Chicken vs Egg: Religion vs You

Does your religion change you or do you pick and choose your religious beliefs to match your personality?  Tom at Ephiphenom reviews a recent study that shows that HIV patients with a passive attitude toward their health (don’t take meds) have a passive view of God while those with a self-directing attitude toward their health (take their meds) have a “collaborative religious” view to God.

If you read Tom’s review you may walk away from his post feeling that religion forms you.  But you can see by my summary above, my writing style implies that the causal direction is the opposite — you form your religion.  What do you think? Either way, the causal component is probably very complex.  Certainly some personality traits drive the person to pick and choose a religion to match itself while other traits make a person vulnerable to soaking up whatever doctrine they are raised with and using it to form themselves.

I find that people who hate “religion” in general (instead of the particulars) tend to think religion forms the person.  Many posts on this blog try to show how often it is the other way around.  Thus, getting rid of the religion is not really the solution because you always have the person.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

11 responses to “Chicken vs Egg: Religion vs You

  1. DaCheese

    Well as your title implies, it’s really a cyclical two-way process. People often choose the form of religious practice that feels right to them, but once they’ve chosen it, it tends to strengthen some personality traits and weaken others. It can also alter your thinking, once you delve into the deeper implications of the philosophy you’ve chosen.

    In my case, I’ve found that I’m drawn to relatively passive, fluid religions and philosophies, probably because they fit my personality. It’s comforting feeling that the way you’ve always been (for me: passive, non-confrontational) is right, and that people who act differently are just foolishly chasing after the wrong things. But I’ve also found over time that following such philosophies too, ahem, “religiously” tends to make me too passive, at least for Western society. I often have to step back a bit and remember moderation.

  2. vicki

    hiv has nothing to do with religious beliefs. it is a cronic disease that sometimes can be permitted and other times not. you can not compare a fatal illness to beliefs with god. someone in my personal life has died from aids, and they were very religious and taught me all about the religion i practice today. i beg to differ with your statement.

  3. @ DaCheese : Good observations. Got me to chuckle too.

    @ vicki : I am afraid you misunderstood my post. It was discussing HIV patients who have religious beliefs. You are right, AIDS is a terrible chronic disease and has nothing to do with religion. But we can look at how religious people act when they have any disease. I am curious which “statement” you differ with.

  4. haha! i love the line “I find that people who hate “religion” in general (instead of the particulars) tend to think religion forms the person.” brilliant!

    great post. for me when presented with a chicken or egg argument my answer is “the common ancestor.” for my particular faith formation, i was formed by it as well as forming it. i was raised in a Roman Catholic setting with a priest who was a Vatican II Jesuit: highly educated, very open to other ideas, and very down to earth. his replacement was a rigid dogmatist which forced me to switch from being formed by my religion, to forming my own. because of this, i have gravitated to fluid expressions of the Christian religion. this is my short-selling of the experience, but i feel the chicken formed me (the egg) and i hatched and did my own thing. if that makes any sense… i could be way off.

  5. @ Zero
    That sounds totally accurate and well stated.
    I would contend, thought, that by embracing the label and others in the faith, that it is not just your type of Christianity that forms you but some uninvited stuff forms you — both good and bad. And so it is with all of us.

  6. I don’t read the study as saying that people who “form their own religion” are more fastidious about taking medicine. I read it as saying that people who are fatalistic about God are fatalistic about medicine, while those who think God demands their personal engagement are more engaged in medicine.

    Thus, the study doesn’t seem that surprising. On one aspect, though, I think you’re probably right. I’ve seen people at end of life who seem to eventually “give up”, and then seem to become more fatalistic about “it’s all in God’s hands”. So, in that sense, their fatalism about their own disease may well lead them to change the way they talk about God.

  7. @ JS Allen
    I didn’t actually read the study, but instead, I read Tom Reese’s summary. Tom’s summary seems to imply (by my read) that religion made the people think like that. So I am glad to hear that the study discusses it in terms of forming your religion to match your disposition.
    Good example about fatalism.

  8. Interesting questions and a great post. I tend to think it’s a little of both. Religion, regardless of whether gods or other spiritual forces exist, can be a tool that is useful for improving ones life. Some people pick the one that suits them, others go with what they were raised with, all with varying results. When I was a Christian I had daily morning prayer and study time, it really helped me focus on the day. Is this a practice that would still benefit me as an atheist? I think so, though my books would be different and I wouldn’t be praying, I still think that quiet time in the morning could help me focus on the day ahead. While this sort of thing was encouraged in the Christians schools of thought that I spent time in, it did not seem beneficial to all, so not everyone would do it. Did I do it because I wanted to, or did I do it because my religion told me to? Probably both.

  9. roid

    “getting rid of the religion is not really the solution because you always have the person.”

    People use religion to justify their actions, like murder and biggotry.
    Getting rid of religion will at least get rid of the easy religious justification that people use to sidestep having to actually think about how their actions effect others.

    If we could replace “I hate gays and that’s awesome coz God tells me so. I’d even kill one, coz God’s law is above man’s. I love not having to think about stuff!”
    “I hate gays and that’s… uh… well i dunno, maybe one day i’ll think hard about it. Kill one? Well yeah sometimes i want to, but it’s weird to want to kill people right? Something might be wrong with me, i should see a psych.”
    That would be peachy.

  10. @roid – In the U.S., I’m pretty sure that the majority of gay bashing is done by people who are not religious, and obviously Christianity doesn’t endorse murder of gays.

    Islam does endorse the murder of gays, but that’s where things get really strange. The most repressive Islamic regimes also tend to have the highest incidence of men having sex with other men, and with boys. You can see this in places like Abu Dhabi, where the gay bars are super active and the rich muslims engage in same-sex sexual activity while simultaneously saying they are not gay. I remember reading about this same thing regarding the Taliban about 12 years ago, and this is what U.S. Army medics have discovered:

    Apparently, according to the report, Pashtun men interpret the Islamic prohibition on homosexuality to mean they cannot “love” another man — but that doesn’t mean they can’t use men for “sexual gratification.”

    The U.S. army medic also told members of the research unit that she and her colleagues had to explain to a local man how to get his wife pregnant.

    The report said: “When it was explained to him what was necessary, he reacted with disgust and asked, ‘How could one feel desire to be with a woman, who God has made unclean, when one could be with a man, who is clean? Surely this must be wrong.'”

    The report also detailed a disturbing practice in which older “men of status” keep young boys on hand for sexual relationships. One of the country’s favorite sayings, the report said, is “women are for children, boys are for pleasure.”

    I had a friend who went through the area in the late 70s and bought a wife. He said that prostitution was punishable by death there, but you could pay some small amount of money to be married to a woman for an hour and have sex. So that’s another example of sticking to the letter of the law and violating the spirit.

    None of this is news. But the point is that repressive moral codes don’t necessarily make it easier to justify murder of gays; they just create massive hypocrisy.

  11. @ roid :
    I agree, lessening that reinforcement would be good.

    @ JS Allen :
    I agree, “Gay Bashing” is much deeper than just religion.
    Suppress sex in men (by imprisoning, teaching women are dirty or forbidding it among your priests) and boys will be had.

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