Monday, May 02, 2005

Why Do They Believe? Part 2: Fear

Dear Internet Diary,

Fear-based belief:
I believe in and pray to God simply because it gives comfort and hope and the feeling that there is something else out there supporting me.

I believe because I have to. I cannot go on the way I am. I am sick, I am miserable and I am hurting so badly. I believe because if I don’t I’ll be swept away.

You know what? I believe because I must. I believe because if I
don't, life will seem incredibly hopeless and shallow. Who
wants to live that way?

But until we are really truly in the throes of death, we never really know if what is taught and what is believed is all real. I pray it is and that's why I believe. Because if it is all true, I wouldn't want the alternative when I die.

These four testimonies illustrate two basic fear-based "reasons" for belief: the last one is your basic fear of h-e-double-hockey-sticks. That's a given. The other, illustrateing the first three, is a more existential fear: fear of personal responsibility, independence, moral autonomy.

The first bloke believes because he wants to think that someone is out there taking care of him. He doesn't seem to think he can do that for himself. Perhaps he hasn't yet discovered the many comforts offered in the real world? It's strange, because seeking comfort in a god is admired, but seeking comfort in the real world is considered shallow and indulgent. But if comfort is a good enough reason to believe in a magical, all-powerful man that lives in the sky, made a man out of dirt, and killed everyone on earth because they were gambling, then there should be a little more respect given to the many lovely comforts this world offers: books, movies, food, drugs, hobbies, friends, and family. So if someone says we need religion because it offers comfort, remind them that beer offers comfort too, but few people fly planes into buildings because of it. Well, not out of anger or righteousness, anyway.

The second poor fellow has become so deeply indoctrinated in one of the more immoral teachings of christianity, he's temporarily trapped. His adolescent angst is incorporated in his religion. He's afraid that without force, he will be "swept away." In what? A bad Madonna movie? Perhaps he's worried that his worthless, sinful nature, without god-belief, will lead him to commit terrible crimes. Maybe he should check the prison population statistics. Atheism could only help this guy--it could actually save him.

The next gal has the typical belief, that she would sink in an existential, nihilistic funk without god-belief. As if the reason to be a christian is to avoid being an unpleasant asshole. Newsflash: Ann Coulter, Bill O'Riley, Gene Cook..shall I go on? You can't blame sunny Chritsians for assuming atheists are depressing individuals, living lives of disillusionment and despondency, especially if you are one of those christians who knocks on my door at dinnertime.

But fear not, christians, I say. The best thing about being an atheist is not having to be afraid. Letting go of the fear of hell is the best thing I ever did for my state of mind. I actually became an optiminst precisely when I stopped believing in an afterlife. Who wants to spend eternity in heaven, when the bible makes it sound like an eternal Sunday morning in church? Anyway, there is great joy in the real world; joy without jesus and god. Joy in being your own person, in being independent, in having confidence in your personal moral judgement. Joy in love, beauty, experience, friends, family, food, and making fun of chritsians.

Thanks for listening, diary.


Aaron Kinney said...

good one!!

We need to show people that atheists arent the depressed ones; its Christians!

Theists occupy a disproportionately high percentage of prison populations and metal insitutions and homeless shelters.

Religious people are found in bigger concentration at the bottom of society, while atheists and other "non religious" people are found in bigger concentration at the top of society.

And I dont know about you, but ever since I lost my religion, Ive been happier and more successful and more optimistic and more in love with life! :D

Kalanchoe542 said...

Fear is probably THE most compelling motivating force in the lives of most individuals, and it is indeed fostered by the all-benevolent mother church that suckles them with the sour milk of her withered breast. Fear and weakness of spirit or character are the forces that form these broken souls, and the loving parents who seek to nurture their young and raise them decently within the confines of the religion of their choice. There is a rather ironic analogy between the teachings of the church (pick a church, any church) and the attitude of the retired home economics teacher who looks down upon her nephew condescendingly and says "I know you mean well, but what you are saying/doing/feeling is INCORRECT." There is one right way to do things, one recipe, one formula, and there is no mention anywhere in said formula of "free will" or "personal choice". "Do it MY way and it will always turn out right!" What about the poor misguided individual who would rather put chocolate chips in his oatmeal cookies because he doesn't like raisins? Damned to hell forever, I guess.
Although I don't make distinctions between people based on their belief systems, I do find myself inclined to question the overall intelligence of those who can be so easily led. Any scentient adult can recognize that the damage done to them in childhood by an abusive or neglectful parent did indeed happen, but does not absolve them from responsibility for their current actions. So with the twisting, distorting effect of a religious upbringing by well-intentioned parents, which must be left behind when making life choices that cannot be governed by the Bible alone. Those who cannot make the distinction are subject to interpretation as being of sub-necessary inspiration. my soapbox.

