General Question

peyton_farquhar's avatar

What convinced you that Christianity wasn't the answer?

Asked by peyton_farquhar (3741points) November 10th, 2008

Or convinced you that it was? So far, I haven’t found any compelling arguments for it.

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

119 Answers

bluemukaki's avatar

I think it was the moment a priest made me stand on a table supported by balloons and have faith in god keeping me safe that I decided something was certainly amok in Christendom.

timothykinney's avatar

When I figured out what the question was.

MacBean's avatar

I was pretty much through with organized religion when my pastor told my pregnant sister that her baby would go to hell no matter what because of choices that she made. I told him he was so full of shit, if he wasn’t careful, his rectum would explode. (Yes. In those words.) I haven’t been back to that church since, even though there is a different pastor now.

I was completely through with organized religion when my sister convinced me to attend her new church with her. The words, “God does not want you to think for yourself; that’s what I am here for” actually came out of her new pastor’s mouth. I haven’t been back to ANY church since then.

susanc's avatar

I was never convinced, only exposed to stories that, by being interesting, helped form my character, such as it is. I don’t turn my back on them because they’re terrific stories (I love stories, that’s why I love fluther), not because I think they’re “true”.. (who cares if they’re true?).

BoyWonder's avatar

People telling me that if I did not accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior, that I would go to hell, the idea of praising a white man in long brown hair and beard didn’t sit too well with me…also the fact that that image never existed in human form…that didn’t sit too well with me either.

shadling21's avatar

I wasn’t exposed to religion until partway through elementary, when my parents enrolled me in a private Catholic school. By high school, I wanted to join the Church, myself. I was baptized at age sixteen.

I turned away from Christianity when I came to terms with my atheism. I’d tried for years to develop a true faith in a god (preferably of the Roman Catholic variety), but found that believing and worshipping something I wasn’t sure existed seemed directly opposed to my value for curiosity and critical thinking.

Now that I’m disconnected from any religious institutions, I can see more clearly the moral differences between me and the Catholic Church. I support abortion and contraception. I believe people should get divorced when they want to. I have a few gay friends who have been mistreated by the Church. Also, I recognize that the Church is sexist in their exclusion of women from the clergy. While a great number of Catholics don’t even follow this moral code, I couldn’t support an institution that is so against my own idea of what is right and wrong.

amurican's avatar

Being that we are really just a lost ape species it’s quite remarkable how we do muddle along.

wenbert's avatar

I am a Roman Catholic. My entire family is Roman Catholic. We believe in God. We pray etc. BUT we do not believe everything what the priest say. When I go to mass and listen to the homily, I often go like “Pfffffttt… that is just bullshit”... My thinking is like: “Priest != The Entire Church”... They can say anything they want to brainwash other catholics… we have free will and we can do anything we like/want… What pisses me off here in the Philippines is that the church is not supporting artificial contraceptives (condoms, etc.)—we have enough problems already and the least they could do is do their part to improve the situation…

I have nothing against priests, it’s just that some of them are full of shit. I have such a huge respect for the “good” ones…

I don’t think that Roman Catholicism is the “answer”. Or any other religion. It just happens that I have faith and believe in God… Life is too short to let other people – even the church dictate you…

A_Beaverhausen's avatar

the crusades…

cookieman's avatar

I went church every Sunday.
I was an altar boy for 3 years.
Received communion & confirmation.

By the time I was 14, I saw a lot of hypocricy from within the Catholic church. I was also very critical in thinking and asking questions (of my parents and the priests). All of their answers were hollow, contradictory, lacking in evidence, etc.

For years I considered myself a “recovering Catholic”. Recently, I decided that was a cop out, did some research, and discovered I was living as an Agnostic.

I do like the stories, I love the architecture and the music – but that’s where it ends for me.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

I’m finding it interesting that most of the postings relate to the Catholic Church, when the question was about Christianity in a broader sense.

EnzoX24's avatar

it wasn’t until I learned about evolution. Suddenly so much made complete sense I was overwhelmed by the amount of information I was learning. The next time I went to church I thought about everything I had learned in catholic school and through my relatives. Nothing I had previously learned had any sense of background information.

Then it got worse when the church told us to blatantly disregard the information around us and accept a blind faith. I wasn’t too up to the idea.

smullane's avatar

I think it’s interesting that most posters are of the Catholic religion. That’s why there became Protestants or in simple terms a Christian who protests the Catholic church for whatever reason. As we can see from the statements above the catholic church likes to think and control their members lives. I mean come on what church member is going to honestly believe that contraception is a sin or that priests shouldn’t have a wife or that you talk through the priest and he talks to God. But me being a Protestant yes I believe in God no I am not perfect actually far from it but that’s why God is awesome. He is a gentle giant but at the same time He is someone no one wants to anger or disappoint. I have had a lot of experiences as to why I believe the way I do Too many to express. I just trust in Him and everything will be as it should. Also it’s not if youdint go to church will you burn in Hell but it’s if a person is not saved. Something I don’t think Catholics do either. Please correct me if I am wrong about the Catholics views since I am not one but I do have a few Catholic friends and Catholics who became saved and are no longer Catholics.

asmonet's avatar

@smullane: You can’t state as fact that the Catholic church wants to ‘control’ it’s members based on a handful of anecdotes. That’s a big jump.

MrItty's avatar

When I studdied Greek and Roman mythology in 5th grade. Explaining what I was learning to my mother, she was only half paying attention, and flippantly asked “So, was that true?” I stopped and said “What? No of course it’s not true. I’m talking about stories about dozens of gods and goddesses. I mean, it’s bad enough we believe in one ‘god’ thing.” Then I stopped and realized what I’d just said and realized it’s all bunk.

“religion” is just “mythology” that people still believe.

smullane's avatar

your right I should of used a better term. The Catholics have an interesting way of thinking when it comes to their church beliefs ie the structure and schedule of mass, nothing is spontaneous. A lot of my Catholic friends don’t believe the majority of what is said by the priests but they don’t want to leave the church because they are comfortable. The catholic church is strict in it’s thinking. I still can’t get over the fact that priests CANT have a wife…

peyton_farquhar's avatar

wow, this is so cool…i never thought this would net in so many responses. Thank you all who answered my question.

asmonet's avatar

@smullane: The majority of religions have a ‘strict’ ritual that they follow during services, I don’t see how that is unique to Catholicism. As for priests, a lot of people are hoping that will be changed soon as it is canon law just like eating fish on Fridays was – which can be revised, probably not under the current pope, but hopefully within a few generations. And in some non Latin rite Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches a priest can have a wife, but he will not be able to become a bishop, and he cannot remarry in the event his wife dies. Generally, the reasoning is that a man is married to the Church.

tinyfaery's avatar

I was convinced on an emotional level when I observed my family and friends, all of whom called themselves Christians, engaging in activities and holding beliefs that to my understanding of Christianity, were hypocritical.

I knew on an intellectual level when I began to learn about other cultures and other religions. As soon as I realized the functions of religion in society, I knew religions was/is nothing more than a social construct.

wundayatta's avatar

Boredom, I think. I was eight and forced to go on a perfectly good Sunday morning. That set the ball rolling. Attempts to go when I was older confirmed that finding. At 16, I read some of the existentialist literature, and in writing a paper for school, I discovered that, yup, I didn’t believe in God, and probably never had. After that, I didn’t see any point for religion.

Decades later, I see a lot of point in religion, and I understand the role dieties play in religion. It makes me sick that such usefull organizations are contaminated by such misleading hypotheses (i.e., the God hypothesis). The worst thing, though, is that religious organizations seem so inflexible. If dogma and forms of worship were flexible, it seems to me that religions would be so much more relevant, and certainly much less boring! Hmmm. Flexible dogma. Is that an oxymoron?

asmonet's avatar

@daloon: Yes, it is.

