tolerance of each other is not much more advanced than the kids in Lord of the Flies. Somewhat ironic since religion, in my mind, was always about teaching people how to get over their individual ego and build a more vibrant community.”

It may have started that way but, since about 130 years after Jesus, called the Christ, died, religion has mainly been used as a tool for collecting power and controlling the masses — and, perhaps coincidentally, keeping the money pouring in to the controllers.

I’ve only been a Flutherer for two weeks, and every question I’ve seen about religion has elicited about 3 to 5 flip responses for every even halfway serious one. How about some questions for which there are provable answers?

Religion is ultimately a personal choice. When someone tries either to take it out of the individual’s hands or to take it into the government’s, that is a perversion worthy of a four-letter word.

fireside's avatar

@Sorceren – Agreed. But I don’t think anyone on Fluther is doing what you think is a perversion. So why the intolerance here? Just practice?

Vinifera7's avatar

@LostInParadise
Nothing in science can really be proven. Proofs only apply to mathematics where we’re dealing with abstractions, not the empirical world. In science, something can only be demonstrated by evidence to such a degree that discovering evidence to the contrary would reshape our understanding of the Universe. The word that we use for that is “knowledge”.

So really, debating things that cannot be proven is completely worthwhile. We can discuss the reasons and justifications for our beliefs, which shape our understanding of the world.

bythebay's avatar

@Vinifera7: “So really, debating things that cannot be pr oven is completely worthwhile. We can discuss the reasons and justifications for our beliefs, which shape our understanding of the world.” Well said; but the problem is it doesn’t seem to happen often without snarky, insulting and pointed jabs. There is very little acceptance and almost no attempt to listen and simply agree to respect our differences.

I wholeheartedly agree that nobody should attempt to drown anyone else with their beliefs. But all people should be permitted to discuss them in a rational and respectful way, and expect ration and respect in return.

As I’ve said in other threads, zealotry comes in many packages; but it does not foster good conversation.

Sorceren's avatar

@fireside—No, not practice. Ingrained habit.
@LostInParadise : OK, you’re right. I guess I should just click “Not interested” when religious questions appear for me. So y’all go ahead and debate this subject; maybe somebody will finally figure out how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
@Vinifera7—“As I’ve said in other threads, zealotry comes in many packages; but it does not foster good conversation.”

AMEN!

Vinifera7's avatar

For people who actually want to learn, and hold as many true beliefs and as few false ones as possible, it is possible to have a discussion sans snark.

bythebay's avatar

@Vinifera7: You are absolutely correct.

gooch's avatar

Because this site is full of faithless people who are offended by the thought of others thinking they will be damned.

Vinifera7's avatar

@gooch
I really hope you’re kidding.

cookieman's avatar

I have a very dear friend (both he and his wife) who is devoutly Mormon. I am an Agnostic.

We have many things in common and get along famously. He has spoken to me and my wife about their religion numerous times, going so far as to invite us to their (beautiful) church and go to their ward’s Christmas party. We accepted both invitations and it was all lovely. He has even left the book of Mormon at my house to read.

We have many discussions about his faith and they are always very respectful and interesting. He never pushes his views on us – he only seeks to discuss and maybe educate.

BUT when I have tried to discuss my views as an Agnostic, he cannot have the discussion. He changes the subject very quickly. He cannot even discuss that their might not be a god. It makes him a nervous wreck.

He is simply hard-wired that way.

bythebay's avatar

@cprevite: Kudos to you for being open enough to hear & respect your friend; even though he cannot do the same.

gooch's avatar

@ Vin my point is that people today do not accept being wrong very well. Beliefs are hard to change. So to say that a persons beliefs are wrong is to start war. Many people view being wrong as a weakness. I listen and learn…I enjoy being corrected because I like to learn and grow.

Sorceren's avatar

@gooch: “Beliefs are hard to change.”

IMNSHO, you can’t change what a person believes. You can only change what he says, and that by some form of coercion. Only he can and will change, if he chooses to, what he (now) believes in light of updated information. To change a cherished belief is, as noted, to admit having been wrong; OTOH, being open-minded and judicious enough to change is clearly a virtue.

Obviously, new information therefore falls into the suspect category — and the more tightly held the belief, the faster new information is suspected. No matter how loved the would-be changer may be to the would-be changee, either unimpeachable, mutually respected sources or unequivocal results are prerequisites to the possibility of change.
It’s also necessary that both parties be open to the possibility that something they believe may change.

Like that’s gonna happen.

cookieman's avatar

@bythebay I think he would like to be open to discuss it (he says so) – He just can’t bring himself to do it.

I think he’s afraid to have the discussion. He visibly shakes when the idea their might not be a God comes up. Needless to say, out of respect for him, I don’t bring it up anymore. He’s off the hook.

I guess my point is that (pollyana-ish as it may sound), we should all let each other off the hook a little about our beliefs. But I guess that’s overly-simplistic.

bythebay's avatar

@cprevite: Now you’re my hero, because as overy-simplistic as it may be, I couldn’t agree more!

