Most Christians Don’t Believe

Banner_and_BooksFortunately, most Christians I know, are not believers. They are belongers, of course, but not ‘real’ believers.  See what you think.  The following are just some of the things most of my Christian friends and acquaintances don’t believe that tell me they are not true Bible believers and not true followers of Jesus:

  • The Bible is the Best Book: If the Bible is the only book written by God (the almighty creator of the universe and judge of our eternal state), why don’t believers read it carefully, over-and-over. Instead, most Christians don’t read the Bible hardly at all.  Or the ones that have, have only read small portions which are fed to them in church — and even then, they are half-listening.
    Now it is not because these Christians aren’t readers because many voraciously read popular fiction.  It is because they really don’t believe the book was written by God or even inspired by God — though they may parrot these words.  You can tell by their actions they really don’t believe it.  Their confessions are not confession of truth but signals — banners waving in the wind.
  • Give Away All Your Possessions:  Jesus mistakenly believed the endtimes were there so money and possessions would no longer be needed.  He even encourage his believers to prove their faith by giving it all away.  Right!
  • Christianity is the Only Way to Heaven: If Christianity is the only true way to live in heaven, why aren’t they more diligently spreading the word. If Jesus’ teachings are so important, why don’t they give away their money and avoid marriage and children (as both Jesus and Paul taught).
  • Hating & Leaving Family:  Jesus encourages followers to leave their families and hate their relatives — even theory own children if they hold them back from following him. So if your kids try and stop you from giving away the family money and house, you should hate them and throw them in a ditch.  Right!
  • Trusting Prayers for Healing or Prosperity: If God can heal, why don’t they really trust that and know that prayer is enough.
  • Pray for Real Wisdom: If real wisdom is only available by praying to God, why don’t Christians pray more (most I know never really pray except for meals and at church).  Because they don’t believe some invisible guy is going to really talk to them if they squint their eyes hard enough, chant enough “In-Jesus’-Name”s and ask for deep wisdom.  They know they are only talking to themselves.

Don’t get me wrong, I am glad my Christian friends don’t believe these, otherwise, I probably wouldn’t be their friend. Religious Specialists (preachers, ministers, pastors and the like) have a vested interest in getting their customers to feel little guilty about not “really” believing — it helps them keep their jobs.  You see, for many, religion is not about belief. It is about belonging, identity, social signaling (“see, I’m good”), conformity and much more.

Having lived with Hindu, Sikh, Shinto, Buddhist and Muslim families, and lived in those communities, I have seen this phenomena everywhere.  So it isn’t just Christians who are not true followers of their faith.  Now certainly, there are the radical believers who decide whatever is really true about their religion and try to live it fully (in a horrible, or sometimes even good ways, perhaps), but I am not talking about those folks.  I am talking about the majority of folks I meet.  Thank God they don’t believe. 🙂

Question for Readers:  How about you?  Maybe your experiences are different. Do you feel most of your friends or acquaintances actually believe the stuff in the books in which their banners are supposedly planted?



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

74 responses to “Most Christians Don’t Believe

  1. Well, they are belongers, but not ‘real’ believers.

    Yes, that seems to be a good assessment. However, it is part of belonging that “you’ve got to go along to get along.” So most of the belongers won’t actively express disagreement with the official beliefs.

    By nature, I am not an active belonger, and perhaps that’s why it was easy for me to drop out of religion. Of course, I belong to some groups. But I’m not the kind of person who belongs for the sake of belonging. That’s probably why I have never bothered to join facebook.

  2. Hi, Sabio,

    As a Buddhist I am also a non-believer. I was very much confronted with this when visiting a Korean (Jogye) Buddhist group yesterday in Budapest (for my research). I took part in chanting in Korean, bowing, taking Bodhisattva vows (in Hungarian), some sitting meditation and last but not least a koan interview (being asked about a stick what it was — of course “a stick’ was not the good answer). I learned a lot about myself and my supposedly Theravada Buddhist beliefs during the 3 hours I was there. Some reflections:

    1. Why should I chant in Korean? But why should I do it in Pali either?
    2. Do I really see anything in prostrations? Is it a form of paying respects (to the Buddha, the Teaching etc.) for me? Do I feel that I have to “subdue my Ego” and if yes, is bowing really the way to do so?
    3. Surprisingly I could really connect to the Bodhisattva vows, although they do not exist in Theravada Buddhism.
    4. Sitting meditation was something familiar, but I guess you really do not have to be a Buddhist to sit and observe your breath.
    5. The interview started with the Master saying that I should not think, just let ‘the clear, mirror-like nature of the mind’ manifest. And then I had a hard time, because I do not believe in this metaphor for I have no idea what the mind really is. But I realized that I do not really believe in the Theravada version, that your mind has to be cleansed of its defilements, either. But I went along with the interview and also learned that I have huge doubts about the use of questions like ‘What is this?’, when we both know what that is and the point of the exercise is not creativity, for that would be thinking, not a ‘spontaneous reaction’ in this framework. So I turned out to be a non-believer in Zen Buddhism’s core teaching method.

    About my Buddhist friends… I have one friend who is a hard core believer, but the rest seem to be like me, kind of pick and mix what is convenient. 🙂



  3. @ Neil,
    Well put, Neil. I share much of your temperament also.

    @ roni ,
    Good to see ya again and thanx for sharing from a different perspective.
    You should take a look at my previous post and David’s comment there concerning Pali scripture and Westernized Theravada faith.

    Concerning your points:

    (1) I agree with your doubts. Please see my post on “The Magical Language Bias” and you may similarities to what you wrote about Pali and Korean.

    (4) I strongly agree here — very important for Buddhists to understand. Hell, you don’t have to be religious at all to do that.

    (5) Indeed, “Mind” is a big manipulative word in Buddhism — full of all kind of silly monism and/or idealism or Romanticism or New Age stuff.

    Most my friends are exactly like you “pick and mix what is convenient” — I rarely find much in common with the other kind of folks who buy into the whole package.

    The question is, when you start realizing your pick-and-mix convenient mentality and are honest about it, why still use labels. Because people love their clubs and their identity. People love to have banners to decorate their property.

  4. I agree. I always say that people usually can’t tell the difference between, “I believe this is true,” and, “I really, really want this to be true.” Since ultimately it’s all about survival, and since fitting into a community is necessary for human survival, we’ll tell ourselves whatever it takes to be part of our chosen fellowship.

