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« Having It Both Ways: Atheists on Religion, Believers on Religion | Main | Answering Laura: Atheists on Religion, Believers on Religion, Part 3 »

Comments

stephen

Dear Greta.
Thank you. First, last and always, thank you. You have found a new and clearer way to phrase and state something that has bothered me since I was getting my ass kicked for being jewish in a pseudo-christian public school. I have always wondered if violence stemmed from religion, and given most religions teachings, I had a hard time seeing that. I have always been wary of someone doing something "for my own good" or to "help me" when I did not ask for it, as they inevitably move toward their own agenda, disguising it as my agenda. My answer to your question, does religion cause evil in the world is no. Remember the root and basis of religion from a psychological perspective is humanity trying to control the uncontrollable world outside the cave door. Why does it rain, why do plants grow, why did that mastodon step on my wife and not my mother in law? Humanity since it could control anything, has feared things it could not control. religion gives the illusion of control to people who fear its loss. If you behave this way, the benevolent (or sadistic) god figure will give you goodies when you die. It allows the denial of the fact that when you die they bury you and you go in the dirt and stay there. Everyone in the world believes they are special somehow and that they deserve more than they get. Religion is the illusion of unique importance. I learned long ago not to fuck with the illusions of others. it makes them violent, really violent. So I suppose that religion itself does not cause evil, but the need in humanity to control does.

Tracy Quan

So, I don't agree with all of this. I think MOST of the religion in the world is banal, benign, communal stuff that has very little to do with belief. It is the fanatics who create the problems for religion. People who take their religion too seriously. Put another way, most believers are probably a bit agnostic about their belief -- they just like to hang with their tribe and have an identity. But a tiny number of fanatics can stir the pot and cause havoc. Not surprisingly, the identity of any given tribe is quickly defined as fanatical when the fanatics take center stage. What a mess!

Vanessa

This isn't *exactly* a comment, but I saw a particular post from this European artist pop up on my reading list and thought you might find it tangentially interesting.

http://imomus.livejournal.com/266512.html

Leigh Ann Hildebrand

You say, "[Believing things in which you have no evidence] is a tenet of most major religions, and from the studies I've read, most religious believers hold it to at least some extent."

As a theologian, I have to take issue with your definition of faith, because *as written here*, it is not a central tenet of Christianity or several other religions. To the contrary, as expressed by some of the big powerhouses of early Christian theology (and echo'd repeatedly into the modern era) faith is *thinking with assent*. From as early as St. Augustine, faith was thought to begin with *thinking*, not with blind assent to an idea. Lest you think that this was something that medieval theologians alone put stock in, but modern churches ignore, my own childhood experience in the Episcopal church included confirmation teachings that focused on critical thinking about articles of faith, of being able to question and debate to oneself questions of faith, to *think* before assenting. I find that value *does* exist in mainstream Christianity -- but because careful, thoughtful Christians don't make for good blog entries, they get pushed aside so that dialogue can focus on extremist minorities of all sorts.

I respect you, and I enjoy your writing, but I become frustrated when you, like many other atheist apologists, use blanket language like this to imply that "faith" as a concept *must* "teach children to devalue their intellect" and other horrors.

Cars, imprudently driven, can kill people. Does this mean that teaching teens to drive cars is teaching them to kill? No, the vast majority of teens wil grow up to become safe drivers. Some, unfortunately, will make bad choices or behave irresponsibly, but should be outlaw cars (even ones that run on renewable resources) because of that?

Religious faith is a car, in some ways. It can have tremendous practical value, can enable positive change, can even be viscerally satisfying. It can also kill people. But does that mean that EVERY car owner in the world is a killer? When bad things happen, we frequently hear it was because of "reckless driving". How about considering the idea of "reckless religious belief"? In the same way that a small number of people drive drunk, don't signal turns, lurch into traffic, run lights, there are people who have faith in stupid ideas, ignore common sense, use their faulty beliefs as a justification for killing and other bad acts.

Raging Bee

I think you are misinterpreting a hefty chunk of religious teachings. I, for one, was never taught to believe FACTUAL claims about the Universe that contradicted the available evidence. I was, however, taught to believe certain MORAL claims about what was right and wrong, important and unimportant, which were neither supported nor disproved by any material evidence.

