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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Grand Illusion

Have you noticed that people can sometimes believe the craziest things? There are people out there who believe that the world is flat. There are those who believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone crazed gunman and those who believe that we never landed on the Moon. Most of these beliefs are harmless, just like the childish belief in Santa (yes, he’s actually a fabrication – sorry kids) others unfortunately are not so innocent.

Take for instance the belief, the illusion, that there is a hierarchy of humans based on the colour of their skin. Can you think of anything crazier than that? I mean the idea that skin pigmentation is in any way connected to the worth of an individual – how truly bizarre. Would you judge a person on the colour of their hair or their eyes or the socks they were wearing? It makes about as much sense. As MLK said “Judge not by the colour of the skin but by the depth of the character” – or something like that anyway.

Humans are a really strange bunch when you think about it. Take what is probably our Grandest Illusion – Religion. Many people believe that God (in various forms and guises) not only created the entire universe, not only the entire world, but also took the time and effort to produce every living thing on the Earth including themselves. Many people believe that they can talk to God and that He talks back. Not only that but that God listens to them and will make their wishes (technically called prayers) come true. Though sounding rather bizarre such a belief is, generally speaking, fairly harmless. It’s only when believers get together in groups that things can get – well, fractious.

Unfortunately different groups of believers often have different ideas about God. Some of these differences can be quite fundamental – while others can be extremely subtle even to the believers themselves. But the problem is not that disagreements exist – I mean, we’re talking about people here – but that all sides think that they are right. Indeed not only are they right (and by extension the ‘others’ are wrong) but that believers with different ideas about God are somehow dangerous and must be dealt with. Such ‘dealings’ can often be very tense indeed. The stronger the belief is, the tenser any confrontation can get. It is not unknown for physical violence to occur.

Obvious not every religious belief can be right. Even if there is a God not all interpretations of His will can be correct. We are, after all, human and therefore fallible (and BOY are we ever fallible!). But they can all be wrong. Think about it for a second. Imagine a universe without God in it. Would we be able to tell the difference? Would it make any difference? Now go one step further (OK a whole LEAP further) and imagine a world without the concept of God – a world without religion. It’s not that simple at first but once you get the idea it gets easier. Imagine a world without religious persecution. Imagine a world without the concept of sin. Imagine a world based on rationality, logic and evidence. Of course this imaginary world wouldn’t be a utopia – we’re still talking about humans here – but would it be a better world? That’s a good question and one, unfortunately, none of us will ever know the answer to. Unless some kind of miracle happens (that was a joke BTW) we are going to live on a largely religious world into the foreseeable future. Maybe in 10,000 years time the only people who will even recognise the word ‘religion’ will be historians of particularly arcane practices but somehow I doubt it.

I fear that humanity is innately too irrational to shake off the idea of God and I fear that it will be the end of us. We are a clever species but we are also an incredibly stupid one. We have developed the knowledge and reason to develop nuclear weapons yet we have retained the irrationality to use them against people who don’t believe as we do. I am coming to the opinion that belief in God is a Grand illusion – a Grand Delusion – that as a species we would be better off without.

54 comments:

silentmum said...

Ohhhhh..........I can't wait to see what you will bring up here!!! Looking to the fact the majority of wars are due to religion/faith whatever.....my point is that (being the recipient of many Hudderites trying to lecture and they are shocked by my opinion)- I believe what I believe and when you can show me that religion can actually involve and revolve around peace, then I'll look at having some sort of faith in something- at the moment and probably forever my faith is in me.

CyberKitten said...

Thanks....

Erm.. But what's a "Hudderite"...?

Juggling Mother said...

A world without the concept of god. I don't know if it would be "better", but I'm fairly positive it would be a more advanced world. So much knowledge has been lost/denied/surpressed by religion it's frightening.

silentmum said...

Oops misspelling- should be Hutterites, we have several 'homesteads'-nearby not sure what they call themselves but have been rather bombarded with them lately- must be on a mission (geddit??). I think they were Hutterites- either them or Jehovahs (sp?) but didn't really want to get involved in the whole equation so several polite, no thank yous and then a firm will you bugger off please eventually got through. Don't get me wrong, each to their own but a polite no thank you doesn't seem to work anymore. If we didn't have religion per se, what would 'people' (and I use them term loosely) believe in?? I think the majority of the human race have to have something or someone to 'turn to' in both easy and hard times. I think it would be alot easier without religion in terms of world culture but what would the 'people' do then? Throws this questions out to the masses.......(no pun intended)

CyberKitten said...

I'm actually intrigued as to why the concept of God actually exists. I'm beginning to think it all boils down to a combination of us being self-aware creatures coupled with the fear of death.

CyberKitten said...

Silentmum said: I think the majority of the human race have to have something or someone to 'turn to' in both easy and hard times.

Wouldn't people turn to each other in time of need? We are a social species after all.

Silentmum also said: If we didn't have religion per se, what would 'people' (and I use them term loosely) believe in??

Do we need to 'believe' in anything? I'm not exactly sure what you mean when you say 'believe'. It does however prompt a memory of something similar:

On a political demonstration a young anarchist was asked what he wanted to replace Capitalism with. He looked bemused for a moment and said "Nothing".