Jayne's avatar

People who are strongly religious are not stupid, any more than are atheists; there are far too many people on both sides of the divide for that to possibly be the case. So in most instances, the people arguing the theistic side of a debate are aware of the glaring logical gaps in their beliefs. This is especially true on internet forums like Fluther, where these will have been pointed out to them several times. The reason that they can continue to hold those beliefs is that they are operating under a whole different philosophical framework, one in which logic does not have to apply. This is fairly legitimate. I doubt that many scientifically-minded people can provide a proof of logical principles stronger than ‘it just makes sense’. The issue is too fundamental to be argued effectively. So with both sides of the divide using different frames of argument entirely, it is hard to imagine an effective debate taking place; a friendly one, perhaps, but I doubt that any minds will be changed. I think that can only come from within a person, driven mostly by feelings (a consistent mode of thought can hardly challenge itself).

Why, then, do people even bother debating? I suppose a large reason is egotistical. These beliefs are strongly held, and if another person holds a belief that is absolutely irreconcilable with yours, then, unless you are extraordinarily open-minded, it is hard not to feel insulted; because they are, essentially, challenging your intelligence, even if unknowingly. So people feel the need to defend themselves and their egos. I have long given up debating religion. I believe the sides to be essentially irreconcilable except by slow cultural evolution- not by debate, at any rate- so I only make the argument that religion should be kept out of public policy.
Thanks to anyone who bothered to read that!

bythebay's avatar

@Jayne: WELCOME to Fluther!!

AstroChuck's avatar

I just want everyone here to know that I was recently born again. I have to tell you it’s an amazing and awesome experience. I can’t say my mother enjoyed it a whole lot.

Seriously, I’m a fat guy who sits around all day so I kinda dig Buddha.

What was the question again?

Vinifera7's avatar

Thanks, comic relief.

Anyway, the purpose of debating beliefs is not purely egotistical. It aids in gaining perspective in one’s world view.

AstroChuck's avatar

You guys do realize when you go to war over religion you’re basically argueing over who has the better imaginary friend, right?

By the way, Shilolo is right on.

cookieman's avatar

And here I thought I was right

miasmom's avatar

I think that both sides aren’t going to change their opinions…you say that Christians aren’t willing to listen to a non-believers points, at the same time, I can’t see any non-believers changing their opinions either. My husband I were discussing this yesterday, how a lot of questions on Fluther (non religious questions included), non-believers throw in sarcastic quips about God and it’s hurtful. And we both agreed that maybe spending time here isn’t in our best interests…why would you want to be friends with people who are constantly degrading your views. Or using what you feel is sacred to be sarcastic and funny. It makes me sad because I do enjoy discussions and I think there is a lot of good information on Fluther…we’ll see, but I don’t see anything changing in the future.

AstroChuck's avatar

edit: arguing

fireside's avatar

Yeah, I have to say that I’m a bit disillusioned.
Fluther seems to be becoming more of a place for minor technical support, lists of favorites things, joke making and arguments.

I don’t know if it was always the same, or not.
But I do think it could be better if people were more tolerant of other opinions.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

I have the better imaginary friend, so neener neeener neener. :-)

And whoever said that we probably aren’t much better than those kids in the Lord of the Flies, you are probably right. Take away our civilization, our technology, and everything that makes us behave like reasonable people, and we will become a bunch of grunting cavemen and women. We aren’t that far removed from our cave-dwelling forebears.

Religion isn’t a four letter word, but ‘gods’ is. There’s the problem, you are counting the letters in the wrong word.

tiffyandthewall's avatar

i don’t know, i think it’s kind of sad how worked up people get over others having different religious views. i try to respect everyone’s beliefs, whether i agree with them or not. i mean sometimes it’s hard to when someone’s beliefs are ones that completely contradict yours and even put you down. but i don’t know, when it comes to religion, live and let live haha

Jayne's avatar

@bythebay Thanks! I’m glad to be here, although I have been lurking awhile (I know all of your secrets! Bwa ha ha haaaa!)

@Vinifera7 Its true; a person who seeks out religious debate might be doing so because they are unsure themselves, and want help making up their minds; I hadn’t really thought about that. Silly me!

Darwin's avatar

I really don’t mind if someone else thinks I will be going to Hell or Hades or Galactic Central or whatever place for non-believers they believe exists. I just don’t want anyone to come right up to me and shout in my face. I also have a strong aversion to being burnt at the stake or even shunned when it comes to that.

OTOH, I do find it fascinating to see what various sects, cults, religions, churches, denominations, branches, and so on believe is most important out of the plethora of religious writing, history and ritual, and why they believe that.

And I must admit that the young men in white dress shirts who ride their bicycles through my neighborhood have come in handy at times when I ran my car into the ditch or needed help moving something heavy. I never offer them a Coke, however, only water.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

@Darwin did you bless it so that it was holy water?