If we are to treat each other as moral beings, according to basic principles of right and wrong, and if we are to be able to trust each other to return the favor day by day, then we are required to believe in, and practice, our moral codes without demanding "evidence" for their validity, simply because we "know" it's the "right" thing to do, even when it hurts us to do so.

I think that many people have "faith" in their God(s) as a sort of visualization/personification of their values and their concepts/aspirations toward a higher good.

Of course, my religious upbringing and beliefs are not representative of the rest of Humanity's; and a lot of people less educated than us get these nebulous concepts wrong, and let the symbolic representation obscure, rather than enhance, their view of the real good to be achieved. And that's where I think the evils of religion come from.

Kris Shanks

Gotta say it's nice to have such articulate, thoughtful friends. I don't know about religion being inherently bad or good. As a biologist fighting the good fight against creationism, I certainly agree that dogmatism makes evidence based evaluations of the world impossible. I think one of the things about being a scientist is coming to terms with the fact that one's intuition about how the world works is fundamentally biased. The example that comes to mind is playing the lottery. When the lottery gets into the many millions, it's intuitive that if you buy 20 tickets you've got a better chance of winning than if you buy one. But do the math, and it turns out the difference between buying one ticket and 20 is so small that there's really not any difference in the probability of hitting the jackpot.
My point is, thinking critically and demanding evidence to support one's beliefs can be uncomfortable, and reveal the limitations of one's understanding. It's a lot easier to be able to tell your kids, or perhaps yourself, "God made it that way" than to admit your ignorance.

Greta Christina

Tracy: "It is the fanatics who create the problems for religion. People who take their religion too seriously. Put another way, most believers are probably a bit agnostic about their belief -- they just like to hang with their tribe and have an identity. But a tiny number of fanatics can stir the pot and cause havoc."

If you're talking about big bad things like wars and blown-up buildings, you may be right. But I'm also talking about everyday bad things, like Stephen getting beaten up for being Jewish, and girls being taught that God thinks they're dirty, and parents' groups getting blasphemous books banned from libraries, and on and on and on... that sort of thing. That's not just fanatical leaders. There's plenty of bad shit being pulled everyday ordinary believers in the name of their religion.

Greta Christina

Leigh Ann: First of all, I never said, or even implied, that "'faith' as a concept *must* 'teach children to devalue their intellect' and other horrors." I said that it very often does -- that a certain kind of faith that's depressingly common does. I've been very careful to NOT say that all religious believers are dogmatic believers in blind, unquestionable faith. I've been very careful to make it very clear that I'm angry about a certain kind of faith -- a kind I think is extremely common, but not universal. (I'm also not an "atheist apologist." I'm an atheist. I don't apologize for it.)

Now to the meat of your argument. I could go to my books and dig up citations from great religious thinkers that support my view of faith (Kierkegaard comes to mind). I could cite chapter and verse, and you could cite chapter and verse back to support your view, and we could go on indefinitely.

But I'm not going to. Because it's irrelevant.

I'm not talking about how faith is viewed by great religious thinkers, or how it's taught in theological school. I'm talking about how faith plays out in the everyday world. I'm talking about what parents teach their children; what ordinary local ministers and priests and rabbis and imams teach their congregations and followers.

And what I see, and read, and hear, is an ENORMOUS amount of the kind of faith I'm talking about. The faith of "Jesus said it, I believe it, and that settles it." The faith of the Faith fish eating the Darwin fish on car bumpers. The faith of "In case of Rapture, this car will be unmanned" bumper stickers. The faith of Kris's science students who reject evolution because they've been taught it's sinful. Etc. Etc. Etc.

This kind of faith is HUGELY common, in this country and around the world. Roughly half of Americans believe in creationism. Half. And that's only one of the more extreme examples of dogmatic, unquestionable faith.

I could cite example after example after example. But there's one in particular that's leaping to mind -- from Julia Sweeney's performance piece, "Letting Go of God." (This is a great piece, by the way, and I recommend it to everyone.) Early in the piece, she talks about how she wanted to understand her Catholic faith better, and went to Bible study classes to get some of her questions answered. But the more she studied, the more baffled she got and the more questions she had. And she was told -- by her priest and Bible study teacher -- that she should stop asking these questions, that asking too many questions and just have faith that Catholicism was true. (He quoted Proverbs 3:5 at her: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.")

