Saturday, January 10, 2009

Why Do You Believe What You Do?

Since returning from a holiday retreat in Oregon, I've been thinking a bit about what I believe and why others believe what they do. I look at my parents who each subscribe to different Christian religions (ones they wouldn't be in were it not for their significant others). You'd think being twenty years older than I, with more real-world experience, they'd be in a more enlightened belief system than the one I subscribe to. But age, apparently, doesn't matter. A 10-year old could believe in something more soul stirring than what your average 75-year old does.

In the 90's, while on a city bus, I overheard an older lady say she does the things she thinks God wants her to in order to avoid going to "the bad place". I shook my head and thought, "What kind of God could ever send a sweet woman like you to hell and more importantly, why do you choose to believe in such a God"?

We are free to believe in whatever God we want or none at all or that all is God. I just don't see how millions (billions?) can choose a belief system that restricts them, that says you must do this, that you must never do this. Some say that if one doesn't believe in God, all morals go out the window. I disagree, as evidenced by the following quote from Michael Shermer:

"If you agree that, in the absence of God, you would commit robbery, rape, and murder, you reveal yourself as an immoral person, and we would be well advised to steer a wide course around you. If, on the other hand, you admit that you would continue to be a good person even when not under divine surveillance, you have fatally undermined your claim that God is necessary for us to be good.”

What really blows my mind are people who have belonged to the same religion all their lives and say it is the best in the world, without ever giving the other ones (or having none at all) an honest try. It's like Americans saying the U.S. is the best country in the world without ever having been overseas.


Brian said...

This is another area we have much in common. I am very open-minded and don't discredit any religion. As long as the religion each has makes them happy and is one they believe strongly in, I am very happy for them.

Many go to church for the wrong reasons. When younger, I knew of some guys who went to church strictly to meet women.

I always said that I'd like to try each religion, but that would take years to learn and attempt. Perhaps one day, I'll give it a shot or atleast study each religion to learn more.

disestablishingpuritanism said...

I'm jealous about your venture to Oregon. Robin and I have yearned to travel there for quite some time. Great post and here's my take on religion:

Religion is a means to control the masses. This can be construed as positive and negative. I've been born and raised in the same religion, and I still have a fondness for it. Many sermons are devoted to treating those in the most dire need, compassion for others who have differences, and simply looking at everyone on similar paths in life looking for answers. Ultimately, I think to whatever extent, we're slaves to happiness.

Religion becomes bastardized in my opinion when it's used as a wedge predicated on fear. Fundamentalists, for example, rely on group think. I highly respect those devout in their faith who form their own views out of the belief God is benevolent.

I date someone who has had many more negative experiences with those who were around individuals with group think fear tactics. So, they tend to believe they're always right and it's others who need to follow the path they believe they've chosen. This is a fundamental flaw that sparks wars throughout civilization. Each religion has its contradictions. Essentially, these texts are piecemealed for one's own comforts.

Rod Blagajoevich did say in a recent press conference he follows The Golden Rule; saying this and practicing it are two different things. You can preach til your face turns blue. Ultimately, I believe how we treat one another is what separates us.

Rocketstar said...

Michael Shermer is a wise man. As Chris Hitchens says, "Name a moral action or statement executed by a believer that has not or could not be executed by a non-believer." You can't.

Eric Curtis said...

What is now the Catholic Church has done some wonderful things through-out history (along with committing some of the worst crimes against humanity.) The greatest contribution was copying the ancient manuscripts that didn't only include the bible. Without the Church, we wouldn't have the histories of the Egyptians, Greeks or the Romans. They also helped people through education.

All of those things can now be taken care of without the Church. I hope that organized religion will be phased out over the next few generations, but I doubt that will happen.

All that said, I respect anyone's right to worship whoever they wish, but that better not interfere in my own life.

Dämmerung Anblick said...

Well it seems that religion and science have something in common after all. Michael Shermer has shot holes into the sloppy dogma of both.

The Mad Hoosier said...

You don't need to taste dog poo, to know that it's not going to taste good or be good for you. OR I don't need to go to Russia/China/Iraq/and so on, to know it's not the best country in the world.

Also...if behavior is learned/engrained...and religion has ruled this world(for better or worse) for thousands of it legitmate to say that a non-believer wouldn't act immoral if immorality has been engrained into culture via thousands of years of religion? Would anyone know what immorailty was if religion didn't tell us what it was(again for better or worse) for thousands of years? There is historical evidence of cultures that weren't overly religious that were quite immoral. If those cultures dominated history, would morality or a moral code have sprung up along the way? Who knows.