  5. Yeah, mikespeir! And ironically, a lot of Atheists have a really unscientific understanding of “belief”, “human mind” and “religion” and yet make huge generalizations based on their actually very parochial, common-culture views. What we say, and what we do are often very different because we are not who we think we are. And others aren’t who we think they are.

  6. Earnest

    I am one of Sabio’s christian friends. Have been various sects, currently catholic, getting bored with current church, rarely go. Heartened by Pope’s tepid pro-gay statements, probably too little too late.

    I think most of Bible should be edited out. Violent & tedious. Would like to see textual analysis side-by-side of Bible, Quran & Mahabharata regarding incidence of blessed killings of infidels.

    I find a lot that is emotive in the Bible, but the major concept I like from it is “Jesus said, ‘feed my sheep'”. (John 21:17). I plan to live by that indefinitely. The rest of the Bible does not mean much to me. If that makes me a “bad christian” then so be it.

  7. Earnest

    When Jesus has appeared to me in visions, John 21:17 is the only thing he tells me.

  8. “Earnest” is a f2f friend and definitely a convenient Christian. He uses Christianity, it doesn’t use him. He is bolder than most at verbalizing his slimy use of religion! 🙂
    And if you are having visions again, you need to double up on your meds or invite me over for a beer! The later has probably been proven to be clinically more effective.

  9. Earnest

    @ Sabio: Beer! I knew you could give me the answer! This is clearly overdue…

  10. Cool! Actually let’s do it at my place: we added a new addition to the house which is perfect for a view with our beer – besides, I will feel safer there if one of your apparitions should materialize.

  11. Earnest

    @ Sabio sounds good!

  12. TWF

    I know exactly what you are saying here. As I matured in belief, that stood out as surreal to me. I was surrounded by other believers who fervently believed, and yet really only lived their faith on Sunday morning.

    I think most Christians would have umbrage at your claim that they don’t believe. It’s kind of a pugilistic claim. 😉

    Anyway, this may speak more to how are brains are wired than merely waving banners and having defective faith. Humans are notoriously bad at dealing with long term threats. “Behold, I come quickly” has been twisted into “When I do finally come, it will be in a flash”, and so the majority of Christians don’t have any sense that Jesus could show up tomorrow, or even today (though they may give the thought lip service). Instead, there is a sense that the Second Coming is long off, and so higher urgency matters of living day to day, or just avoiding the boredom of the moment, become higher priority than preparing for that distant future moment.

    At least, that’s how I would explain some of what we see in the faith community. I have no doubt that banner waiving and clan mentality play a large role too, as you suggest.

  13. Hey, throw me some of that clinically proven beer…..LOL! 😀

    Sabio, interesting post! In high school we were offered a “History of the Bible” class. Before that I knew Chrisitans, but had never once bothered to learn about any religion and had never read the Bible. The class was fascinating. The Bible presented as just another fiction written by 2 men, and the evidence for any characters (real human beings) who the stories may have been modeled after.

    Years after the class, I still had no idea how anyone could take that jumbo jumbo literally. I just don’t get it. My Christian friends know the Bible and also see the stories as metaphors, to be taken as historical / symbolic and not as a guidebook.

  14. iPad knows not the word mumbo.

  15. False premise. I would be a belonger then based on your criteria. But your criteria is faulty and stems directly from your conservative upbringing. My Catholic upbringing wouldn’t have gone along with any of these.

    Now granted, I agree largely with your assessment that many are cultural Christians and we’re seeing this erode with the rise of the “nones.” Back in the day, everyone was expected to be a member of a church even if they never set foot in the building. Now, we’re seeing that go. And I’m thankful for that. And you can even get numbers on this! And reasons why… but this post does neither.

    But your criteria and banner talk is nonsense. Clever, but biased and nonsense.

    The Best Book: If the Bible is the only book written by God… most Christians I know don’t read the Bible at all…
    -First, the Bible, since the Reformation (and even before) has been viewed as authoritative for Christians, and the views of high or low were debated. But the bible is the go-to book. How Christians understand and describe it (written by God or inspired or whatever) has been hotly contested since the Reformation. That’s a separate issue from “Christians I know” (subjective claim) “don’t read the bible.” And many Christians, Atheists and whoever and blissfully unaware of real scholarship that’s been done on the bible. That’s more a marketing issue… Plus it is from a literal basis, a Niagara Bible Conference understanding of the bible, not in keeping with the majority of Christians historically believed and even now, I would argue. Literalism is going away.

    The Best/Only Way to Heaven: Conservative upbringing. Not many of my group or congregants woulds say this.

    Trusting Prayers for Healing or Prosperity: Conservative upbringing. “Prayer doesn’t change God, it changes the one who prays.” Soren Kirkegaard circa 1830. Thomas Merton knocked this out in Catholic circles in the 70s. Plus we trust for healing.. not curing. Those are different.

    Pray for Real Wisdom: Not even sure what this is… a Myers-Brigg’s S critiquing the learning of an N?

    Would there be a version of Christianity worth believing in and living out?

  16. @ TWF,
    Yes, most would take umbrage. But then, if I ask them what they believe, I can eventually expose that they do not act in the least way as if they really believe. It does not take long to have most Christian contradict themselves on holy doctrines or to reveal that though they confess it, they don’t really act as if they deeply believe it. And, as my post says, I am glad for both.

    Your story of the second coming is just one of such examples.

    @ amelie,
    Glad you enjoyed. Indeed, most of my Christian friends don’t believe this stuff either. Thank goodness they don’t really believe in an all-powerful being that cares for our well-being and that their beliefs are the best way to enjoy an afterlife.

    @ Luke,

    Ahhhh, how fiery!

    I wonder why TWF, amelie, Earnest (a liberal Christian), mike, roni and Neil were not so upset with my “nonsense”?

    (1) My upbringing was not conservative. And may I again suggest you stop trying to psychoanalyze me and stick to the argument. Such rhetoric is tiring.

    (2) “Biased and nonsense” — hmmm, such a conversation opener.

    Of course this post is addressing certain views of the Bible, certain views of an intervening god and certain views of divine wisdom. All in all — certain flavors of Christianity — and large ones.

    You can spin all your liberal views and escape my criticisms of course. But then, this is not meant for you.

