Archived blog post

Tradition and belief

Posted by Tim on Sunday, January 07, 2007 | Permalink

I apologise in advance for the fact that this is highly likely to turn into a semi-drunken rambling rant on what is really a social issue (apologies also to Steve - no disrespect to his wife intended). I should point out that this post is about Christianity in England - things are obviously very different elsewhere.

From the Pub Philosopher -
Having a history degree, she [his wife] also knows that the world could not have been made in 4004 BC and she has studied enough science to know that much of what is written in the Bible cannot possibly be true. But, just as she likes to take the decorations down on Twelfth Night, she also likes to go to church, sing hymns and read the Bible. As with many other perfectly sane and intelligent people, the mix of an attachment to tradition and a vague feeling that human reason may not be able to quite explain everything, keeps her observing these rituals. Many of us are reluctant to jettison our attachment to old beliefs completely. After all, you can never be sure, can you?

I find it difficult to understand how obviously intelligent people can believe in God - however I am convinced that most of the people who follow these rituals don't actually have a genuine belief in God. The "attachment to tradition" is the problem. Too many people believe that if something is traditional it is, by default, worthwhile - yet if you ask these people what is so great about tradition and they will merely define the term ("because these are things our fathers did, and their fathers before them ...")

The church is a big part of many traditions. People marry in church. They have their children christened - despite having no intention of bringing them up "within the faith". They fight to get their kids into church schools. There will probably be a service in a church when they die. These people are culturally Christian.

Steve is unfortunately right when he points out that as scientific knowledge has not been able to kill off religious beliefs so far, it is unlikely to do so any time soon. There are just too many people unwilling to accept what they know to be true. To quote Winston Churchill: "Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened".

My view is that it is this cultural Christianity more than anything else that allows religion to survive when it should have died out a long time ago. It is responsible for the misguided opinions about religion being a good thing - whether any gods exist or not. It is what halts progress and allows fundamentalism, with all its ignorance and bigotry, to continue.

What do other people think?

[related article]

Comments [ hide comments ]
Religion is for the weak of confidence. There is a need to know there is something bigger. Nothing is bigger than me. And thats that.
Stookie, 10.01.2007, 5:45am #
My apologies, but I'm going to re-post my earlier comments, only very slightly amanded, for people to read here, as well....

Unreasoning belief, and the believers.

The believers, in all the monotheistic religions, and even that religion-without-a-god, communism, seem to have common characteristics, as do those religions.
All seem to suggest that religion is a very bad idea, and that religions, and especially their believers, will do certain unpleasant things.
In order to combat this pernicious mind-rot, I'm proposing some falsifiable tests for religions, and some suggestions as to what rational people should do about it.

A set of testable Propositions

1. No  can be detected - OR - God is not detectable
2. All religions are blackmail, and are based on fear and superstition.
3. All religions have been made by men.
4. Prayer has no effect on third parties.
5. All religions kill, or enslave, or torture.
What do those religions (including Marxism) actually DO?
How are they structured?
Never mind what they claim what are their real, testable parameters?


What I also want to know, is why religious believers, still cling to their (childhood?) imaginary friends, and don't GROW UP.

One of the latest re-hashed ideas for a "god" is that of "The Anthropic Principle", also called the "unbelievably-good-fine-tuning", but these arguments are completely hollow.
So hollow that Douglas Adams demolished them in Hitchiker.
It's another version of "We're special" or, alternatively a god of the gaps.

Yes, the christians/muslims/etc are right in one thing.
I'm annoyed.

I've got a whole church full of christian fuckwit braindead, just around the corner, and far too many pig-buggering muslims making noises about "kahlifah" (though they've gone VERY quiet recently) to be sanguine about belief in an invisible friend.

Come on.

I have put a testable, falsifyable principle up:
"No god is detectable."
Unless and until any god is detected, we can ignore all and any gods.

I really don't care what the religious do, as consenting adults in private - that's their business.
But I am completely fucked off, right up to the eyebrows, with their pontificating, with no supporting evidence whatsoever, telling me, and millions like me, what to do with my life.