I'm going to repeat that. She was told -- BY HER BIBLE STUDY TEACHER -- to stop asking questions, stop trying to understand the Bible, and just believe what she was told. And this wasn't in some backwater. This was in a relatively progressive Catholic church in Los Angeles.

I'm sorry if I sound angry… wait. No, I'm not. I am angry. I'm not angry at you, but I'm ragingly angry at this situation. This shit is hurting people, real people in real-life ways. Children are terrorized with the prospect of burning and torture if they even question what they're taught. People get ostracized, beaten up, even killed, for believing the wrong things. Laws and policies get passed mandating abstinence-only sex education in schools -- despite the evidence that it doesn't work -- because premarital sex makes baby Jesus cry.

I could go on and on and on -- but you know the drill. Or you should. Read Craig Thompson's "Blankets." Read some of the stories by people in Fundamentalists Anonymous. Watch "Jesus Camp." Heck, read "The God Delusion" -- it's loaded with stories about the terrible impact of blind, unquestioned religious faith. Dogmatic religion is an enormously powerful political force in this country (and in other countries), and it has a huge, horrible impact on all of our lives.

And this isn't a few bad apples. This is what religious faith is like for an enormous number of people. And it doesn't happen that way out of thin air -- it's what they're taught.

I'm glad that you and Raging Bee escaped it -- but you were lucky. Most people in the world aren't so lucky. I think when you live in the Bay Area or other progressive, relatively tolerant enclaves, it's easy to forget what most of the rest of the world is like.

Leigh Ann Hildebrand

So, here's the problem. I say, "My experience, and those of believers I know, is that this is not as widespread as you think it is". You say, "Well, that's just your experience, but the majority of people don't have that experience. Then, to back up your claim, you use the anecdotal evidence of two or three individuals who were writing from a strongly atheist point of view.

No, I'm sorry. "Julia Sweeney had a bad experience" does not equal "Christians are taught not to think". All her experience means is that, well, *she* had a bad experience. And generalizing from her bad experience doesn't make it any more necessarily representative of the experience of everyone.

So, you think organized religion is bad. I can tell you *for certain* that neither you nor any of the other people who say the same thing, in more and less abrasive ways are going to fix the problem by complaining about it. You're not going to fix the problem by saying that faith is stupid, or dangerous, or horrible. Why? Because when you do so, you're trying to persuade others starting from a first argument of "You believers suck." Your very starting point is to say, "I cannot and do not wish to comprehend your point of view, but I know it's wrong, and this is why."

I don't particular care for Stephen Covey, but I agree with one of his 7 Habits "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." I'm trying to offer you some feedback here. You say, "I understand that the belief of these people is X" and I am saying back to you, "No, that's not quite it. Try again." If your response in the exchange is to say, "Well, no, YOU don't understand,", you haven't gotten that "seek first to understand" part down. Try again.

Of course, if your point is not so much dialogue about changing something, but just to rant that it's wrong and stupid, well, I guess you've acheived the goal, and I'll bow out.

(And by the way, as concerns your statement that half the people in the US believe in creationism, well, they do, and they don't. For the most part, such surveys are not worded to allow for nuances in thought, but ask things like, "Do you believe God created man?" or "Do you believe in the Biblical narrative of creation?" I, for example, am not a Christian, and I certainly "believe" in evolution, but I can also be counted as a believer in "Intelligent Design", because I believe in an Aristotelian "Uncaused Cause". So many such surveys would count me as a "creationist", while I would call myself a theistic evolutionist. (And many of my atheist friends would just call me stupid, unfortunately.)

Charlie Glickman

I think that there are a couple of points that are getting left out of this conversation.

First off, there's a difference between acting in the name of a particular religion and having faith. Yes, huge injustices have been done by memebers of many religions. How many of them actually had faith, and what did they have faith in? Well, I don't really know. I know that many of them claim to beleive in various gods, and I also know lots of people who claim to beleive in democracy and then act in ways that seems counter to that. Perhaps it's a similar phenomenon. In any case, to equate membership in a relgious group and faith is to reify the very notion that all you need to be a good person is to belong to the right religion.