    Not only do many atheists know what I am speaking of , but so do many Christians. many Christians have heard me say this in the past (in conversastions) and it has struck a cord many, many a time. It is written for those.

    You are here with your prog witnessing agenda, I get it.

    Question, in anticipating a future post:

    If I could convince you that the word “Christian” does not apply to you, would you happily give it up?

  17. I do agree with some of what you said Sabio, but I don’t think you and Luke are that far apart. You’ve put forth some good points and also some wide generalizations. Luke always impresses me with his targeted points.

    In other words, you and Luke are speaking different languages. You’re speaking from experience and what you can extract from the bigger picture, while Luke brings up very specific debates and points from specific times in history, with specific evidence. If you wanted to connect with the debate, you’d both have to target a certain historical and cultural moment in human history, I believe. With points of evidence.

    I congratulate you Sabio for bringing out such active discussion and debate. That’s what I like about your blog – and that you invite different points of view.

  18. Thanx Amelie,
    Luke and I speak different language is for sure. Yet we share a great deal in common.

  19. You got it amelie. Right on the nose.

    @Sabio: I’m not feeling firey, just stating what I see. Aren’t the “liberal spin” and “prog witnessing agenda” you psychoanalyzing me? Funny how you call me to stop that on you. Cheap rhetoric. “You don’t know my mind!” is your go-to dismissive reflex recently. It’s really working for you.

    “If I could convince you that the word “Christian” does not apply to you, would you happily give it up?” I really don’t care what you call me, I’m about the mission of Jesus Christ… a better world, a heaven on earth deal. whatever you wanna call it, go for it. When I say Christian, I’m just citing my sources with that label. How you understand that is your business and it’s hard to figure out without a real time relationship.

  20. @ Luke,
    I will let your comment stand alone — and won’t be sidetracked. Instead, back to the post:

    The point of the post is that when people say the “believe” something, they are not using the word “belief” as you’d expect. It takes little time talking to many Christians to make the case obvious.

    This post is simply a continuation of my earlier post “Religion: It ain’t just belief“, which you liked — but the implications here just go too far for you.

    I fought atheists on those other blogs who have a narrow understanding of how people “believe”. Here, I am just pointing out another example. I think everyone gets it. I imagine your trigger was the “Most Christians” thing — just a guess.

  21. Hi, Prismatic suggested this blog post, so I’m a newcomer and don’t have a feel for the back-story regarding some of the comments here.

    I am a Christian minister, a college chaplain, with experiences similar to what Luke describes above. I’m a progressive, mainline, liberal Christian. I don’t believe any of the things set up in this post as defining Christians. I did read where Sabio said to Luke that it wasn’t meant for him, so I guess it’s not meant for me, either. But the headline does claim to be about “most Christians,” although the body of the post refers to “Most Christians I know.” So I’ll chime in.

    Having said all this, I actually agree with the main thrust of the post. Most people are in a conventional stage of faith in which they “believe” the things that the people important to them “believe.” This fits totally with the idea that most Christians (even most everybody in general) are “belongers” rather than “believers.”

    In the 1980’s a mainline Christian professor named James Fowler codified a theory of faith development along a spectrum, based on Piaget’s theories of cognitive development.

    Here is a brief description of this, taken from something I wrote a few months ago.

    “As our cognitive abilities develop, our experience of faith develops along with our developing conceptions of God.

    “Very briefly, the faith experience of the infant is one of trust in whatever it is that meets the infant’s immediate needs; the infant trusts the nipple that feeds and the stroke that comforts. The toddler has a magical faith that functions as wish fulfillment. The older child moves to a mythic-literal faith in which maybe mountains don’t get moved today by faith, but they did “back then” in the time of the ancient stories. The adolescent moves into a conventional faith and believes the things that the people important to him or her believe, people like parents, peers, and authority figures.

    “Most people stay in this stage of faith and never really reflect on their faith. Some people, though, move into a new stage, which Fowler calls the Individuative-Reflective Stage, one in which the faith that has been bequeathed to them is critically examined. Critical thinking itself becomes one’s mode of faith. Most of the time, there is some form of demythologization that takes place.

    “It may be the case that someone critically examines the faith bequeathed to them and largely accepts it as their own, albeit in a new, demythologized form. For these people, the process is simply part of their maturation process, one that is fostered by the people and institutions important to them.

    “A large number of people negotiating this new stage of faith, however, do not have persons and institutions in their lives that encourage questioning and doubting. For some, it is not merely the case that questioning and doubting are discouraged, but it may be that persons who question and doubt may even be expelled from institutions and emotionally cut off by family and friends. This is a double loss for those who find themselves in this situation. Not only are they losing the way they once processed their faith, but they are losing the powerful dynamic of community and relationality.

    “So what I do is promise a safe environment, a community filled with relationships that can handle questioning, doubts, agnosticism, and even atheism. Everyone is actively welcomed. No one gets condemned. This community includes people who haven’t yet begun to doubt and who are startled when the chaplain of the college gives them permission to do so. It includes people who are actively doubting. It includes people who have given up the notion of God and who make no claim to be religious in any way at all.

    “It also includes people who have gone through this stage of faith toward another stage that holds this critical questioning/doubting/unknowing in tension with a renewed sense of trust in the tradition that holds their symbols and stories of the divine, of the sacred, of God. This is an attempt to retrieve the magical, the mythical, and the conventional but not in a literal fashion. This is a stage of faith that focuses on the tension, one that honors the symbols and stories of faith but that declines to return to a pre-critical form of faith.”

    So am I also “prog witnessing” in this comment? Maybe or maybe not. I don’t care at all whether a person is a Christian, whether they become a Christian, or whether they cease to be a Christian. What I care about is whether I, my friends and loved ones, and those who gather with me for spiritual purposes are becoming more loving people. There are plenty of Christian movements, Christian institutions, and Christian people who are as far away from love as it is possible to be. And there are people of other faiths and even no faith at all (in the traditional sense) who are full of love. That is what my life is about, not about convincing people that the cultural and religious metaphors I grew up with are the only ones or the best ones. If you’re interested, I flesh this out more at .

  22. @David Miller,
    As I said, this post is discussing “belief”
    I am not trying to define Christians
    I have several posts on the limits of defining.
    I won’t be entertaining further discussions on, “Wait, I am a Christian and don’t believe that!”