From Wikipedia:
Dogma (the plural is either dogmata or dogmas, Greek δόγμα, plural δόγματα) is the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, ideology or any kind of organization, thought to be authoritative and not to be disputed, doubted or diverged from.

wundayatta's avatar

@asmonet: thanks. Well, this isn’t the first time I’ve tried to force things together that most people would say doesn’t belong together. If an organization could come up with flexible dogma, you can be sure that would be the organization for me!

asmonet's avatar

I think you’d be more interested in trying to change Canon Law, something separate from Dogma. I mentioned it a few answers up. Canon laws are just like normal laws, the only difference really is jail is hell, and peaceful suburban living is heaven. :-P But then, this only applies to Christians, really..

peyton_farquhar's avatar

In lieu of this current discussion, I have another question. Is it unreasonable to believe that, if there is an afterlife, there is a “before” life as well? If Christians can accept that there exists eternal life after death, why not life before life? If the soul is supposed to be limitless, does it not follow that it can have neither beginning nor ending? How can infinity have one (beginning) and not the other (ending)?

peyton_farquhar's avatar

Oh, and thank you for the awesome responses, guys. I really like where this is going.

asmonet's avatar

I think the general answer to that is God creates every unique soul, that is their beginning, as Catholics don’t believe in reincarnation, we remain in the afterlife. That is ‘the end’. Eternal life. While it has no true end, it has a definite beginning.

Then again, I’m agnostic and I just read about theology in my free time, what the frick do I know?

Maybe that is a question that deserves it’s own thread?

jcs007's avatar

Christianity is not the answer. It is an answer. And this is coming from a Catholic.

If you want another answer, turn to science. or 42

wundayatta's avatar

The religion I belong to has no dogma. It has no facility, and charges no dues. No drugs are involved. Indeed, it has no name. Not everyone who participates is even aware that some of us are at a religious service.

The only thing it has is a ritual, involving music and dance. It is different every time. Yet, every time, for the most part, people experience a connection with something larger than themselves, even if they don’t know what’s happening.

It’s not much, and yet, on many occasions, different people—some beginners, and others with more experience—have said in wonder, that if world leaders did this, there could be no wars.

augustlan's avatar

I am an agnostic, with atheist leanings. Once I realized that religion is a man-made construct – designed to answer the unknowable and control the people – I decided that organized religion has no role in my life. Throughout my life, I have gone back and forth as to whether or not there is a God. At times I have felt sure of his existence, but I am never able to maintain faith in the face of logic and science.

PIXEL's avatar

I wrote this in a few other threads.

The Catholic Religion was made to scare people from doing bad things even if nobody was watching them, of course before we had policemen. I’m not n atheist and I do believe in God but the religion has lots of lies. (Sorry If that offends) Why must we do bad to someone else for him or her not to do the same? Religion isn’t healthy. Be spiritual and respect God and just be happy.

Now Hell doesn’t exist. Do you honestly believe not going to the right church sends you to hell? Isn’t the point to respect God and give thanks? Or do you think that eating meat on a friday will send you to hell? Lieing? Cheating? Stealing? Being Homosexual? Also why would you be sent to hell because of how you were born? The list goes on and on. If all these “rules” were real all of us would go straight to hell.

The religion is supposed to make you do good but it mostly leaves people living in fear. You’re not supposed to feel as if you have to do good but you’re supposed to feel like you want to do good.

jessturtle23's avatar

I am agnostic but was raised southern baptist and I gave up on Christianity when I saw my brother and sister baptized. I just couldn’t wrap my brain around it.

monsoon's avatar

The idea that the Jews are the chosen race. Not anything against Jews, but the idea simply that there is a chosen race at all.

buster's avatar

When I had to do puppet shows as part of the Youth Ministry at my church as an early teen. I mean puppet shows? For real? Who the fuck wants to work a puppet in a jesus skit in front of 100 people.

Elumas's avatar

Catholicism and rules, I rejected the people who went around judging you and telling you you’re lost. I am now a Christ-follower. I DON’T think I’m better than anyone else, that the Pope is somehow better than any single person, or that since you did ________ you can never get into heaven and because you did ________ I am some how a better person than you and you don’t deserve my love. I hate fake Christians who say that. We’re not ALL like that. I believe in Christ and I’m not going to tell you you’re wrong not to. My strongest belief when it comes to telling someone about God, is a something like a metaphor:

“You don’t teach a child to walk by telling him not to crawl, why does it seem better to condemn others instead of showing them then.”

Just wanted you to know we’re not all bible-thumping hypocrites.

EnzoX24's avatar

I think it was donations that really pissed my dad off. I’m not sure about his stance on Christianity, but he was pissed when he received donation envelopes in the mail. There were check boxes to mark how much you were donating and the lowest increment was $20. He was furious that they were expecting at least 20 dollars from everyone, twice a mass, and once a week. I’m pretty sure the next and last mass we went two he gave two empty envelopes with nothing checked off.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

The day I realized that life, in every imaginable way, is one giant paradox. When you look at it from a religious point – it’s a paradox. When you look at it from a scientific point – it’s a paradox. I’m agnostic because I do not believe it’s possible to know the answers to life. Maybe I’ll die tomorrow and meet “God”. If that’s the case, the one question I would ask is, “So… Where did you come from then?”. I know that I would get no answer, because there isn’t one to give. And I can’t exactly walk up to science and say, “So… About the Big Bang…”.

I have come to the reluctant conclusion that I will never, ever have the answers that I seek. One of life’s mysteries is that it exists in the first place, when it should be entirely impossible at all.

I remember, when I was about seven, I had a conversation with my sister who is two years older than me, while we were going to bed. I said, “Christie? Where did God come from?” She paused for a few seconds and said, “His parents.”, to which I replied, “Oh. But where did his parents come from?”. As you can imagine, we went down that path for quite a while. That was the day I knew there was no answer. As I got older, I knew science was the same. We can find the origin point for, yes, a few things. But we will never, in any amount of time, find THE origin point… Because like I said, it’s not really possible.

As for multiples lives, or life after death or whatever anyone wants to call it… Entirely possible. To begin with, I don’t necessarily view death as… Well, death. For all I know, it could be the next stage of life. Previous lives? Same thing. Maybe we don’t “die” until we’ve learned enough to move onto the next stage.

… I don’t know. I get pretty far out there with some of my ideas, which is all due to the fact that we’re all living impossibilities. :)

Jeruba's avatar

That realization began to dawn on me when I was 13. I found that when I used my intelligence to look at what I was being taught (in a Protestant denomination), it started to fall apart. Too many things simply made no sense; accepting them required suspension of higher mental processes. Questions of the sort that I had were frowned on and discouraged. And then there was the ladling out of guilt by the bucketload. There was no joy in it. How could you feel secure with your faith if it was so weak that it needed that much protecting and defending? Instead its purpose seemed to be to control people by making them anxious and fearful and to instill virtues that essentially made you more agreeable to others. By the time I was 16 I’d found I could do very nicely without Christianity, and I’ve hardly ever missed it since. Ethics, morality, civility, honesty, trustworthiness, courage, faithfulness, and honor are all values I live by, and they are not rooted in religion.

augustlan's avatar

Well said, Jeruba. Welcome to the collective.

BoyWonder's avatar

why worship the son of God when I can worship God Himself???

cookieman's avatar

@Jeruba: Very good answer.

Welcome fellow Flutherite.

laureth's avatar

When I got old enough to ask questions, I asked them. I read the Bible, and it didn’t add up. How a God that created the whole Universe could worry about such little beings on such a little backward planet, what they ate and drank and who they loved, was beyond me. It was no answer.