There's also a difference between religions that mediate access to the Divine through a priest, imam or pastor and religions that help each person develop their own connection to the Divine. What we see over and over is that the former groups are the ones with the unity to foment wars, take over social and political structures and generally force people into their mold (or kill the resistant). The Quakers, Sufis and Jewish Renewal folks aren't doing that, in part because there's room to question and create diversity. Perhaps it's the groups that require you to have faith in the "expert" that we really need to be looking at. And I'm sure there's an obvious comparision between doing what your priest says and doing what your commanding officer says. But again, that's more about people's tendency to give their decision-making ability and personal power to another, which is NOT the same thing as faith in the Divine.

I fully agree with you that all sorts of awful things have been done in the name of religion. People have been (and are currently being) tortured, killed, cast out of their homes, had their livelihoods taken away, raped and disenfranchised over religion. Many of those things are happening in this country right now. AND all of those things happen for political causes (such as, say preserving "democracy" and "our way of life"). Any analysis of why people act the way they do in the name of religion that ignores that seems like an attempt to blame rather than seek causes.

At the same time, there's more than anecdotal evidence that many people receive injustice in the name of religion. To ignore their voices is to further perpetuate the problem. I know many, many people whose families refuse to talk to them because being queer is sinful. I know people whose families refuse to acknowledge their partners because they're the wrong religion. If you truly believe that your religion gives you room to think, try asking your pastor or the congregation a deeply challenging question.

Greta Christina

Leigh Ann: Alas, I don't have time right this moment to reply to your comment in full. I'm going to have to dig up citations and references, and I have to get to work. I'll come back to the bulk of your comment in a day or two.

But I do want to respond quickly to one statement: You would not, in fact, be counted in the Gallup poll as part of the 50% (47%, to be completely accurate) of strict creationists. And the wording of the poll does, in fact, include the nuance you're referring to. According to the poll, 47% of Americans believe that, quote, "God created man pretty much in his present form at one time within the last 10,000 years."

Another 40% believe that "Man has developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process, including man's creation." It sounds like that's the group you'd fall into.

Only 9% believe that "Man has developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. God had no part in this process."

That's not the anecdotal evidence of two or three individuals. That's a Gallup poll. Half of Americans hold a specific, important belief about the physical world that is contradicted by mountains of physical evidence, simply because the mountain of evidence contradicts their faith.

I'm not talking about all believers, or even all Christians. I've said that again and again, but it doesn't seem to be getting through, so I'll continue to say it. I'm talking about a particular kind of belief -- which I say is extremely widespread, and you say isn't. And you haven't actually offered any evidence other than your own personal experience to support your assertion.

BTW, here's a link to the Gallup poll:

http://www.religioustolerance.org/ev_publi.htm

Chris S

I think your thoughts on 'Faith' comes from seeing a very vocal fundamentalist minority. I was born into a Catholic family, I went to Catholic school from grades 3-8 and then a Catholic High School. Then I went a Jesuit(order of Catholic priests) University. At no time, were we told to ignore the Big Bang, or evolution or science in general. It was never a controversy at all. We had classes in science and classes in religion. In 5th grade, our teacher settled us down from lunch by reading stuff like Mrs Frisby and the Rats Of NIMH.
In 7th grade, our teacher stated "the only person who knows whether you're going to heaven or not is you and God, everyone else is just guessing".
And I know that other people have the same experience with religion. It's simply that loud dogmatists make better TV and are much more likely to their beliefs in front of what ever they do.

Faith is not to over-ride science, but it is a belief in what is not apparent. I can see faith involved when people operate a homeless shelter, like Glide Memorial Church. You see the number of homeless people out on the streets and the same ones everyday, and the problems they face make it difficult to find a place to live or a job, what can one place do, but you believe,despite those things, that things can be different than what they are. You have faith. You see legalized discrimination around you, you see government officials and police who not only accept but fight to keep those discriminatory laws in place. The deck seems stacked against you. But you believe that despite the ingrained bigotry and corrupt officials, that there can be equality and justice. You have faith that there can be. And your faith in that propels you forward and help you fulfill that beleif. That belief in the possibility of change in the world is the positive value of faith.

