Belonging & “God”

The need to belong is huge because “belonging” can be extremely useful.  Believing that one belongs to God’s kingdom, no matter how much of a fantasy, can satisfy this need to some degree.  But, interestingly, the reverse is true too:  actually feeling connected to real people or, better yet, knowingly having the security that can come from having caring friends, can weaken one’s need to believe in God.

Epiphenom explores a few articles which exposes this phenomena in humans.  I have written of this in several posts, and extend the hypothesis by exploring how belonging can be partially fulfilled by the Buddhist notion of Sangha, by the passionate support of your city’s sport teams,  and by patriotism.  Thus I have tried to illustrate how many atheists may be getting their artificial dose of “belonging” albeit via a different route than theists.

A theme of this blog: it is hard to escape being human — we may be more like those we criticize than we imagine.

My related posts:

  • Credal Belonging : Buddists, Christians, Muslims, and Americans use creeds to amplify the self-deceptive power of belongingness.
  • Your Modular God Where tribal belongingness supports the size of your god.
  • Nationalism and Religion: Studies concerning the connection
  • Amulets for Buddhists and Atheists : Even belonging, we know we are still vulnerable to bad events. This post discusses how essentialism can offer a delusional sense of protection from misfortune
  • Sports Allergy : Where I touch on how sports offer a magical sense of belonging.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

10 responses to “Belonging & “God”

  1. Jen

    I wholeheartedly agree. From a personal angle, the feeling of isolation or not belonging brings on the acutest sense of angst, as if my very survival were on the line. As an atheist, I seek out community in friends, in political circles, and maybe through blogging (virtual sangha). As for realizing we may be more like those we criticize than we’ll admit–I’m admitting it now. Thanks for sharing the perspective.

  2. “we may be more like those we criticize than we imagine.”

    We all need periodic reminding of this.

    Curious, would you distinguish between belonging, as in feeling loved and accepted by God, and belonging to a religious community and feeling loved and accepted by the human members of that community? Throughout my days as a Mormon, there were times when I felt belonging and acceptance from God, but I never really felt like I belonged with the Mormon people around me, never felt like I was quite “one of them.”

  3. Yoo Jen :
    Real belonging is very helpful. I am very fortunate and have many folks who are caring and would help in a pinch and well before that too: caring family on both sides, many good friends, several kind neighbors. But I don’t belong to any formal organizations which offers support from even strangers. Thus insurance policies help there and I am fortunate presently to have the means for that.
    Those without these supports live difficult lives. For them, at least false hope may relieve some of the anxiety of their terrible situation.
    Nurturing our caring community is very important.

    Howdie Leah :
    Yes, I’d distinguish those two. God would not help you in the end should you loose money, food or need physical care — but the Mormons in the church could supply these. So it is smart to leave and seek those who could become real friends. But one must take care: if this problem of not being accepted happens in every circl (neighbors, family, school friends …) then it says more about us.

    Also, I think most would agree that usually, virtual community/sangha is more ephemeral than our minds probably lead us to believe.

  4. Nice post (I found your blog through David Chapman’s). You are quite right to identify “belonging” as a crucially important human motivation. Belonging is to humans as water is to fish — its the medium we live in, and only weird fish notice it. I’ve written a few blog posts myself in a similar veing that you might enjoy, though focused more on politics than religion: The sacred state, Republic of heaven, and The ritual function of the olympics. Also check out the paper The People’s Romance that is linked in at least one of those.

  5. Ed

    Sabio… interesting post. It provoked a torrent of thoughts for me.
    In no particular order, here are some of my thoughts:
    * I have a good friend who has been an avowed atheist now for over 60 years. She is in her late 70’s and was raised catholic. Recently she said to me, “Believing in god is silly, but I so wish that I believed in something”.
    * Personally, as I look out at the world, at life, I see four inescapable realities: birth, disease, old age and death. The more real and actually tangible these four are to a person, the more likely they are to seek out God, or some Supreme Personality often in the form of a religious philosophy or group.
    * The better looking one is, the younger (up to a point), the healthier and the more money one has, the less interested in god, religion or explanations this person will be.
    * Material security seems to be inversely relational to religious beliefs… but the “joining” phenomenon continues.
    * However, there are some people who appear to have an innate belief in and hunger for the Supreme Being, regardless of material security and social position.
    * The less intelligent and/or less educated one is, the more likely they will believe in a religious system “hook, line and sinker”. (read fundamentalists) Although there seem to be some exceptions to this idea as well as the ones above.
    * We all have a need to belong in a group with like-minded others. This is true even if that group is a bunch of people on the internet that have never really met each other.
    * When the actuality of death is intense, people seem to be less satisfied with answers such as; “who cares what the answer is?” … “life and consciousness can come from dead matter” … “the watch does not need a watch maker” … “It must be scientific to be credible”…

    My point is that the more social and physical security people have the less they look for the answers to the Big Why. They have friends, money, some good looks, a nice job, maybe a gym or golf club membership and all the rest. All foster a sense of belonging. However, I observe that apparently with many people the decay of the body, the death of friends, children moving away, looks deteriorating, maybe money crashing with the markets and similar inevitabilities, the places we can join and belong no longer feed us. Yet we continue looking for answers and joining things…

  6. Sabio

    @mtraven :
    Thanx. Indeed, reading your blog, your sports and politics perspectives seem similar to mine. I like your fish analogy!

    @Ed :
    Thank you. Interesting observations.

  7. Perhaps this is only tangentially related, but I just read in passing that a function of many of the difficult rituals in religious practice had to do with ensuring commitment in order to be considered part of the group. Fundamental problem with groups: making sure the members put in what they take out. Standards of loyalty fix this, but these same standards necessarily create the us-vs-them distinction. [Source pdf: book review of “In the Name of God: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Ethics and
    Violence” by Teehan]

    To this extent, it seems that your point about how one’s sense of belonging can go either way in terms of belief in God would have to do with how the allegiance is earned. On the one hand, if members of a church are all (genuinely) beholden to a “higher power”, then they are unified in a way that coheres them (in loyalty) around some sacred center. On the other hand, if someone finds such assurance in a circle of friends with shared human traits conducive to mutual flourishing, this “higher power” aspect would be extraneous.

  8. crl

    Certainly. As my life has improved, religion has lost its importance.

  9. @Brandon: I don’t think, just like “religion”, that we can generalize about rituals since they serve many different functions. But I would agree that “investment” has to be part of the picture for “loyalty” and “us vs. them”. But unfortunately, I didn’t understand your last paragraph’s point.

    @crl: It is very clear from experience and now studies that the more secure, safe, flourishing we are, the less we need religion. Well, until God destroys out tower of babel and scatters us — mean bastard that he is.
    All religions seem to understand that people are “fooled” by prosperity. I think people are fooled by insecurity and poverty.

  10. “All religions seem to understand that people are “fooled” by prosperity. I think people are fooled by insecurity and poverty.” (Sabio)

    I also agree with Crl’s point but I also see that as ‘moving away from the facts’ (for me anyways). Truth is, as I sit in very comfortable middle class lifestyle, it’s easy to ‘write God off’. But I also wonder, experientially, is it true? Was there a God in the bad times that no longer exists while we have it made? Or is the change in me? (for someone that does not believe in God the questions is simply answered)

    You seem to think having more prosperity is better than being poor. But what if tomorrow that is all ripped away from you – which is a real possibility with America playing economic idiot. The ocnvenience we enjoy now may very well end at some point and the system of supply chains could collapse. Would being ‘poor’ in those scenarios be worse than what you are now? In essence, what is the meaning of life if prosperity isn’t?

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