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[flagged] Why do Americans claim to be more religious than they are? (slate.com)
15 points by luu 22 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 88 comments

While I am an atheist myself, I grew up going to a Unitarian church. They held food drives and other charity events, and was a social staple of our community. Religion can give a person's life structure, give them a social support network they might not have otherwise. I have met religious people that quite simply could not get out of bed without it, and as long as they don't become too dogmatic I see no issue with it.

What many atheists seem to miss is this, god doesn't need to be real for religion to have massive benefits for an individual. I will never fault anyone for believing, nor will I fault anyone for playing up their level of belief to be able to participate. I will not overlook the excesses and corruption of large scale organized religions, but on a smaller scale it can be of great benefit for a community.

> I have met religious people that quite simply could not get out of bed without it, and as long as they don't become too dogmatic I see no issue with it.

Are you not concerned that these people might one day come to the conclusion that their religion isn't real and be left with no reason to get out of bed?

That can happen to anybody.

Most people who lose their faith don't also lose all their motivation.

Agreed. Perhaps the opposite.

Yeah, that's a nice theory. Reality in my personal experience is, religion(s) divide people like nothing else in human history. It gives tons of people who live in sort of constant denial/ignorance of reality (I'll get to that) a sense of smugness. (Practically) everybody believes their faith is the right one, and everybody else has it wrong. 'They' are outsiders, and maybe if we are kind we accept them nevertheless, and maybe we won't.

With Christianity as a religion that only 1/3 of the world say/pretend to believe in, but mostly don't act like they actually do, it just doesn't make any sense at all. So 2/3 of this world, and most of those 120 billions of humans which ever lived will burn in hell eternally? A bit unfair to those billions who were born long before some delusional crazy person created yet another sect of Judaism, or even invention of Judaism by inspiring with some other monotheistic religion (maybe Zoroastrianism).

Some people told me that faith begins when rationality ends - that might be my problem/situation. Every single thing, event, experience, anything I ever learned is rational, causal - that's how reality works. That's not how religion works. I won't stop my brain, not for you, anybody else, nor religion.

That's a problem so many with religions - they became these entrenched corporations of our minds, say like Oracle since we're on HN. They create strict hierarchy, set of rules that come out of nowhere, get highly political internally and externally.

if people would stick to the original faith only, kept it as something personal, optional and not so divisive as in current form, maybe religions wouldn't be losing so many people just in few generations.

Its perfectly fine and appropriate to ask people to be good humans. But you definitely don't need any religion for that. And in my personal opinion, no fear of almighty god and eternal punishment ever made an evil person into a good one.

Is a drunk man happier than others?

That’s a simple, but deep question. I wonder if this topic is covered by mainstream philosophy.

Yes. A drunk man is happier. This is a trick religious people try to use by conflating something's truth with something's value.

For those hardcore atheists that just can't fathom why someone would believe in Christianity/religion in general, let me ask you are you WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, and Democratic)?

If the answer is yes, I can highly recommend the book The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. It didn't really change my opinion on religion but it did give me a different view and perspective into why some others do believe in it.

The issue is how can religious people "choose" to believe something. Atheism is not a movement, it's a surrender to logic and reason. What's baffling is, how can people suppress reason because it feels good?

>What's baffling is, how can people suppress reason because it feels good?

Humans are not primarily logical beings. Humans are primarily emotional beings for whom logic often serves as a basis to rationalize their emotions.

This is indeed one of the major themes covered in the book.

What I can't fathom or understand is how someone can look at the universe and say that there was no Creator or Architect of some kind?

If I showed you an incredibly complex software program and told you there was no developer or designer behind it, and that it came into existence randomly and for no reason, you would look at me like I'm crazy.

Or for the artistically inclined, if I showed you the Sistine Chapel and told you there was no artist or creator behind it, you would say I'm insane.

But for some reason people can look at something as remarkable as the universe and say there's no creator.