Of course, if the bible isn't literally true, you can pick and choose which bits are true/important or not - oh, wars of religion, anyone?

So: for the christians
- go and warm up a crucifix, and stick it up the unmarried mother Mary's minge for me, will you?
Similarly, the muslims can insert a pork sausage, where it will do most good.

Why can't these interfering mean-minded busybodies just shut up, play with their toys in quiet, and leave us alone?
G. Tingey, 10.01.2007, 9:46am #
what a crude little shit you are g. tingey.

you do atheism little credit.
harriet, 14.01.2007, 1:31am #
They can't leave us alone because it is a habit. Take a look at the evolution of the word "Freedom" and how the definition (like the defining characteristics of God) has evolved over the centuries.

The 15th - 17th Century version of "freedom' meant that freedom was granted for all to follow Jesus. There was no "political" style of freedom we see today. During the Spanish conquests of the Indies and South America, they truly believed they were bringing "freedom" to the native inhabitants by bringing the Bible with them. They believed they liberated the natives, by force, from their pagan lives and into a free life (slavery) of worshiping God.

My point is that Christians today still feel that way, and the only difference now is that they can no longer, in most countries, kill those who do not comply with their new "freedom."
JGJ, 14.01.2007, 8:16am #
Quoting "Stookie":
"Nothing is bigger than me. And thats that."

Wow, that's not true. Even science recognizes that we are very very small indeed.

If these church-going people (see article) do not hold "fundamental" religious viewpoints, why does it anger you that they go to church to muse about something greater and unknown in the universe? To ponder the philosophically valid idea of spritiuality? Pick you enemy with presicion. Your enemy is fundamentalism and it does not rest with these particular church-goers.

Recognize that indeed something is lost in secular society without the church. Much has improved with the dying influence of the church, but as with anything complex something is lost too. Communities are less tightly bond together. We are more likely to shrug off ugly human traits like greed.

Why must we always treat complex issues with such fervent black and white approaches?

Stephen Harrington
Stephen Harrington - Agnostic, 15.01.2007, 3:23pm #
Suggesting that communites are less tightly bonded together without the church is unfounded.

Native inhabitants of South America before the introduction of Christianity had no idea what greed and wealth were before the Spanish arrived. Native American Indians had never claimed land as their own unless they were using it, the concept of property ownership was entirely foreign to them. The land belonged to everyone. There are a lot more details that go into their beliefs about ownership but I will leave it to you to look into it. If you do, you might understand why I say that your statement is unfounded.
JGJ, 15.01.2007, 8:35pm #
Replying to "JGJ"

I never suggested that the christian relgion is the only religion that created "community". It is merely one of the most dominant examples in Eurpoe and North America.

Yes, those other cultures had strong community, but lets recognize two thigns. 1) they helped hold those communities together with their own religions, and 2) religion was historically most necessary when man stopped wandering like a nomad and started trying to live together in large communities.

Religion was used as a cudgel to teach nomadic peoples how to behave (ie don't kill and steal) and used the idea of "someone watching" to cover for early forms of government which could otherwise do very little to keep citizens in line.

We may indeed be ready to shed these harsh and controlling versions of religion. But, as I argued, these religions also encouraged some very positive behaviours inculding "love thy neighbour" and building of strong and loyal communities.

Please don't seriously tell me that you think secular north america is as strong community wise as those that cling to the church?

This is a problem for you atheists to solve. Or do you only attack religion and shrink away at the first sign of resistance?
Stephen Harrington - Agnostic, 16.01.2007, 4:11pm #
Stephen, I wouldn't attack religion if it didn't attack me. I'm all for Joe Schmoe going to church on Sunday, Saturday, or whatever day or days he wants to go. More power to him/her. It is when they try to put their religious ideas into law, though some are universal truths and others are nothing more than an extention of their religious beliefs. It is not the "love thy neighbor" that atheists have problems with. It is the several examples of religious excercising their ideals on those who have differing beliefs. Take for example, in my home state of TN there is a law that states that no person can hold public office who does not have the belief in a supreme being. Or even the way that some acted when the new Muslim Representative wanted to swear by the Qur'an instead of the Bible, how military personel are forced to say, "so help me God" in their oath of allegience, prayer in schools, 10 Commandments in tax paid government facilities, the tax free status of religions and yet they are the largest property owners, and get governmental aid when needed.