Naturally people would still have beliefs - after all I don't believe in God... Yet I still believe in other things... The belief in God wouldn't be replaced by anything else.. it just wouldn't be there.

Jack Steiner said...

We could make an argument that religion is one of the worst things ever to happen to man and we could make the same argument that it is one of the best. All depends on your perspective.

CyberKitten said...

Really...? I'd like to hear the argument that it's one of the best things to happen to us...

I tend to look at things quite simply. One of the things I ask is: Is this true? Other things I ask are: Is this useful? Is this harmful?

I'm afraid IMO that religion doesn't come out well when you ask these kind of questions. Actually religion doesn't do very well when you ask ANY questions. The more questions you ask the worse it gets.

That's a major reason why I just can't accept religion as part of my life. It would mean I'd have to stop asking awkward questions.

Jack Steiner said...

Let me preface this by saying that I don't think that you have to be religious to be a good person. I think that it is entirely possible to be a good person and not believe in G-d. But there are some people who need a little more structure in their lives and religion has provided that for them.

So the question is how has religion enriched people's lives and the answer is that it has provided a code and guidelines to live by that may or may not have been developed without it.

Religion has played a vital role in establishing education and literacy. It has been quite formidable and effective in creating charitable institutions in a way that the secular world has not.

I tend to look at things quite simply. One of the things I ask is: Is this true? Other things I ask are: Is this useful? Is this harmful?

I'm afraid IMO that religion doesn't come out well when you ask these kind of questions. Actually religion doesn't do very well when you ask ANY questions. The more questions you ask the worse it gets.

That's a major reason why I just can't accept religion as part of my life. It would mean I'd have to stop asking awkward questions.


Cyberkitten,

I gave a very simple basic response and then I quoted you because I am curious to see what kind of examples you have to give. You made a couple of broad statements but didn't provide any substance. Try fleshing it out and it might be a more interesting discussion.

CyberKitten said...

I thought I'd start off with a broad statement & be more specific later.. but anyway...

I'll try and flesh things out a bit for you.

IMO Religion isn't true - in that as far as I'm concerned God does not exist. The stories and myths that religions are based on (and I can only really talk about Christianity with any kind of 'authority') where basically teaching aids for largely illiterate desert peoples and (yet again IMO) have little or not relevance to 21st Century life.

Is religion useful? In a sense yes it is. Clearly religion is very good for creating and holding together communities even through the hardest of times. Yet many of those hardest times were the result of religious persecution. Without the religion it's arguable that the persecution would not have existed in the first place. It is also arguable that other forms of belief are capable of binding communities - specifically political beliefs but others too.

Is religion harmful? Clearly the answer is yes. Some of the bloodiest periods of our history have been caused by religious rivalry. Religion still separates communities and is still responsible for much pain, death and destruction. Damage from all other belief systems pales into insignificance compared to that caused by religious intollerence.

You may have noticed that I have a questioning mind. As far as I am aware such a mind is incompatable with religion (or at least with any specific religion). I tend to ask questions. LOTS of questions which can 'get up peoples noses'. Personally I don't believe that my kind of questions would be tolerated within a religious framework. To me, to believe in God is to stop asking certain types of questions. I'm not willing to give that up.

Stacey said...

Cyberkitten: I quite agree with much of what you've said. The bloodshed and murder in the name of religion makes me wonder if it has had more of a harmful effect than good.

Mary P. said...

I've always seen atheism as a religion. A religion without building and obvious rituals, but a religion of devout believers, for it seems clear to me that it takes every bit as much faith to NOT believe in God as it does TO believe in him/her.

Jack Steiner said...

As far as I am aware such a mind is incompatable with religion (or at least with any specific religion).
Judaism is where my expertise lies and I have always been taught to ask lots of questions.

To me it is somewhat mind boggling just how comprehensive Judaism's approach to life is. So many of the blessings make sense to me because I see them as being very practical as well as asking us to think. For one example see here.

I look at various writings and sayings such as Who is rich?—one who is satisfied with his lot. As it is written [in Psalms]: “If you eat of the toil of your hands, fortunate are you, how good it is for you!”[1]

Ethics of the Fathers, 4:1
and appreciate it so much. The point of this is not to proselytize or try to convince you to convert, but to say that there exists a place/philosophy in which you are encouraged to think.

The big question to me is whether you place yourself in a sect that continues in that tradition or encourages you to be a sheep.

Religion is a tool and like any tool it can be used for good and for bad.

Damage from all other belief systems pales into insignificance compared to that caused by religious intollerence.

Were the Nazis religious. Did slaver derive itself from religion or from some other problem. Was colonialism solely based upon religion? I'd argue that the kings of Europe sent out people (such as Columbus) seeking more power and wealth not because they cared that the natives elsewhere might not believe as they did.

CyberKitten said...

Mary P said: I've always seen atheism as a religion.

I'm not sure that many people would call Atheism a 'religion' as it's quite the opposite - in opposition to religion. It is, however, clearly a set of beliefs.

I agree with Mary when she says that it takes more NOT to believe in God that TO believe in Him - but I wouldn't have used the word 'faith' in this context. Religions have faith, Atheists have reason, argument and evidence.