Hellbound Alleee said...

I wouldn't worry about or discourage people from making distinctions based on belief systems. I actually encourage it. A belief system is pretty much the number one distinction make about people besides the obvious physical characteristic that identifies a face.

It's religionists that tell you not to judge others, because you aren't capable of autonomous moral judgement. Then they turn around and tell you not to marry outside your "faith."

There's plently of distinctions to be made about people intellectually. There's a difference between someone who believes that the holocaust never happened and one that has the critical thinking skills to know evidence when he sees it.

I make distinctions: I choose friends that way, and I absolutely chose my husband that way. Thank Reason I did.

I do, however, appreciate what you said about fear. I think that very few good decisions in life can be made based upon fear, except for immediate physical danger. Even then, more should be at work in our brains, motivated by that fear. But fear alone won't get you squat. Don't worry about the church. Our peers scare us into having what they like to call "a personal relationship with christ." More like a personal relationship with fear, to talk like Oprah.

breakerslion said...

I Got a nice healthy guffaw about the "assholes" part. It's funny because it's true.

I do have difficulty with the concept of judging people based upon their belief systems. I have met good, kind, well-intentioned and community-spirited people with all manner of beliefs. Most of these people had their belief systems handed down to them, and are only guilty of not thinking about it too much (or enough). The one thing they all had in common, is that they weren't fanatical, and weren't prejudicial, and weren't certain that I had to believe whatever it was that they believed "for my own good". It wasn't until I lost one of the best friends one could have to the zealots that I realized that we were all being threatened.

Hellbound Alleee said...

" I have met good, kind, well-intentioned and community-spirited people with all manner of beliefs."

There you go. You just judged others. You judged them as good.

I didn't mean to imply that we should think that all people who believe are bad. But there are good reasons to judge others SOLELY based on their attributes, especially when therse attributes are CREEPY. I would not have married a christian, based upon the fact that I don't want to live my life battling with my husband. I would defintiely not have married someone patriotic, or someone who BELIEVED that women belong in the kitchen. I would not have married someone who BELIEVES in aliens taking over the earth. And there's no reaosn to withhold judgement on people based upon their BELIEF that Hitler was right. Sure, they could be real nice and sweet and love their mother. But if you are, say, a believer in fascism yourself, wouldn't you want to judge that that perosn is someone you might like to get with?

Remember what the word "judge" means. It doesn't mean "pre-judge." It doesn't mean "assume he's an ass." It means "assess." When we assess, we do for reasons. Is this person someone I would want to A: date? B: Marry? C: Be friends with? Their beliefs definitely factor in. Definitely. It may be illegal to discriminate in hiring based upom religion, but there are other beliefs besides a vague notion of christianity.

I say, yet again, that we should not be ashamed of our ability to judge others. We do it every time we meet a person, whether we admit it or not. There are times when withholding judgement is best. But a person doesn't always have the time or deserve the grief that letting certain persons into their lives guarantees.

Commandment 2: Judge Others, lest ye be a sucker, dead, harmed, OR MISSING AN OPPORTUNITY. (Don't forget: you can also judge others to be your friends.)

breakerslion said...

I do indeed get your drift. I should have said "based solely on their belief system". I agree, I make assessments of people all the time. I try to withhold judgment until something is done or said that would lead me to form an impression of that person's personality. I also try to leave room for revision of any judgment that I make. People do change, sometimes even for the better, and I have more than once been astonished by the actions of people that I thought I had figured out. I suppose it's a matter of actions speaking louder than group affiliation. On the other hand, since one's belief system does have great influence over one's actions and reactions, I suspect that, a great deal of the time, we would arrive at much the same conclusions from only slightly different angles.

Hellbound Alleee said...

"I try to withhold judgment until something is done or said that would lead me to form an impression of that person's personality."

Like their belief? Saying "I'm a Christian" can mean many conflicting things, but if they say, "I believe fags are destrying society," I would have no problem judging them solely on that belief. That's because I am judging that person based on my own purposes. As in, "well, this is not someone I want to be friends with."

Anyway, you get it, so I don't really have to repeat myself over and over.