When I learned that religion was largely political, so that some of these little people could control other little people, that is when it all fell into place. That makes more sense than a big spirit caring if I went to Church on Saturday or Sunday, or if I ate shrimp or said the Nicean creed.

monsoon's avatar

Also being a raging lesbo helped.

Zuma's avatar

In my case,it is more like a continuing assault. When I was 11 a priest told me that masturbation was a sin. Back then nobody talked about such things, so I spent years in needless guilt and self-loathing for being unable to quit.

When I was in 7th grade a nun told the class that the reason there were locks in the Panama Canal was to prevent the Atlantic Ocean from pouring into the Pacific Ocean. When I explained what the true purpose of the locks was to access a lake in between the two oceans, she took me out in the hall and slapped me in the face, telling me never to contradict a holy person. That day, after school, my classmates beat me up.

In 10th grade, I attended a Catholic boy’s school. One of the brothers overheard a bull session in a bunch of us were practicing our apologetics, where I defending the proposition, “What if God is everywhere?” in the medieval scholastic manner. I was called into the dean’s office, informed that I was promulgating “pantheism,” a heresy, and told that I should either “conform or leave.” So, I left. And, it was one of the best decisions of my life. The kids in public school were much more willing to live-and-let-live, and the teachers practically delirious with appreciation at having an intellectually curious student.

When I was 15, I was in a bad situation and attempted suicide. As I was recovering in a Catholic hospital, the priest who took it upon himself to talk to me didn’t ask what was bothering me, or what he could do, but instead took the opportunity to impress upon me that suicide was a mortal sin.

Around age 20, I became aware that I was gay. But it took me over two years to become reconciled with it because I thought I was the only one. At that time, people concealed their homosexuality. It was still officially considered a mental illness and was still a felony, thanks in large part, due to Christian religious beliefs being enacted into law.

Later I ended up on the wrong side in the War on Drugs, which is basically a form of legalized religious persecution against people choose to experience reality and their own bodies according to their own conscience. The War on Drugs is part of a larger religiously motivated Cultural War, in which the Religious Right is pursuing its agenda of stripping women of their right to control their own reproductive system.

More recently, I’ve encountered religious True Believers in forums such as this who insist that Evolution is “against God” but who seem constitutionally incapable of making a rational argument in favor of their case. In looking deeper into the websites where they get their talking points, I found a network of well-funded groups who are engaged in a public relations campaign to spread scientific disinformation in an attempt to drive a wedge between scientists and the general public.

In Dover, PA, for example, a group of parents sued the local school board for attempting to force the teaching of creationism in high school biology classes, in conscious violation of a Supreme Court ruling prohibiting public schools teaching religion as science. The Creationists lied under oath about the religious nature of the organization that produced the textbooks, about the scientific status of “Intelligent Design,” about deceptively packaging Creationism by calling it “Intelligent Design,” and they lied about where the books came from. The Creationists were so convinced they were in the right, they sent death threats to the parents who brought the suit, and the judge who tried the case.

A few months back, someone posed the question, “If God told you to kill your child (like Abraham and Isaac) would you do it?” Everyone except the Born Again Christians who answered said they would not. And, the chilling part of it is, they were serious. The further we got into it, the more apparent it became that they were totally out of touch with reality.

They all apply the same glib and superficial legalistic reasoning to it. They all leave out the same salient concerns that a more reality-based person would have (like the child’s suffering; how they are going to explain their actions to the police; and the prospect of spending the rest of their lives in prison). All assume that this is a spiritual test—not of their moral integrity, or their love for their fellow man—but a test of their Faith (which they all believe is the sole requirement to their salvation). As a consequence, they are all willing to place a demonstration of their Faith above the life and welfare of their children, above human laws against murder or, indeed, above any other human consideration. And, they are so absolutely certain they are correct, that they take offense when you suggest that it is reprehensible or un-Christian to murder your children. But, rather than conceding that others might have justifiable cause for concern, and offering some argument in their defense, they go on the attack and try to change the subject by claiming that they feel set upon, persecuted, victimized and “insulted” by your “nasty” criticism. They try to make the critic and the criticism the issue.

And, then again just this past week, these same Born Again knuckledraggers managed to get a constitutional amendment passed in California, denying gays equal protection under the law because they happen to regard homosexuality as “sinful.”

When I look back at what George W. Bush has done to this country, his gagging of family planning providers, and his government-funded “faith based initiatives”’s_wrong_with_the_faith-based_initiative.shtml

I can not help but conclude that this form of Christianity is not only not the answer, but is a positive menace to our pluralistic democratic society.

tinyfaery's avatar

I actually read that ↑

Tantigirl's avatar

I read the whole thing too, and I couldn’t be more impressed with what you wrote MontyZuma. In my not so expert opinion, it is right on the money.

augustlan's avatar

Go MontyZuma!

cookieman's avatar

Very well said MontyZuma.

shadling21's avatar

Awesome, Monty.

EnzoX24's avatar

Monty….. wow…...

That may have been the most engaging Fluther answer I’ve ever read. I have never seen such a compelling argument from any side about this issue. If you lead a march against the Hate Mongering Christians, I, along with many others, would be right there behind you.

Zuma's avatar

Thank you. I’m going to think a little bit more about this and let you know what I come up with. I think we can afford to be somewhat more confrontational than we have been, but once you say something like that, there are some people automatically assume that you will go about it in the most stupid possible way.

chutterhanban's avatar

@ MontyZuma: See how well people treat you when you give rational answers? For instance, I am a Christian myself, but I can identify with the things that have happened to you because I know MANY Christians like that who have ruined many lives of my friends and acquaintances. From what I’ve read of your work on this site, I know you probably don’t believe that there are Christians who don’t act like the ones you’ve come across, but there are. Still, no one expects you to suddenly have a change of heart because of one person. Thanks for your good answer.

Edit: I’m in a class right now and writing this while “paying attention” to the professor. Take the individual points for what they’re worth, I know it all doesn’t fit together perfectly.

aidje's avatar

@EnzoX24 and Monty
In my experience as a Christian, much of what you describe would be better classified as fearmongering rather than hatemongering, as if homosexuals were actively hostile towards Christianity. For example, have you read Focus on the Family’s “Letter from 2012”? It draws a picture of a four-years-from-now persecution of Christians brought on by such things as homosexual marriage and subsequent further advances of the alleged homosexual agenda. It’s quite a ridiculous letter, but there are people who actually believe those things. If you react to the fearmongering by going on the offensive, then you will only confirm and intensify the fear.

monsoon's avatar

@aidje, what do you suggest is better than offense?

aidje's avatar

It’s good to fight for one’s rights and for the rights of others. That doesn’t require that one attack the people who would take those rights away. Push for the rights, but do it in a peaceful manner. Monty said in another thread, “I further commit myself to … protesting any public display or expression of their beliefs.” That is way over the line, and all it would do is confirm that their fears are justified. As it stands, their fears are just silly. There’s no reason to legitimize the fears.

Fight for, not against.

theloveprophet's avatar

I was filled with the Holy Spirit when I was 16. Though I was extremely skeptical of the power of the Holy Spirit (I had seen it abused before in the church), it happened to me. I honestly couldn’t believe it.
From that day forward, I studied the Bible like never before.
The thing that gets me the most is the mathematical probability of Jesus fulfilling all the prophesy that the Old Testament said he would.
So that’s the very very watered down version of why I am a Christian today.

monsoon's avatar

@aidje, I see. When I read a bit more closely, I realize that he said he would march against hate mongering. Definately, I agree with you. I plane on attending the national gay rights protest this saturday, and on one forum on the subject, some one suggest we organize a group to protest at some big mormon parade that’s going to happen soon (or something), which to me seems so totally counter productive.