Mary P. said...

Mary: "Reason, argument, and evidence"? LOL Seems to me that there is no more nor less evidence for either point of view - so it comes down to faith in the end.

stc said...

Cyberkitten:

Your views on religion are appallingly conventional. Not the conventions of 200 years ago, obviously, but conventional in today's society. If you truly have a questioning mind, you should try to think outside of the box better than you do here.

religion doesn't do very well when you ask ANY questions. The more questions you ask the worse it gets. … That's a major reason why I just can't accept religion as part of my life. It would mean I'd have to stop asking awkward questions.

Jack has already spoken to this question quite well. But let me just add, go to my latest post at Ragged Glory and see if I don't ask questions about the traditions of my faith.

Point being, you're dealing in stereotypes here. I would appreciate it if you would see people of faith for what they are, instead of projecting your prejudices on them.

The stories and myths that religions are based on where basically teaching aids for largely illiterate desert peoples and (IMO) have little or not relevance to 21st Century life.

This just shows a lack of imagination on your part. Yes, biblical stories were written long ago, so we have to possess the mental capacity and exert the requisite effort to think how they ought to be applied in present-day circumstances.

In my view, the primary value of ancient traditions is that they open up a counter-cultural window for us. I can look at contemporary society from the perspective of my faith tradition, and see that, at many points, the Emperor has no clothes. In the same way, I can criticize my faith tradition from the wisdom of contemporary society.

It is good to have two worldviews that you can bring to bear — like knowing two languages, it is very enriching. If you can't do that, it's a kind of handicap you suffer from.

Is religion harmful? Clearly the answer is yes.

Mother Teresa did a lot of harm, I guess. And Martin Luther King, Jr. And Gandhi. And Bishop Desmond Tutu. And the Dalai Lama. And Jesus, and Buddha. Hmmmmm ... perhaps the evidence isn't as one-sided as you make it out to be.

And the millions of Christians who attended church around the globe yesterday. I guess they do much harm and little good in the world.

Or this question — has religion bettered their life, or are they worse off for their beliefs? You claim that the answer is clear, but it isn't so.

In fact, I don't think there is any way to answer the question — you'd have to do a cost/benefit analysis that would involve tracing every subtle influence of a person's faith out through its ultimate manifestation in his or her life. Do you claim to be able to do that? — I certainly don't.

I do know that my father, for example, has weathered some terrible tragedies in his life (including the deaths of two of his children), largely because his faith provided him with with hope. Try telling him that religion is clearly harmful.

I suppose I should apologize because I'm obviously angry. But really, Cyberkitten, you're so smugly superior to us ignorant and superstitious believers!

In fact, you're exemplifying the very traits you claim to mock: the mindset that says "I know the truth, and the world would be improved immeasurably if everyone would just acknowledge that I'm right".

Sticking in "IMO" once in a while doesn't change anything.
Q

CyberKitten said...

Well... Thank you Q. SO many points - and sharp ones too.. (pricks finger) I hardly know where to start..

I wrote 'The Grand Illusion' in about 25 minutes - straight from my brain to my finger tips to the blog. I had a fair idea that it would piss some people off and I was right - though I am gratified that some people also agree with me.

It is my belief that God does not exist. All else follows from that basic belief. If God is a fantasy then religion is an illusion or - more strongly put - a delusion. I also believe that, as a species we are largely irrational creatures - we certainly seem to be anyway. It is a worry of mine that given that religions tend to be antogonistic and given that WMD are continuing to proliferate that sooner or later we're going to put a serious crimp in our evolutionary path. I believe that we are better off without religion than with it.

But to try to answer some of your questions/observations:

You said: Your views on religion are appallingly conventional.

That's certainly the first time I have been called conventional. Where you expecting something else?

You said: If you truly have a questioning mind, you should try to think outside of the box better than you do here.

I've been taking a pretty broad brush approach so far and intended to get into specifics later. Do you mean that I should think outside of the 'atheist' box? I don't quite understand what you're getting at here.

You said: Point being, you're dealing in stereotypes here. I would appreciate it if you would see people of faith for what they are, instead of projecting your prejudices on them.

Yes, I am largely talking in stereotypical generalisations. I'm sure that in all things there is a myriad of shades. However, I was reading (and adding to) another blog today where a Christian summiarily dismissed basic physics as it challenged his understanding of the Bible. He was very closed off to any kind of debate and fell back on the 'God did It' that's good enough for me argument. Stereotpes exist because they're based on real people. They are out there you know.

You said: Yes, biblical stories were written long ago, so we have to possess the mental capacity and exert the requisite effort to think how they ought to be applied in present-day circumstances.

For starters you are presuming that they 'ought' to be applied to the present. Why? Whilst it is true that human 'nature' hasn't changed much in the last 2000+ years why do we need to draw on Bible stories for parables? Why not the tales of the Brothers Grimm for example?

You said: Mother Teresa did a lot of harm, I guess. And Martin Luther King, Jr. And Gandhi. And Bishop Desmond Tutu. And the Dalai Lama. And Jesus, and Buddha. Hmmmmm ... perhaps the evidence isn't as one-sided as you make it out to be.