Donna Gore

I think Steven Weinberg, Nobel-Prize-winning physicist, said it best. According to Wikipedia, this is how he put it:

[Weinberg's] views on religion were expressed in a speech from 1999 in Washington, D.C.:
"Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. "

Raging Bee

Donna: Yeah, that sure SOUNDS good, but so do a lot of Christofascist talking-points. The question is, does this physicist back up his snarky claim with any body of facts and/or logic? More to the point, if religion can "make" good people do evil things, how do we know it can't also "make" evil people do good things?

Donna Gore

You can find links to his publications here:
http://www.ph.utexas.edu/~weintech/weinberg.html

But actually I thought he was just making a funny. No, I myself don't think any inanimate object or abstract concept can "make" anybody do anything. People are responsible for their own actions, ultimately. I do think some people are more gullible and easily misled than others. I do think a person who is gullible can be "swayed" one way or the other. The answer to all this, in my humble opinion, is to teach kids critical thinking skills. Teach them the scientific method, teach them the difference between science and pseudo-science, teach them analytical and critical thinking skills. There's a bumper sticker that reads "What children need in school is a moment of SCIENCE."

Leigh Ann Hildebrand

Greta, really, don't bother with citations. I don't have the time to have an extended debate. It just saddens me every time I see people I otherwise respect go off on people of faith. I think there is a very deep rift between believers of all sorts and those who are not, a rift that has had profound impact on our political landscape, among other things. I want to see steps taken to heal the rift, even in small ways, because I don't think that believers are just going to go away, no matter how many times non-believers decry the stupidity or danger of belief. In order to begin to heal, I think the first step is for both sides to start from a place of respect and move towards understanding *before* attempting to address substantive issues like "Your beliefs seem to lead to acts of violence". But while I have many believer friends who are willing to set aside rhetoric of damnation-of-all-nonbelievers for the dialogue (and many believers who don't hold that tenet to begin with), all of my non-believer friends seem to be pretty much universal with the faith-is-stupid-and-dangerous rhetoric.

My son has a great story about going with his father to speak at the Atlanta Free Thought Society. Before then, he says, he had no idea that there were "fundamentalist atheists" -- people who were as rabidly defensive and reactionary about their position as they felt that conservative Christians were about their own. Before then, he'd honestly thought that non-believers were of the live-and-let-live flavor almost universally.

Do I think that there are destructive schools of belief in the US today? Certainly. But I also (pardon the expression) have faith in the ability of communities of believers to learn and grow over time. There are examples of this within the past two hundred years -- the abolitionist movement had believers at its core, and though it began as an unpopular fringe movement, grew until it changed the landscape of US culture. You mention earlier that you think my childhood experiences in the Episcopal Church are not indicative of larger culture, but right now, the Church of my childhood is braving internal conflict at the global level as people that I stood with as a child move the church towards a more gay-positive place. I expect we'll see schism of the same kind that happened around the anti-slavery schisms in the 1800's, but change *is* happening. I'm proud of the Church of my childhood for undertaking this struggle; it seems a shame that during all of it, there are people who continue to claim that mainstream belief is not changing, not growing, and is becoming more and more destructive.

Laura Deal

Ok, Wow... I'm not sure where to start here, but I think I'm going to start by suggesting that everyone go back and re-read Greta's "Oh, The Believer and the Skeptic Should be Friends" which you can find easily because it's at the top of the Blog's Greatest Hits list right under the pictures of Greta's books on the right hand column of this blog.

That post shows how Greta is able to treat people of faith as individuals and doesn't judge us by the words and actions of the loud fanatics who pretend to speak for all of us. Out of all my Atheist or Agnostic friends, I feel like Greta puts the most effort into respecting my beliefs even though I think she is further from sharing my beliefs than many of my other friends. This is not faint praise because my group of friends is an accepting and rather nonjudgmental group of people: being fairly open minded and thoughtful is sort of a requirement of being my friend.