Sure, religion has it's benefits but it has harms as well, so again I say that it is not the philosophies of religion that I, personally, have a problem with. Universal truths are universal and not owned by any one, or all, religion.

I shrink from no resistance, I've had more various Christians walk away from me than I will ever walk away from. I don't get hostile, I just happen to know Christian History better than any Christian I have ever met. I make it a point to learn whereas the Christians I have spoken with don't even know who Constantine I was and what he did for them. They speak of the persecution of Christians and yet had no idea that Christians have been responsible for more needless deaths than any single organization in history, including the Nazis. Religion has the dirtiest hands in history.

However, I must say that I am thankful for Christians and their bloody past. If it wasn't for Pope Urban II as well as the Reconquista we might all be Muslims.
JGJ, 17.01.2007, 9:42pm #
it seems like their faith becomes more of a form and function than an actual practice.
maybe that's why it's so easy to argue them.
they don't really understand what they believe.
q: why do you believe?
a: i just do.
q: but why?
a: i don't know, i just do.
q: you know that believing in an all seeing, all knowing, all present God is about as as far fetched as the belief that floating around the galaxy are 400 foot pink rabbit? there is no proof of either. therefor both are equally as likely.
a: but the Bible was written by God through man. there is proof right there.
q: so was the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien for all we know. If he had said that, would you believe?
a: come on! that's far fetched! there are dragons, and wizards, and dead people that are still walk around in Lord of the Rings! that can't be true.
q: ......
a: ...what?
q: ...Jesus is a zombie.
josh, 09.02.2007, 7:57am #
'Native inhabitants of South America before the introduction of Christianity had no idea what greed and wealth were before the Spanish arrived.'

Far be it from me to defend the Spanish conquest of S. America but the idea that native Indians did not know what greed was before Christianity arrived is untrue. Even if they had no particular word for it, which I doubt in any case, they were disposed to it like any human society since time began. And secondly the offering of human sacrifices hardly paints the picture of some quaint and innocent little civilization which was morally deformed by Christianity. If you want to criticize Christianity do so with precision. You shouldnt need to paint fraudulent pictures of other civilizations to do so. It only weakens your case when you do.
nikola, 11.02.2007, 5:50pm #
I agree with nikola...not to say I'm a diehard conservative Christian...but josh, please explain to me that if GOD did not create me, what did? Are you trying to tell me that all of what I am, all of what the universe is...just happened? The probablity of the universe just "becoming" is just as likely as 4.78x106^1232194079817 blind people all solving a Rubic's cube at the exact same time...and the Big Bang Theory is plausible? And I do know why I believe the way I beleive...not like your person is your little narrative. And if you want to believe there are "400 foot rabbits" circling around our galaxy, be my guest, but before you disprove the appropriate place for religion in society, please allow me to state some rather obvious statements:
1. If there is no absolute power, there is no absolute truth.
2. If there is no absolute truth, there is no moral perogative.
3. If there is no moral perogative, there is can be no clear cut definition of right and wrong.

Are you trying to persuade me to think that just because you cannot see GOD(insert higher being if the name offends you)...HE does not exist? You can see the effects of HIS works around you, yet you will deny you see nothing? I know you might think I am only thinking in a paradigm constructed for me by those who raised me in a home where Christian ideas were prevelant, and this may be true, but I know I can think for myself, devoid of religious beliefs.