These people either are or where good people (Buddha may not have existed as an individual & I'm not 100% sure of Jesus) who operated within their belief system. Generally speaking good people do good things. Bad people also do bad things. Are they good/bad because of their religion or are they good/bad people who happen to be religious? It's a good question.

You said: In fact, you're exemplifying the very traits you claim to mock: the mindset that says "I know the truth, and the world would be improved immeasurably if everyone would just acknowledge that I'm right".

I think what I believe is true, yes. Don't you? I believe that there is no God. You believe that there is. Our beliefs inform who we are. We disagree on something very fundamental to both of us. Maybe one day we'll find out - if there IS a God that is. If it is, as I contend, all a fantasy then we'll never find out - which I can't help thinking is rather unfair.

I do think that my mind is at least partially open (I imagine you don't believe me but I may be wrong). At least I have an interest (if largely 'clinical') in the matter and am willing to discuss it with people such as yourself who can see that a debate is actually possible.

If you come back and debate with me (or I visit you) we might even end up influencing each others views. Anything is possible.

Juggling Mother said...

CK - you've got to admit that Jack & Q pulled you up on a few points there:-)

Religion has given us education during many periods of history. The whole concept of Universities were originally religious, & from the little I know of far eastern culture, they also studied in religious institutions. However I feel that the amount of knowledge lost or surpressed by religion probably balances that out - & I'd like to think we'd have founded secular centres of knowledge if there was no religion in the world.

Also, whereas religion has obviously been the reason behind many, many wars in our bloody history, IMO the rise of WMD is more due to economics & politics than religion.

Mary - I am a complete and utter atheist, but I would not say that is my "belief", more that the concept is an anathema to me. There is no evidence that I can trust to explain why I should believe in God, the soul, karma or any other religious stuff. I'm not against the concept per se, but it's rather like telling me we live in one of an infinity of quantum worlds. I can't see any evidence for the idea.

I still think the world would be both very different, probably more advanced, and likely "better" if the concept of religion had never been invented, but I don't agree there is nothing good in religions.

CyberKitten said...

Mrs A... As Q said in his own Blog... the tussle of a good argument should improve everyone's thinking. I certainly don't have all the answers to the questions I pose and I'm quite happy to admit - takes deep breath - that I can be quite wrong about things (though only with great reluctance of course).

I do tend to 'editorialise' and generalise too much. It's been said before. But I do like to start with a general overview & then work down to the specific.

I also helps me to understand and 'verbalise' if what I say is actually what I think I mean... Some of this Blog is literally me thinking out loud & 'on my feet' - often I don't know what I'm going to say before I see it on the screen... which can be quite illuminating... (grin)

Sadie Lou said...

Most Christians I know are not deluded enough to think that God hears our "wishes" and makes them come true. That would be demeaning to such a powerful God--to reduce him to some sort of Magic Wishingwell.
The God I know and believe in, hears our prayers and then He does His will. We may or may not receive what we perceive to be our needs.

CyberKitten said...

Hi Sadie. Welcome to my little corner of Cyberspace.

Regarding prayer. You said: If The God I know and believe in, hears our prayers and then He does His will. We may or may not receive what we perceive to be our needs - then what's the point in praying?

God naturally knows what's going on in your life (obviously)... and does what He needs to do (in line with "The Plan") so why waste the time/effort praying? You can't petition Him & you can't influence His decisions.... Do people pray to feel good or to seem to be doing something about their situation?

Isn't simple acceptence of God's Will a more logical approach?

stc said...

Cyberkitten:

OK, I've taken a few deep breaths.

I'm quite prepared to agree to disagree. I'm not evangelistic in my beliefs; I don't believe that you're going to end up in a place of eternal torment, and I think diversity is a good thing. To put it the other way 'round, I think homogeneity is a bad thing.

You've expressed the very point I wanted to get to. (I expected I would be back to follow up on my earlier comment.)

Generally speaking good people do good things. Bad people also do bad things. Are they good/bad because of their religion or are they good/bad people who happen to be religious?

On the one hand, when religious people do bad things, you blame their badness on their religion. On the other hand, when people do good things, you do not give any credit to their religion. That's a double standard you're exercising.

Human nature has a good side and an evil side. Whether you are a theist or an atheist, you have to account for both the good and the evil somehow.

Religion is a powerful motive force, and it can exacerbate either the best or the worst that is in us. People make extraordinary self-sacrifices in the name of religion; and they commit horrific atrocities in the name of religion.

Either way, religion is not responsible. I'd like to exercise a double standard and claim only the good for religion, but I know that would be indefensible.

Same thing with respect to ignorance by the way. There are thoughtful theists and thoughtful atheists, ignorant theists and ignorant atheists. The fact that you encounter lots of ignorant theists in the blogosphere means nothing.

And I must add that atheism can also do harm. A young man in my family (early 20s) killed himself a couple years ago. He was not depressed, as far as his family or his many friends knew. He was driving on a deserted road, going hunting, and his car went into the ditch. Apparently his response was to get out and shoot himself dead on the spot.

I can't help wondering if this rather extreme reaction wasn't partly due to his atheistic worldview. Maybe not — there's no way to unravel these things. But religion, as I've already said, is a source of hope for people in times of adversity. Maybe a lively faith would have pulled him through that flash of existential despair that caused him to pull the trigger.