    Otherwise, I am glad you agree with the main thrust of this post.

    I won’t discuss the cut & paste discussion of Fowler’s “Faith Development” theory. It is interesting that people stay in the faith of their birth and rarely jump into another. How people rewrite all the fantastic stories and teachings to make themselves comfortable with remaining in their accident-of-birth religion is only mildly interesting to me. The point is: they are spinning things so as to stay — to belong.

    I am very glad that you, like Luke, has created a religion that let’s you accept everyone as equal whether they are in your religion or not. I share that with you both but go one step further: I don’t need to change my religion to stop it from judging and hurting others — I just stepped out.

    May you both do well working from the inside of your birth-religions and changing them for the better — it is good work. Meanwhile, I hope posts like this helps others change their beliefs on some spectrum or get the courage to jump out.

  23. Jerad

    From my experience living in the bible belt of Mississippi, most of my Christian friends, for the most part, literally believe in the Bible. Growing up with the King James version of the Bible, I have no doubt it was meant to be taken literally. However, I did feel like most of my peers chose to believe for the sake of belonging as if Christianity was the religion of the moment. So while I think they had faith without question, I think the beginning of their faith began with wanting to impress or be loved by their parents and then later in life, their faith also kept them connected with other Christians.

  24. It’s not about going too far or not… it’s about being aware of the change happening in your critiqued religion. This might have stood true for a long time, but it’s changing. My recent visit to Fuller Seminary is my subjective experience of an objective religious sea-change. Those who once could be labeled with what you state above in the beliefs are drastically and rapidly changing. That is why I claimed a false premise, you’re using outdated stats which switched around the early 2000s (some scholars like Phyllis Tickle and the Barna Group claim ’06), granted not everyone has been caught up in the swing, which accounts for your subjective experience. But it’s just that, subjective. You could even get numbers on this! And reasons why it’s happening… but this post does neither.

    “May you both do well working from the inside of your birth-religions and changing them for the better — it is good work. Meanwhile, I hope posts like this helps others change their beliefs on some spectrum or get the courage to jump out.”
    -Well, thanks for acknowledging the good work, but that last statement seems like the bias to me. It rings as an altar call. “Come join the objective people like me! You don’t need to believe anything!” Or is my bias getting in the way? Is belief the thing we’re talking about or belief for the sake of belonging?

    I can see how being a thorn in the side of both atheists and Christians have served you well, and I mostly appreciate it. However, stating that belief doesn’t exist is a belief. Same with the culture thing, which you haven’t mentioned in a while. So I’m confused on the main thrust of the point. Most Christians believe was a trigger because it’s unfounded and in fact stats prove otherwise. A 2011 Gallup study stated “The percentage of Americans taking a literal view of the Bible has declined over time, from an average of 38% from 1976-1984 to an average of 31% since.” (couldn’t find the online source) and the most recent Barna survey states that church going Millennials are around 15% across the denominational lines on this one, half that of the previous generations. Plus when you take into account the “rise of the nones” (confirming my claims that ‘belief as belonging’ is eroding) as well as the increasing trend toward progressive theology and scholarship as well as the tendency to be more like this among millennials.

    So while I would have agreed with your assessment while in seminary, the trend has changed and rapidly so. This is not me stumping for “my banner” this is me asking you to be up to day on the swing. That’s all.

  25. @ Luke

    Thank Buddha the numbers are changing. I hope the churches keep graying and something better emerges. But as I said, the whole crux of your argument is that you disagree with the word “most”. I am sure that the “MOST” is what triggered your fiery protests and stopped you addressing the point of the post.

    Well, I am not going to focus on that. But for sake of not wasting typing, let’s say you are right and I instead have written “Many Christians Don’t Believe” — might you come to the comments saying something like,

    “Excellent post, Sabio! Great way of looking at this and showing yet other misunderstandings of the word ‘Belief’ . And along with you, I too hope Beliefism Christianity keeps fading away. I am glad the Evangelical and Fundies often don’t believe what they claim to”

    Thanks for playing along, Luke.
    (note: I am intentionally avoiding distracting other points.)

  26. “Most” And since then, new data has come out. And since my comment as well…

    To be clear, is belief the thing we’re talking about or belief for the sake of belonging? Cause I’m against Beliefism Christianity.. that can die and I won’t mourn it. But an belief that welcomes and serves all not for a ticket to heaven but to bring heaven to earth… That’s more inline with how I read the Christian Scriptures and I’m not new in this… It’s what I am about… whatever you wanna call it, or banner to fly matters not.

  27. That was a bit hard to read, but I think I heard you say:
    (a) My flavor of Christianity (like many others folks) does not harbor beliefism
    (b) Yes, “Most” would have been better than “Many” — look at the data !!

    Yes, I am examining “belief”.

  28. Here’s what I was trying to say and will attempt to restate more clearly:
    (a) I’m against the beliefism you describe and I am a ‘real believer’ in whatever banner I have, whatever you name it. I just call it Christian. I prolly have other beliefisms unexplored or examined.
    (b) K….
    (c) If you are simply examining belief, then is that always coupled with some desire to fit in and belong to a particular tribe? Can one believe something independent of a group? Or is there an element of belonging always involved? Or because one finds something true, then one falls into a group of like-minded believers?

    No leanings here one way or another, simply asking your opinion on these connections.

  29. So, Luke, a few questions, hoping that we can now bracket the “many” vs. “most” issue:

    Do you believe:
    (1) “God” can offer you special wisdom through prayer that is not available through non-religious methods?
    (2) That God can be petitioned to provide health, wisdom and well-being to others living in another country — for instance?

    I’m guessing the answer is a highly qualified, complicated “Yes ….”, yet on another level, not like lots of Christians believe.

  30. Yup.. highly qualified and complicated answers coming… but these aren’t yes or no questions…

    1) I have no idea how wisdom comes… it just does. I view it as a gift so yes from God. But it is available through non-religious methods. So no. I do know knowledge comes through a variety of learning ways, and I highly respect the scientific method in getting knowledge. But wisdom is something else. A creative use of knowledge. Largely non-empirical.