You may say J.R.R. Tolkien's fictional books are just as likely as the BIBLE to be true in nature, but nothing Tolkien has said in his books can be attested to by other secular history books. Human history books prove the infallability of the BIBLE, yet you simply refuse to beleive it? I found your comment about JESUS being a zombie quite mendacious to say the least...humourous, but distasteful. JESUS rose from the dead. JESUS is the Son of GOD. HE had the power not to die on the cross, yet HE persevered to the end. Why do you think he did that? So the fulfillment of ACTUAL PEOPLE WHO CAN BE ATTESTED TO BY BOOKS OTHER THAN THE BIBLE's prophecies would be completed. I do not agree with the statements Tingey made about religion. Although you have the right to agree or disagree about what you believe, you judge a group of people on what some of them think, not all of them. That is prejudice. And what is this about no supporting evidence at all? Could the fact you are alive and even existing at all be proof of GOD's existence? Do you question why you breathe? Do you even know the intricate design in which your
breathing is even possible? No? And you do not question that do you? Or what about the reason you do not float off into space? Gravity and inertia are keeping us here, yet do you know how and why they work? No again? And you still question GOD's existence?

In closing, if anyone can offer irrefutable proof that a god does not exist, and my religion is worthless, please give it to me.
Esoteric, 10.03.2007, 7:39am #
The sugggestions given and propositions supported have no evidence whatsoever. The so-called 5 "testable propositions" that were given do not have any sort of backing. I did not read any premises or anything given to support the claims. Secondly, there is a superfluidity of assumptions given about religion that are not true. Yes they are assumptions. Am I I i trapped? that is an assumption! Thirdly, the word "all" automatically leads itself to over-generalizations. Furthermore, if we trace religion through history and declare its heretical, hypocritical characteristics then of course we will say religion is worthless. But, if we trace it through the means of Scripture then perhaps we will get a different view. Of course, you may discredit the bible but be sure to give evidence. You may discredit god but prove he does not exist. Evidence is necessary.
Youth Minister, 12.03.2007, 4:54pm #
I've rather lost track of the comments to this post, and right now can't be bothered to read through them all. It's clear thought that an FAQ page is needed on the site to answer all those irritating questions that are asked again and again (like the not being able to disprove the existence of god one. I mean, come on! Why do I need to disprove something that has never been proven in the first place?)
Tim, 21.03.2007, 1:12am #
what i disagree with about organized religion is the idea that everyone must have the same concept of 'God' and it must be their concept. Very silly. And why give them the credit of having a monopoly on such concepts in any case? Some people seem to give them that monopoly. I doubt that really everyone would in any case have the same idea in their head when it comes to such a concept. It's one thing to think about metaphysical issues in an independent sort of way if that's what one wants to do - it's probably another to subscribe to a fixed notion of God. I can see why so many people don't want to believe in 'God' as the 'God' portrayed seems to be frightfully similar to a nasty vengeful human - or for whatever other reason they may have. Religious people 'dismiss' atheists because they don't conform to their narrow concepts - and imagine that if you don't agree with them - then you must think the 'complete opposite'. Personally I find setting up such dichotomies unhelpful - the reality of the world is everyone thinks all sorts of different things - and it's a bit silly to think that if you're not A you must be B etc. etc. Narrow- minded thinking. there's a huge range of ideas and thoughts out there.
sonia, 21.03.2007, 12:45pm #
An FAQ is a good idea - it'd give them something else to ignore before they write "why not pick on Islam for once?"!
Ben, 21.03.2007, 8:47pm #
I find it amusing that at least Islam has a scriptural description of heaven, yet Christianity doesn't. The only thing the Bible says is that they sit around and sing songs to praise their divine one for all eternity. Narcissist Deity. Every other idea of what heaven is like came from fictional works. For Christians, it is all about getting to heaven, a vacation paradise with an empty brochure. If it wasn't for the Islamic treatment of women, their idea of heaven for their martyrs would be a living hell.
JGJ, 22.03.2007, 2:29am #
Once again I am reading posts that are using generalizations and assumptions. Tim claims that the existence of God has "never" been proven. Obviously Tim is not a historian nor does Tim do much research in historical apologetics. I disagree with Sonia about the "monopoly" concept for everyone does not have the same concept of God. In Scripture there are many concepts of who God, just, pure, holy, blameless, etc. sonia would have us to look at every possible concept of God before accepting one (i.e. Postmodernism thinking). JGJ finds it amusing that there is no depiction of heaven in God's word that is sufficient. Is this why you do not believe in God? tell me something...If God is infinite then how can finite descriptions truly captivate what heaven is like? Is it like Gold? gold corrupts and decays but heaven does not. Is it like diamonds? Same thing. Perhaps heaven is like love, fellowship, unity, things you cannot see. this is why heaven is not fully explained becuase the finitude can express concepts of infinitude. I am still amazed that no evidence has been given to disprove the existence of God. Maybe there does need to be a FAQ on here. But at least let those FAQ's have some tangible evidence.
Youth Minister, 26.03.2007, 6:06pm #
Just read the comment about Christians having the dirtiest hands in history. Have you ever thought it would be possible for Christians to not act like Christians? Does this make it God's fault? Or do we have free moral choice. I don't consider those who murder innocent people to be Christians. I don't care what name they say they are doing this in. Furthermore about the Tennessee state law...I agree that no religion should be forced on an individual. If that is the case then no thought process should be forced on individuals. Like abortion for example...when my son gets into school I think it should be illegal for a teacher to force the concept that abortion is morally acceptable. I also think it is unacceptable for teachers to tell my son it is ok for people to practice homosexuality. You say, "That is outrageous because those things are accepted!" Who are they accepted by? Are my son's rights being vio.lated then? Do you see the inconsistencies of what you are advocating?
Youth Minister, 26.03.2007, 6:15pm #
I'm sorry Youth Minister (may I call you Youth?) - have you just claimed that the existence of god has been proven? Care to expand on that one?
Ben, 26.03.2007, 10:26pm #
Youth is fine Ben. I would love to expand on the existence of God and proofs therein. However, this is not a website for that it is a website to show "articles and opinions on the absurdity and danger of religious beliefs." I am not on the defense. I have asked for proof three times now from you skeptics and have received nothing.
Youth Minister, 28.03.2007, 8:31pm #
Youth, I'm not the one making a grand claim for the existence of a sky fairy. What I say on this website is: I will not believe in God without proof. To believe anything without evidence is, I think, a moral failing. By all means, go ahead and prove it. I fear this is a conversation that'll stall very quickly.
Ben, 28.03.2007, 11:58pm #
"If God is infinite then how can finite descriptions truly captivate what heaven is like?"