However, there are also people who say that we are wasting our time protesting at all, that it’s not going to change any one’s mind, the people have spoken, blah blah blah. I thought you were voicing one of those opinions, but I see now what you mean.

What they don’t realize, I think, is that demonstrating a lot of the time is 50%to make change, and 50% so that I don’t go crazy from feeling silent, and like I have no impact on the world.

But yes, being pro-tolerance is far more productive than being anti-bigotry.

Zuma's avatar


“protesting any public display or expression of their beliefs.” That is way over the line, and all it would do is confirm that their fears are justified.”

First of all, the beliefs I am talking about here are not those of compassionate Love-Thy-Neighbor Christianity, but the I-have-a-perfect-right-to-legislate-my-morality True Believer form of Christianity that now plagues our public life.

Second, I am talking about protest here not prohibition; so it is only by way of selective hearing that you could regard it as “over the line.” What I am talking about protesting are things like the gag order on family planning providers which prevents them from discussing abortion as an option. Or, the “abstinence only” programs that Christians foist off on teenagers in lieu of contraception. Both of these are as religious intrusions into public policy. I think these things need to be vigorously protested until they are defunded and whither away—hopefully, never to be brought up again in public life.

If True Believing Christians are going to be scared out of their wits because I (or others) refuse to remain silent—who speak up so that their silence won’t be mistaken for consent—then they are going to selectively hear things, and get them all twist around, no matter what—especially if their leadership lies to them, as they tend to do. If they are going to feel persecuted by mere protest, then let them freak out and show the world just how tragically out of touch with reality they are.

I will make the case later on that the Religious Right, as exemplified by James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and the Neo-Cons is actually promoting a form of fascism that is incompatible with compassionate Christianity as most of us understand it. These are not people who respect the democratic values of tolerance, equality, diversity, freedom of speech, or freedom of religion—in fact, they lump them all together and sneeringly deride them as “liberalism.” These folks have just won a major victory over gays; they are not in any mood to engage in dialogue.

Zuma's avatar


“The thing that gets me the most is the mathematical probability of Jesus fulfilling all the prophesy that the Old Testament said he would.”

Mathematical probability? Prophesy? Now I really don’t mean to be mean (after all he looks like such a sweet kid), but I would feel totally embarrassed to blurt out such a statement that was so illogical on its face, and also a complete non sequitur. It would appear that our religious friend, being in the thrall of the Holy Spirit, no longer feels any obligation to be appropriate or to make sense.

For the most part, we tend to tolerate these assaults on reason. But, when we do, we convey to him and to others like him that the norms of rationality and conversational appropriateness don’t apply to him, and that he is perfectly free to not make sense. In this, I think he may be ill served by our tolerance since, if he is never challenged, he may come to believe that he is making sense when he isn’t.

If no one speaks up, the norms of rationality go undefended, irrationality becomes the norm, and people lose the ability to tell when they are—and are not—making sense. People become incapable of intellectual honesty, and they become unaccountable to others in more serious ways.

monsoon's avatar

Monty, What’s wrong with him being amazed by something? There are some few hundred prophesies in the old testament which Jesus fullfilled, if you believe what the Bible says is true, or at least part of what the Bible says is true. Nothing wrong with that. I thought he was voicing one of nicest Christian comments I’ve seen on fluther.

No need to talk to people like they’re dumb. When you know what the absolute truth of everything is then you go ahead and complain about irrationality becoming the norm. As if 99% of our perception isn’t a farce anyway.

EnzoX24's avatar

The big assumption here is that Jesus actually fulfilled the prophecies. No one knows for sure. And if he did, to what extent did he accomplish them?

monsoon's avatar

Can you prove he didn’t? Nothing can be proven true, only false, so it isn’t really his responsibility to prove it happened before he can believe it.

And what do you mean “to what extent…”? They were things like he wouldn’t have his legs broken when he was killed, he wouldn’t be born a king, I don’t know them all.

EnzoX24's avatar

I’m not exactly sure of all of the prophecies so I don’t know how in depth they went. And I even went as far to say that no one knows.

Zuma's avatar

I was making two points: 1) The statement is itself nonsensical. Mathematical probability has nothing to do with fulfilling scriptural prophecy. This is not a case of monkeys banging on keyboards and producing the works of Shakespeare in the fullness of time. Prophecies are not fulfilled through stochastic (probabilistic) processes, and to make such a statement is self-contradictory on several levels. 2) His amazement, while undoubtedly genuine, has nothing to do with either the original topic or the topic as it has developed.


“When you know what the absolute truth of everything is then you go ahead and complain about irrationality becoming the norm.”

And now I’ll make a third: The idea that only someone who knows “the absolute truth of everything” can determine what is rational and irrational is to place rationality outside the realm of human possibility. It negates, in a very radical way, the very possibility of rationality. Indeed, it excuses oneself from having to make sense, so that one can believe or profess any sort of nonsense without having to answer for it to one’s fellow man. This goes beyond asserting one’s right to hold beliefs that are ignorant or wrong; this denies that there are any standards for rational belief whatsoever.

Now I can live with a Christianity where people take leaps of faith and humbly to hold their beliefs in private. But I do have difficulty with a Christianity that attacks rationality in what amounts to a public demand that other people accept their beliefs as valid. In other words, it is one thing to accept the Bible as absolute truth, it is quite another to assert that only God is competent to decide whether it is rational to do so.

tinyfaery's avatar

if Jesus was/is the Messiah we’d all be Jewish and living in a heaven on earth.

fireside's avatar

My own experience was like Monty’s in many ways.
I’m not gay, but still a sinner by Biblical standards.

However, all it did was lead me to the belief that I should not have faith in egotistical people who wrapped themselves in their own beliefs and lashed out at any possible disturbance to their world view. I’ve seen those same people in business and it has nothing to do with their religion.

@ Monty – do you also have a problem with the “the I-have-a-perfect-right-to-legislate-my-morality True Believer” type of person who is not centered around their religion? I think there are plenty of examples of political malfeasance in all arenas.

Zuma's avatar


“do you also have a problem with the “the I-have-a-perfect-right-to-legislate-my-morality True Believer” type of person who is not centered around their religion?”

I’m not sure exactly what you are thinking of, but yes I do. There is a kind of economic fundamentalism called free market fundamentalism, which is an almost religious belief that governments are superfluous because free markets, if left to themselves, will solve all of society’s problems. Its also been called “trickle down economics,” laissez faire capitalism, neoliberalism, and Chicago School economics.

Deregulation, smaller government, lower taxation, and other policies empowering corporations at the expense of natural individuals, are the cornerstones of this belief system. In terms of legislation and policy, it tends to be against unionization, the minimum wage, social security, insurance and social programs, consumer protections, and environmental legislation.

The recent financial meltdown has essentially discredited this belief system among policy elites, but it does still have some currency among Americans who don’t have much formal training in economics but who pick it up through conservative politics and business-oriented media. An excellent must-read book on the subject is Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine.

fireside's avatar

Great answer.
Just wanted to make sure we were in agreement that people can be ideologues in more arenas than religion. Has this financial crisis turned you away from Economics? Or is there still hope?

Zuma's avatar


“Has this financial crisis turned you away from Economics?”

No, I think its very important to study, especially as people bandy the word socialism around in the context of solving the financial crisis.

monsoon's avatar

@monty, Of course, we are together in dislike of the Christian right trying to control people’s live which have nothing to do with themselves or their faith, but I am simply saying that you attacked some one’s comment who was doing neither, you simply attacked him because you didn’t like how he believed in something. What is the difference?

