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JLeslie's avatar

Can someone who is religous please explain to me why you would want prayer in public school?

Asked by JLeslie (62557points) June 28th, 2009

Why would you want to empower a teacher to feel free to lead a prayer or talk about her/his religious beliefs? If the country was 80% Moslem, or 80% Jewish, or 80% Buddist would you still feel comfortable wanting prayer in school?

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77 Answers

marinelife's avatar

Prayer can be in public school, just not sanctioned or led by the civic authority of the school administration.

JLeslie's avatar

@Marina I don’t know what religion you are, but you would be ok with allowing kids to organize during school hours for prayer? Even if your child is in a small monority and will feel left out?

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

“If the country was 80% Moslem, or 80% Jewish, or 80% Buddist would you still feel comfortable wanting prayer in school?”

if they’re anything but moslem jewish or buddist, most likely not. Despite largely the same message in each of those three and christianity, the I’m right you’re wrong factor is astonishing if you ask me.

The issue of in school prayer is a slippery slippery slope. You take pro-religious and anti-religious fanatics and you toss their “child’s future” into the mix and they become zealots…

juwhite1's avatar

I’m not religious in the sense that I interpret your question to mean, but I do believe that students have a right to prayer or meditation in schools if they so choose. I absolutely do not believe that this should be let by teachers. If you think further into your question, I think you would also oppose it. How would you decide which religion that prayer was to be based upon? What if your children were being led to pray in ways that conflicted with your own religious views? What if the techer were Catholic and praying to Saints, while you were of a protestant persuasion that taught praying to saints was the equivalent of worshiping false idols? I think that Muslim children should be permitted the time and space to pray throughout the day. I think that Christian children should be permitted to pray. I think that Jewish children should be permitted to pray. I think that buddhist, hindu, taoist, and all other religious children should be given the time and space to engage in prayer and meditation. But above all, I think that the schools should stay the hell out of it other than creating the time and space.

Fyrius's avatar

I agree to allowing prayer in schools. As long as it’s not done in a loud voice while the teacher is trying to explain something.

I’m just opposed to pointless rules in general.

I would be opposed to teachers leading prayers, and openly choosing sides as to which religion is the right one. Surely teachers can mention “oh, by the way, I’m Jewish”, but it’s a strictly personal matter, and they should emphasise that.

Fyrius's avatar

It’s “Muslim”, by the way.

juwhite1's avatar

And Buddhist

JLeslie's avatar

I think both spellings are accepted for Muslim like Chanukah and Hanukka, etc. But I’ll use Muslim here.

If we try to accommodate everyone with time and space it gets out of hand I think. What if school is just a secular place and leave religion for your home and church. I grew up a religious minority and never felt that I was treated badly or discriminated against by my peers. In fact I felt religon was a non-issue, but I did feel left out during the Christian holidays and as a kid it sucks.

JLeslie's avatar

I did mispell Buddhist.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

No… Teachers are for teaching, not leading prayer. But students and teachers should have the right to pursue their religious convictions as long as it does not hurt anyone else.

A praying teacher is not teaching. They should do it on break, at lunch, before/after school… or perhaps to themselves as the day proceeds. But prayer should never interfere with the math lesson.

JLeslie's avatar

And misspell mispell I think??? I need spell check. LOL!

juwhite1's avatar

Had plenty of typos in my response above, too! Need more coffee!

marinelife's avatar

@JLeslie Where in my answer did you see the word organize? Why does prayer have to be public and together?

That said, however, I would. There were lots of clubs and activities at school that kids are left of, usually by inclination. Do we not have national honor society because kids with lower grade points will feel left out? Not have football because non-athletic kids can’t make the team?

Fyrius's avatar

@JLeslie: “I think both spellings are accepted for Muslim like Chanukah and Hanukka, etc.”
So it seems. I stand corrected.
Do get a FireFox spell checker, though – they’re so underused. I couldn’t write properly without mine.

JLeslie's avatar

@Marina you did not use organize, it was my word, sorry if I implied you had. But, I was interested in how you felt about the idea of children organizing for a morning prayer or somethng similar during school hours.

My first reaction to your statement is that I think national honor society and football are different than religion. Religion is almost like your hair being brown or your eyes being blue when you are young. It is something you are born into, not that you can’t change it later in life. Though I will think more about what you said.

Fyrius's avatar

@JLeslie: “Religion is almost like your hair being brown or your eyes being blue when you are young. It is something you are born into, not that you can’t change it later in life.”
You’re probably right that religion is commonly seen this way, but personally I despise this mind-set.
A religion is a point of view on the fundamental nature of the universe. It’s not something you can be “born into”. Indoctrinated with, yes. Born into, no.
It’s like saying the child of a theoretical physicist who follows string theory will automatically also believe in string theory.

JLeslie's avatar

@Fyrius I agree with your basic premise “It’s like saying the child of a theoretical physicist who follows string theory will automatically also believe in string theory” but the reality is that young children look to their parents for what they are; how they identify themselves. We,royal we, is used to identify the family members, “we are Jewish, or we are Catholic,” along with statements like we are Americans…it is part of your identity. This may be true more with some religions than others. For instance Judaism is definitely like this. Many Jews are atheists, but still strongly identify with being Jewish.

I kind of think hands off my children (I don’t have any children) but hands off the children…I say this to the state and to everyone else. Parents have the right to raise their children with their own belief system without interference. As the child matures and has exposure to other beliefs he she can make up his or her own mind. I have to say that I would be very dissappointed if my child grew up to choose a religion that assumed my soul could not go to heaven if heaven exists. It is these very religions that try to recruit, and feel strongly that they know the only righteous path.

