Raving Atheist recently gave us a post dealing with something rather interesting. Specifically, he was discussing an article in Newsday that asked a group of Unitarian Universalists whether or not they believe in god.
...was less complimentary, however, about UU Janet Hanson's answer:I have to believe in God because I see so many things -- both good and bad -- done in God's name. God exists in the minds of people. To say that I don't believe in God would be absurd.
The RA responds to Ms. Hanson with considerable scorn:So God exists in her mind because it exists in the minds of others who say He does things. But what if those people are all doing the same thing -- basing their beliefs on Ms. Hanson's conviction that God exists, a conviction that itself is based only upon her opinion of what’s in their heads? God might just be a belief about what other people believe you believe about what they believe.
In one sense I agree with the RA- believing in something because a buttload of other people do is a pretty stupid reason. On the other hand, I do think the RA is missing something important here. The Sociologist W.I. Thomas wrote, "If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences," which is often used as a one-sentence summary of social construction. In short, humans collectively decide on the nature of the world, building a set of interpretations and understandings as a group activity. This is not to say (in my view) that an ultimate, single physical reality does not exist, but rather that the webwork of meaning that humans use to interact with that world is produced through social means. Though stated inelegantly, Ms. Hanson has stumbled across a similar revelation. On a certain level, if enough people believe in god then god is socially real, even if he is not materially real.
Men and women have defined god to be real, and he has become real in his consequences for the world. Such a process of social construction can easily be invoked to explain religious devotion...
The problem here is what "Total Drek" and his sociologists are talking about is belief in a God, not God. I have to be honest here and say that I think "Social construction" is nonsense. We're talking about memes, and not even Richard Dawkins says they are real. As a strict materialist, memes are real, as ideas in our brains. But even if 10 thousand, 10 million, a billion people have an idea they call "God," they still are not the same idea. They are a billion ideas, existing nowhere but as ideas in a billion heads. I have no problem saying that the belief in God exists, and that a scary majority of people have the idea they believe in A God, but that doesn't make "god exist as a social construction." And certianly, the UU's who will go ahead and be smart-alecky and say "I believe in God," they sure-as hell don't have the same meme. Why say "I believe in God in a sense," when you can say, "I believe in the belief in God," and discuss how that belief affects you daily? (And explain which God you mean.)
I suppose what we have here is a Unitarian-Universalist Social-Construct God meme. That's a whole different ball of wax. It sure isn't the same meme my sweet Aunt Doris worshopped in her Quaker meeting-house, nor is it the same meme my uncle babbles tongues about in his much louder church. No, it's much more pretentious and a sort of impotent UU God meme. It also makes you wonder--they aren't proposing that their meme is the same as at least one of the memes in the Hindu head, is it?
Could there be a UU-Social-Construct Polytheistic Gods-Meme, as well as the Monotheistic Social Construct God meme? We wouldn't want to leave anyone out. Because, after all, we can't be so presumptuous as to assume we know exactly what meme is in everyone else's head.
Now that I think of it, social constructs are guesses and assumptions. They are not collective ones, however. Guesses exist in the heads of individuals, and social constructs exist as ideas in the heads of the one making the assumption.
That idea just doesn't seem lofty or important enough to qualify for a God, does it?