It's perfectly reasonable to look at the universe and believe that it came from something.

Where there's little to no evidence is that it was designed. What for, us? Hardly, if so that's some record for redundant packaging.

Some mysterious purpose that we can't fathom? Yeah, I've worked on software like that too. Colour me unimpressed.

But it's beautiful? Well some of it maybe. A fairly large part of it is literally as dull as physically possible.

And there's myriad examples of things that are beautiful to us that weren't designed to be. They need to have been created, sure, but not designed.

So yeah, the universe was created. But there's no basis for believing that it was created by anything intelligent, nor that it was designed. And there's plenty of evidence that, once created, it just shuffled along on its own. No need for a cosmic repairman to still be around.

Oh, and thank you for not using the eyeball as an example of divine perfection. That one used to wind my (blind in one eye, short sighted in the other) grandfather up no end.

Unlike some here, I have no issue if you want to believe something different from me. But this is HN and that's not a strong argument.

Purpose is subjective.

What I'm saying is, all of "this" must of came from something. And that "something" is what people refer to as God, the Higher Power, the "Ultimate".

> What I'm saying is, all of "this" must have come from something

Fair enough

> And that "something" is what people refer to as God

Expects it's not, is it? If people stopped at "the thing that kicked off the universe", we'd be laughing. But they don't.

You wouldn't need prayer, or moral guidance, or Pope's or whatever. Utterly pointless, the launch was eons ago.

You cannot reasonably get from "the universe was created" to anything close to most monotheistic deities. There have been dualist religions that had a stab but they were generally slaughtered if they got too popular.

If you are just giving a name to whatever currently exists beyond scientific understanding then what use is that?

If you are implying that there was an entity with some form of conscious thought which designed the universe we currently experience then no, I don't believe that. There are plenty of examples of amazingly complex systems which were built from independent actions not requiring a creator to design them.

There's an interesting metaphysical discussion here, but in the context of the wider conversation the focus really has to be on spirituality (as opposed to religiousness).

When you're on that level you're no longer restricted to the idea of a creator and their creation.

Tantra, for example, says that god is within us, we are the divine. At deeper levels it goes on to say we are all composed of the same matter that exists in all the universe, so surely we are made of the universe. So, divinity. We are also the creators of our own destiny to some extent, through our beliefs and our actions and our mindset.

Does that mean there's a relationship between creator and created, or might we also be a consequence of an unexpected and serendipitous emergent process, like evolution?

This doesn't answer the question of how or why all of this exists, but once you take religion out of the picture you can start to look at the underlying theories and all of the various concepts we've developed over the millennia.

Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. But software and Sistine chapel having creators doesn’t provide any proof regarding origins of anything else.

Some people choose to assume things that make themselves feel better, such as after lives and gods. Some people assume the opposite. Some people don’t assume anything at all. Either way, it’s nobody else’s business. Belief = assumption + ego, so I find assumption to be a better word to use when speaking about a political topic.

How is it not proof? It's using the most fundamental of logic. We're talking elementary logic here.

I see a thing, this thing must of came from something. Things just don't appear for no reason and with no creator.

A pen, a banana, a baby, a piece of code, all of these things came from something. And all of these things compared to the universe are incredibly simple. But how come you believe the universe came into existence from nothing and without design?

>A pen, a banana, a baby, a piece of code, all of these things came from something. And all of these things compared to the universe are incredibly simple. But how come you believe the universe came into existence from nothing and without design?

The modern banana, a pen, a baby, a piece of code - these all were invented by us, and made out of something that already existed. Just because so many things that WE observe have a beginning and end, doesn't mean EVERYTHING has a beginning and end.

Our entire world/universal view is skewed by the fact we are mortal. Even if we go by the logic of someone had to make this, it couldn't have come from nowhere - then who made the inventor? Where did that come from? At some point your logic will REQUIRE you to believe that "things appear for no reason and with no creator".