The other day I overheard a few women talking in my neighborhood saying that the bible is taught in our public school. They teach it as literature. Outrageous in my opinion!I am not happy at this attempt to get around the rules of seperation of church and state. I should say I am in favor of a comparative religion class in the high school years, I think that would be good actually.

DominicX's avatar


For the record, we read a few Bible stories in 9th grade as literature. And I live in San Francisco, the most liberal city in the world.

cwilbur's avatar

I am a Christian, and here’s my take on it.

I have no problem with unorganized prayer in school—if a student wants to use study hall for silent prayer, he or she should be welcome to. I have no problem with organized voluntary prayer in school—if a group of students want to use study hall to form a prayer circle, they should be welcome to. If they want to form a Christian club or Bible study group and have a faculty advisor, they should be welcome to as well. I’m also not opposed to teaching the Bible as literature—the style, rhetoric, and vocabulary of the King James Bible underpin just about all of English and American literature for three and a half centuries after its publication, and in that it’s at least as important as Shakespeare from a literary perspective. I’m also not opposed to a comparative religions class—the more people know about religions, the better—especially their own. (I cannot count the number of “Christians” to whom I have had to explain some of the concepts in the Bible, or some of the concepts not found in the Bible—they believed what their pastor said without questioning it or reading the primary source for themselves.)

But I do have a problem with imposing beliefs. A teacher cannot lead a class in prayer—that imposes the teacher’s religion on the students. A teacher cannot teach the Bible as if it were revealed truth (although any teacher discussing the Bible would be remiss in not mentioning that some people think it is revealed truth).

And this lines up with the two phrases in the Establishment clause—Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Many people who see themselves as champions of the separation of church and state beat other people with the first half of that clause, while ignoring the second half.

JLeslie's avatar

@cwilbur well said. But, again, more specifically, I don’t know where you live, but lets say your childs class was made up of 20 Moslem students, 4 Jews, and 2 Christians, AND the majority of the teachers in the school are Moslem. Do you still stand behind fighting for the rights you stated above? I am not saying I don’t, I just wonder when you are no longer the majority if you feel the same?

JLeslie's avatar

@DominicX Inherently I don’t think there is anything wrong with learning a bible story, ESPECIALLY if you live in San Francisco, but in the bible belt south it makes me more nervous. Seems like there is too much possibility of a slippery slope here.

fireside's avatar

I agree with what most people seem to be saying.

Prayer should be allowed in schools as long as it is not done in a disruptive manner. For those whose religion require them to pray at certain times each day, space should be made somewhere that they can go for the time they need.

Prayer in public schools should not be a forced experience and should not be led by a teacher at the front of a classroom. Allowing students the freedom to live their faith is important.

I know of students who would otherwise go to a religious school who are put off by the prayers before each class. But as a private school, I can see that they should be allowed to handle that at their own discretion.

Fyrius's avatar

I think it might be a catastrophically bad idea to consider one’s religion a part of one’s identity, lest one becomes even more reluctant to reconsider it.

I think teaching about the contents of the bible as a literary document might not be such a bad idea, in fact. As long as they don’t overemphasise their favourite “god is so loving and Jesus is such a nice guy” parts and smoothly skip over the nasty “and then our ever so loving, just and mericful god killed half of the nation and gave the other half leprosy because a certain subgroup of the poor sods were thinking about maybe believing in someone else” parts and the bizarre “thou shalt not pee facing the south-south-east on a Wednesday between 9:12 AM and 11:27 PM if your name begins with a B” parts.
I don’t think many kids would be appealed by an objective presentation of what’s actually in there. If anything, I think a good number of Christians might even owe their faith in Jehovah to their ignorance of the book they think they base their lives on.

As a side note, I did go to a formally “protestant” high school, where it was a (rarely practised) tradition to start each day with a column from some insipid Christian magazine. And look where my religious views ended up.
But of course that was in the Netherlands, where Christians are mild-mannered nice people who generally won’t seize every opportunity to tell you what to believe. The columns were mainly about how nice the world would be if everyone would be nice to each other, too. I haven’t witnessed much militant proselytising on the part of the Dutch Christian community.
I admire them for their peace of mind, in fact.

JLeslie's avatar

@Fyrius Generally Jews consider being Jewish a part of their identity. But, I think the stat is that over 50% of Jews identify themselves as atheists. I have always thought that the Jews became to be known as a “race” or its own ethnic group, because people who hate us throughout time have grouped us all together. In fact, Jews come from varied ethnic backgrounds, but we all feel a kinship for horrors that have been bestoyed onto us in history I guess.

I actually do kind of agree with you in one sense though…when I look at the right wing, southern, evangelical part of the Republican party, I think their religion is part of their identity, and when we try to argue a point about their beliefs—now I do not directly mean their religious beliefs, I mean maybe a political belief, they have incorporated, or intertwined somehow with their relgious beliefs then to them I think maybe it feels like an attack on them, them personally, when we question a position they hold politically—maybe I am wrong in my assumption. So this strong religious identity they have taken causes them to close their minds. In Judaism you don’t need to have much fear of that, because Jews are taught to question, they do not feel like they are the only answer to God and the afterlife, and generally they respect other points-of-view, even if they are very religious. They also understand the minority position, and value justice and fairness. I do not mean to say at all that other religions and cultures are not just like the Jews, of course the Jews don’t have a lock on these attitudes, but I am talking about that extreme group of Christians today in my country who in my opinion react with fear, and lately seem to be very defensive, they seem to feel that people are trampling on their rights to practice their religion, which I find interesting. I just want to be clear to the collective, I do not think all Christians are like this. Most Christians I know are loving, accepting people, who do not go around trying to convert everyone.

fireside's avatar

Why wouldn’t someone of faith consider that faith a part of their identity?