    2) No.
    There is healing in the midst of suffering (not curing), there is wisdom in the midst of doubt and uncertainty, and there’s well-being to all. And we’re the ones to carry that out. I carry that out because that’s what I think I’m called by God to do, and my worldview confirms this. So I sit with the sick, oppressed, and imprisoned and pray with them and advocate for them. I bless the dying. I walk with others in grief. God is in the midst of all that, calling and guiding. I think everyone is called to do this stuff, just Christians have the example of Christ to follow. “God knows when the sparrow falls…” yet God doesn’t prevent the sparrow from falling. “It rains on the righteous and wicked…” so there’s no petitioning, shit just happens. It’s what you hope for and what keeps you going in the fallout that matters. I have Christ, and you have you’re own methods and Buddhists have Buddha for guidance during this stuff, but suffering is crazy no matter what and there’s no safety net to prevent it, just ways to respond to it.

    Can you get to:
    (c) If you are simply examining belief, then is that always coupled with some desire to fit in and belong to a particular tribe? Can one believe something independent of a group? Or is there an element of belonging always involved? Or because one finds something true, then one falls into a group of like-minded believers?

  31. Yeah, Luke, to me it seems your “God” could just be sweet psychology and not religious at all. But for you, using Yahweh/Jesus talk and Yahweh/Jesus myths is your way of doing it.

    So let me ask a simpler question: Do you think belief in God is important or valuable? And why or why not?

    I think you asked me in (c) if belief is always coupled with a desire to fit in a tribe [group]. No, of course not. There are lots of different beliefs. “I believe running on a wooden deck barefoot is dangerous because of splinters” for instance. But people can accept beliefs to simply to obtain things — Belief in Tooth Fairy to get money, Belief in Communist Party to get a job, Belief in Religion to get a girlfriend and so on — the list is huge. And sometimes, the brain makes the belief for you and deceives you into thinking you made it yourself (actually, I think this happens a lot)

  32. “Yeah, Luke, to me it seems your “God” could just be sweet psychology and not religious at all.”
    It does because of your conservative religious upbringing. It can seem whatever to ya, you always find reasons to dismiss it.

    “Do you think belief in God is important or valuable? And why or why not?”
    -Essential. Not just in anthropology (once again, there has never been a society that was atheistic) but in all other realms.

  33. “…myths is your way of doing it.”
    -Myth is the truth behind the truth. Whatever I learn from science goes back to these myths. Whatever I know, I have already known intuitively because of the myths. It’s not my way, it is. They keep popping up, I keep studying.

    “And sometimes, the brain makes the belief for you and deceives you into thinking you made it yourself (actually, I think this happens a lot)”
    -And so how do we test that your dis-belief in belief isn’t a product of you always wanting to be separate and apart? A fancy confirmation bias?

  34. To counter: Einstein once said that most important question a person can ask is, “Is the Universe a friendly place?”
    -So… is it? It’s easy for me who believes in God. It’s a little harder for people who don’t. But everyone can by choosing to believe there is a basic goodness to life waiting to be discovered or uncovered. It is a basic conviction: there is basic goodness of life dispute the “evidence.”

    So is the universe a friendly place? Why or why not?

  35. Oh, 3 comments.

    (1) Luke, I don’t know how often I have to tell you — I did NOT have a conservative religious upbringing.

    (2) So you believe belief in God is essential? Really? So if a person or a culture does not have it, what will happen to it? Or are you confusing “essential” with “inevitable”?

    (3) I don’t think you understand the belief issue. I will have to find an article or two to offer as links. I don’t want to write about the issue in the comments.

    (4) Really? Do you have any evidence that it is “harder” to not believe in a god (Zeus, Allah, Amida, Thor or any other) than to believe in a god? Or are you confusing “believing in goodness in life” with “a god”?

    As for you last question, it makes no sense to me.

  36. (1) Oh.. but you did. How often have you referenced your “evangelical upbringing” on here and elsewhere? It seems like you’re lying.

    (2) You’re asking after my belief. So yes, I said “essential.” I’m not sure of “inevitable” there are plenty who live and die atheists. And that’s fine. You can have other beliefs, but that’s worldview stuff. That’s interpretation of data, not the data itself. Your belief says “no gods or spooks.” Mine doesn’t. I think mine is better, else I’d switch.

    (3) I ask a clarifying question on the other post to see if I did. Answer that one. Seems like I do all to well. I’m sure you’ll let me know.

    (4) Can’t answer the question, can you?

  37. Funny, you speak of tribalism a lot and I often get the sense you feel like you’re free from any form of it… however, “(4) Really? Do you have any evidence that it is “harder” to not believe in a god (Zeus, Allah, Amida, Thor or any other) than to believe in a god?” is pure atheist tribal rhetoric at it’s best knee-jerk gotcha finest.

    Micah 6:8 states: live justly, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God. Why your? Because each person has their own understanding of God. And you seem to get 2 out of 3, that ain’t bad. What Micah and many religious scholars have stated is that whatever God really is, you can’t figure it out. So walk with your understanding. The God of the Hebrews is a verb. “God is the ISING of the universe.” God is happening. So one might call god, Thor, or whatever, but it’s a concept, an idol and not the real deal. Apophatic faith gets at this part. You and other atheists tend to focus only with the problems of the cataphatic as your statement above reveals. Any cataphatic is only a model, an example of part of the reality happening. God is unknowable in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, but that doesn’t stop a relationship from forming anyway. Or as Kierkegaard put it, “One can’t know God fully, but one can know God truly.”

  38. (1) Oh, Mr. Luke, you are getting a little unruly — calling me a liar. Wow. If you will look at the site you linked to, I said “On my way out of Evangelical Christianity,” I said nothing about “my evangelical upbringing”. So you are misquoting me AND calling me a liar. Tsk, tsk.
    My upbringing was sloppy, casual, cultural-Christian in a Lutheran church (see my Religous History.) I explored “Conservative” stuff for only 2 years after converting to Christianity and it was never a natural fit — and far, far from being an “upbringing”. So I hope you can stop calling me a liar now. Luke, I am surprised at you. Are you having a bad month?

    (2) OK, let me put it another way, “Do you think everybody would be better off with a belief in God.” ?

    (3) Hopefully the other post clarified that you are not aware of the controversy. Enjoy your reading if you pursue it. But reading on that is actually not need to continue the conversation on the other post.