In brief, a response to a few of your other comments:

It is a worry of mine that given that religions tend to be antogonistic.

Is that true of all religions? Buddhism springs to mind as a profoundly pacifistic religion. Likewise the Baha'i faith, which teaches that all religions are a path to the same God.

you are presuming that [traditional faith stories] 'ought' to be applied to the present. Why?

I think I explained it earlier. "In my view, the primary value of ancient traditions is that they open up a counter-cultural window for us. … It is good to have two worldviews that you can bring to bear — like knowing two languages, it is very enriching."

Buddha may not have existed as an individual & I'm not 100% sure of Jesus.

Frankly, I think it's absurd to deny that either one of them existed. Go ahead and study what historians have to say on the subject. You'll find precious little support for your point of view, and plenty of good solid reasons to reject it.

Finally, I meant what I said about your thinking being conventional when it comes to religion. I confess that I've been all over the map on this subject. In my teenaged years, I was an atheist. For fifteen years as a young adult, I was an evangelical. Then I suffered a crisis of faith that caused me to deeply question my beliefs; I didn't know for a while if they would survive that test in any form.

The advantage of this personal history is that I can see things from each of those perspectives. I think this subject is important — not to be addressed flippantly — and I have wrestled long and hard over my convictions.

If you want to address the subject perceptively, you must learn to see the other guy's point of view in a sympathetic light. Your current position seems to me reflexive and reactionary, not well thought out.
Q

Aginoth said...

Q - a question. If you accept all religions as leading to the same Diety, and you don't believe that athists will end up in some eternal torment, why does it matter if people are beievers/religious or not?

if we all get the same in the end, irrelevant of eliefs, actions & prayers, why waste so much time & energy trying to do tings th right way?

CyberKitten said...

Q.. It would seem that although we are exchanging ideas and information we're not really communicating. I think I may be misunderstanding you & I think you may be misunderstanding me. Maybe...

Let me try & make some simple statements:

I don't believe in God (well, you already knew that).

I believe that the Universe is a natural product of natural processes (some of which we are yet to fully explain).

I believe that the Earth is a natural product too. Not only natural but common. I fully expect planets to be more common than grains of sand out there.

Life is fully natural too - both its origins and evolution. No supernatural agency need apply. I also expect life to be common 'out there' too...

I am confident that there is no God, no angels, demons, ghosts, souls etc, etc... It's not that I think there is insufficent evidence for any of the above.. but that there is no (zero, nada) evidence. Nothing that I have seen, read, listened to or experienced has prompted me to change this view.

I started out as disinterested in religion (coming from a disinterested family). In my teens/early 20's I was actively hostile to religion.. but I've calmed down a bit now.

I've had no crisis of faith, no sudden conversions... nothing like that. I know most about Christianity but am probably ignorant of a great deal of the detail. If you asked me who did what to whom where in the Bible... I probably wouldn't have a clue. That's really not my 'thing'.

I think we are coming at this issue from two very different viewpoints - which is probably where the communication problems come it. I may be coming across as 'smug' because I am confident in my view.

I also think that we're starting to go around in circles here. Some of your questions/observations will probably be answered later - and some of them will probably be addressed in future Blogs. If you feel up to it I would value your input as an 'insider' on the issues I'll probably raise.

To be honest the idea of God & religion bemuses me. I have tried to get my 'head around it' but have consistently failed to do so. Maybe, if I don't piss you off too much I'll be able to understand it a bit more...? Do Miracles still happen?

craziequeen said...

Miracles do happen - you just need to let The Light into your life!

:-)
:-)
:-)

cq

stc said...

Cyberkitten:

I'm not sure what exactly you're reacting to in my last comment.

I thought we were communicating pretty well. For example, my comment that human nature is responsible for people's dual nature (a bad side and a good side). Religion may increase the magnitude of people's bad deeds, but it may likewise increase the magnitude of people's good deeds.

Do you agree or disagree with that analysis? I thought it was an advance on the earlier discussion.

On the other hand, I've made my point and I'm content to drop the discussion. I don't want to harangue you on your blog. (Or on mine, for that matter! But especially not on yours.)
Q

stc said...

Oh, and Aginoth — you threw a couple questions my way:

If you accept all religions as leading to the same Diety, and you don't believe that athists will end up in some eternal torment, why does it matter if people are beievers/religious or not?

As Cyberkitten said earlier, if there's a God, presumably we'll all learn the truth on the other side of death. It won't matter which religion you follow or whether you're an atheist.

I don't believe in eternal torment, but I think it's possible some people will be snuffed out like a candle. Hitler and other mass murderers, for example, don't deserve eternal life. That's what atheists expect will happen to them after death anyway — no more consciousness or existence of any kind.

But I do believe Jesus was raised from the dead, so I believe there is such a thing as eternal life for some (virtually all?) of the human population.

I am interested in the Jesus of history because he impresses me as a person of profound spiritual insight. I want to know what he did and didn't do, what he said and didn't say.

I think there is such a thing as spiritual truth, and I want to conform my life to it as much as possible. But my motivation is not to earn eternal life, because I don't think eternal life can be earned.