Just some questions/thoughts to ponder from a believer who hasn't visited many other countries, but still believes that the USA is the best country in the world. Or if we wanted to quote Sean Hannity..."The United States is the greatest, best, country in the history of the world." :)

John said...

Simple answer: faith. Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. Through Him all things are possible. May you find the peace that only Jesus can bring. You would not need to be questioning religion if you knew the Truth. Yes, there are absolute rights and wrongs in this world.

Thomas said...

Brian, I agree. If one is in a religion that makes them walk with a spring in their step, more power to them. I just refuse to believe in a God whose love is conditional and who sends sweet old ladies to burn.

Speaking of going to church to meet women, as a young lad in the Jehovah's Witness faith, I remember being aware that I was expected to date and/or marry a girl who was already a Witness. However, there were only a few girls in the congregation who were in my age range (in other words, slim pickings). I'm glad I was able to get out of the faith at the age of 14. It helped ensure that I'd have a much greater pool in which to choose from.

Not too long ago, I wrote about a Philosophy class I attended in college in which I learned about the world's major religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). I think it was the best college class I ever took.

PJ, don't be too jealous. We stayed at a hotel that was stuck in a timewarp (no TV, no phone, claw bathtub, shower in the hallway, doilies everywhere). We adapted, however.

You are so right about the tendency of many belief systems to lead to war. That's why I'm proud to say that my way is not the only way, it's merely another way. If all religions espoused How we treat each other is, indeed, of paramount importance.

Rocket, so true.

Eric, very good points. No question that the Church has done quite a bit of good in the world, but when you think of all the bad (especially all the molestations of late), one begins to wonder if the world would be a better place without it (or at least without priests valiantly trying to be celibate when it runs against all human nature).

Dammerung, I plan to check out Shermer's work in the future. I hadn't heard of him before yesterday.

Mad, thanks for stopping by. I love it when you give Rocket a hard time and have secretly wished that you might do the same for me.

We're all born with a conscience, so I can't say I believe that if religion hadn't come to be, there'd be wars everywhere. Some of the places where the strongest fighting is taking place are locations where the people are very religious. The Aborigines don't believe in Christ, but you don't see them bombing the crap out of each other. I'm sure that in many ways, society has been helped by religion, but there's been a heck of a lot of negatives that they've brought to the table as well.

Regarding Hannity, if he truly believes he's living in the best country on Earth, why is he angry so much? I hold the U.S. in much lower esteem, but rarely get angry. Explain that.

Also, looking at worldwide statistics will show that the U.S. is woefully behind in many aspects of life (education, for one), but many will still believe they're living in the best of all possible worlds (Yes, a Voltaire reference. Can you believe it?).

John, welcome aboard. I agree that Jesus is a great man, but that he should not so much be worshipped as emulated. Did he not say, "These things you shall do also"? It is possible to have peace without Jesus. Noah did as did Moses. In the end, I think we can both agree that God is love. I just think that God's love is unconditional which might be a tad farther than you wish to go.

Rocketstar said...

mad hoosier, morality existed long before any religions existed. Morality also exists int he animal kingdom. The great apes, chimpanzees, the binobos all exhibit many moral behaviors. Has relgion played a part in shaping the worlds morality, sure, but it was not a pre-requesite.

In a lot of ways, no, in most ways the US is the best country but we also fail in a lot of ways as well, but there is still no other place I'd want to live.

Brian said...

I would love to have taken that class. Very cool!

Timothy Smith said...

Thats what makes America so great, the freedom to worship any fairy tale you choose.

Stephanie said...

Hey T-Money,

I haven't read your Oregon experience yet but plan to. :)

I like your take that a 10-year-old could believe in something more soul stirring than a 75-year-old because I truly believe that you are right.

I must say, I don't know the first thing about Michael Shermer but agree wholeheartedly with both his take and yours as well.

I was just having a discussion about this over the weekend. One thing that has always turned me off from religion is the idea that one religion is totally right and all others are wrong.

Since they believe differently, they are going to hell. Really?

Since they do not believe in the same God as I, they are going to hell. Really?

People can be the best, most honorable in the world and this is how we are taught to view them if they do not believe the same as we are taught.

Just doesn't make sense to me.

The Mad Hoosier said... problem. Sorry it took so long to stop by and stir the pot, so to speak. :)

Rocket, I'm pretty sure animals can't learn morality, because by definition, they need to know right from wrong. Animals have instincts and ingrained behaviors. They can act in their own best interest, which may seemingly coincide with a kind of definition of morality.

As for Hannity...I don't know very much about him, so I can't explain him...I just got a kick out of one of the last Cobert Report's I watched, he had a whole segment full of Sean and his variations of America being the best country in the world.