… continuing from Parts 1-4. (If you haven’t read those, please go back and do so. SR)
And, a reminder that the parts in italics are excerpts (not necessary quotes of the author) from the book
“Everybody is Wrong About God” by James A. Lindsay (Pitchstone Publishing. Kindle Edition).
I encourage you to read this book if you find value in the quotes listed.
It is outstandingly unlikely that secure, functioning, healthy governments, like the ones in nations such as Sweden, preside over mostly nonbelieving societies by mere coincidence. Many, though surely not all, of people’s needs for control can be satisfied sufficiently by society when states work to make that happen, and when people know these needs will be met, it appears they reduce their reliance on belief in “God” and stop pretending those needs are met in other ways.
This, I think is a if not the key element in combating theism. It is also not surprising to me that the most conservative, and therefore religious, politicians in this country are against the government providing any more services to its citizens. To do so would undermine their religious hegemony.
Rituals and group-cohesive behaviors of similar kinds are core to a sense of community, and many of these that religious people take part in seem to directly call for a reminder to “God.” One great example is the prayer request, or its extroverted cousin, the public prayer event. We have already discussed how prayer constitutes a coping mechanism related to the need for control, but prayer that is in some way a show of faith—be it by a request to help in a desperate need (control) or by praying in groups or in front of one another—also exhibits community-building functions. Such activities are, in a significant way, visible reminders that the people involved are “on our teams,” almost in a literal sense.
Among the advantages of anchoring on a perfect, eternal “God” is simplifying the process of ethical reasoning by essentially eliminating the ongoing requirement to assess and modify one’s own ethics. Belief in “God” allows one to cast anchor into a thought-harbor where things seem steady, calm, and unchanging, protected from the buffeting waves of shifting cultural circumstances. Riding the open seas of cultural valuation takes continual effort that is greatly reduced by parking one’s ship in some harbor or another.
Get behind me, laziness!
“Satan,” or “the Enemy,” is a strange idea … like “God,” Satan is a mythological entity. Satan, though, is a myth that probably was not invented to explain anything more mystifying than the fact that no God exists. Satan, as an idea, exists because no amount of theological mental gymnastics has or ever can satisfactorily surmount the Problem of Evil—that things that are genuinely bad seem to happen (as it turns out, in a way that appears indistinguishable from utter indifference).
Interesting that the Christian god created Satan but isn’t able to uncreate Him or change Him in any way. Is great puzzlement.
The main reason that delusion isn’t quite the right idea to describe religious belief, and that mistaken is a better term, is that while God does not exist, “God” does.
This is the crux of the author’s argument and is repeated in many forms. It is really hard to find a solution for a problem if you do not know what the problem actually is.
Okay, Now What?
This book is a debate opener. It’s presented here to start a much-needed conversation. It is a call for us to go post-theistic and (hopefully) a clear expression of why doing so makes sense. It is not, however, a manifesto about how this can be achieved in the pragmatic minutiae, even if it hopes to provide some overall guiding mechanisms and useful suggestions.
The author does go into some of the possible tactics and strategies that could be used in this context, but clearly doesn’t want to be considered the fount of all of the answers.
We also have to change gears and stop arguing about the claims of theism. Those ideas are dead, and their terms are obsolete and mythological. The fight that remains is cultural, not academic or philosophical. We need to help people abandon faith, mythology, and superstition and to do everything we can to help them come to terms with the psychological and social needs that keep them clinging to ancient stories—as lone sources of ethical guidance, as coping mechanisms, as personal or cultural contextual narratives, and as a means of making sense of a confusing and difficult world.
Basically, making arguments that God doesn’t exist fall under the “flogging a dead horse for poor performance” category. His point is if that question has been answered, why continue to debate answers. They only serve to give credence to the idea that the matter is not settled.
Furthermore, we have to recognize that religion and belief in God meet needs for people, and thus we absolutely must start diligent and serious work into figuring out how to help people meet those needs in a better way.
Again, the major theme, stated over and over.
The data seem uncontroversial; where societies are very successful at The data seem uncontroversial; where societies are very successful at providing opportunities and security, reliance on religious belief drops. Put another way, if people can have their needs met without religion, they often will.
That is for the big picture, as to the small picture …
For the vast majority of people, helping them to uproot their faith does them at least two major favors. First, it treats them as an intelligent adult capable of engaging in serious and critical thought. Second, it helps them be less wrong.
All faith possesses the power for great and needless harm, and all faith is unjustifiable because it mishandles information we pretend constitutes knowledge when it doesn’t. It simply has no room in the process of determining what is true and, thus, what is most likely to produce good results for people impacted by human beliefs, which is all of us. All faith has to go.
One source of support for meeting peoples needs without faith or religion is to support secular government.
As a last word on the need for secularism and the need to encourage it, we should note the chief difficulty with secularization is the one we cannot lose sight of: again, religions are moral communities, hence morality and religion cannot be separated.
Achieving a post-theistic society may require filling the religion gap. The religion gap is the space between (1) where our societies and culture presently are in terms of naturally helping people satisfy the various psychological and social needs for which they turn to religion and belief in God and (2) where those need to be for most people to be able to meet their needs successfully without turning to religion or belief in God.
This is most definitely not by replacing religions with things that look and act just like religions.
The extremely low rate of belief in God among members of the National Academy of Sciences would perhaps be perplexing were it not for the fact that being highly adept at the sciences meets many (but not all) human needs for attribution (nota bene: being adept at the sciences also cultivates epistemic humility and a demand for having proper justification for beliefs). As scientifically minded people learn to find more and more well-evidenced natural attributions for the phenomena of the world, the notion that the rest of our phenomena have natural attributions— that can be understood and thus brought under some degree of our control—becomes more and more comfortable.
It has often been quoted that the fastest ways to lose one’s faith is to actually read the Bible, or to attend divinity school, to which we should add “to acquire a high quality education.”
Helping people to realize a satisfying sense of purpose in life is also a tricky endeavor because it is intimately tied up with a few core human struggles that we seem to remain poorly equipped at coping with: death and extinction. Becoming lost in the sense of powerlessness attendant to those hard facts of living robs people of the ability to see that the most meaningful purposes in their lives are both clear and present. 11 Satisfaction with life and the capacity to help others achieve it are the human purposes, and the fact that these efforts are necessarily local—as opposed to universal— makes them more poignant, not less. Our purposes in life are defined most significantly in those we care most about.
I think when people talk about their purpose in life it is always a post hoc generalization of things already done. It never seems to come up when deciding what to do.
Meaning and purpose in life become almost entirely apparent when we facilitate good work and a sense of community. They become even clearer when people identify themselves with their communities.
I will be comment on this in the next (and I hope final) post in this series.
We have to wean ourselves off the pointless and boring arguments, many of which are over philosophical topics or morals, so that these no longer characterize the debate over religion.
A huge part of this effort is captured in the promotion of being openly nonreligious.
“God,” as a set of ideas, is an important concept for humanity, and it has helped and continues to help billions of human beings attempt to live better lives by allowing them to fulfill many of their core psychosocial needs (and to ignore others). Pretending that when believers talk about “God” that they do not know what they are talking about is condescending and unfair. It isn’t that they don’t know what they’re talking about; it’s that they’re talking about a mythological construct that embodies what they really mean.
Understanding what “God” means could cut through theism completely, but there are obstacles to this. Most notably, faith is an almost insurmountable barrier because it, almost by definition, makes itself unquestionable. Given that, we must uproot faith.
Pant, pant, pant … if you have stuck with this thus far, I applaud your stamina. I hope to wrap up this whole series in my next post.