I just think it's important to live in agreement with truth: intellectual and moral truth. I believe it pleases God when we do.
Q

Sadie Lou said...

God naturally knows what's going on in your life (obviously)... and does what He needs to do (in line with "The Plan") so why waste the time/effort praying?
Because he's asked us to in His word. The reason: So that we come to our Father with our needs, questions, problems, hurts, wants, etc.
Just like an earthly father.
The more we lean on God for everything, the less we have to depend on others. This comes in handy for single moms, divorcees, the elderly who have been abandoned, children that have lost their parents--you see what I'm getting at?
Although it may not appear on the surface that I need any help from God, I do. I pray to him for everything.

CyberKitten said...

Q said: I'm not sure what exactly you're reacting to in my last comment.

Me neither (grin). I just felt like it needed to be said.

Q also said: I thought we were communicating pretty well. For example, my comment that human nature is responsible for people's dual nature (a bad side and a good side). Religion may increase the magnitude of people's bad deeds, but it may likewise increase the magnitude of people's good deeds.


Firstly I find the idea of 'human nature' problematical - but no doubt that'll turn up in a Blog eventually. But anyway:

In a world without religion I think that we'd still have MLK's, Ghandi's and Mother Teresa's - or at least something similar. We'd also probably have Hitler's & Pol Pot's... (but hopefully a more rational humanity would just laugh at them or point them to the nearest psychiatrist). People become 'good' or 'bad' because of their upbringing, life experiences and probably a sprinkling of genetic inherentence...

I actually take issue with the idea of man's 'dual nature'.. What exactly do you mean by that? I think I know what you mean... but I'd like to hear it from you.

I think you might be on to something when you said "Religion may increase the magnitude of people's bad deeds, but it may likewise increase the magnitude of people's good deeds".

This is religion as a 'Force Multiplier' - to use a military term. Basically the effect exerted by the good/bad individual is given greater scope and power because its attached to a religion. As with most things this can be a two edged sword. I also think that it's easier in a lot of ways to destroy rather than to build.. and 'good' people tend not to want/need power... so guess who floats to the top in organisations....

With every question/observation.. we get 10+ more questions...

Fun, isn't it?

Juggling Mother said...

Q - Well that's a much better answer to Heaven & Hell than many of the others I've heard. Plus of course it means we are right, whatever we believe (unless we believe we are due for eternal torment of course), which is a whole different belief system in itself:-)

I'm not trying to argue my side in this, just understand yours. I've nothing against religion itself, I just don't understand how it ties in with all your other rational, logical, educated & obviously liberal views of the world.

Oh yes, and the previous comment was from me too - I was using aginoths computer & forgot to change the settings! Aggie is half a believer himself.

CyberKitten said...

Sadie Lou said: you see what I'm getting at?


Kind of... sort of.. maybe.

But, at least from my PoV... I'm afraid it doesn't make much sense. I think that I would need to be the 'inside' of your set of beliefs to fully understand what you mean. But then of course, you wouldn't need to explain it to me. On the surface we appear to be speaking the same language (Gen. Patton not withstanding) but I'm becoming aware that we're not. Either that or what you are actually saying is being clouded by assumptions and knowledge we both have and which may be radically different.

I wonder if part of my 'problem' is that I never really got on with my parents...?

CyberKitten said...

Mrs A said: Oh yes, and the previous comment was from me too - I was using aginoths computer & forgot to change the settings! Aggie is half a believer himself.


That's intriguing... Which half?

Sadie Lou said...

I wonder if part of my 'problem' is that I never really got on with my parents...?
I don't know--could be. My parents raised us agnostic. They wanted us to do the soul searching on our own. I'm the only one of three that has professed Christianity. I see a huge void in many people. Like my mother, for instance. Her father has passed on and she has a broken relationship with her mother that has neglected her since like, she was 13.
I see her trying to fill the void through her relationships with us: her daughters. Which is fine, but all of us can't be everything she needs all the time. Ya know? If she had the Lord, she could lean on Him a great deal more and not be so disappointed in her relationships.
I see this void in many situations. Take for instance the Holocaust. How do people get through tradgedies such as that?
Look at Hurricane Katrina--how many survivors on the news said that all they could do was pray? It's because you get to a point in your life where there is no earthly person that you can turn to--that can save you from what you're going through...

Jack Steiner said...

But my motivation is not to earn eternal life, because I don't think eternal life can be earned.

Q, that is a very powerful statement.

Sadie Lou said...

But my motivation is not to earn eternal life, because I don't think eternal life can be earned.


and true.

CyberKitten said...

But my motivation is not to earn eternal life, because I don't think eternal life can be earned.

Q, that is a very powerful statement.

..and also something I can probably agree with.

For starters nothing is eternal. The Universe will either end in a Big Crunch (the opposite of the Big Bang) or it will slowly fade away to nothing as the fuel that powers the stars runs out. It's a VERY long way off yet... but it's there.

Using advances in technology we'll probably (eventually) be able to live a very long time indeed.... though I doubt if anyone or anything could live long enough to see the Universe die... but you never can quite tell.