That’s like saying a scientist shouldn’t consider their interest in science as a part of their identity. I guess if your point was that someone shouldn’t consider their parent’s religion to be a part of their identity, I would agree.

My religion says, No man should follow blindly his ancestors and forefathers.

However, after having investigated my faith and finding a religion that reflects my beliefs, how could I not think of my religion as a part of my identity?

Fyrius's avatar

Like I said, the reason why is because considering the things you believe a part of your identity provides yet another inhibition ever to reconsider them.
And it’s more like saying a scientist shouldn’t consider the particular hypothesis he’s been working on for years a part of their identity. And indeed a proper scientist would keep their personal values and interests strictly separated from their search for the truth, lest the former interfere with the latter.
A proper scientist is prepared to abandon overnight what they’ve believed for years. Personal attachment to an idea is a formidable obstacle to the learning process, and it would be wise to avoid it like the plague.

What kind of sense does it make anyway to consider it a part of your identity that you think proposition A is true and B is false? That’s really what we’re talking about here.
What we have is a number of mutually exclusive world views, and being a member of a religion (or being an atheist) boils down to thinking world view A is the right one and all the others are wrong. It’s that simple.
Beliefs are about what is actually true, and not about what kind of people you associate with. People forget about this all too often. Failure to keep these things separated is one of the factors that lead to religious strife.

fireside's avatar

“being a member of a religion (or being an atheist) boils down to thinking world view A is the right one and all the others are wrong.”

I don’t think that is the case with all people. It could simply be that view A works for them. But it does depend on whether you think your point of view applies to all people or not.

“Beliefs are about what is actually true”

Again, I think this is not correct because I think that Beliefs are about what you feel is true. it all depends on how much ego you put into your beliefs. Many people simply find what works for them and don’t expect others to follow it.

JLeslie's avatar

@Fyrius @fireside I agree with fireside. Your beliefs can simply be beliefs that work for you. Many religions are accepting of this. The thing is the most predominant religion in the US is not.

Fyrius your science example is interesting. I think it doesn’t work as an analogy because for many their religious beliefs, especially with Christians (again that is who we run into most here so that is why I use them as my example)do not look at their belief as a hypothesis, they think it is fact already. We could go on about the idea that they think their beliefs are facts, but I am sure we would agree on everything so no need. So with your argument it makes sense that they see their religion as part of their identity.

JLeslie's avatar

@Fyrius @fireside I agree with fireside. Your beliefs can simply be beliefs that work for you. Many religions are accepting of this. The thing is the most predominant religion in the US is not.

Fyrius your science example is interesting. I think it doesn’t work as an analogy because for many their religious beliefs, especially with Christians (again that is who we run into most here so that is why I use them as my example)do not look at their belief as a hypothesis, they think it is fact already. We could go on about the idea that they think their beliefs are facts, but I am sure we would agree on everything so no need. So with your argument it makes sense that they see their religion as part of their identity.

pats04fan's avatar

Prayer in school, is another way to fight the state. Personally, I do not believe in stopping a child from praying to whatever God they believe in, it is their right. Adding to that, I don’t believe in fighting everyone who is against it because people have they’re own thoughts. In saying this i am a Christian, and i think it is okay to bring prayer in school, not just for Christians, but for all religions.

cwilbur's avatar

@Jleslie: if the Muslim students want to pray silently, get together for student-led prayer, or form an organization of Muslim students with a faculty advisor, more power to them. They have just as much right to freely exercise their religion as Christians do. At the same time, if it’s a public school, it’s reasonable to give all students free time when the Muslims are required to, but it’s not reasonable to expect all the students to pray—no matter who is in the majority, it’s not appropriate to impose religious practices on the minority.

And I have no problem with teaching the Koran as literature, either. I don’t think it’s as relevant to English and American literature as the Bible is, but I can see it being very relevant to a world literature course. Or I could see it being very relevant to a history course, exploring what the Islamic world looked like and thought at the time of the Crusades.

JLeslie's avatar

@cwilbur fair enough. I like your answer.

Fyrius's avatar

“I don’t think that is the case with all people. It could simply be that view A works for them.”
That’s an even more screwed up way to think of beliefs. And unfortunately a common one, yes.

“Again, I think this is not correct because I think that Beliefs are about what you feel is true. it all depends on how much ego you put into your beliefs.”
Some people handle their beliefs only according to what makes them feel best, but beliefs are fundamentally nothing more or less than assertions about the world that are held as true and can be either true or false. And I find it very disturbing that people really wouldn’t care whether the beliefs they base their lives on are actually true or not. It’s not exactly something trivial.

Imagine a detective deciding it fit him best to believe that Colonel Mustard is the killer, a scientist deciding that it made him feel fuzzier inside to analyse the data according to hypothesis A, a police officer telling you it works for him to believe you went over the speed limit even though he didn’t see it, a judge thinking the belief that the defendant is guilty matches better with his personality.
I think it’s very wrong to just decide what you want to believe. Beliefs should conform to reality. People who base their beliefs on anything other than tangible reality are delusional and belong in a psychiatric ward. I’m sorry.