And as far as rationality goes, we are going to have to disagree. You sarcastically came upon something that I fundamentally believe; That truth, and rationality, are simply out of reach for anyone whose rationale and reason are weighed down by perception. I have very firm beliefs (for instance that gravity will always make things go down, here on this planet), but I would never claim that I am very close to being right about anything. If I did that, I would be just like them. I am always open to being wrong, and open to other people possibly being right.

amurican's avatar

Circumciision and condoms. If you ask me that’s pretty limp.

Zuma's avatar


“I am simply saying that you attacked some one’s comment who was doing neither, you simply attacked him because you didn’t like how he believed in something.”

I think you misperceive, and therefore mischaracterize, what’s going on here. In my view, one of the reasons that the Christian Right is able push its beliefs onto others without the slightest pang of conscience, is because they don’t see anything wrong with them. If nobody challenges them, they get the idea that their beliefs make perfect sense. They also get the false impression that these ideas are unproblematic and widely shared.

Now, in this case, I don’t know if theloveprophet is for or against my civil rights, but I do know that he doesn’t feel the slightest embarrassment at making patently illogical and inappropriate statements. In challenging him on these grounds I am not attacking either him or his beliefs. I am simply insisting that he live up to the same standards of intellectual rigor that we hold one another to in this conversation and elsewhere in this forum.

“You sarcastically came upon something that I fundamentally believe[:] That truth, and rationality, are simply out of reach for anyone whose rationale and reason are weighed down by perception.”

It saddens me to hear that you are reading sarcasm into my statements. That only makes it all the more difficult to point out that your statement above makes very little sense. What, for example, does “whose rationale and reason are weighed down by perception” mean?

In my view, people who argue that rationality is unattainable are essentially trying to justify intellectual dishonesty. And, in so doing, are attempting to render themselves unaccountable to their fellow man. In my experience, this all too often is a prelude to obliterating the distinction between fact and opinion, and between wishful thinking and thinking.

monsoon's avatar

Just because you don’t understand what I’m saying doesn’t mean it doesn’t make any sense.

There’s an example of what I mean.

Zuma's avatar


Fortunately, this is a testable proposition. Just because you think it makes sense to you doesn’t mean that it makes sense to anyone else. I submit to you that a “rationale weighed down by perception” is a nonsensical phrase.

I ask others to help us out here. What, if anything, does the following phrase mean?

”... truth, and rationality, are simply out of reach for anyone whose rationale and reason are weighed down by perception.”

Jeruba's avatar

I…think…it means don’t let facts get in the way of your faith?

amurican's avatar

@MontyZuma, Whew! for a minute there I thought you were talking about me. That takes me off the hook so I’m free to thank God for all his little child molesters!

shadling21's avatar

Wow. Thanks for the entertainment, folks! I’m not going to get my hands dirty here, though. Carry on!

Zuma's avatar

Seriously, what is the literal meaning of this phrase?

”... truth, and rationality, are simply out of reach for anyone whose rationale and reason are weighed down by perception.”

Jeruba's avatar

A person does not have rationale. Assuming that the intended word is “rationality,” we have a notion here of reason and rationality being weighed down by something that has no mass, namely, perception. Since it can’t be literal, we are being asked to think of perception as analogous to something that has mass and can weigh something down. To do that, it would have to have characteristics that lend metaphorical heaviness (such as sadness, perhaps, or slowness), but none of those work with perception. Perception is an act and does not possess qualities.

But for the sake of argument let’s suppose that perception were a thing having qualities. Being unable to identify those qualities literally, we have to assign a quality x to perception that has the capability of somehow impeding or impairing reason and rationality. To do so, x would have to act in opposition to reason and rationality because we are being told that this weighing down is making truth and rationality unattainable.

So in order for this proposition to make sense we must grant that the power of perception is the adversary of truth and rationality and acts to oppose reason and rationality.

Since perception involves sensory evidence, meaning whatever extent of objective “reality” we can apprehend by means of the physical senses as mediated by the mental faculties, what we have here is an assertion that objectively observable data are the enemy of truth.

In other words—it’s a matter of facts interfering with a notion of truth. Which is pretty much what I said before.

If you do not grant that objectively observable data are the enemy of truth, then you can’t accept the stipulation on which this assertion is based. In that case, you do not understand truth to be something that is impaired by empirical observation. If you take the opposite position, then, that truth is somehow allied with objectively verifiable data, you must reject the notion that it is weighed down by perception and instead hypothesize that it is uplifted by perception.

From this I conclude that the statement either has no meaning, has only poetic meaning, or has meaning that is private to the speaker and therefore can’t be treated as a relevant datum in a public debate.

shadling21's avatar

It says that if a person relies heavily on their perception (their senses), truth and rationality are not accessible to that person. Which is ridiculous, because all the knowledge gained is through perception in some form or another, and how else would any human become rational or understand truth? Also the usage of the words “rationality” against “rationale”... strange…

I may be incorrect in saying this, but I’ll throw it out there, anyhow… I gather that this sentence is supposed to back up the view that atheists are unwilling to look beyond perceived reality and consider “higher” forms of being such as gods. This view is in and of itself false, since many atheists support scientific progress, which challenges and tests our perception of reality (allowing us to “see” inside the atom, or develop a concept of the universe), while historically it has been religious institutions that delay scientific progress (re: the whole sun-revolving-around-the-earth fiasco).

Atheists refuse to “believe” anything without sufficient scientific evidence, while theists sacrifice rationality to blind faith, so the sentence is completely skewed.

augustlan's avatar

Shadling…I see some dirty hands! Well said.

asmonet's avatar

shadling, we’re getting married. You have no choice in the matter.

Zuma's avatar


My interpretation of monsoon’s basic point is that unless you know of the ultimate truth of things, you can’t really know whether any given statement makes sense. And, hence, you can’t ever legitimately take anybody to task for not making sense.

To illustrate his point, he refers to his statement that, “truth and rationality are out of reach for anyone whose rationale and reason are weighed down by perception” and asserts that this does in fact make sense, its just my inability to understand that makes it seem nonsensical. He implies that since the fault is with me, he is under no obligation to explain himself or otherwise make sense.

In my view, whatever sense monsoon may have had in mind doesn’t come across in any unambiguous way. The reader has to entertain several hypotheses of what he might have meant, in order to infer whether the words are being used correctly, and then, whether they are being used in a literal or metaphorical sense. In other words, the reader has to bootstrap the several possible meanings of the statement by parsing each word, in an attempt infer from context, which words may have been misused, and then substitute more proper terms in an attempt to resolve the ambiguities and internal contradictions within the statement into one coherent idea.

Asking you folks to interpret the statement was a kind of reality check, in which you employ your linguistic sense-making skills to see if you can “crack” the sense being conveyed. And, it looks to me, as it does to you, that the statement either has no meaning, has only poetic meaning, or has a meaning that is private to the speaker. Indeed, I question whether the statement even has meaning for the speaker.

Now, the point of all this is that you don’t have to know the ultimate truth of things in order to be able to tell if someone is making sense. One knows absolutely and for sure if something makes sense to you, and one can get a pretty good idea if it makes sense in a general, normative or “common sense” way. And, if you are uncertain, you can always ask for a reality check from your peers.

So, you don’t have to put up with people who blurt out inappropriate and nonsensical statements on the off-chance that they might be making sense in some secret and private meaning. It is therefore legitimate to challenge people when they do, since making sense is a minimum requirement of being sane, and communicating clearly is a minimum requirement of being taken seriously. One can not be intellectually honest if one can not tell sense from nonsense, so it is incumbent on us all to hold one another to account. Making sense keeps us grounded in reality which, in turn, is essential to our individual and collective survival.

shadling21's avatar

@august- I couldn’t resist!