If God is infinite then why is there ample description of hell? Is not your Hell a creation of your same infinite God? Why is the Bible more about punishment than reward? Why does infinity have anything to do with it?

"Is it like Gold? gold corrupts and decays but heaven does not. "

You do not even know what heaven is, how can you make an assumption about its nature? You do not know what God is, how can you make an assumption about his nature? It is the same argument you use for heaven!

"Perhaps heaven is like love, fellowship, unity, things you cannot see. this is why heaven is not fully explained becuase the finitude can express concepts of infinitude."

God is supposed to be a tangible thing, not an idea. If you are just saying ??God is just an idea, a figment of the mind, a convergence of chemicals in the brain, just a word describing an emotion I am happy with that.

"I am still amazed that no evidence has been given to disprove the existence of God."

No evidence has been given to disprove because the burden of proof is on you to prove he is there first. I do not have to prove to astronomers that black holes do not exist until astronomers prove that they do. By trying to prove that God does not exist, I give strength to his existence as though there is something there to disprove. First, prove he is, then I will prove he is not. Why would Ben, or I, waste our time trying to disprove everything that could possibly exist? As Dawkins would say, prove that the flying spaghetti monster does not exist; prove that Vishnu does not exist; or prove that the god of the Inuit does not exist. The burden is upon you, not us.

"Gold corrupts"

I see you own a computer; could the money used to buy your computer not have been used to feed the poor? "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me." Get off your golden box and go walk with the homeless; remove the mote from your own eye. Deny yourself! However, you will not do that will you? You will not give up everything, will you? Instead, you would rather make an excuse or twist the words to fit your needs. Anything, as long as it lets you sleep in your bed, watch TV, surf the net, drive your car, eat your good food on a plate with silverware instead of sleeping in a box, watching the world drive by in comfort from your park bench, and eating out of the garbage with your fingers. Deny yourself! Then, you can come to me and ask me to prove that God does not exist. Then, you might have a leg to stand on. Then, I will not take you for just another Christian hypocrite standing on their golden box proclaiming the glories of a God you ignore.