I know, there is no evidence to base religious choices on. I contend that the above applies. And I add that this is precisely the reason why I think all religion is fundamentally a bad idea. Religions assert the most incredible things with the most far-reaching implications, and then expect you to just take their word for it.

Yes, and that’s arguably the worst part. Christians choose to believe in world view C for no concrete reason (usually just because they grew up with it) and then go on to be unshakably certain that their guess is absolutely true. And, to add insult to injury, think of this unjustified “faith” as a virtue, and consider doubting their choice a weakness.
I can imagine no worse crime against reason.
And I still don’t agree that it makes sense to consider any kind of belief a part of your identity.

mattbrowne's avatar

In Germany in almost all states there’s a school subject called ‘religion’ and it’s voluntary of course. The curriculum is supervised by both the state and the related religious organizations. The grades do count being part of the overall grade point average. For many years there was only ‘protestant religion’ and ‘catholic religion’ but now efforts are underway for Islam (to be taught in German) as well which is somewhat difficult because their are many ‘official’ Muslim organizations in Germany. The advantage is having state influence as well. So far Koran lessons could happen almost anywhere and there have been cases of hate groups taking control promoting suicide bombings and so forth.

Religious classes at school often include prayers.

fireside's avatar

@Fyrius – Do you feel that Martin Luther King Jr. or Mohandas Gandhi belonged in psychiatric wards because they believed in something that was not a tangible reality?

Did their faith in their vision lead to the formation of a new reality?

Do you feel that they were wasting their time by not accepting the tangible reality of the status quo?

JLeslie's avatar

@mattbrowne Interesting. So, it is not comparative religion, but rather a class you would take for your own relgion like a CCD class, but it is offered right there in school. I think I am ok with that. The only dissadvantage is that you probably would not have a class available for a statisticly rare minority. One thing about giving “space” for someone to pray as mentioned above, is that the one kid, 10 year old kid, in class who is Moslem, who wants to fit in like every other kid in that school, well I think he is not too happy to leave his friends while he has to go pray. Even if everyone is accepting, no teasing, etc. The way you are explaining it Koran class might be at the hour while prayer is expected?

Again, interesting. I have to think about it more.

mattbrowne's avatar

@JLeslie – Comparative religion is included in the protestant religion curriculum (to a lesser extend also in the catholic religion curriculum) as well as other world views and philosophy. I chose religion as one of my majors during my junior and senior high school years. We talked about almost everything from Feuerbach to Marx and Sartre as well as liberation theology in South America. Some schools in Germany also offer ethics classes and some students both take religion and ethics while others take ethics only.

Here’s some additional information

JLeslie's avatar

@mattbrowne Oh, I did not mean to imply that comparative religion was not offered, but rather trying to paraphrase what you had said about the classes you had described, to be sure I understood. But, thank you for further clarification and the link. Also, interesting to me, is that you have “majors” in HS, which does not really exist in America. There is opportunity in some high schools for vocational training, and electives in some way I guess compare, like I took accounting in HS, but I thnk it is not the same.

Fyrius's avatar

Obviously that’s not the same thing. Martin Luther King and Ghandi believed in a certain future, which they believed to be conceivable based on the tangible world at present.
Religions believe that the present status quo is like so and so, regardless of and often in contradiction to tangible reality.
Incidentally, delusional psychopaths show the same symptoms. Except they usually believe more realistic things, for example that they’re being scrutinised by hidden cameras all the time.
Rather than that they’re being scrutinised all the time by one or multiple supernatural beings who will punish them if they don’t behave like the beings want them to.

fireside's avatar

Hmm, my religion is focused on the future of humanity.

What would you say are acceptable things to use when forming one’s identity?

Fyrius's avatar

Does your religion really not make any single claim about what the world is like right now? If it does, my critique applies to your faith no less than to all the others.
Furthermore, are its beliefs for the future based on tangible reality as it is now? If it isn’t, again my critique applies to your faith no less than to all the others.

As for what are acceptable things to use when forming an identity, I would say anything whose development would not be biased or otherwise encumbered by such personal interests.

What I would advise is that the prime basis to found an identity on should simply be one’s personality. If one is patient, jolly, confident, strong-willed or energetic, let them be known just for those things.
And in fact, I do believe any identity is in principle founded only on things like this – and everything else that people use to form an identity simply serves to focus attention on such character traits. People that have a certain character trait by nature would associate with social groups that have a reputation for that trait, wear clothes that make the impression they have this trait, et cetera. But all it boils down to is one’s personality.

It’s curious, actually, that we feel such a need to use extraneous means to express our identity, while we could simply do so with our natural behaviour without even thinking about it. I speculate that this is a recent cultural development, caused by a fear that we aren’t interesting enough, amplified by advertisements that keep telling us to buy (mass-produced) products to express our uniqueness with.

JLeslie's avatar

@Fyrius I think many other things can go into identity along with the ones you mentioned…gender, country, marital status, being a parent, vocation, etc. I am not saying these have to be, I am only saying that each individual decides how they identify themselves.

fireside's avatar

To Live the Life:

“To be no cause of grief to anyone.

To be kind to all people and to love them with a pure spirit.

Should opposition or injury happen to us, to bear it, to be as kind as ever can be, and through all, to love the people. Should calamity exist in the greatest degree, to rejoice, for these things are the gifts and favors of God.

To be silent concerning the faults of others, to pray for them, and to help them, through kindness, to correct their faults.

To look always at the good and not at the bad. If a man has ten good qualities and one bad one, look at the ten and forget the one. And if a man has ten bad qualities and one good one, to look at the one and forget the ten.

Never to allow ourselves to speak one unkind word about another, even though that other be our enemy.