When the Universe dies, time will die with it - maybe to be reborn in a new Big Bang billions of years in the future... and with the birth of a new Universe (if that happens) time will start again... It's quite poetic when you think about it.

Not sure about Time in a "fading out" Universe though.... Maybe that will go on 'forever'...

craziequeen said...

[chucks spanner into works]

what about the soul, ck - immortal or otherwise?

I'm interested in your thoughts on the soul.

cq

CyberKitten said...

Ah... the soul..... that's a future Blog on its own I think... but so you don't think that I'm 'copping out'.

Nope. No such thing.

For starters:

What is it?

What is it made of?

Why hasn't it been discovered in the last X years by Science?

Where is it?

How does it function...?

Etc.. etc...

Maybe I'll 'do' something about it in a week or so... I don't really intend this to be a purely 'religious' based Blog....

craziequeen said...

My soul is within me. It is an integral part of who I am, what I believe and where I come from. It gains succour from god within and enables me to see the goodness without.

Like Bart Simpson, I have a soul and I would be adrift in a boat without a paddle without it.

I can't show you my soul, other than in words and actions. I can't tell you what it's made from other than me, myself and the Word of God, and scientists can't see it.

Maybe that's what is so awesome about belief - belief itself.

cq

craziequeen said...

The upshot of any religious debate is either of us could be right - and I'm not about to tell you you're wrong...

because you believe you are right.......and I believe I am.......

and therein lies a million years of war.........

cor - deep, ain't I??

cq

Sadie Lou said...

What is it?

What is it made of?

Why hasn't it been discovered in the last X years by Science?

Where is it?

How does it function...?

Etc.. etc...


You can ask the same questions about your conscience or inner voice...just because it isn't tangible like an organ or a limb, doesn't make it any less real.

CyberKitten said...

Sadie Lou said: just because it isn't tangible like an organ or a limb, doesn't make it any less real.

Surely if its real it must be something... Then what is it?

My 'inner voice' is me..... Where exactly does the Soul fit in?

stc said...

• Cyberkitten:

Show me your mind on an x-ray. Not your brain — your mind. Or show it to me on an EEG or whatever.

It's hardly an insignificant part of your identity, but I don't believe it exists. Prove me wrong. Show it to me.

• Mrs. Aginoth:
I didn't exactly say that we're all right in what we believe. In fact, I'm persuaded that none of us is right, if we're talking about 100% right.

But God isn't going to damn us for having the wrong beliefs or for committing run-of-the-mill sins. To be rejected by God, you would have to choose to live a life devoted to evil. That's the way I see it.

• sadie lee:
I'm enjoying your contribution to this dialogue. I know you won't appreciate the liberal theology of my last remark but still, I'm in your corner. You go, girl, give it to Cyberkitten right between the eyes!
Q

CyberKitten said...

Q said regarding Sadie Lou: I'm enjoying your contribution to this dialogue. I know you won't appreciate the liberal theology of my last remark but still, I'm in your corner. You go, girl, give it to Cyberkitten right between the eyes!

(Howls with laughter) I'm enjoying this too...

Q also said: Show me your mind on an x-ray. Not your brain — your mind. Or show it to me on an EEG or whatever.

That's a good point. The mind is rather difficult to 'pin down' as it where. There is indeed at least one school of thought (no pun intended) that puts forward the idea that minds are in fact illusions. We only 'think' that we have them... (grin)

(Makes note to Blog about 'minds' at some point)..

However, uncertainty about the existence of the mind (or how it works etc) doesn't in any way prove (or even indicate) the Souls exist. I can certainly show you brain activity which appears to correspond to the mind operating. I can chose to think of something and a particular area of the brain will be activated. If a part of the brain is stimulated the 'owner' will experience a memory or sensation (like the smell of onions) so there does seem to be some evidence that the brain and the mind are (in someway) linked...

But where can we do that with the Soul? Even theoretically... Just how does the Soul function... Or is it just one more mystery that we're not supposed to think about too much?

stc said...

I can certainly show you brain activity which appears to correspond to the mind operating.

— indirect evidence that the mind exists.

But where can we do that with the Soul?

Perhaps what you mean by "mind" is not far removed from what I mean by "soul". But "soul" is a broader term which also encompasses the emotions. As with the mind, we can map the electrical activity of emotions in the brain.

Two additional comments. First, remember that I was responding (along with Sadie Lou and craziequeen) to your questions. So you tell me:

What is the mind? What is it made of? Why hasn't it been discovered in the last X years by Science? Where is it (beyond your vague explanation that it is in some way associated with the brain)?

The $64,000 question is, does the mind survive the death of the body, or at least have the potential to do so? If so, then human beings have what I mean when I speak of a "soul". The soul is the non-material part of human beings.

In Hebrew thought, by the way, the personality was deemed to include both the body and the soul (just as you have suggested that the mind is inseparable from the body). Hence first century Jews emphasized a resurrection of the body, which would take place “at the end of the age”. This way of looking at things was passed on to Judaism’s daughter faith, Christianity.

The Greeks didn't see it that way. They believed the body was in opposition to the soul, dragging it down. They eagerly anticipated the liberation of the soul from the body.

Whether the Greeks were right, or the Hebrews, you must admit: I've just opened up the possibility that there is such a thing as the soul. We might further theorize that the soul has the capacity to survive the death of the body.
Q

Sadie Lou said...