> Things just don't appear for no reason and with no creator.

This logic must logically apply to said creator.

As I've replied to your other comment, name me one thing which has no beginning.

So the timeline of the universe has no beginning? It just "is" and "was" for no reason, no design, no creator, for an infinite period of time?

The answer is "we're not sure, but we'd love to find out".

Giving up and replacing "we'd love to find out" with "well, it's just unexplainable magic!" is not a satisfying option to me.

So if you're answer is, "I don't know", how can you say that a belief in a Creator is wrong? If you truly don't know?

I technically don't know if there's an invisible unicorn living in a cave on the Moon.

I can state with reasonable certainty that there isn't.

I'm perfectly willing to be convinced by compelling evidence to the contrary, but "it's in the Bible" or "everything needs a beginning EXCEPT THIS ONE THING THAT MAKES MY ARGUMENT WORK" isn't that evidence.

It's reasonable to think that the Universe came into existence without some sort of creator, that it wasn't intelligently designed in some capacity, and that it came from nothing out of randomness and for no reason?

That you came from your father's penis as a drop of fluid, to be formed into some living thing, and ultimately be given birth from your mother's vagina into this world for no reason, out of randomness, and with no sort of intelligent force behind all of this?


You've already indicated you yourself think it's reasonable to think things can come into existence without a creator, by asserting the existence of such a thing in the form of a creator.

I'm entirely comfortable with the concept of my being here due to natural selection rather than a mystical purpose. Don't make the mistake of thinking "everything must have a purpose" to be a globally shared worldview.

I'm not even bringing feelings or faith into this discussion though.

This is pure logic my friend. It is not rational to "believe" that an object, a thing, a complex structure, can come into existence without being intelligently designed in some manner. That something as intricate and complex as the universe just came to be randomly, for no reason, and with no architect of some sort.

> It is not rational to "believe" that an object, a thing, a complex structure, can come into existence without being intelligently designed in some manner.

Would you describe a dolphin as a complex structure? It wasn't designed, it evolved through natural selection.

I suggest reading a short book titled "Why evolution is true", or "The blind watchmaker".

Belief in a higher power does not counteract the belief, or proof, of the idea of evolution and natural selection.

Surely someone can design something to self-heal, self-correct, or evolve/adapt to it's surroundings right? Wouldn't a good designer/architect do that?

There's no need to introduce a creator in order to explain evolution. Introducing a creator does not help explain anything that could not be explained without it either. It is not a rational belief.

True but if you think the big bang and god and evolution are all true, then surely you must reject the Bible, right?

Nonsense. Put a bunch of magnets in a box, all spread out. Close it, add energy (shake the box). Open the box - the magnets are neatly organized into stacks. Order from nothing! Its perfectly natural and expected. No architect required.

Where this line of thinking falls apart is realizing you must, due to the same logic, explain the architect's coming into existence.

When asked what triggered the big bang, an honest answer is "I don't know, have a guess at it".

It's true that all roads from there will eventually lead to abandoning the logic and essentially saying "just because".

imho the leap of faith in assuming the architect(s) came into existence by divinity (just because) is more satisfying than the one in assuming there is none.

All creation has an ultimate source though, does it not? A point of singularity.

This source, or point of singularity, is what religious people refer to as 'God'.

> All creation has an ultimate source though, does it not? A point of singularity.

This is an unsupported assertion. The current answer to "what came before the Big Bang" is "we're not sure, and we're not sure that's even the right terminology".

If everything needs a creator, that "singularity" has to have one, and its creator, and its creator, and so on and so forth for infinity.

Name me one thing which has no beginning.

We see all sorts of weirdness with time, like delayed choice experiments: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/quantum-eraser-de...

The entire concept of time starts to break down in spots, like within a black hole: https://phys.org/news/2015-09-law-implies-thermodynamic-blac...