To do all of our deeds in kindness.

To cut our hearts from ourselves and from the world.

To be humble.

To be servants of each other, and to know that we are less than anyone else.

To be as one soul in many bodies, for the more we love each other, the nearer we shall be to God; but to know that our love, our unity, our obedience must not be by confession, but of reality.

To act with cautiousness and wisdom.

To be truthful.

To be hospitable.

To be reverent.

To be the cause of healing for every sick one,
a comforter for every sorrowful one,
a pleasant water for every thirsty one.
a heavenly table for every hungry one,
a star to every horizon,
a light for every lamp,
a herald to everyone who yearns for the kingdom of God”


Fyrius's avatar

But these are not beliefs, they are behavioural rules. I wasn’t talking about that.

Your post does mention “God”, though, and that means your religion does make at least one real world assertion not based on tangible reality. “There is a god.”
And there’s another one: ”...who has a kingdom.”
It also mentions souls, but that could just be a poetic part of that simile.

JLeslie's avatar

@fireside These seem like nice rules to live by…so if you live by them, but just don’t worship God, or see them as dictated by God, why is that not good enough? Don’t you think God would care most about “his children” helping each other, being charitable, being truthful, etc. no matter how that person came to possess these qualities? Living here in the bible belt I here the sentence, “I’m a Christian,” all of the time as a proclamation that the individual is honest and good. My response is, “I have Christian values to.”

fireside's avatar

@Fyrius – I recognize that you have no capacity for belief in God, but my beliefs are not bound by your rules. So should I be committed to a psychiatric ward?

@JLeslie – I didn’t say it wasn’t good enough for you or anyone else to live by these ideals without a belief in God. That just happens to be a part of my identity.

JLeslie's avatar

@fireside I misunderstood why you were writing them. Thanks for the clarification.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Fyrius – Social guidance is one important aspect of religions and various non-theistic belief systems like humanism.

Religions are not alone in making assertions which are not based on tangible reality and hard evidence.

While science has the potential to explain any natural phenomenon, it can’t explain and will never be able to explain the meta-phenomenon of existence itself which led to natural phenomena for us to observe and explain. I believe in God creating the orderly biophilic universe. It’s in fact an assertion not based on tangible reality. It’s a belief. Atheists don’t believe in God, therefore there’s the assertion that God is not responsible for the meta-phenomenon. Therefore both the theistic and the atheistic interpretation of the universe are belief systems unrelated to science and tangible reality. Both are metaphysical in nature and of course valid in a general sense.

Fyrius's avatar

What kind of reply is that?
Do not confuse my deliberate rejection of theism with an inability on my part. I am very much capable to believe in anything. In fact I often need to restrain my imagination with the question whether it would be sensible or not to believe what I just got into my head.
These are furthermore not “my rules”, they are the universal rules of reason that have been widely recognised for centuries. Beliefs must be justified. It’s called the Burden of Proof.
And yes, your beliefs are bound by them, unless you choose to turn your back on reason.

So am I to understand that you now accept that my criticism applies to your religion as well?

“Religions are not alone in making assertions which are not based on tangible reality and hard evidence.”
Oh, if only they were. But you’re right, there’s also alternative medicine and many other belief systems that don’t bother to justify themselves. I respect none of them.
But those don’t seem to be what you were thinking of.

“While science has the potential to explain any natural phenomenon, it can’t explain and will never be able to explain the meta-phenomenon of existence itself which led to natural phenomena for us to observe and explain.”
And neither can religion. At least science doesn’t pretend to know, with paradoxical speculations that only move the problem one “first cause” further.

“Atheists don’t believe in God, therefore there’s the assertion that God is not responsible for the meta-phenomenon. Therefore both the theistic and the atheistic interpretation of the universe are belief systems unrelated to science and tangible reality.”
Whoa, hold it. What? The rejection of the theistic belief system counts as a belief system too?
It’s like saying deciding not to eat pizza is a kind of dinner too.

“Both are metaphysical in nature and of course valid in a general sense.”
I beg to differ with regard to the second part.

JLeslie's avatar

“Atheists don’t believe in God, therefore there’s the assertion that God is not responsible for the meta-phenomenon. Therefore both the theistic and the atheistic interpretation of the universe are belief systems unrelated to science and tangible reality.” Interesting this quote. My father and I, both atheists, argue whether being an atheist is a belief system or not. I say it is…because I think of it in terms of the big questions like, what happens when you die?” I thnk most atheists have a belief about what happens, but nobody knows for sure. Atheists also have their own “rules” regarding morality and ethics, many of them exactly the same as theists, but still it is a moral code so to speak, and a belief that living within that code leads to happiness, a working society, whatever you choose to explain why these beliefs are worthwhile and right.

Fyrius's avatar

I’m sure a lot atheists have their own answers to questions like what happens after you die, as well as their own ideas about ethics, but crucially, these things are not part of atheism. You can verify this by the fact that many people who are equally atheistic can completely disagree about such things. (For example, a Buddhist atheist and a Nihilist atheist would have rather different ideas about what happens to you after you die.)

Atheism is not a belief system.

fireside's avatar

@Fyrius – Your criticism seems to apply to me since I believe in something outside of tangible reality, much the same as people who look towards a possible future without any tangible proof in the present.

However, you seem to think anyone who does not believe as you do should be locked up which seems concerning to me given the closeness to religious persecution your tone conveys. Or am I misinterpreting this quote?
“People who base their beliefs on anything other than tangible reality are delusional and belong in a psychiatric ward.”

