Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Faith = Acceptance

I've long been fascinated by religion.  The research is clear that religion can have a major impact on happiness and community--one of the reasons that Ben Casnocha and I have always talked about the need for a secular church that can fill that role for secular humanists.

Yet in some ways, belief and atheism aren't that far apart.  One of the key benefits of religion is the power of faith to help come to terms with tragic events.  Believers often draw comfort from the fact that a loving divinity is guiding events with a larger plan in mind.

Is that so different than a secular acceptance of reality?  You don't have to believe in the divine to realize that you can't change the past, and that you have to accept that bad things happen to you and the people you love.

It may be comforting to believe in a loving and all-powerful being that will even up the cosmic balance sheet in the afterlife, but it is also comforting to simply accept what has happened as fact, and stop trying to deny it.

In my own life, I find great comfort in figuring out how to maximize my chances of achieving my objectives, but then letting go of the outcome.  Is that faith?  Or acceptance?

9 comments:

Lindsey said...

Amen. Absolutely. xoxo

ranndino said...

I've thought about this a lot. The sense of community that religious people get from going to church on a regular basis just doesn't exist among secular people and it's very important for contentment. We try to replace it with amateur sports clubs or going out for beer or wine with a few friends, but it's just not the same. The main problem is that going church is set in stone while getting together with others depends too much on everyone's other commitments. Church is also what helps the fundamentalists organize which gives them a lot of power in our politics. That causes a very skewed political environment where every politician has to pretend to be religious to have any chance of getting elected. Imagine what we, secular, like minded people could do if we got together for a couple of hours every Sunday regardless of what else is going on in our lives.

DDignam said...

Sorry Chris, I can't disagree more with that idea.

"Believers often draw comfort from the fact that a loving divinity is guiding events with a larger plan in mind.

Is that so different than a secular acceptance of reality?"

Yes, it's quite different. One is a view based on reality. The other is a desired belief based on contradictory evidence.

We already have secular "churches" -- organisations that donate to worthy causes or provide community services, like sports organisations. I don't see how an "atheist church" adds anything useful to society.

http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/10/17/atheist-church-no-thank-you/

Chris said...

Ranndino,

You're right that one of the keys to church is its regularity.

There used to be secular organizations that offered the same (bowling leagues, fraternal organizations) but they too are on the decline.

Want to organize the ceremonies for Sundays?

Chris said...

Devin,

Good to have you commenting here!

I think that acceptance is certainly based on reality, but it's also a surrender in the face of the universe, which is how it is similar to religious belief.

I'm not religious, but I have to admit that religion seems to be doing better than "secular churches" have; that probably means there's something we can learn from them.

PZ calls the use of ritual "a cheat and a waste." He would probably also find attending a basketball game and cheering along with fellow fans a cheat and a waste.

My basic philosophy is "whatever works." Religion seems to work, so we should learn from it.

DDignam said...

"I'm not religious, but I have to admit that religion seems to be doing better than 'secular churches' have; that probably means there's something we can learn from them."

Churches have thousands of years of a head start on secular organizations. People grow up going to churches, and in some countries a lot of their life's milestones take place at churches. Of course they're doing better than secular organizations! In many cases, kids are indoctrinated into believing a religion at an extremely young age, and not only are they not told to question their religious beliefs, they are told that they shouldn't question them!

Scientology is a great religion, in the sense that it has gone from zero followers to several hundred thousand in just 60 years. Does that mean we should emulate Scientology? No! Scientology is a terrible scourge on society, using various brainwashing techniques to get people to donate their time and large sums of money to prop up church leaders who do not have their best interests in mind. And Scientology is only different from other religions with respect to age.

"PZ calls the use of ritual "a cheat and a waste." He would probably also find attending a basketball game and cheering along with fellow fans a cheat and a waste."

In most cases, I'd agree with PZ. For example, people are far too fanatical about sport. I can't stand the reverence associated with the Olympics, or NCAA sports, or high school football, or particular professional sports franchises. In some towns, high school athletes are treated like gods and can get away with despicable crimes (see Steubenville). Same goes for NCAA team members (see UPenn). The Olympics is a great way for governments to show off the superiority of their philosophy and to generate blind patriotism. In the NBA, fans feel entitled to throw things at players (see the Malice in the Palace) and react violently when a player chooses to play for another team (see The Decision). I don't like rituals and unthinking adherence to tradition. If I go to a basketball game (and it doesn't happen very often), there's a lot that I don't like. And this is from a guy who clearly loves basketball.

What makes religion so successful is brainwashing from an early age, teaching people to unquestioningly follow authority, discouraging curiosity, and creating an "us vs them" mentality. I disagree with these ideas, and I want no part in any organization -- religious or not -- that uses them.

alice said...

I'd say it's acceptance to let go of outcomes, and faith when the motive for doing that is a religious or spiritual teaching where you believe in some kind of more powerful identity/ consciousness governing the world, than what science posits.

I don't think the difference is between believing in a religion or accepting reality: religions variously teach people acceptance. The differences are in what things science/ philosophy tells us to accept, and what different religions tell us to accept. But in both, there are also things we don't believe in accepting, and things we believe in changing.

Also, we don't know everything about reality, so we have to keep asking ourselves what needs accepting, and what to keep open-minded and exploratory about. This applies in science and also in religions that emphasise learning, and humility about our own knowledge in a world that is mysterious because it's run by a kind of superintelligence beyond ours.

I think there are a lot of secular communities, which are based on common values. It might be harder to express and thereby share those values without a unifying belief like God, just because things get more complicated. The hard part for secular community is having a central activity or mission, and values around it that are also moral and philosophical, in one organisation. While religions meet to worship God, secular organisations need other missions that also relate to values. Maybe charities and support groups are our best examples.

The question is: what is it about churches that makes people want to be active in their communities? Looking at Joel Osteen, say (there are many unsuccessful churches losing people, that we don't want to model), it seems to be inspiring useful life teachings with rousing enjoyable music. Then there's the voluntary work that springs from those values- nothing bonds a community like working together.

Religious communities are not just about faith. They have to work for their members, like any other business or organisation; the ones that don't fail.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if this will be deemed off topic or not, but anyway...

The point of church is not to simply to fulfill some spiritual duty or hang out like you're in a club. The focus isn't supposed to be on "you" - it's for God. Sadly this is being lost. There are a lot of good things going on like coming together to pray, and even fellowship - but if the focus is not on God (giving praise, and learning about him) it might as well be a regular club. A lot of churches are losing their salt and the point of their existence.

Pamela Lipscomb said...

It is important to have a belief. My belief is in a God of Salvation, healing and deliverance. Faith doesn't have to make sense. It is the evidence of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. True religion should be undefiled and something that helps, nurtures and embraces, rather than causing division. It is true that many times our religious beliefs conflict with our spiritual beliefs.