@asmonet- I’m yours. <smooch>

@Monty- I’m impressed at the lengths to which you went to make your point (and the degree to which our conversation has evolved). I fully agree that the statement didn’t make sense, and that it is everyone’s responsibility to make the meaning of their words clear. I usually just ignore people who don’t make sense. Do you regularly call people on their BS (or their well-intended, badly-communicated messages)?

I realize now that my earlier post had some errors in it, but I’m too tired to fix them. O wellz.

fireside's avatar

My take on this is:

Mind junkie clears away openness and duality offers limitless motion while at one time or another debunking everything and yet not everything but still it might be better suited when terms used are more full of likeness to fleeting thoughts based on inter-vined ivy that clings while growing.

Zuma's avatar


” Do you regularly call people on their BS (or their well-intended, badly-communicated messages)?”

Life is too short to address every little perceived mistake, blunder, error and vagary. So, as a practical matter, I try to limit myself to cases where the person seems genuinely misled and likely to mislead others; or he is trying to argue that his nonsense actually makes sense—i.e., his fantasy is reality; his opinions are facts—or that there is no such thing as rationality or, if there is, it is “elitist” to speak of it. On the other hand, I have been very privileged to have had an elite education, so I feel I have a duty to educate others whenever I can.

In the case of theloveprophet above, I took his statement to be an attempt to normalize his religious nonsense and the illogic by which he claims to have arrived at it. As I see it, in sharing with us he is engaged in a form of “witnessing” to an alleged religious truth. It is both an invitation for us to join him, and a request for a reality check. If nobody questions him, he concludes that its perfectly appropriate to talk about his encounter with the Holy Spirit in front of strangers who are having a conversation about something else.

As for fireside and amurican above, they appear to be playfully riffing off of the topic. No one is being misled

laureth's avatar

Re: ”... truth, and rationality, are simply out of reach for anyone whose rationale and reason are weighed down by perception.”

Ever see “The Matrix?” I mean the original, since I’ve never seen the rest. To review, in this movie, Neo perceives the world in a way he believes to be real until his perception is shifted to see a larger reality and learns that the world he thought was real is just a computer-generated illusion. Let’s call the computer-generated reality the “little box” that fits inside the “bigger box” of the fight for Zion. (These terms come from the term “thought box,” which comes from the saying “thinking outside the box.” The box is defined as the limits to which we’re willing to think.)

What the speaker of the original quotation up there ^^ means, in my opinion, is that what you see and determine to be Truth is going to be colored by what you already believe, and by what you want to see. If I am walking down a strange street at night and I see someone coming towards me, that fact may be colored by a memory of a previous mugging, making me perceive “a threatening man coming to attack me,” which, although I react as if that’s a Truth, may not be: he may just be a policeman making sure I’m safe. In this way, my perception of the situation weighed me down from seeing the Truth of the situation, which is simply someone walking home and was no threat to me.

In the discussions I’ve had with both Christians and Atheists, I see both camps believing that the other camp just needs to break out of its little Thought Box and into a bigger Thought Box. Christians seem to believe that Atheists don’t wish, or are unable, to perceive the reality of a Supreme Being beyond all the physical reality that we’re used to – they believe that the Atheist view is akin to Neo’s computer-based “reality” and that God is the Reality he sees after taking the pill. On the other hand, Atheists seem to believe that the Christian Thought Box is small and the borders are defined by a book written by lots of people in many languages that they are unwilling to see beyond, whereas if they could just see their religion as the fairy tale that it is, they could get past that Box and into the Bigger Box of objective, observable Reality.

In other words, each side is accusing the other of their preconceived notions obscuring observable Truth. The Christian, with a preconceived notion (through faith) that there must be a Supreme Being, takes all the world as evidence for this Truth. The Atheist, with the preconceived notion (through testing) that there is no Supreme Being, looks at the world and sees no proof for a God. It’s all based on what one takes as proof. Some, like those who favor science, require testing, touching, tasting, thinking. Some, like those who favor religion, prefer “revealed truths” and their own flavor of logic to back it up.

Zuma's avatar

I agree that your deconstruction and reconstruction of maroon’s statement may be close to what he was trying to say. But this is, of course, a kind of hypothesis about what he might have meant rather than what he actually said?

Let’s, for the sake of argument, posit that is what he was trying to get at. Does it make sense? Are you by advancing an argument from Christian presuppositional apologetics seriously suggesting that because both the secular/scientific and Christian worldviews rest on a set of preconceptions that they are both somehow equivalent and equally valid?

Are you saying that our secular/scientific worldview, built up through the reality-testing methods of science, carries the same credibility and truth value as a handed-down mythology whose proofs depend on unverified “miracles” and the testimony of biased observers? Are you saying that it is reasonable, even rational, to believe that the world is only 6,000 to 8,000 years old instead of 4.5 billion years?

Are you saying that there is no way to tell which “Thought Box” is based on reality and which is based on wishful thinking? Are you saying that Faith is a method for determining Truth?—that believing in a thing makes it so?

I hope that you realize that what you are proposing here is a far more radical denial of reality-testing and sense-making than anyone has proposed in this discussion.

laureth's avatar

@Monty: I am not suggesting it’s valid. You asked what he was trying to say, and I was trying to perhaps explain it better in terms that could help you see where he’s coming from. Personally, I don’t think they’re equally valid at all, but I can see how a person like that might think they are.

I am not proposing anything of the sort; I merely interpret and explain.

Jeruba's avatar

A person who draws conclusions based on objectively verifiable data can have those conclusions validated by others by the process of reobserving the same data and/or by gathering new data. The results of the check will either confirm or deny the first set of conclusions, may refine the conclusions, introduce new testable hypotheses, etc. It’s an iterative process, public and collaborative and replicable.

A person who bases conclusions on subjective experience may indeed arrive at some kind or truth or even The Truth. But because no one else can (by definition) share that subjective experience, there is no way for the person’s conclusions to be tested, much less proved. Anyone is entitled to all the truth of this kind that he or she wants, but it’s impossible to submit this testimony to others as evidence of anything but the fact that the person believes it. So there is really no point in discussing it.

Someone who observes and tests sensory data may also be a person who has and believes in subjective experience and draws conclusions from it, and there is nothing wrong with that. But one kind of knowledge should not be confused with the other.

fireside's avatar

I remember my brother-in-law telling me about the stock market once.
He said no matter how long I spend analyzing Profit and Loss statements, earnings forecasts, market conditions and other data I still can’t pick stocks with the same kind of success your dad has with just his instinct.

I agree with Jeruba, there are too many factors to try and compare different mental models. Me telling someone they are wrong for having their beliefs is just as wrong as them saying I am wrong for not having their beliefs or for having my own beliefs.

It’s all that mind junkie getting in the way.

aidje's avatar

I think that Laureth’s interpretation and explanation of previous thoughts is excellent, except for one thing: the suggestion that athiests’ preconceptions are objective. The whole point is that they aren’t objective—but no one else’s are, either. Everything must be interpreted to be experienced. Even with scientific process, there are still assumptions at play.

edit: On third reading, I see that laureth may have in fact said that. I thought that she had implied that, well… what I mentioned above. But maybe she didn’t intend to imply that.

laureth's avatar

If I hold a ruler up to a blempglorf, and the blempglorf measures twelve inches, that is an objective measurement. Someone else can hold up a ruler and measure the same thing. On this basis can we observe the world and come to a conclusion that blempglorfs are twelve inches long.

You could argue that everyone’s ruler is different, or that everyone’s blempglorf is different, or say that what we see with our eyes might not be what the ruler is measuring, or say that God is changing our perception and is only making us think that blempglorfs are twelve inches, but this is all introducing unmeasurable things into the equation. We can’t make very good decisions about how many blempglorfs can fit in my living room if we don’t all see that they’re twelve inches. If you base your decisions on the premise that we can’t really measure blempglorfs, and that if we do, we can’t count on the measurement (even if every scientist in the world gets the same result), what is the point of measuring blempglorfs at all?