    (4) As for “the goodness of life” and Einstein and stuff — that makes no sense to me. Sure, to optimistic in life seems very helpful but to generalize and abstract the issue seems very odd to me. I don’t care if Einstein did it. But again, that is a side track.

    As for the nebulous God, again, I am not pursuing your spin on “God” in this post. I basically get yours, I think. Still not my cup of tea, but that is not matter, your version is benign enough.

  39. (1)I was very careful not to call you a liar. It seems like you are lying. The act of lying does not a liar make as it’s not a habit of yours I’m aware of. Yet when I read “On my way out of Evangelical Christianity, I spent a year or so reading Thomas Merton and using contemplative prayer.” (third comment, second sentence) that would confirm my statement. Same as your religious history, which I think I have memorized after 6 years.

    Granted I would have to amend and say “history” and not upbringing. So I could have been more accurate, but the fact remains, your history was on the conservative side of the Christian spectrum. I see that history playing out here, which was and is my beef.

    (2) Depends. I like you and we have a lot in common save this issue. I don’t like the far right… yet we have this God belief issue in common. Yet I am an atheist to the god they often cite and I try to call them to a ‘better’ one. You… well I’m happy you don’t believe in many of the models I don’t believe in.

    However, those evangelicals are out in force trying to end human trafficking, rebuild cities, and feed the hungry, etc. etc. Granted I would disagree with some of their methods but they’re out there trying to put a dent in the universe. The humanists… the humanists aren’t out in force to the level of the religious. And there’s data to go with this stuff too… so if I am to make an argument that belief in God seems to correlate with some sort of social activism, then yes: “everybody would be better off with a belief in God.” But there’s a lot of moral grey area in here, so, as you say, to generalize and abstract the issue seems very odd to me. Point to specifics, and we’ll talk.

    On issues of social justice, the data suggests it’s good to believe in God.

    On issues of happiness, according to Gallup Polls, Jews are the happiest people in the country. Religious Jews are 72.4. Protestants are 68.9%. Nonreligious Jews are 68.8%, it’s good to believe in God.

    On issues of religious education, a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has found that atheist and agnostic Americans are more knowledgeable about religion than their religious compatriots. So it’s good NOT to believe in God there.

    Yet on divorce, according to a Barna Research Group report, fundamentalist Christians have the highest divorce rate, followed by Jews and Baptists… however, atheists are tied with Catholics and mainline protestants for the lowest divorce rate. So there’s an interesting fact… wonder how to interpret that..?

    (4) Side track?! It’s the basic question of the meaning of life?! Well, you don’t like that question either, so I get cha.

    (5) “As for the nebulous God, again..” Please see #1 last sentence.

  40. (1) LOL. Great wiggling. I lived in a Jesus Freak Commune during my Christianity and THAT was the most informative — I never fit with the Evangelical. maybe I need a post on that , so that you aren’t tempted to think I am LYING again. I am highly familiar with evangelical and fundamental Christianity but never agreed with it and didn’t fit — long story. But you are wrong to typify me as having my “history on the conservative side” — but you are right, was not surrounded by UU or UCC or the progressive Christians.

    (2) Cool. I got you to confess that you think “Everyone would be better off with a belief in God.” Interesting claim. I’ve never said the opposite — though I fight atheists who do. I think you’re wrong Luke, but that is another post. Thanx for the post material, Luke. Oh, and concern data that doesn’t fit — well, why not just throw it out. 😉

    (4) Yes, I think I have written extensively on how I see questions like “the meaning of life” to be confused. But I don’t want to go look for the links now.

  41. (1) Speaking of wiggling, what was “But you are wrong to typify me as having my “history on the conservative side” — but you are right, was not surrounded by UU or UCC or the progressive Christians.” So if it’s not progressive, or mainline (save for the sloppy lutheran years.. in rural midwest…)… what is it?

    (2) After which I said, “But there’s a lot of moral grey area in here, so, as you say, to generalize and abstract the issue seems very odd to me. Point to specifics, and we’ll talk.” And then pointed to specifics. Don’t divide my words for your purposes. Proof-texting is harmful.

    As for “Oh, and concern data that doesn’t fit — well, why not just throw it out. ;-)” I love it! HA!

    (4) I read that post but didn’t respond as I didn’t get it and would have contributed nothing to the discussion. But I remember it well.

  42. (1) I mingled in tons of groups in those years, Charismatics, Catholic, Jesus Freaks, House Churches, and even went to Baptist and Methodist Churches. Wheaton had all denominations. In fact, 1/2 hour of chapel was required. And each quarter they sat us by some shared trait and our job was to find that trait by talking to the folks around us. Some quarters were by state, some by first name, and one quarter (my second quarter) by denomination. The cute girl who sat next to me on that first day in chapel had NOTHING in common with me. She was a missionary kid from India, loved literature and spoke French and Hindi. Finally we found out that they sat us by denomination. She was mennonite and I declared myself non-denominational. So we shared being non-conservative. I dated her for many years after that. I was very familiar with the peace churches after that, for instance. We even went to Quaker Meetings. Then she joined a Christian cult, when I was in Asia — I think I posted on that. After graduating, I actually applied for the Mennonite Service Committee and was rejected because my theology was too liberal.

    Does that help you Luke? Change your image?

    (2) I think I just quoted you. So, do you think “Believing in God is good for everyone?”

    (4) Yes, I think it would be a post very against your grain. This is a point were we operate very differently

  43. (1) It’s a broad range you have there, but all leaning to the right of the dial. Save for Wheaton… but if you’re saying you don’t feel it’s conservative then, okay. But you always assume a very tradition and conservative theology in your writing.

    (2) “Believing in God is good for everyone?” If the question was “SHOULD believing in God BE good for everyone?” then I would answer “yes, it should be.” But as the question is stated, no.

  44. Hey Lucas!,
    OK, on all that, I guess.
    But new posts are up – movin’ on. Take a stab at that stuff if you have time.
    — Peace Out

  45. David Miller

    Looking at Wheaton’s Statement of Faith, it certainly looks conservative to me. Of course, what’s on paper is not always practiced. I don’t know if that’s the case here.

  46. @ David Miller,
    I am sorry, David. You need to be straightforward with me. Are you asking me a question?

    See my 19 year-old picture here from when I was at Wheaton — many of my friends smoked pot, drank and doubted Christianity deeply. One of those committed suicide because of not fitting at Wheaton (see here). I lived with the outcasts — not a small club, but not very vocal. We could spot each other fairly easily. Remember, parents sent them hoping they’d be safe.