Youth Minister? No, I would say "youth brainwasher." Why not be an ??Adult Minister? Why prey upon the impressionable? I know! There is no challenge in converting those who still believe in the tooth fairy. You turn the Bible into children's stories, cartoons, and the like so that it can be a better brainwasher. A tool and nothing more. You tell them ??God loves you and you will never be alone and yet you cannot prove that this invisible friend exists or not. (And no, this has nothing to do with me being an atheist, drop the ad hominum.) I have yet to see a Youth Minister, or an Adult Minister, teach the children anything but the cute and fuzzy parts of the Bible.

Ministers and evangelists create division, not unity. You create inequalities, you make the ??us and them out of the world. You create tension instead of harmony. You have evangelized the people of the world when they were young or ignorant and then marvel at your numbers as though it must be the truth. Your numbers are not that impressive. They are not even the majority. Two billion Christians, five billion non-Christians. You cannot even create unity in your own religion. Two billion Christians, ten thousand denominations, sects, and cults who cannot agree on the basic fundamentals of your own beliefs. One book, two billion interpretations of the same freaking passages. God is nothing but infinitely variable.

Now, I have given you more attention than you deserve.
JGJ, 29.03.2007, 12:20pm #
Well JGJ that was a good soapbox sermon you just gave but once agian there is no evidence. You have attacked my statements, you have attacked my occupation but have given little validity to the proof that there is no God. I am done posting on this website because I have successfully shown that the atheists here are not in the mood to make propositions (yes propose something) instead they want to spend more time attacking arguments that I have not made (save the infinite/finite arguments). JGJ spent about a paragraph hammering my occupation asserting that I brainwash kids, etc. Of course, he is assuming this. Why do I "prey" on the impressionable. Because thye have needs to be met. The girl who cuts herself looking for answers what do I say to her? The girl who is 30 lbs under weight and says she is fat, what do I say to her? The girl who just lost a grandfather because he shot himself in the head, what do I say to her? The guy who just caused his girlfriend to become pregnant and has to face this with his parents and her parents...what do I say to her? JGJ...I am on the front lines of life!!! What do I say to those people if there is no God? Sorry...face it...suck it up...nobody cares for you...get over it...move on...die like the rest of us!!! I do not water anything down nor do I put cute cartoons to the kids I minister to. I apologize if that is the impression you have received from other youth minsters (or maybe your own once upon a time) but that is not me nor is that the claim that I make. Yes...I am a hypocrite when it comes to selling everything I own and giving it to the poor. Do you think that is what Jesus was telling the people to actually do? Should I sell everything I own, put my wife, my kids on the streets to eat fish bones and say that I am doing the Lord's work? Sounds like you need to do some more thinking on the hermeneutics of that verse. But in general your point rings true. We are hypocrites when it comes to it all. I agree. But that does not discredit anything. Ever heard of grace...mercy...human imperfection? You would have us to live a flawless life.
Youth Minister, 02.04.2007, 2:49pm #
"What do I say to those people if there is no God? Sorry...face it...suck it up...nobody cares for you...get over it...move on...die like the rest of us!!! "

You must be a fucking awful youth minister. So if there's no god, no one cares about these people? How about other people caring, you berk? How about just you caring, and never mind the fictional bearded bloke you hide behind?
"The girl who cuts herself looking for answers what do I say to her?" Um, something useful rather than "God loves you"?
"I am done posting on this website"

Yes, good, go on, piss off.
Ben, 02.04.2007, 7:27pm #
e-mail me Ben...we need to talk more [email protected]
Youth Minister, 03.04.2007, 3:16pm #
I doubt we do, but feel free to email the address at the top left of the page.
Ben, 03.04.2007, 8:29pm #
Here's the proof:
your religion sucks, 24.08.2007, 7:27pm #

New comments disabled due to spam