Fyrius's avatar

If indeed you do believe in things “outside” tangible reality (what does that mean, anyway? Isn’t that just another case of vague preposition abuse?) without basing those beliefs on anything verifiable, and if you have expectations for the future that you do not base on what the world at present would indicate to be possible, then at least by my standards you are irrational. And by less personal standards, you defy the rules of proper reasoning.

I would like to ask you why you chose to invest your faith into what would seem to be random guesses, and to disregard all the other possible options. But if my conclusion is true, you do not have an answer to that question, except perhaps in the form of irrelevant considerations as to what world view suits your personality best.

I wouldn’t translate the phrase you quote into a policy, but I do think that belief in falsehoods in spite of what reality indicates is a form of mental insanity, namely delusion. At the mildest it’s a character flaw that people should unlearn for their own good and the good of all those under their influence in any way. (If their local political system endows them with the right to vote, that would be the entire nation.)

fireside's avatar

So, if I said that I believed that God existed outside of our material reality and beyond human conception, or if I said that I believed in a guiding force, would that make me irrational? Maybe we just haven’t developed the tools yet capable of measuring this guiding force that so many people have written about and believed in for thousands of years. Maybe this guiding force is the theorized Higgs field that connects all things and transmits energy between people, but if it is would that be considered a part of the present tangible reality?

If I was otherwise rational and thoughtful about my everyday life would this one aspect of me be a bad thing that justified a classification of mental insanity?

My beliefs of a possible future come from the Baha’i faith, which is the religion I have chosen after spending years not caring about any organized religion:
-Equality of Man and Woman
-All Religion Arises from the Same Source
-Equality of Humanity
-Need for both Science and Religion as Humanity Evolves

Are these goals and ideals of my religion a part of the present tangible reality?
Or are they predictions and visions for the future?

Fyrius's avatar

Yes, even if you postulate something to be beyond human comprehension, that does not justify believing it. In fact, if something is so complex as to elude our understanding, that only makes it a more far-fetched idea.
Have you heard of Russell’s Teapot?
If your speculation includes that what you imagine to exist is beyond our ability to perceive and/or comprehend, that does not make up for the complete lack of any reason to even consider the possibility in the first place. There is an infinite amount of things that could be true without us ever finding out, but to take them all seriously is madness.

By the way, there exists a scientifically supported explanation as to why so many people have written about and believed in so similar far-fetched speculations throughout history. Religion is a by-product of the proclivities of the human mind. Our evolutionary history has biased us to read purpose into everything and see deliberate agents everywhere.

If you would be rational about everything else in your life, I would still consider this something to worry about. Though I suppose this sort of delusion is too common and too culturally dominant to actually become classified as mental insanity.

Like I mentioned before, tenets of your religion that are not beliefs about the real world (i.e. the wish for equality) are not concerned with what I said.
Tenets that are beliefs about the real world (i.e. all religions having the same source, science and religion both being necessary for the “evolution” of mankind) should either be founded on verifiable data from the real world or be disregarded.

I’ll resist evaluating these tenets, lest we digress.

fireside's avatar

Ok, thanks for the clarification.
Just wanted to be sure that I was safe to go outside without fear of being rounded up and sent to a mental ward for holding religious beliefs.

Statements like “People who base their beliefs on anything other than tangible reality are delusional and belong in a psychiatric ward.” seem a bit harsh for a rational person to just accept without question. Especially given the fact that religious persecution is very real in today’s world.

JLeslie's avatar

@Fyrius I thought about what you said, and I think the word “system” might be the stumbling point. The way I was looking at it is atheists have their own personal beliefs about these big questions, and arguably to some questions we simply might not have an answer, be willing to accept there is no answer. But, lets say my “belief” is that when you die, it was like you were never born, you cease to exist. So, I look at that as though I have my own set of “beliefs” on these matters, the same way a Christian might. But your point is well taken also. Thank you, I will think about it some more.

Fyrius's avatar

You can stop trying to play the persecution card now. It doesn’t usually have a lot of effect on me anyway. It’s too much of an emotional argument from accusation, and I will not be swayed by worry about my reputation.

Furthermore it doesn’t apply. I’m not saying irrationalists should be harmed as an act of intolerance. I’m saying they’re delusional and need help.

And a rational person wouldn’t accept any new idea without question.

Fyrius's avatar

I’ve changed my mind somewhat.
I think I’ve been too harsh on all the supserstitious people. Let me water down my description of their credulous proclivity from mental insanity to just a really, really bad habit. A character flaw that at least I consider a grave one. Especially if people base important decisions upon such unjustified beliefs.

Mental insanity is defined by deviation from the majority anyway, so if more than half of the population shares a delusion it’s hard to argue that it’s not “normal behaviour”.

JLeslie's avatar

@Fyrius You amuse me. Statistically normal is not necessarily synonymous with normal(healthy or good). Look at all of the obese peole in the US…normal weight is not to be cofused with statistically normal weight.

Fyrius's avatar

Well, you’ll have to set to norm to something. And the only way to do so without using subjectively decided standards is to take the statistical norm.
If everyone on earth is overweight, healthy or good weight is not normal weight but ideal weight.

Yay, arguing semantics at 4 AM.

JLeslie's avatar

@Fyrius ideal is a better word.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Fyrius – Before I answer in more detail, I need to know three things: Are you a supporter of scientism?