In "Oh, The Believer and the Skeptic Should be Friends" Greta writes:
"Here's what it is. I think there's a profound difference between having a religious or spiritual faith that you hold despite there not being substantial evidence supporting it -- and having a religious or spiritual faith that you hold despite the existence of substantial evidence that actually contradicts it.
And the former is something I can strongly identify with -- while the latter is something that I just can't."

Unfortunately in this most recent post Greta wrote:
"It's the idea that faith itself -- believing things about the world for which you have no evidence, and in many cases things that the evidence flat-out contradicts -- is not just acceptable, but a positive virtue. It's the idea that refusing to question your beliefs, and placing your beliefs above reality, is an admirable quality. A trait to be cherished and protected. Something that in and of itself makes you a good person, regardless of the actual beliefs you have faith in.
And that, folks, I do think is destructive."

By lumping together belief in things for which there is no evidence (which is what I consider faith to be) and belief in things that the evidence flat out contradicts (which is blind faith and which as Greta has stated before is profoundly different) it seems that Greta might have been saying they are the same or at least equally destructive. Which I don't think she believes at all (not just because I have "faith" in Greta, but because the evidence of her earlier post seems to indicate that it is true)

We live in abrasive times. It's hard to know when to try and build bridges, when to build bunkers and when to storm the other side's citadel. I think everyone who has been commenting here agrees that some religious people are thoughtful and some aren't, that some Atheists are open minded and some are just as pig-headed as the religious leaders they condemn. We can argue over what the percentages are, but nobody seems to be enjoying that. Perhaps we can all just agree that not all religious people are intolerant fanatics but it's too many of them and they have way too much power.


But I have to say that when people like Weinberg say things like "Religion is an insult to human dignity" I feel that they are the one's being insulting. And I find "...for good people to do evil things, that takes religion." a very unscientific thing for a Nobel-Prize-winning scientist to say. How about hunger, fear, or anything that can make people desperate? People do evil things for a lot of reasons and often the reasons aren't clear. So while I will admit that way too much evil shit has been done in the name of religion I have to say I'm a bit tired of people who claim it's the root of all evil and that if we had no religion all the good people of the world would hold hands and sing "Imagine" and puppies would never die and Fox would have never have cancelled Firefly. Because frankly, if there was no religion the kind of people who misuse religion to judge or hurt or dominate others would just find another way. I mean it's not like Stalin's Russia was a love-fest, so let's let go of that dream.

As a Christian in the US of A it may sound whiney to complain about feeling attacked for your beliefs, but as a liberal who lives in the Bay Area and the blogosphere, I do have to listen to a lot of rather intolerant or condescending remarks about my faith. It doesn't bother me as much as listening to the religious right cherry pick parts of the bible to attack people I care about, but it does bother me.

Anyways I could go on forever, but I should probably stop before I start sounding even more pedantic and cranky than I already have. Besides I think we just had an earthquake here in the East Bay which every good Christian knows means that God is telling me to stop blogging and go pray for all your souls.

JessFink

Hey Greta! Great post.
Might I recomend a book to you? I've just finished reading a fantastic book that deals with this very question, the nature of religious belief and WHY people belive. It's called The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, and it is AMAZING. He's a biologist and just plain brilliant.
In my personal opinion religion definetly does no good in the world. Even people who do not take the bible literally uphold the bible as a standard of great moral value in the world, and if anyone ever actually read it they'd be surprised how much horrible stuff is in it, and how terrible of a moral guide it actually is. When people like Martin Luther king use God they are using God as a way to relate to people, but they are not doing what they are doing BECAUSE of God or the bible, these people would still do good thing if it wasn't there. But some religious people do things BECAUSE the bible stands for them, IE; killing abortion doctors, hate crimes against homosexuals.
When religious moderates hold up the bible as a standard of moral values they are upholding rape, murder, child abuse and hate. They are endorsing that everyone who does not believe what is in it is going to bunr in hell, even if they are not bad people themselves they are advertizing to the people who are, and especially when they teach children that it is something to be respected and upheld it is just about the most damaging thing.
In the book Dawkins also talks a lot about the history of religious belief and all the things that have come from it, if you're not squeemish I highly recommend it.