    Let me know your purpose for visiting, and I may be able to help you.

    May I ask your objective for your visits?

  47. David Miller

    I was not asking you a question. I was commenting about Wheaton. The fact that you link to a post about a friend who committed suicide because he didn’t fit in there makes me think I’m not too far off.

    My objective is simply conversation. As I mentioned in my other post, Prismatic suggested this post as something I might like.

    It’s interesting that I’ve posted exactly twice, and you’re already questioning my motives. I don’t think I’ve disparaged you or your viewpoint.

    If you’re not happy that I’m here, I’ll gladly go away.

  48. @David Miller,
    Ah, couldn’t tell where it was going or what your point was.
    BTW, I don’t know who “Prismatic” is — never a commentor here, I think.
    I always question motives — I prefer transparency.
    You may stay as long as you’d like. If you wish.

  49. David Miller

    Prismatic is an app that makes suggestions of websites based on the user’s interests.

    I’m puzzled that you can’t tell what my point is. I don’t usually have difficulty communicating.

    The point of my first post: Hi, I’m new here. This post is interesting to me. We have a similar viewpoint regarding belief and belonging. Here is how I’ve described that similarity elsewhere.

    The point of my second post: I would consider Wheaton to be quite conservative in doctrine and policy if not in practice.

  50. @ sab. Just going to deal with a few of these.
    1. Jesus didn’t tell people to give their possessions away. There is an instance were he sues that to put a rather self righteous guy in his place, but its clear with zacheus (luke 16) that jesus does;t require this.
    2. christians do try spread the gospel (usually shouted down for doing so) but see luke 6v5 to get more of the picture.
    3. hating and leaving family – apparently jesus is the only teachers in history that isn’t able to use hyperbole. and everyone seems to conveniently forget matt 15…
    can’t really comment on the rest because they require observation of what people actually do….

  51. @ Clap,
    (1) Anti-Possessions
    Well, it depends on your hermeneutics. Each gospel writer had a different objective and each gospel was edited. So perhaps some versions has him qualifying. But in some many spots his anti-possessions stance is clear. I won’t argue the hermeneutics here though. Some Christian groups in the past clearly believed what I have said to and did just what I said. So you disagree with some Christians — that is fine. I’ll let you guys write books and tracts against each other.

    (2) The vast majority of Christians I know do not try to spread the gospel at all! I am sure you’d just say they are bad Christians.

    (3) Right, it very well could have been a hyperbole — if so, horribly ugly. And like the horribly ugliness in the Qur’an, we unfortunately have believers who have taken that ugly phrasing literally.

  52. @ sab
    1. no question there are warnings about money – but there is no outright commandment to sell everything.
    2. that’s for them to sort out.
    3. can’t speak for the qu’ran, but no question jesus affirms the family, as per what i quoted.
    not commenting on the edited bible thing as its so complex i don’t have the energy or time (sadly)

  53. Luke 18:22
    When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

  54. hosa (ὅσα) echeis ( ἔχεις) — as much as you have

    Of course we don’t know the Aramaic (a hebrew dialect) but that is the Greek in the NT.

  55. I agree with this post. You nailed it in one.
    But this is not what I have been trying to explain to you.
    Belief in and what is indoctrinated into are two different things entirely.

    What is indoctrinated into kids – and the intensity of this indoctrination varies depending on the level of fundamentalism – remains basically the same: that which forms the foundation of the religion, be it Christianity or Islam or whatever.

    Until recently I would venture that most Christians would automatically nod in the affirmative that Jesus is/was God, and probably without a second thought, even if they were hazy on the details.

    So while I grew up in a very laissez faire Christian environment which was largely cultural in nature, I still went to Sunday School and learned all the biblical tales from the Garden of Eden to The Crucifixion and Resurrection and sat my Bible Exam and received my copy of the KJV.

    How much ‘belief’ one carries through to adulthood depends on the environment and circles one moves in.

    Nate was a fundamentalist and all that encompasses – I was very take-it-or-leave it Church of England.But both of us would once have identified as Christian.
    And it is the foundational tenets of each respective faith that are the issue. The tenets that cement , however tenuously, the faith of each religion.

  56. @ Ark,

    My Christian friends certainly don’t believe what their pastors probably hope they did (that is, if their pastors aren’t also closet skeptics). Nonetheless, they consider themselves thoroughly Christian. So the “foundation” of their religion [as you call it] is not belief. I keep telling you this over and over. So the “foundational tenets” are not the issue. What “cements” things for them are not doctrines. Get it?

    You want the definition of religion to be “a certain set of beliefs”, but that is not religion on the ground for the majority of believers. It is a long conversation and it is the point of many anthropologist and sociologists — as I tell you time and again.

  57. Of course there is no ‘certain set of beliefs’ as if there were we wouldn’t have 42000 different christian sect/denominations, now would we.
    You seem to revel in cherry picking from our dialogue and adding your own twist, don’t you?
    Irrespective of doctrinal differences each considers themselves Christian and there are certain foundational tenets, indoctrinated from the beginning that cross all denominations. These begin with Yahweh and Jesus of Nazareth.

  58. Yawn! Ark, you just don’t get it. Sorry, I give up.

  59. If you have a specific point that is contrary to what I am saying then perhaps you should consider that perhaps you are just not explaining it well enough, hmm?

  60. Nah, I’ve done it lots of times already. I’m done. Read more posts, maybe eventually you will understand.

  61. Oh, I do understand.

  62. Earnest

    Christians such as myself say “amen” rather frequently in our rituals. However, in my experience there are many that use it simply as punctuation in the ritual. Such as myself. Some have suggested that the translation of this word is “I believe”. So I repetitively say I believe without truly believing what has just been spoken in the ceremony, because to not say it would be contrary to the mutual social experience. And I crave belonging to my tribe above all else.

    Ark, I find your division between indoctrinated content and personal belief to be contrived. Both are cognitive content. Are you trying to say that one is from external sources and another is from internal inspiration? Sorry, I’m with Sabio on this one. It has been well-established that it is very hard to know if anything sensory is truly “real, in and of itself”. That goes all the way back to Hume. If we don’t know what is real, how can we know what is from external indoctrination, and what is from some sort of internal construct? Our minds are just a giant pile of recalled sensations and responses to environmental stimuli. To say that we produce anything in our minds truly “de novo” strains credulity. All is “doctrine”, or some mutation thereof. We either believe or discard, and move on to the next sensory input.