Darwin's avatar

@evelyn – no, I might ask the wrong deity so I left it as a do-it-yourself kind of gift. But there certainly is no caffeine in it!

90s_kid's avatar

I know eactly what you mean, @Siren.
I have gotten into many religious arguments. I might have been on the one to fight back, though, to confess. :) I just hate how other people believe things I call “ridiculous” but you know, it’s how we were taught.

@AstroChuck
Kinda weird how when you are totally off topic, you get away with it. But when the question is: “What do you put on your sandwiches?” and I answer “I do not like sandwiches.” that gets removed by mods for being “off-topic”. Not sure if it is just Richardhenry being a jerk, picking on me, and abusing his powers, or what?

jayson's avatar

I’d say since 9/11 and 7/07 (in the UK any how) views on religion and truth claims in general have become more polarised as people began to guard what they most value when all else crashes down.

The Athiest/Agnostic will think that in the light of terrorism we should settle differences and unify. Christianity (and I believe Islam & perhaps others) would say I must protect my faith therefore I will guard it and defend it from attack and any malign.

Siren's avatar

Hey everyone! I’ve been away from Fluther for a few days, and dreaded (and expected) to see a big blood bath on this thread, since it seemed to be starting to take a downward spiral….but I am pleasantly surprised by how this discussion turned out! I enjoyed reading all of these comments, from both sides, which I felt were dignified and honest, and it has really helped me personally to understand this issue on Fluther. Thanks so much for commenting on this thread. You guys are all aces in my book. Lurve party!!!!

By the way, I would like to extend an apology to all atheists/agnostics on this thread who felt their voices/opinions weren’t respected previously. I see how some discussions in other questions could have been misconstrued and resulted in more heated arguments, instead of positive and healthy debates.

(toasting) Here’s to future healthy debates and respect all-around.

Siren's avatar

@90s_kid: Awwwh…it happens with all of us when we are discussing something close to our hearts. I understand completely. Things can get out of control quickly when something written is misinterpreted as insult. it’s a slippery slope with some topics

90s_kid's avatar

@Siren
MODERATORS!!!!
just kidding

To keep this quip on topic…um…I am Catholic!

AstroChuck's avatar

Catholic has nine letters.

Siren's avatar

Sorry 90s_kid. I didn’t fully understand your comment until now dull mind

Is it really true that if you don’t stay on topic your comment may be removed? I have seen this happen so many times I just can’t believe it (people going off topic). I mean, here’s an example right now…..counting down to removal…5,4,3,2,1. 0. -1, -2…

kruger_d's avatar

I think it is anonymity that causes people to make comments here that they never would in room full of people, regardless of topic. I have no problem with views counter to my own, but I resent aggressive tones, dismissive attitudes, and flippant remarks in middle of constructive dialogue.

90s_kid's avatar

But sometimes, I just want to chit-chat & socialize! Maybe it isn’t what Fluther is for.

shilolo's avatar

[Mod says] 90s_kid is correct. Fluther really isn’t for chit-chat and socialization. What people are noticing as inconsistency is that the mods can’t be everywhere at all times, and thus, some chattiness falls through. Moreover, we do not want to ruin the flow by having tons of Removed by Fluther Moderators quips littered throughout a thread. So, we rely on individual users to maintain a top quality site by refraining from inside chatter. More importantly, if you are the one asking the question, and you legitimately want answers to your Q, then seeing multiple chats could get very frustrating. There are many other sites available for chat besides this one.

AstroChuck's avatar

Buzzkill.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

Removed By Moderators

shilolo's avatar

[Mod says] Please do not play “games” with the removed by moderators quip. The quip above by evelyns pet zebra was not moderated. You can tell by the fact that the great answer and flag links are still visible. Thanks.

thegodfather's avatar

“Religion” is generally misappropriated and misunderstood, just as much as “science” is. But then again, I’m of a poststructuralist type that takes words as symbols only, so meaning is always elusive. The problem, as I see it, is that certain terms have high levels of meaning but for an incredibly diverse field of people. Other terms don’t. (It’s not like we have to really fight over the word “the”; it doesn’t carry hardly the amount of meaning for most individuals as does something like “love” or “good”, etc.) Because so many individuals derive high value from a term like “religion,” it’s inherently rife with the problem of qualifying the word. What a Christian versus Buddhist versus Muslim versus Sikh (and so forth) thinks when using the word “religion” will differ enormously, to say nothing of intrareligious divisions and concepts of orthodoxy/heresy.

When used in a forum where potential readers will include an array of religious and irreligious conceptions of “religion,” the word, for the purposes of the discussion, must be qualified—which almost certainly never happens. My profession is to study religion, and if I can advance at least one solid observation about religious discourse, it’s this, that most people get along just fine when everyone can, for the purposes of discussion, decide on a qualified definition for key terms like “religion” and “science.” But when qualifications aren’t attended to, it’s common to see folks talk past each other or fall into circular arguments where little or nothing productive happens.

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