It also breaks down when you start talking about pre-Big Bang cosmology. It's not clear there is such a thing as a "beginning" outside of the universe.

What does this even mean?

"Time is a weird concept even in our universe at times. It breaks down entirely outside of the known universe."

Yes...but what does this mean?

That the idea that "things must have a beginning" may not be the case when talking about physics outside the known universe.

Sure, that's hard to wrap your head around, but so's quantum entanglement and the double slit experiment. Doesn't change the fact that the universe works in very, very weird ways sometimes.

Here's Stephen Hawking on the weirdness of all of this: http://www.hawking.org.uk/the-beginning-of-time.html

> Quantum theory introduces a new idea, that of imaginary time. Imaginary time may sound like science fiction, and it has been brought into Doctor Who. But nevertheless, it is a genuine scientific concept. One can picture it in the following way. One can think of ordinary, real, time as a horizontal line. On the left, one has the past, and on the right, the future. But there's another kind of time in the vertical direction. This is called imaginary time, because it is not the kind of time we normally experience. But in a sense, it is just as real, as what we call real time.

This is one of the hardest concepts to grasp in theoretical physics/quantum physics/cosmology. (And I'm not saying I fully grasp it)

We, as beings who experience time linearly, can't fathom the concept of "No time". Every event we experience has a beginning, middle, and end.

Time was created along with the universe. "Before" the Big Bang there was literally "No time". There was no "before". There was nothing you could say was "before" because "before" literally did not exist. Just asking the question "what was before the big bang?" is nonsensical. You can't ask what was before "before" existed.

This gets more confusing because we know the Universe has had a finite lifetime.

I know this seems like a cop out. And you can say well then whoever/whatever caused the Big Bang was "God". That may or may not be true, it can't be tested of verified, but it seems that the universe is here just because it is here.

Which is not a very satisfying answer to most.

The proof is in the pudding. The creation is the proof. Even Moon does not have life... Even though it has the right distance from the sun and what not...

There's no single "right distance from the sun" - areas of Mars have temperature ranges acceptable for some Earth bacteria, Europa likely has liquid seas, etc., and Earth-style life isn't the only option - and the Moon is inhospitable in a variety of other ways.

We also can't completely discount life on the Moon having briefly explored a couple acres of it, largely on foot.

Not clear to me what you're trying to show by indicating the moon has no life.

>Even Moon does not have life...

*That we know of.

Hume has interesting comments on this idea. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watchmaker_analogy

If the universe was created, it wasn't created to be friendly to life. I'd guess that more than 99.99999 % of it is hostile to human existence.

On the subject of over reporting of church attendence, the discrimination against atheists in the USA may have a good part to play:


I guess in my mind these are two separate things. I accept and acknowledge my ignorance of (and, likely, incapacity to understand) the deepest workings of the universe.

At the same time, I have not seen any reason to believe that the ultimate nature of the universe is the creation of a conscious architect/designer.

As the traditional line of thought goes: who created or designed the creator? If the universe is so complex that it required a conscious being to kick everything off, then wouldn't that being be of sufficient complexity to also require a designer?

I don't mean to say that I can even comprehend the concept of how this universe could have come into existence. Sure, I can grasp on some vague level the processes we've observed or inferred, but I doubt that anything resembling modern humanity can possibly wrap their heads around the ultimate origins.

So to me, it seems a bit of a cop out (or maybe just anthropomorphism) when we think "well, it must be like another guy doing it....just a bigger/better/smarter/older/whatever guy". It's like the old joke of "turtles all the way down". We think in terms of hierarchy and design so we imagine some point at the very top of the hierarchy, there's a tippy-top dog who must have been responsible for designing things.

But the idea that there's a creator who is basically a super-whatever and he is aware of us and cares about what we do seems as unlikely to me as turtles all the way down. Sure it could be the case as easily as anything else since I can't fathom what could have provided the ultimate start of everything. But I've yet to see any evidence or logic that suggests this is the case. If anything it would seem the opposite.