And: How do you explain the meta-phenomenon of existence? Is your explanation related to tangible reality to avoid ending up in the psychiatric ward?

mattbrowne's avatar

@JLeslie – Theism and atheism are primarily about the existence of a divine entity(ies). Philosophies and religions are also about social guidance. It’s very human regardless of whether someone believes in God or not to look for “rules” regarding morality and ethics. Every atheist I know certainly does. Religions also have a focus on rituals and the strengthening of communities.

fireside's avatar

@Fyrius – To be clear, I wasn’t accusing you of persecution. I was simply pointing out that your phrasing was unduly harsh, which you seem to agree with since you have reconsidered your opinion.

Fyrius's avatar

If I am to understand that Scientism means applying the standards of science to literally anything, then I probably shouldn’t support it, lest I disrespect other useful disciplines, such as philosophy. But I do support holding science as the only reliable authority on everything that is actually in the scope of science, however. This includes any belief about the real world.
I do not support the popular religion protection strategy that says all things religious are “too different from science” to be evaluated by scientific standards, nor the implicit idea that religion deserves to be considered a worthwhile discipline of human inquiry in its own right, on par with science and philosophy.
Science and religion are not just two equally valid ways to look at the world, nor can they coexist without contradiction. They are mutually exclusive by their very nature, and one is infinitely more reliable, justified, productive and beneficial than the other.

It seems to me that the only rational way to handle the meta-phenomenon of existence is not to explain it. We can only speculate, and I would see no reason to favour one speculation to all the other conceivable ones.
I have little respect for those who cannot bear not to have an answer and are willing to adopt any answer at all just to satisfy that compulsion. Truth is too precious to me to sell out for philosophical satisfaction.

Fair enough.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Fyrius – To me it’s perfectly fine if someone prefers not to explain the meta-phenomenon. Of course beliefs are not proof. That’s why they are called beliefs. I don’t favor one speculation over another in a sense that this is the best thing for everybody. I do favor one speculation for me personally. It’s my choice and I respect other choices. I don’t consider my choice as being ridiculous or deluded as some vocal atheists resorting to aggressive rhetoric do. Science and modern forms of religion can complement each other and they can coexist without contradiction. Contradictions are created if magic and a God of the gaps is introduced. Both are not part of my belief. To me there are no contradictions between science and my Christian belief.

Science and its applications without social guidance can become dangerous. Knowing E = equals m times c^2 is one thing, killing 100,000 people with a nuclear bomb is another. Social guidance doesn’t necessarily have to come from religion. There are other good sources as well.

Fyrius's avatar

I beg to differ as to science and religion being able to coexist without contradiction.
I’m sorry for the length of this post, but I’m afraid this is what happens when you voice a popular opinion that I happen to disagree with for advanced reasons.

It seems attestable enough to me that the only way for religions to survive in the face of science is to bend over backwards into vagueness and abstraction, evading all the scientific criticism by pretending what they really meant wasn’t that literal.
And indeed this is what they tend to do, Christianity most clearly of all. It seems that at every point where science has touched upon Christianity, it has left a trail of once comprehensible concepts that have vapourised into vagueness and empty gobbledegook.
Christianity used to believe the earth was the centre of the universe, and everything else was filled with heaven above and hell below, and that heaven was really part of the sky (that’s why it’s called “heaven”). But the invention of flight has shown there’s nothing of the sort up there, and astronomy has found out that our world isn’t even the centre of our own solar system, much less the universe.
Christianity also used to believe that Jehovah created all life forms in the form in which mankind first encountered them, but biology has discovered in multiple unrelated but converging ways that all life derives from one common ancestor in a complex phylogenic family tree.
The only thing Christianity can do about being proven wrong time and time again is to concede its lost points and pretend their religion never really meant the things that have been debunked. Evidence against a point is always taken to mean people practised the religion wrong, it’s never taken to mean the religion was wrong about something.

At a conceptual level, religion and science are mutually exclusive because religion relies on the supernatural and believes in miracles, while science relies on the (so often vindicated) assumption that everything in existence can be investigated and eventually explained.
Religion relies on the acceptance of mystery. Science relies on a resolute desire to understand everything and an utter refusal ever to accept being unable to explain something.
Simply put, either there exist things we cannot understand, or there do not. In one case, the persuasion underlying religion is right and the one underlying science is wrong, and in the other case it’s the other way around. There is no way for both to be right.

I think parts of religion might be able to coexist with science without becoming meaningless, but then religion will need to be purged of all the real world beliefs and delimit itself to ethics and the like. It would need to do away with things like god and heaven and hell and to focus on loving thy neighbour and turning the other cheek, not to be rewarded after death but for the sake of being a good person as an end in itself.
But of course, then it would stop being religion and just become moral philosophy.

As for modern forms of religion complementing science, I am completely in the dark as to what you might be talking about. Do elaborate. In what sense does any form of religion have anything useful to contribute?
The only way I could think of in which religion can do what science cannot do is through a god of the gaps kind of filler belief, but you’ve voiced disapproval of that. (And rightly so.)

I don’t think it will raise many eye brows to point out that just a few centuries of systematic science have blessed us with a plethora of knowledge and new possibilities that the people of the Dark Ages could never even have imagined (average life spans of 80 years, vaccination, MRI, being able to fly through the air, a man standing on the moon, knowing what the sun is made of and when it’ll extinguish, et cetera), whereas many milennia of religion have produced nothing of any use whatsoever that secular philosophy couldn’t have achieved. To sketch the two as remotely comparable in benefits would be undeserved praise to religion and an insult to science.