  63. Earnest.
    This thread has gone on for a long while and bits and pieces have dropped off or got lost along the way.
    My original claim is simply this: the foundational tenets of religion are all based on superstition and unfalsifiable claims and are indoctrinated into believers and this is immoral and wrong. Thus, no matter how much claimed good – including good people – is found within various religions they are all based upon false premise: superstition and unfalsifiable claims.

    With a few notable exceptions, the ‘rituals’, to use your words, And I crave belonging to my tribe above all else are not what I am that concerned with, except where this tribalism is divisive.
    I belonged to a running club and we had a great social life but we didn’t feel the need to contemplate the meaning of life or go out and convert the natives, or in any way condemn other running clubs.

    Once you stop indoctrinating children we are well on the way to a religion free society.

  64. Earnest

    @ Ark you have an idee fixe about this indoctrination thing. But way back in pre-history, I suggest that Cro Magnons had beliefs that came about spontaneously. If all religion is indoctrination of one person by another, you have built an infinite ladder of causation. There are not, to date, an infinite number of either humans or proto humans, and given a finite Earth there never can be. So I see this as a failure of your proposition. There can and must be some piece of religion not based on indoctrination, and, indeed, it must be pre- indoctrination.

    It is the nature of humans to wish to remake their junior tribe members in their own image. I imagine there were Cro Magnon children that were taught that one could be trampled by bison or gored by a mastodon tusk if certain precautions were not taken.

    So I suggest that religion is based on embellished precautionary rituals, like wearing a certain shirt so your team has a better chance of winning. As the beer commercial says, “it’s only crazy if it doesn’t work”.

    Was Martin Luthur indoctrinated into nailing his papers to the door of a church at the start of the Reformation? He could easily have been killed for doing that. Tell me how this man was indoctrinated, please.

  65. @Earnest

    So I suggest that religion is based on embellished precautionary rituals, like wearing a certain shirt so your team has a better chance of winning. As the beer commercial says, “it’s only crazy if it doesn’t work”.

    Crikey, it really is tough sometimes trying to communicate in simple english.

    I would suggest that all religion stemmed from superstition/ignorance, be it thunder and lightening, volcanoes and rain etc. Suh things were all attributed to gods.
    This superstition just became more sophisticated and refined that’s all, and the goal posts were moved.
    If the practice of indoctrinating children ceased for a couple of generations god belief would fade just as it has regarding other historical gods.

  66. “…all religion stemmed from superstition/ignorance”
    This is not my understanding of much of Buddhism, much of Taoism, much of progressive Theisms and more.
    The “all religion” phrase is more convenient rhetoric than careful thinking.
    “much of religion” would be more accurate.

  67. “…all religion stemmed from superstition/ignorance”

    Correct, I should have included the words, god-belief somewhere in this sentence.

  68. @ Arkenaten,
    Interesting thought. Substituting “god-belief” for “religion” would change things, since not all religion is about “god-belief”. But it would still need narrowing, I think. “Belief-centered god-religions” would be much closer. But even then, narrowing is important. Let me explore what I am trying to say with two questions.

    (1) Do you agree that “Belief-centered god-religions” is a subset of “god-belief religions”?

    (2) Further, would you agree that even though someone who labels themselves (identifies with) a religion whose religious professionals call for “belief-centered god-religions”, that their actual way of participating in that identity may have very little to do with being belief centered?

    (3) If you agree to 1 & 2 above, can you see how “All Religions…” talk is almost inevitably problematic unless you are talking with someone who already agrees with your categories and your agendas?

  69. So, Ark, let’s say we changed your gross generalization of:

    “…all religion stemmed from superstition/ignorance”

    to something a bit more specific like:

    “…all belief-centered fanatic clutching to god-religions stems from superstition/ignorance”

    But even that is off target a bit since some of those folks are just angry and hateful and grabbing at any local tool they have to attack — in this case religion — and not really thinking of beliefs as “truth propositions”.

    So, it is not because of their ignorance or superstition that all their religion springs, but it is from their hatred or anger or frustration. They are may be sacrificing reason or just not paying attention to it, because the god-tool works in manipulating others and they aren’t really “believing” in any normal sense — though “believing” is a slippery idea right off the bat.

    Make sense?

  70. @ Ark,
    I caution, I improved the readability of my last comment before you replied. So heads up. The e-mail version you received will be a bit different from the one above.

  71. My Other Feet

    @ Sabio — It seems to me that you are demanding internal logical consistency from religious traditions that were never intended to be internally consistent, despite what post hoc amendments and debates may have been advanced in defense of such an idea. It seems to me that most religions are sets of cultural practices that have survived many centuries or millennia. As you noted in your post, some of the practices that get subsumed by a religious tradition such as Christianity are contradictory to the white-washed “orthodox” doctrine, but as you note, this orthodox doctrine doesn’t capture the complete picture of an individual’s religious experience: that contradiction between the orthodoxy and the individual doesn’t prove the religion is invalid, nor that the individual should stop being of that religion.

    I understand that I’m late to this blog post, but if you’re still writing, would you be willing to outline what is your point in this post? Are you aiming for believers to stop believing? Are you aiming for religions to “clean-up” their logical inconsistencies?

    Thanks for writing.

  72. @ MOF,

    I’m not sure I understand your question. If you’ll read my post, I state that I am very glad most believers do NOT believe what their specialists (priest, prophets and pastors) would have them believe.

    So I am rejoicing in their inconsistencies.

    I read my post to see why you would have thought otherwise, but did not see why?

    I think I made the point of my post well.
    Most blogging atheists think that religion is all about doctrine — I am not in that camp. I think my post illustrates that.

    BTW, my posts are always open to discussion

  73. My Other Feet

    @Sabio — thanks for your reply. I agree that you made the point well that many religious believers hold inconsistent beliefs. Perhaps I was reading too much into a sub-text of your post that you didn’t intend. I think an interesting corollary of your point is that this inconsistency seems to be innate to most religions since historical development doesn’t follow a rational process — the rationalization usually comes long after a religion has an established following.
    Thanks for clarifying,

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