• sadie lee:
I'm enjoying your contribution to this dialogue. I know you won't appreciate the liberal theology of my last remark but still, I'm in your corner. You go, girl, give it to Cyberkitten right between the eyes!
Q


Thanks Q. Your comments blow my mind. I'm thouroughly enjoying this and I think we've covered some huge subjects here. It's nice to know that there are people who can talk about these issues without resorting to name calling and sarcasm--which I run into often.

Sadie Lou said...

"But God isn't going to damn us for having the wrong beliefs or for committing run-of-the-mill sins. To be rejected by God, you would have to choose to live a life devoted to evil. That's the way I see it."

That's not the way I see it. If you reject God--you're going to hell. Nobody comes close to earning their way into His good graces by NOT devoting their life to evil.
You get into His good graces through Jesus Christ and him crucified--no merit of mine is going to save me. Run of the mill sins or no.

CyberKitten said...

Q said: The $64,000 question is, does the mind survive the death of the body, or at least have the potential to do so? If so, then human beings have what I mean when I speak of a "soul". The soul is the non-material part of human beings.

No. The Mind dies when we do. After all its just basically caused by electrical activity in the brain (as far as I understand it). So, when the brain dies, the mind dies with it. End of story - Good Night Vienna.

As far as I am concerned (and am aware) nothing of what makes us.. us.. survives death. This (life) is a one shot deal.

Sadie Lou said...

As far as I am concerned (and am aware) nothing of what makes us.. us.. survives death. This (life) is a one shot deal.

That sucks for babies that were aborted.
That sucks for children that were raped and murdered.
That sucks for women who were abused in their marriage for most of their lives.
That sucks for slaves.
If this is all there is, that sucks for like 90% of the population.

CyberKitten said...

..and that's one of the reasons many people believe that there is more to life than this 'one shot deal'.

I however do not.

(makes note to Blog on the 'Meaning of Life')

These future Blogs are certainly mounting up aren't they....

stc said...

But Cyberkitten, how can you possibly know that the mind does not survive the death of the body?

You've already acknowledged that the mind only partly corresponds with the brain. If the mind is non-material, even in part, why must it die when the body dies? You're forming a conclusion without the data necessary to support it.

And Sadie Lou is right to challenge you at the point that she does. I am firmly convinced that hope is not available to an atheist like yourself. You can afford to be complacent about it, because you were lucky enough to be born into good circumstances. You even think it's nobel to deny life after death, that you've taken the harder path. But in fact it's easy for you to take that stance.

There are millions of suffering people in the world; some of them are your neighbours. And I'm afraid your position is rather callous toward them.

Tread carefully here. The people that Sadie Lou is describing — some of them are people she knows personally, I'm willing to bet.

Not that wishing makes it so. I know, fervently hoping there's a better life after this one doesn't constitute evidence that there is. But a godless universe is an absurd and cruel universe. I hope you understand the force of Sadie Lou's point.
Q

CyberKitten said...

Q - Thanks for that....

Q said: But Cyberkitten, how can you possibly know that the mind does not survive the death of the body?

I don't know - and none of us will know until after we're dead (or not I'm I'm right). But I stongly suspect/believe it to be the case. I have certainly seen no evidence or argument that has convinced me to change my mind.

Q also said: I am firmly convinced that hope is not available to an atheist like yourself.

You're going to have to explain this one to me. Hope of what?

Q also said: There are millions of suffering people in the world; some of them are your neighbours. And I'm afraid your position is rather callous toward them.

Now I'm really confused. Why is my personal belief in the lack of any kind of afterlife in any way 'callous' to millions of people I don't know & will never meet?

Q also said: But a godless universe is an absurd and cruel universe.

No it isn't. A Godless Universe is a naturally occuring phenomena. It is neither absurd nor cruel. Though it is certainly indifferent.

In what way would you consider such a Universe absurd?

Sadie Lou said...

Q:You can afford to be complacent about it, because you were lucky enough to be born into good circumstances.
Cyberkitten: This is the crux of the issue. Your stance on a godless universe says nothing about the nature of the beast. What do you have to say about people less fortunate than you?
Why are they given the hand they were dealt and you are so fortunate as to experience this one shot deal with good circumstances?
The people who were dealt a rotten hand should be able to have the HOPE of something better--the hope that this is not all there is--the hope that they are loved, despite the hate they have endured their entire life.

CyberKitten said...

Sadie Lou said: The people who were dealt a rotten hand should be able to have the HOPE of something better--the hope that this is not all there is--the hope that they are loved, despite the hate they have endured their entire life.

Personally I would rather that we do something about their situation in this life rather than have them rely on a hope for a better deal in the next one.

I am also not denying these people hope. I am merely stating my belief that I do not consider the idea of an afterlife to be a credible one. If people want to believe such things I am happy that they go on believing it.

In a lot of ways I am very lucky. I was born into a comparatively rich and safe country. That is not to say that everything has gone my way in my life (nor that it can't get a whole lot worse). However, you'll have to come up with some pretty fancy arguments or evidence to convince me that there is more to existence that this 'Earthly realm'.