I’m glad you realise that the need for social guidance is not an excuse for religion to pretend it’s still indispensable somehow.

mattbrowne's avatar

Again, science and modern forms of religion can complement each other and they can coexist without contradiction. I accept that your definition or view of certain religions differs from mine and therefore you’ll find contradictions. Your understanding of Christianity is different from mine, therefore I don’t see contradictions. Some religions do evolve and interpretations do change. Wittgenstein’s wish for a precise language remains a wish. Semantics and context of natural language is complex. When I read your previous comment I will never be able to fully understand what you meant exactly. It’s simply impossible. Dogmas are created when 1 preferred interpretation is declared being the TRUTH. Fundamentalist atheism is full of dogmas and therefore quite similar to the dogmas created in the Vatican or Tehran or elsewhere. I don’t believe in one single truth. But I believe in the value of beliefs. And the value of civilized debates. Therefore I greatly enjoy our debates. Thanks @Fyrius !

Fyrius's avatar

I think you’ll understand why I remain unconvinced that your point of view is tenable at all.

I continue not to understand how they could coexist without contradiction, and you repeating your earlier statement without backing it up does not really help at all. Neither does saying our disagreement stems from different definitions of religion without explaining what these differences are. Neither for that matter does not answering any of the questions I asked you and not replying to any of the arguments I gave.

I’m curious what form of Christianity you believe in, to which all of my objections somehow do not apply, and how it can still be called Christianity, or religion at all. But I don’t suppose you’re going to explain it.

Well, if you insist on agreeing to disagree, then so be it.
I would advise you to continue to try to understand my above post, though – intellectual integrity and independence hinge upon scrutinising counterarguments until you can refute them and not giving up before that. Otherwise, how do you know you’re not wrong?

As a final remark, by your definition of what makes a dogma as outlined in that post, atheists are categorically unable to hold any, because they have nothing of which they could hold one interpretation as the Truth. No holy texts, no central authority, they don’t even all have the same world view at all.

mattbrowne's avatar

I’ve seen many dogmatic statements on Fluther and elsewhere. Examples are

God doesn’t exist.
How can you believe in something that doesn’t exist?

To me this is vastly different from statements like

I believe God doesn’t exist.
I don’t believe in God.

It’s my observation that discussions between dogmatic atheists and non-dogmatic Christians often lead to nothing. Here’s another dogma cherished by many atheists:

If you don’t believe in magic, then you’re not a Christian.

Fyrius's avatar

All right, I’ll leave the topic you refuse to address my arguments on and follow you on this tangent. Whatever.

I think you are overusing the word “dogma”. A key aspect of the definition of that word is that whatever is believed is considered to be absolutely beyond question or debate and is not backed up by arguments. And I have yet to encounter a single atheist who failed to come up at the drop of a hat with a long rant explaining why they believe what you call dogmas. Even the most polemic ones – or especially the most polemic ones – believe what they believe for reasons and are willing – or even zealously eager – to open the debate about them. This is diametrically opposed to dogmatism, which shields its beliefs from the kind of confrontation such atheists eagerly seek out.

I’m getting the impression you’re actually an agnostic at heart, maybe even one who is dogmatic about his agnosticism. And not just about the existence of god.

As for your final “dogma”: I would be one of these atheists that insist on this, undoubtedly to your annoyance. But not out of dogmatism, but for rational reasons.
That is to say, because any religion hinges on the supernatural by definition. Even atheist religions like Buddhism have supernatural key elements.
It’s hard to imagine what would be left of Christianity if we would take out the supernatural. Even if all the people turning into pillars of salt, the talking snakes, the water turned into wine, the seas split in two, the lame and blind who are healed and the wafer that becomes the body of a long dead jew are all conveniently interpreted “metaphorically”, I do expect you still believe Jehovah is a being who is “above” or “beyond” or “outside” the physical world, and who was there before the universe came into existence. If you turn god into a non-supernatural concept, you’re altering the most fundamental tenets of Christianity. And thus your beliefs will no longer be Christian ones by any meaningful definition.

That’s roughly what the argument boils down to.

mattbrowne's avatar

Let me get back to you tomorrow. Gotta run…

Fyrius's avatar

Take your time.

mattbrowne's avatar

I also replied in the other thread using the concepts defined in Wikipedia (weak, strong, new atheism etc.), did you see my comment?

You see, scientifically I’m agnostic, but spiritually I’m theist. I believe in God as the intelligent origin or our orderly biophilic universe sustaining its laws. I believe in an afterlife. I believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ. I would say that many forms of religion hinge on the supernatural, but some forms do not. Did you see my comment explaining supernatural vs. meta-natural?

Fyrius's avatar

I saw it, yes. (And commented on it.)

“scientifically I’m agnostic, but spiritually I’m theist. I believe in God as the intelligent origin or our orderly biophilic universe sustaining its laws. I believe in an afterlife.”
Does not compute.
A god as the intelligent origin of the universe is an inherently scientific belief (that is to say, a belief on a scientific subject), being concerned with the actual history of the real world. So is belief in afterlives. That would mean that you’re scientifically at least part theist.

And I would be reluctant to call our universe biophilic… It’s easy to conceive of a universe more suitable to life. This universe lets us live only because life manages to adapt and survive in almost any situation. But the vast majority of the universe is utterly uninhabitable.
A more biophilic universe would for example be one with no toxic gases, no harmful radiation, no natural disasters killing billions of life forms in the blink of an eye. Preferably kept at a pleasant 20 degrees everywhere all the time.

I think I missed your comment about meta-naturality, and how it’s different from supernaturality. (My first thought at the idea of such a distinction is that “meta” is just the Greek translation of the Latin word “super”.)

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