Laura D

Seriously7

I actually HAVE read the bible, a couple of differnt versions in fact and even though I am a Christian and I believe in God and have accepted Christ in my life, I do not nor have I ever "held the bible up" as a standard of great moral value. I read it as collections of writings by a group of people on a journey of faith. I agree with some of what is written and I disagree with other parts. And please don't try and speak for me, or Martin Luther King or anyone else and why they do what they do.

In my life faith and religion have been a positive force. Before I became a Christian, I had a strong sense of morals and I tried to live a good life, but I held a lot of anger and was not a very forgiving person. Accepting Christ allowed me to let go of a lot of my anger and while I am still as not as forgiving as I strive to be and of course I still get angry (like when people talk smack like they have any idea what I believe), my faith has helped me grow a lot in this area of my life.

And going to church was a very big part of my faith journey. If I hadn’t had a community of people to help me work through my struggles, I would have lost faith at a very difficult time in my life and while I would have had the desire to lead a good life and do good works, I would have been less happy and had less energy to work for good.

I don’t think it is necessary to be a religious person to be a good an moral person, but for some of us, it really really helps. I think there are many paths to becoming a good person. Religion is a path that works for some people. I don’t expect others to walk my path and I’d appreciate the same courtesy in return. I have no problem with people speaking out against the evils done in the name of God or religion, in fact I often do so myself. I do have a problem with people who are just as intolerant of my beliefs as the Fundie Theocrats are of non-believers.

Jane Shaffer

Yeah, like Laura said, wow.

First of all, I'd like to add that Greta has always been extremely open to conversation about any subject. Given a logical, supported argument, she's even been known to change her mind.

That said, I don't think that religion can be solely blamed for the lies told to the masses. Those who hunger for power will use whatever they think will control the people effectively. Political ideas and advertising are two others that come to mind.

Unfortunately, I think these methods keep working because there are a lot of people who are extremly gullible and who like to feel superior to someone else. Having something to believe in that makes them feel special and, at the same time, a part of something is irresistible. What they get from scientific fact is, "Sorry, you're a lot like everyone else." Not everyone can handle the truth.

I consider myself an Episcopalian and I believe in God and that Jesus was here to save our souls. I also believe that the earth is millions of years old. I had a very enjoyable and comprehensive education at the hands of the Catholic church, both in high school and at a Jesuit university, which included (correct) science and religion. What I learned is that there are some things we can prove; some things we don't know how to go about proving, but we know they exist; and some things we haven't even thought of yet.

Greta Christina

A quick reply to something people are discussing here: I happen to think that the "For good people to do evil things, that takes religion" guy has his head up his ass. All you need to do is look at Stalinist Russia or the Cultural Revolution in China to see that. Religion is clearly not the only case of people committing horrible, brutal, evil acts in support of an ideology they believe in.

I don't think Stalin and Mao's atheism *caused* them to do terrible oppressive things... but it sure as hell didn't stop them.

Oh, and a quick note to Jess: I have read The God Delusion, and while I don't always agree with Dawkins, I do think it's mostly a good and important book. But I also think you're making the fallacy I talked about in my previous post, "Having It Both Ways." It's not reasonable for atheists to say that King and Gandhi did their good acts for reasons other than religion... but then say that Bin Laden and the Crusaders did their bad acts because of religion. I go into more detail about this in "Having it Both Ways, at:

http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2007/02/having_it_both_.html

Tracy Quan

"If you're talking about big bad things like wars and blown-up buildings"

NOPE - wasn't thinking of that just then.

"everyday bad things, like Stephen getting beaten up for being Jewish, and girls being taught that God thinks they're dirty, and parents' groups getting blasphemous books banned from libraries"

This is the sort of thing I meant.
There is such a thing as everyday fanaticism. Anyone who can stir themselves to ban a book is clearly a fanatic. Violence over tribal identity, excessive fear of the body, anybody who makes a big FUSS about their beliefs...to the point where life is made less harmonious. I call that fanatical.

There is also territorial stuff, like war (as you mentioned above.) That's often much MORE than fanatical. Arms dealers exploiting the passions of fanatics. A combination of religion, religious identity, politics and economics.

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