The objective fact that you can measure blempglorfs is known as science. Science, in its purest form, is nothing other than measuring different blempglorfs and testing how blempglorfs behave in different conditions. It is firm data that can be used as the basis for further thought. It makes sense. Even if assumptions are made, they are given a chance to be proven false, and this, through trial by fire, is how truths emerge.

If you believe that nothing is objective, that even science is just a big collection of (what might be) blempglorfs viewed through funhouse mirrors that disappear when you go to measure them, you will probably not come to conclusions that dovetail with what the rational folks know: that blempglorfs are twelve inches long. While it is your right to do so, it is also our right to think you’re a little looney.

The observation the everyone has different-length footlong rulers that might measure differently according to ones’ assumptions doesn’t hold water when compared to the fact that all foot-long rulers are a foot long. You can cast doubt on the scientific method, but that is to misunderstand the scientific method.

What I tried to imply is that a Christian may see the Atheist as being as out-of-rational-whack as the Atheist sees the Christian, but I don’t give that any credence in reality – I can just see it as if I’m looking from that view. I was playing Jesus’ advocate, if you will. I’m a science-lovin’, gay-marriage-yes-votin’, socially-liberal-leanin’, big ol’ atheist. I don’t need to believe the Bible to be able to speak Christianese.

aidje's avatar

I have no problem with any of your basic assumptions, and I’m totally willing to agree that, following those assumptions, blempglorfs are twelve inches long. I also agree with you that anyone who doesn’t share those same basic assumptions is a little whacked in the head. I like those assumptions. I think they’re very good ones.

aidje's avatar

Please, please, please don’t conflate Christianity and Creationism. I realize that it was Christians who did it first, but you don’t have to make the same error.

Jeruba's avatar

I have to agree with aidje that we must be careful how we fling the term “Christian” around and not attach a string of other assumptions to it on the basis of prejudices of our own. Because of my upbringing, I know and can name Christian liberals, Christian conservative Republicans and Democrats, Christian physicists and chemists and biologists, Christian intellectuals, and Christian Buddhists. If we think we can lump Christians together and know all about what they think and believe on the basis of a label, we are not doing a very good job of practicing rational thought.

laureth's avatar

I would like to see how a Christian Buddhist explains things. The beliefs, at first glance, seem unable to be blended.

That said, I know “Christi-Pagans” who seem to be able to believe in both Jesus’ divinity and in some flavor of Paganism, and while I’m mystified by that, it suits them fine. It takes all kinds, I guess.

I really would like to hear about Heaven vs Nirvana, though. And how the doctrine of resurrection meshes with the idea that the body (among other things) is illusion. And how the Great Commission (and the wars fought in the name of converting the Infidel) can be simultaneously as valid as the idea of trying to minimize or end suffering for your fellow creatures. Yes, Christian Buddhism sounds interesting indeed.

Jeruba's avatar

Zen Buddhism has a way of being compatible with a lot of things. I know a Jesuit Buddhist too. And have you ever heard of the book The Jew in the Lotus?

Jeruba's avatar

And Buddhist atheists.

laureth's avatar

Buddhist-Atheist I can understand, to a large degree. There’s a fine line between “God is nothing” and “God is everything.”

Zuma's avatar


“I am not suggesting [monsoon’s statement is] valid. You asked what he was trying to say, and I was trying to perhaps explain it better in terms that could help you see where he’s coming from.”

Actually, I was asking for an interpretation of what the phrase literally meant, in order to settle a controversy over whether it made any literal sense. In offering your interpretation of what he may have been trying to get at, you muddy up the reality check I am calling for. You not only attribute a coherent meaning to this nonsensical phrase, you attribute to him the most sophisticated possible meaning. An uncareful, hurried reader—like many on this forum—would be inclined to simply follow your lead and mistake “trying to get at” for “literally said.”

“Personally, I don’t think they’re equally valid at all, but…”

No, but you just presented them as such. As I have said before in other discussion, what you don’t say counts as much as what you do.

If you go back and reread the last two paragraphs of your post, you lay it all out… Atheists say this, Christians say that; one Thought Box says this, the other one says that. And then you stop. You leave the argument right there. How is the reader to know the two are not equivalent? You don’t explain that the argument you have just brought up comes from a sophisticated Christian critique of postmodernism—nor do you explain how the specious equivalence just posited leads one into a quagmire of subjectivity and relativity.

And, laureth, do you really think I don’t know where maroon is coming from?

By the way, I would prefer not to cast this debate in terms of “Atheists” vs. “Christians,” since it unfairly conflates mainstream compassionate Christianity with the True Believing Phariseeism of Born Again Christians whom, I think, have unfairly appropriated the term “Christian.”

Zuma's avatar

“I think that Laureth’s interpretation and explanation of previous thoughts is excellent, except for one thing: the suggestion that atheists’’ preconceptions are objective. The whole point is that they aren’t objective—but no one else’s are, either. Everything must be interpreted to be experienced. Even with scientific process, there are still assumptions at play.”

Exactly right. The idea that science consists of perceptions, measurement, and verifying sensory data is so… well, 19th Century. What modern scientists are actually engaged in is theory building which, of course, necessarily entails theory testing, but which does not necessarily rely upon sensory information. We can not, for example, directly perceive the atom. We can only make predictions as to how an atom might manifest when bombarded with a known quantity of energy and observe whether those predictions come true. In this respect, our perceptions are literally shaped by our theories.

Over time we may develop more comprehensive theories, which literally change our perceptions (as in the world before and after the discovery of perspective). Whole bodies of knowledge consist of theoretical constructs (e.g., atoms, molecules) held together by theoretical relationships (e.g., electromagnetism, gravity, etc.). Also, science is no longer mechanistic and reductionistic. It now includes the study of dynamic systems—things like “mind,” “society,” economies, ecosystems, and life itself—things which transcend the individual.

Our sense of truth is ultimately subjective, in that it reflects a kind of statistical confidence in the predictive efficacy of our knowledge base, but that sense of confidence is very well founded. So, even though our reality-tested world is not grounded in a fixed and absolute truth, it is nonetheless grounded in a pragmatic reality—which is true enough for all practical purposes. And that applies to all the nonscientific disciplines that contribute to secular knowledge as well.

In contrast, Christianity is based on a set of narratives which comprise a kind of literary truth. The Golden Rule, for example, isn’t an empirical fact; nonetheless it is an insight into human relationships that does have a verifiable pragmatic utility. However, the proposition that there is a supernatural being that somehow directs our lives may give some internal coherence to the narrative, but it certainly runs counter to the rest of human knowledge.

I have no doubt that there are people who think they talk to God, but what they are actually doing is likely quite another matter. After all, if praying to God made any difference, then believers would undoubtedly show statistically significant differences in health, wealth and longevity, and everybody would be doing it. But they simply don’t.

Zuma's avatar

“I remember my brother-in-law telling me about the stock market once. He said no matter how long I spend analyzing Profit and Loss statements, earnings forecasts, market conditions and other data I still can’t pick stocks with the same kind of success your dad has with just his instinct.”

This is an unfounded assertion. There is 65 years worth of experimental data in the field of decision theory which prove otherwise. People who play their hunches almost always do worse than people who play the odds or who use a formally correct estimation technique. Intuition, when it works, is almost always the internalization of a much more cumbersome formal analytical method.

“I agree with Jeruba, there are too many factors to try and compare different mental models. Me telling someone they are wrong for having their beliefs is just as wrong as them saying I am wrong for not having their beliefs or for having my own beliefs.”

