Religious Belief Astounds Me...

Tonite is the first night of Chanukah and here in our half-Jewish descent, half-Christian descent and all-Atheist household we are getting ready to have a daughter and grandsons over for first night dinner. It's interesting how we align ourselves with the holidays in order to maintain gift-giving and food celebration traditions.

It started me thinking about belief in general and, watching CBS News Sunday Morning as they did a piece on Angels, I heard that 65% of Americans believe that angels exist as messengers from heaven. Many believe they have spoken with angels. And, of course, they substantiate the basic belief in Heaven (and Hell) that an ABC poll of a couple of years ago said 85% of Americans share.

Searching the web for background on the belief in Heaven, I found a list at that pulled some quotes from a variety of sources:

"If you are a [born-again] Christian, you will go to heaven; If you're following another religion, then by default you will go to Hell." Radio program "Life on the Edge," sponsored by Focus on the Family, and directed to teens, 2001-MAY-5.

"If YOU believe in Evolution instead of Jesus, you'll end up in hell." Chick Publications' gospel tract "Apes, lies and Ms. Henn." (Emphasis in the original)

"For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten." Ecclesiastes 9:5 (KJV)

"...we are asked to believe that God endlessly tortures sinners by the million, sinners who perish because the Father has decided not to elect them to salvation [while they were alive on earth], though he could have done so, and whose torments are supposed to gladden the hearts of believers in heaven. The problems with this doctrine are both extensive and profound." C.H. Pinnock

*"That the saints may enjoy their beatitude and the grace of God more abundantly, they are permitted to see the punishment of the damned in hell." Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 CE), Summa Theologica

There are more quotes on the list, but you get the drift.

In a 2004 Gallop poll we learn that 81% of Americans believe in heaven and 70% believe in hell. A previous Poll said 77% of Americans felt they would make it to heaven - very few saw themselves as going to hell.

The belief in life after death, Heaven and Hell, is common to more than Christianity (and, of course, Judaism, where Heaven is a place where souls live before coming down to earth, and the place they go back to after finishing their mission in this world) - Muslims have a similar belief. According to the World Assembly of Muslim Youth:

The question of whether there is life after death does not fall under the jurisdiction of science, as science is concerned only with classification and analysis of sense data. Moreover, man has been busy with scientific inquiries and research, in the modern sense of the term, only for the last few centuries, while he has been familiar with the concept of life after death since time immemorial.
All the Prophets of God called their people to worship God and to believe in life after death. They laid so much emphasis on the belief in life after death that even a slight doubt in it meant denying God and made all other beliefs meaningless.

The very fact that all the Prophets of God have dealt with this metaphysical question of life after death so confidently and so uniformly - the gap between their ages in some cases, being thousands of years - goes to prove that the source of their knowledge of life after death as proclaimed by them all, was the same, i.e. Divine revelation.

So here I am on Sunday morning on the eve of a religious holiday, pondering how beliefs like Heaven, Hell, the existence of Angels and the acceptance of these beliefs by Americans in the 21st century can even exist and I am astounded. The many centuries of varied but god-based beliefs are not shaken off... not by logic, or science, or the advancement of knowledge of the real world. That people NEED these beliefs in order to function in the world is what I find most amazing. And I also wonder how many centuries will go by until they can be shaken off and replaced with reality.

Happy Winter Solstice... enjoy the longest night of the year.

Under The LobsterScope

Tags: Beliefs, Heaven, hell, religion (all tags)



I believe we are somewhat at the crux

Of a transition between spirituality and book-based faith systems.

Many people are committed to their particular religion based on history, culture, family, etc.

Catholics and Jews have a deep history within their ethnic strains, and religion permeates their cultural norms.

But, clearly, the more educated, the less the embracing of Zeus-style Cloud God based deities, and all the mythos that go with it.

The more culturally modern the country, the more "Secular" the religions become, with the exception of reactionary fundamentalist strains.

American Evangelicals are such a group; their belief in the Rapture is such a throwback to the fear of the darkness as in Stone Age man.

The more fear based the religion, the more reactionary, the more they tightly hold to their asburd norms and reject science.

BUT, I must say, I have never been able to go all the way to the existential "there is nothing" viewpoint of the hardest of the atheists.

Seems to me, the one constant of our assumptions and knowledge base is, we are wrong.

Just as cosmology and physics keeps seeing that each generational assumption was just a part of the onion yet to be pealed, I believe perhaps our definition of God,
whether he be a "Hairy-Chested Thunderer" or "Cosmic non-corporeal muffin of eternal goodness" are just too small, too uninformed, we are just too damn dumb
 to figure this all out, though in our hubris we think we can.

That is why the most primitive of religions tend to make God in our image.....

