Some atheists say religion is a nonsense that people should stop. I agree that the religions are confusing, inconsistent, and obviously false in my opinion. Some people get some good out of them and some get some very bad out of them. But even if these religions died off like the old mythologies of the Egyptians, Norse, or Greek it seems to me that people are neurologically wired to believe in “something”. Looking at this article about the Apple brand it’s not surprising that some people react the same way to a product like the iPhone as they do to Jesus. An iPhone can help you and give you some comfort and enjoyment in reality but some people extrapolate those feelings into something bigger and false. I think we do take something as simple as a thing or idea and mentally and emotionally blow it up into something it isn’t and it’s just our mind playing tricks on us in a way we may not completely control. I tend to be more literal minded so just as I had no problem moving from an iPhone to an Android phone I have no problem with moving away from the Jesus of my childhood to the honest truth of being an unknowing agnostic. (Yes, the dogmatic atheist steps in and says that since I lack theism I should call myself atheist instead… more on that later but I’ll remind folks that I am a weak atheist and strong agnostic on the scales of belief and knowledge)
And then there’s these videos I recommend concerning the origin of religion in the human brain. This explains to me why religion keeps going despite the obviously fallacy of them to those of us that don’t believe in any of them. These are from The Neurological Origins Of Religious Belief on Big Think if you want to read the accompanying article.
The Brain Creates Religion
Humans and Myth-making
The article concludes with:
If religiosity operates in specific parts and chemicals of the brain, then its origins might be written in the blueprints of life, our genes. To this point, research by geneticist Dean Hamer at the NIH finds God in a single gene–Vesicular Monoamine transporter 2 (VMAT2). Hamer identifies this as the “God gene,” a leading gene among many others written into our genetic code that predisposes people to religiosity. A genetic origin point of religiosity might stem from an evolutionary drive toward inclusion. In this way, learning a society’s religion, like learning its language, is hard-wired into humans through inherited genes.
I think it helps to understand the mechanics of religious belief in navigating a world that has an awful lot of it. It doesn’t prove the truthfulness of the belief in any sense, but it is important to know that when we talk about our beliefs or non-beliefs and the beliefs held by others you may not be able to do anything about what everyone else believes since there is something fundamentally neurological and possibly even genetic in their faith.
Considering that fact, have I replaced my own religious belief with agnosticism and my belief that we are just simple beings that really don’t know? Have the hardcore atheists that claim they haven’t adopted a dogma or faith in an absolute non-belief in gods or creation actually replaced their religious inclinations with atheism? Some atheists have argued with me over the definitions of atheism and agnosticism and have attacked the notion of agnosticism as flawed and useless. I sometimes wonder if they actual do have a dogmatic belief in atheism that includes as a part of the unwritten doctrine that atheistic doctrine should be denied as dogma. I’m just one person believing what I believe but it does appear to be dogma when some atheists tell me I shouldn’t call myself agnostic and that basically I’m not “doing atheism correctly” in the same way they attack theists for believing in their religions. Perhaps they’re just similarly wired to a belief and a faith even if it’s a faith that there definitely are no gods or creation. (Yes, the dogmatic atheist steps in and points out they have a lack of belief and a lack of faith and they’re certain of all of this because of their belief that there definitely is no proof for the truth of religions including those we haven’t invented or discovered yet)
Mother’s Day has me thinking about my mother. When my daughter was diagnosed with clinical depression my mom revealed that she also struggles with depression and has been on medication to treat it for a long time. She says the drugs help and will help our daughter but she also says God helps her cope with it all. I don’t usually focus on my family in this blog but I do bring some of this agnosticism to my talks and emails with my mother. There’s a good natured back and forth between us on belief. Recently I sent her Julia Sweeney’s excellent DVD Letting Go Of God. She responded by sending me The Real Face of Jesus on DVD and we had some good emails back and forth about that. The Shroud of Turin is still a big mystery but so are other things like the pyramids and Stonehenge. The shroud is a thought provoking proof of the possibility of Jesus, but I don’t see it as proof of resurrection or the leap of faith that Jesus was the son of God and all of that proving that God exists and created the universe.
My mother believes it and believes God is there to help her through her troubles and through the darkness of her mind that depression brings. This makes me rethink my approach to her religious belief. Some of my e-mails with her were starting to go on the attack as far as saying it’s really stupid and useless to believe in religion and hold on to those ideas. My atheistic outlook to Christianity leads me to not simply let it go. But she does admit that there are still more questions than answers to religion and she gets more out of her church community and the human fellowship they give her than she gets from the comfort of the prayers and personal relationship she thinks she has with God and Jesus.
So if there is good to be had in her life with religion then who am I to try to break that? Who am I to say that what she feels works for her doesn’t “really” work and she should stop believing it? I do think that religion is all in the mind but should we try to eradicate it completely from the human psyche when it’s a set of thoughts and beliefs that appears to help some people. Some people use an external framework like religion to define their lives, their definitions of right/wrong and good/bad, and their motivations for living. They’re just a set of thoughts and beliefs regardless of their truth. I’m using the word “thoughts” instead of saying she follows the Bible because my mom’s life matches an American Christian society view of living and not the exact written words of the Bible. If you really tried to codify modern Christianity you would have a whole new law book that doesn’t match the Constitution or the Bible. Believers including my Mom are following their own evolving and collective view of what “Christian” belief really is. How they believe is really about how they follow a crowd and conform to a different kind of community or family than just conformance to our family and country’s citizenry. It’s just another facet to what makes up my mom’s way of life that I don’t personally share in. She doesn’t try to change how I live my life without the Christian God so I think I should let her live her life with that belief if it does help her live it.
I’ve never sought treatment for depression for myself. I probably have it to a certain extent looking at my mother and my daughter. But I don’t need the comfort of God and Heaven to motivate me through life and the darkness that sometimes invades my mind. I value truth and believe that religion is fantasy just like Santa Claus or any other myths I’ve discussed in this blog. Once I had shed the external framework of religion and entirely thought for myself I didn’t find it difficult to decide what was right and wrong. I can also determine what is really good and bad in the world using the framework of the society we all fall under. I think I’m a better citizen than many modern Christians because religion often tries to make black and white out of a grey and nuanced existence. However, there are plenty of theists that operate in society just like I do and our only difference is they believe in a god and I don’t. I’m not sure I really care enough to say religion should be gone just because it’s false. I just want the freedom to not believe to be as protected and accepted in the world as the freedom to believe. That will allow my mom to have God support her through her depression and for me to not bother with such nonsense as I deal with things in my own life. I think we’re both better people with that arrangement.
I love the Symphony of Science auto-tune songs. Here’s a new one featuring Hawking, Sagan, Dawkins, Shears, and Tyson. It’s about the Big Bang and is great imagery with wonderful music and dialog turned into singing.