I think that Jeruba is talking about subjective literary truths here and, in that sense, I agree. But I think that Christian True Believers conflate literary truths with empirical truths, leading to egregiously wrong assertions such as the earth being only 6,000 years old. In my view, I think we are obliged to step up and object—especially if this is part of a belief system that is being used to justify the teaching of Creationism in public schools, or depriving others of their civil rights.

fireside's avatar

@monty – Intuition, when it works, is almost always the internalization of a much more cumbersome formal analytical method.

That’s funny, I would describe faith in much the same way.

Zuma's avatar

Except that faith is not an analytical method, it is wishful thinking.

fireside's avatar

But still useful, no?
Is that capacity just some genetic mistake or does it serve a broader human purpose?

Where would art or literature or even theoretical science be without a little wishful thinking?

Zuma's avatar


“But still useful, no?”

I’m all in favor of art, literature and fiction, so long as people don’t confuse it with reality, or substitute wishful thinking for thinking.

And I’m even in favor of faith in things like the inherent goodness of one’s fellow man—i.e., that if I extend you credit, you will pay me back if you can—the faith that underlies credit and money. Or that if I love my spouse, my spouse will love me back. In other words, I find nothing wrong with good faith beliefs, or in believing reasonable things.

But I just can’t countenance belief in impossible things, or the notion that faith is a method that can produce a result that is superior to the scientific method. I particularly abhor the use of faith to justify noxious moral acts, such as the genocides perpetrated by people who believed themselves to be God’s Chosen People. I am afraid that in cases like these, usefulness is not a very good argument.

fireside's avatar

Ok, as long as you are not conflating evil, amoral acts done for the purposes of power or prestige with regular people of faith who look to God as a moral compass that gives them a center in their lives which enables them to do good acts.

Not everyone has the capacity to intellectualize their reasons for doing good. Attacking their faith, rather than the perversion of their faith, is not working towards a reasonable solution.

Plus, judging the usefulness of religion is like judging the usefulness of science, should it be disavowed because of the evils that have stemmed from it?
Or are there positive benefits too?

Zuma's avatar


“judging the usefulness of religion is like judging the usefulness of science, should it be disavowed because of the evils that have stemmed from it?”

I think we have finally found some common ground. To the degree that religion can inspire people to love one another, I am all for it. But that is an invitation to a change of heart, not so much as an invitation to belief.

Much of modern Protestantism is founded on the premise that Faith alone is necessary (and apparently sufficient) for salvation. I’ve seen people argue quite strenuously in forums like this that good works are not enough—even inconsequential—that what really matters is whether you acknowledge Jesus Christ by name as your Lord and Savior. In other words, it is this act of fealty and not the love in your heart that counts in the end.

We commonly assume that religious people are somehow morally better than their non-religious counterparts and that it is their religion that makes them so. But this has not always been my experience. I recount my experiences in junior high above where this was emphatically not the case. On the other hand, I have encountered religious communities that cultivate the highest moral aspirations of Christianity—the Quakers and the Maryknolls—who put their lives at risk to speak truth to power, and to minister to the world’s poor and sick.

I contrast that to the carefully crafted, choreographed, and stage-lit spectacles slickly packaged and niche-marketed religious experiences found in the nations mega-churches. Here, religion has been reduced to a form of entertainment—a marketable commodity—where, for a small donation, the stage managers can step you through a sequence crowd exercises until your sense of individuality breaks down and your ego merges into the excited crowd, where you are encouraged to believe that the energy you sense is you being “touched” by the Holy Spirit.

Now, I don’t mean to belittle the value of stepping outside yourself from time to time, but it doesn’t necessarily make you a better, more moral person. These exercises in hyper-reality can be highly manipulative. They can make you feel special and privileged, even superior, to those who are not so “blessed.” They create a strong sense of we-feeling which lowers the individual’s resistance to propaganda (which is why the Nazis made a virtual science out of mass rallies). It can become a vehicle for demonizing whole classes of people—liberals, homosexual and other “sinners”—and encourage you to engage in “us” against “them” thinking, which becomes a prelude to recruiting you into a holy war of “good” against “evil.”

These ego-less states are liberating, pleasurable and addictive. Unfortunately, in the wrong hands, they can and do channel people into incipient forms of fascism. So, in this respect, I do not see religion (or science) as above criticism. I think it fair to ask whether a given religion morally improves the person who subscribes to it—or if it is compatible with our civic values of tolerance, diversity, equality, intellectual honesty, and human dignity. If not, I see no reason why someone should enjoy a blanket presumption of moral rectitude.

dynamicduo's avatar

My parents had some bad experiences with religion while growing up, so they took the hands-off approach with their children. I went to a supposedly “non-religious” church-organized day camp for a few days until my parents caught the man preaching about hell and damnation, they took me out of that quickly. I’ve been in churches of all types for other family events. If I was interested, my mother would take me to church. I really feel this was appropriate for them to do – as Richard Dawkins advocates, children should not be made to worship the same religion as their parents, as children have not developed the cognitive ability to make a rational decision for themselves.

Ultimately what it boiled down to was that I simply wasn’t interested. I don’t feel the need to have a religion. I believe in myself, my abilities, and my potential, that’s been all the faith I’ve required. I don’t look down on others for needing religion just as I wouldn’t look down on an injured person for needing to use a crutch. However I do take issue when a religious party feels the need to force THEIR views and opinions on others.

toyhyena's avatar

I was like 11 or something, and I was really into dinosaurs, and I wanted to know why the Bible didn’t mention dinosaurs at all. I think I asked like 4 adults ‘till I just decided something was up. That was the start of it at least. :b

tiffyandthewall's avatar

i was raised going to a christian church, and when my mother started to go less, i naturally started going less as well, as i was only in 6th grade or so. but i kind of started having my doubts before that. i never really took my religion into consideration, it just came naturally. when i started to think for myself though, i just felt that i couldn’t truthfully go to church and claim that i still believed in this higher being that we were singing for and reading a giant book out of. i think it was one of those things, at that age, that i claimed to be really into, but i wasn’t. i involved myself in it because that was what i was expected to do, and it wasn’t until i realized that religion was a serious thing and that not everyone believed in mine that i thought maybe i should think about it more than i did.

i still have not like, put my foot down on the matter, i haven’t said “OKAY, god is definitely not real”. i’m agnostic at best in this situation, but even if i do start to really believe in ‘god’ again, i doubt that i’ll go to a church of any kind, or define myself by any sort of organized religion. i do still hold the church i went to in high regards – the people were lovely for the most part, and it was a relatively open-minded church – but when i do go there for the odd holiday and read the church newspaper, i cannot help but feel completely out of place when they highlight ‘wins’ like gay marriage being banned, etc. i know that i have morals and strong opinions on things, and some of them are completely opposite of the church.

also, i can’t convince myself that because this certain book is so highly acclaimed, it’s the right book, about the right god. i do somewhat believe that there is a higher being, but there is so much about the world that we don’t know. if everyone took the story of santa claus seriously, it’s probable that many people would follow him and love him and respect him just as much. i know religion is a faith based thing, but the same people that say that would also say, if i said that i had faith that santa claus was real, they’d say i was definitely wrong. that it’s ridiculous. where is the difference?

and i think that if i was just kind of forcing myself into a religion i didn’t really believe, and god really is real, he wouldn’t appreciate me lying to myself and to ‘him’ about believing it. if god is real and can smell bullshit, i won’t be the one providing it.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

When I read the entire bible and found it so ludicrous as to be less logical than The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss.

reijinni's avatar

I really quit going to church just to find more time for TV. When i do make it back, It made me confirm my decision to leave the place.

Adagio's avatar

The question was big and wide and the answer small and narrow…

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