Personally, if was God, I would probably be a really giant lion!  Maybe C. S. Lewis was right, Azlan seems what I would want to corporaralize into, if I were to manifest!

And the most sophisticated scientist thinks sub angstrom level springs (that is now the model for dark matter) fill up our universe?

Hell, we are just flatlanders, stuck in three dimensions, guessing about time and matter.

And, about God's and Goddess.

Anyway, Merry XMAS, Happy Hanukkah, Kicking Kwanzaa, or full out drunken debauched Saturnalia...

What every gets you through the winter, go for it

by WashStateBlue 2008-12-21 07:36AM | 0 recs
Re: I believe we are somewhat at the crux

Love your comment. It's the type of reading I hope to find on blogs but rarely do.

by veggiemuffin 2008-12-21 07:47AM | 0 recs
Awesome comment

I'm a Christian, and a follower of the sciences. I certainly don't believe the literal Bible interpretations of the evangelicals, but I think the strictly "there is nothing else" people have it wrong also.

I remember reading about neutron stars, and being struck by the fact that we humans are basically empty space in comparison.

Where do "we" exist? Our thoughts, our feelings? In electrical potentials, quantum state changes, or something else? Whichever, its probably safe to say that the part of us that makes up the "I" is literally intangible.

We're already little gods, unlikely and improbable sparks that can change planets.

by Neef 2008-12-21 03:17PM | 0 recs
Re: I believe we are somewhat at the crux

An entertaining response, much of which I agree with. Interestingly, you appear to reflect CS Lewis' take on the afterlife - where he believes we'll discover (1) that we've all been wrong about almost everything, and (2) that it really won't matter all that much in the end.

The one aspect of spirituality that most rational reviews miss out on are its experiential aspects that complement the theology. Explaining such an experience in rational terms is a frustrating endeavor - not unlike trying to describe a fourth dimension to your prototypical three-dimensional flatlanders, or explaining music (or art) to those deaf (or blind) from birth. There's no frame of reference to start with.

by Sumo Vita 2008-12-21 09:42PM | 0 recs
Re: I believe we are somewhat at the crux

I feel a tree being hugged somewhere.

by MumbaiBurns 2008-12-22 10:07AM | 0 recs
Re: Religious Belief Astounds Me...

"They shall see, and not comprehend." I'm not saying evangelicals who use their Bible as a weapon are correct in doing so. Believing dosen't automatically exempt one from error, but neither does not believing. Your outright dismissal of people who believe is as arrogant and flawed as their dismissal of anyone who dosen't. Merry Christmas!

by phoenixdreamz 2008-12-21 09:11AM | 0 recs
I think we all see....

I just take with a grain of salt anyone that tells me "they comprehend."

Each age is arrogant enough to think they have it all figured out. They don't.

My church of orgin, the Catholics, burned people at the stake for heresy.  I was raised in Jesuit parochial schools, and even as a child,
I was arguing about Jews being the choosen people not getting into heaven?

A generation later, led by backwards old white men, my church spends millions of tax free dollars in a war to deny the rights of gay people.

FEH!  That's arrogance. Years into a denial and suppresion of molestation scandals, and they have the audacity to STILL act as abiters of morality?

Clean up ye own house, before you criticise mine!

We have Evangelicals STILL denying Evolution, and while you can argue about complete scientific certainity,
when the alternative is a fairy tale about Adam, Eve and Apple and a 6000 year old world?

I am sorry, those people SHOULD NOT be let near any kind of policy that involves science or technology.

We may be arrogant and flawed, but we arent looking towards the 13th century for our concepts of world and universe.

by WashStateBlue 2008-12-21 10:45AM | 0 recs
Re: I think we all see....

I have to agree on the one hand, that the Church has been pretty tone-deaf to the obvious hypocrisy in making moral pronouncements following on devastating scandals. On the other hand, the implication that all spirituality and religion is thereby damned is one I can't buy. I see the Church as flawed - as almost every other institution run by human beings is flawed. The asinine bunch that ran our government for most of this decade were democratically elected, and I don't think we've abandoned democracy.. not yet.

I can forgive the simple-minded for resorting to black-and-white conclusions such as these, but it's depressing when normally thoughtful and rational minds fall prey to lazy generalizations of the kind I see repeatedly voiced here and elsewhere. The spiritual domain that one forsakes - apparently prompted by one's "superior intelligence" - isn't just the domain of these loathsome "backwards old white men". Concurrently ignored are also centuries worth of the writings and teachings of brilliant minds, intellectual giants of this millenium that happened to precede them. Dismiss them all if you must (in favor of what, exactly?) but be aware of what your stance truly implies.