Frankly I would love reason to believe I had a clue about this because when I mull over the concept of "everything" it's a bit terrifying.

By this logic, the creator requires a creator, and that creator requires a creator and so on. Unless you believe in this infinite chain of creators, you already understand how someone can believe in a complex thing coming into existence without a creator.

Until the creator reaches to a point of singularity, an ultimate source, which religious people refer to as God.

Isn't there a beginning to EVERYTHING?

It sounds like you're describing big bang cosmology rather than a personal god.

First, if a complex system like a bee implied the existence of a creator, that begs the question of what created that creator, since it must also be a complex system. It's all turtles down there.

Second, we know that complex systems like bees can and do arise without a creator by means of evolution through natural selection.

Third, even if you somehow still want to believe in a creator, what can we infer about it? There is beauty in this world, but also suffering and misery, and that is not limited to humans -- far from it. Just as you would expect from a system that arise through natural selection alone.

It turtles down until there is a beginning, a source.

That source, or beginning, is what religions people refer to as God.

but they can't be the source because their design implies a designer

So you've accepted the logic that all designs have a designer. But now you attempt to debunk the logic by saying, "Surely the Creator has a creator too, right?".

But we've already established that the idea that all designs have a designer, all creations have a creator, is more logical than for something to come into existence, from nothing, with no creator, for no reason, and out of randomness.

I'm only accepting the logic for the sake of the argument, I don't actually accept it. I'm just pointing out that accepting the logic is dissonant because at some point you have to deny the logic.

then what logic do you accept?

Two approaches here: 1) If I could show you a simple process by which we could take a random mess, and the Sistine Chapel would then form all by itself, without any need for a creator, would you then believe that it could exist without a creator?

If not, why not?

2) If all complex things require a creator, and the creator is presumably complex, why does the creator not also require something to have created them?

I always defer to Stephen Fry's answer[0], when approached on the aspect of the existence of a god.

[0] - https://youtu.be/I_ciu7_cOhg

If you're curious - in the theology world, Stephen's answer is a reiteration (and a good one) of the Problem of Evil: If Good is good and all powerful, then why is there evil in the world?

The standard answer is that God may have other values than what we think of as Good. For example everything was 'good' then perhaps there wouldn't be a need for forgiveness, generosity or free will

More info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Best_of_all_possible_worlds

Would you be able to summarize what he says? At work and I can't watch any videos lol

I don't know how "hardcore" I am. My lack of belief is due to lack of evidence. The quality of my life is pretty good (perhaps due to my WEIRDness) and, yes, that would probably prevent me from looking to something "else".

That said, if the evidence were significantly more convincing, I'd change in a heartbeat.

Evidence in what regard? Evidence to validate the proclaimed truth behind religion?

Evidence to prove the Bible isn't an entirely fictional work with very little basis in fact. Portions of which can be used to assist in developing a solid moral compass, but historically has been used to justify atrocities rather than elevate mankind.

Well it's hard to convince anyone of the validity of religion because it is faith-based. I am a religious person because it gives me peace and strength, and in an odd way makes sense to ME. My personal experiences validate it, but of course this is not universal and hard to communicate to someone.

But, the belief in a Higher Power, a God, a Creator of some sort, is rooted in using logic. That is something that I don't understand how someone can deny.

A win in the startup lottery maybe. But I would probably claim it's due to my own skill of being at the right place of the right time.

Probably for the existence of God.

God's existence, if He were to have a reasonable fraction of the attributes ascribed to him, would be trivially provable to the most hardened atheist.

The fact that that hasn't happened, with no clear reason why not, is quite tricky for a lot of sceptics to get passed.

Lack of evidence and willingness to change sounds more like "agnostic" than atheist to me. I'm not trying to split hairs - I am much more OK with declaring myself to be agnostic than athiest (I'm an American and southern to boot, Grandfather was a preacher).