Finally, lumping in all the religious-minded with the fundamentalist minority that subscribe to a literal interpretation of creation - is equally disappointing. You can do better than that. You know better than that.

by Sumo Vita 2008-12-21 09:12PM | 0 recs
when I stop seeing money change hands

from the faithful into the pockets of the enlightened leaders, then I will stop viewing organized religion as anything other than a swindle.


by the national gadfly 2008-12-21 09:41AM | 0 recs
We non-theists demand too much from our gods

Had Clovis lost at Tolbiac, Roman Catholicism would very likely have remained relegated to the Italian Penninsula.  Had Constantine's cavalry not broken Maxentius's lines at the Milvian bridge, Christianity would have remained a secret cult and passed away along with the Roman Empire.

On the other end, the armies of Islam were successful at al-Qādisiyyah thanks in no small part to the weather.  Had the wind remained calm, the Sassanid elephants would have overrun the Islamic camels.  Islam would have been relegated to the Arabian penninsula.  Following this success, the Caliphate was able to successfully besiege thousands of Byzantine and Persian cities.

For the people of those cites, Islam was a blessing.  To people who were perpetually indebted to their nobles and struggling under massive tax rates, Allah brought relief.  The god of Islam quite literally forgave their debts and lowered their taxes below 4%.  I'd convert, too.

It was easy in the ancient world.  The search for causes was simple.  The only demand of their gods was that they help them slaughter their enemies and make them wealthier.  We demand so much more.

We want our gods to explain quantum entanglement with something more than "predestination".  We want a god who destroys cancer and MRSA or at least reveals the precise way to accomplish that.  We want long life from our gods and population control at the same time.

On the upside, prayer does reduce stress.  And the gods sent a google ad to tell me how a Christian mom is making $5000 a month, and how I can, too.

Joel Osteen and Robert Tilton, here I come.

by SuperCameron 2008-12-21 12:32PM | 0 recs
A brilliant post....

Of course, this could all be your nefarious plan to get a babe wife like Osteen and those other huckters.

It also pays well I hear.

by WashStateBlue 2008-12-21 02:44PM | 0 recs
You couldn't have had...

...scientific practice without religious believers.
You couldn't have had Bacon and as a consequence scientific practice without Aristotle.  While it is true that Christians sacked Alexandria, the texts were preserved and redistributed through the Islamic world.  These wouldn't have come to Bacon's attention to rebel against if not through the church.  

There are positive contributions from believers over time, not just negative.

by AZphilosopher 2008-12-21 08:56PM | 0 recs
And I always bring up...

...the circumstances behind Aristotle's preservation in class to show that Islam has a history of scholarship.

by AZphilosopher 2008-12-21 10:52PM | 0 recs
What a pure pleasure it was

to read such an intelligent and rational discussion about religion for a change, with good points made from various points of view. Thanks, everyone. You made my Winter Solstice.

by Swedie 2008-12-21 10:40PM | 0 recs

I'm a non-believer myself. I don't consider myself an Atheist or Agnostic or anything. Because I think that Atheism and Agnosticism have become their own belief systems.

Having said that I love religion. I love the tradition and the mystery and the mystical and the beauty. I love the pagentry and I mourn the scandal and abuse. I love the history and the buildings and the stories and tales.

I think it's lovely that people have faith in something beyond themselves. I love going into churches and cathedrals and thinking about things that are greater than myself. I love the beauty and reverence of holy places and holy days.

One of my favourite places is a church in Rome near the Coliseum. San Clemente. It's a 12th century basilica built on top of a 4th century Christian church. Which is built on a Temple of Mithras. All three are beaufitul. All three are holy places.

How could people believe in a Christian god? How could people believe in and follow Mithras? I don't know. I can't fathom it myself. But I think it's beautiful and inspiring just the same.

by carrieboberry 2008-12-22 04:02AM | 0 recs
Reading assignment

May I recommend a book? The God Gene, by Dean Hamer helped answer (at least partially) these questions for me.

The very fact that all the Prophets of God have dealt with this metaphysical question of life after death so confidently and so uniformly - the gap between their ages in some cases, being thousands of years - goes to prove that the source of their knowledge of life after death as proclaimed by them all, was the same, i.e. Divine revelation.

If you read Hamer's book, you will realize the above quotation from your diary is exactly right, up to the "i.e. Divine revelation" at the end. It should read "i.e. genetic predisposition." The fact is that a large majority of humans are genetically wired for belief in a higher power, life after death, and other common religious concepts. In The God Gene, Hamer explores the whys and hows of this fact.

Note, if you are a believer, there is no reason at all not to think that this predisposition was placed in our genome by your favorite god or goddess, in order that we should be saved by believing. If you are a non-believer, there is no reason to think this predisposition says anything about the existence of god(s) at all. It is fascinating stuff, and Hamer makes the science parts very accessible to the layman.

by itsthemedia 2008-12-22 11:55AM | 0 recs


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