The best way I've heard it put is that Athiests believe there is no God. Agnostics believe that it is unknown and unknowable whether there is a god.

The counterpoint to this is Russell's teapot: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell%27s_teapot

Yes, technically, I'm agnostic about a teapot orbiting Mars, or an invisible unicorn living on the Moon... but it's a reasonable statement to just say flatly "there's no such thing" until someone presents some pretty solid evidence that's incorrect.

I've also heard folks make a distinction between "weak" and "strong" atheism; weak being "I don't believe there's a God, but I could be convinced with good enough evidence" and strong being "nothing would convince me of a God".

But defaulting to god being possible is itself religious. There is equal proof of the existence of 2 gods as there is one. And equal proof of 100. Throw god away and start with a clean slate, ask what happened and you will come up with big bang and evolution. No modern adult would start with a god. The fact that its an option is a legacy and one that I think pollutes agnostics' thinking.

Exactly. Atheism is nothing more then accepting an evidence based belief system.

What is your evidence?

A lot of people can think of both perspectives because so many westerners come from Christian households or settings.

I'm western and educated. Rich is relative. But how can someone be Industrialised? Or Democratic?

It's very common, when one lives in a theocracy, to pretend to be religious. That way you don't get shunned by your fellow citizens, and have to deal with all sorts of awkward situations.

The actual levels of religosity can drop a _lot_ before it becomes clear that darn-near everyone is just pretending.

In 2011, membership the Church of Scotland dropped to the point where it was less popular than "No Religion". This got a lot of publicity - and meant that over the next two years the membership nearly _halved_, from 32% to 18%. Because once there's no social requirement to say "Oh yes, I believe in God", all of the people who hadn't been going to church anyway stop saying it.


Because American communities were built around religion with the church being the social congregation area. The average sentiment is that people don't really want to go to church but do so to maintain certain social relationships and keep up appearances. It is far more prevalent in smaller communities.

What does it mean to be religious? Is it simply belief or belief and action? I would argue that you aren't really religious unless you actually live by the code of the religion. That would mean a very strict sense of how to navigate the world and your interactions with others and yourself. How many people do this? In my experience - not many, and I don't think this is unique to Americans. Perhaps I'm way off but it seems like the world in the majority is often only pretending to be religious.

Some religious codes don't have an obligation to do good works or think philosophically about themselves or navigating the world. Simply believing - sola fide - defines religiousness for some religious codes, particularly among Protestant religions, which some 46.5% of Americans belong to [0].

0 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protestantism_in_the_United_St...

I understand this idea, but it doesn't really address the fundamental issue or what it REALLY MEANS to say you are religious. Can I really make a valid claim to be religious If my actions are not in accordance with the principals of my religion? Sure I can say I "believe", but then If I truly did, why would I not act it out in my life? I don't think the two are really separate concepts at the most fundamental analysis of it. Say one thing but do another just means you are a hypocrite.

Based on your line of thought here, I'm not sure you understand this idea as well as you claim to. You appear to be passionate about this though. I suggest you do some research into the key differences between Catholicism & Orthodox churches and many protestant churches like the Lutheran & Reformed Churches when it comes to sola fidelis vs "faith and works".

I'll say this again: for many protestants (and thus many Americans), simply believing defines being religious.

We may be talking past each other to some degree. I'm not debating the ideas of sola fidelis vs "faith and works", this goes beyond that, for those are, to some degree, just interpretations of the original doctrine of Christ. I'm not interested in interpretations and I'm positing the idea that unless you act out the doctrine of Christ in your life, you cannot make a valid claim to be religious (in the Christian sense).

Oh, I thought you were making a point related to the article.

I'm not interested in interpretations and I'm positing the idea that unless you act out the doctrine of Christ in your life, you cannot make a valid claim to be religious (in the Christian sense).

Please find a Lutheran and posit this to them. :)

FWIW, this article is from 2010.

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