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Eastern Ohio Freethinkers Message Board › Is religion a comfort?

Is religion a comfort?

user 44368812
Dennison, OH
Post #: 39
I had a short but interesting discussion last week with a coworker about faith, Deism, and non-belief.
One of the things she brought up during our conversation was the question of where a rationalist / Deist / Agnostic / atheist, would find comfort in a time of crisis. (I’m paraphrasing everything here) At the time I threw out a halfhearted answer. My answer (as near as I can remember it) concerned the science of biology, Psychology, astronomy and meteorology and the reliability or constancy of life. So you will understand where I am coming from, I will break it down.

The science of Astronomy – I can wonder about how the universe was made at any time without worrying it will be snuffed out. I don’t need magical thinking to explain the heavens and the earth. I know that at this time somewhere in the universe a sun is dying and another being born and it will take another thousand years before anyone on this planet even knows about it. There is a great sense of permanence to this which reassures me that life goes on and will continue. To me this knowledge is a comfort.

The science of Meteorology and Geology – These tools explain the seasons on every part of this planet. These tools allow us to prevent widespread famine and prevent our cities from crumbling. Times of Feast and famine where a mystery to our ancestors. If you want a good crop sacrifice a virgin. An earthquake tore down your village? Rebuild it and sacrifice one each month to keep the gods happy. Imagine the fear and paranoia our ancestors must have faced before the discovery of the tectonic plates and weather patterns.

The science of Biology – This tells us how we got here and why we look the way we do. This tells me where we have been and where we are likely to be in the future. If I develop food poisoning it isn’t due to evil spirits, it is due to some fellow organism like coliform bacteria trying to set up shop in my digestive system. No witch-burning or exorcisms are necessary to make me feel secure again. I understand why bad things happen to good people. To me this knowledge is a comfort.

The science of Psychology - This tells us why we act the way we do. If my neighbor is gay it is not some Satan controlling her mind but likely just the way her brain has been wired since birth. Again no witch-burning or exorcisms are necessary to make me feel secure again. I understand why another human being does not act like I do. There are many Comforts available to a rationalist that religion cannot touch.

This got me thinking. Is this the true attraction of modern religion? Does it comfort us more than knowledge? What does the super-religious lifestyle offer in the way of comfort to a rational person?

How were the heavens and the earth formed - God did it in a day. He is all powerful and it is not your place to question.

Why do floods and earthquakes occur – God is angry and let’s do something to appease him,

How was all life and man created – God did it in a day. He is all powerful and it is not your place to question.

Why is my neighbor different than me – You are blessed and your neighbor is evil. Control him or face god’s wrath and scorn.

Why did god make him different in the first place then tell us to punish him?- He is all powerful and it is not your place to question.

--- I don’t know about you but it’s not very comforting to me.

Disregarding all of this we are left only with the assumed comfort of “a big brother watching over us.” (A non-believer friend summed this entire thing up as “believing in an imaginary sky daddy whom they call to repeatedly, but never answers.”) I have a hard time understanding what comfort this “big brother” is bringing for the super-religious. I personally feel it cannot be comfort that binds people to the super-religious.

I will stand by my earlier declarations. It has to be community.

I have lately attributed fundamental belief to some primitive need for the tribe environment. No-one wants to be alone and the super-religious appear as a Clan or even a Cult to the outsider. There is a strong bond formed in these communities. A “we against them” mentality that borders on the paranoid, and don’t think for a second that it is anything less. But it goes farther than this.

Have you noticed how many churches now have a huge recreation hall attached to the building? They look more like banquet centers than churches anymore and there is a good reason for that. That is what provides the feeling of community. A few games of basketball and a fulfilling meal shared with new people and the tribe gains a few more members. Let’s not forget the visitation for shut-ins and the ailing. All to give the tribal members a feeling of belonging or community. This is something the churches do well but at a price, the free will of the follower.

I have said before that until rationalist organizations start doing hospital and shut-in visitations, wedding ceremonies, and build recreation halls on their meeting sites, we will not become an organization of the people. When people worshipped Isis at the Egyptian temples, or danced around the village to the great mother to bring the Bison next year or even joined the heavens-gate cult it was only mildly about a sense of wonder for the unknown. It was largely about strengthening the social bonds of the tribe and improving the feeling of belonging within the immediate community.

Religions have never been about solving problems and increasing your well-being. I’m sure even in ancient Greece people looked at the pious followers of their gods and wondered why their crops withered and children died, while other non-followers thrived. They compartmentalized their beliefs just as followers of a different god do today.
So is it wealth? According to statistics no! In fact just the opposite is true the more educated the society the less religion.
So Is it morals? Not a chance. 98% percent of the prison inmates in this country claim to be Christian, while world-wide the countries with the lowest crime rates also have the lowest percentage of religious belief.

Ultimately, religion is not the source of the comfort but only the organized cause that brings the tribe together. The ultimate source of comfort is a strong community. Whether this is a group of Backpackers, Bigfoot hunters, Sport shooters, a book club or a discussion group matters little.

The ultimate comfort is knowing someone has your back.

Donalyn Kline S.
user 12029823
Massillon, OH
Post #: 1
I'm actually a little jealous of the comfort that religious people get from their faith. However, telling people that they need faith in order to get solace is a little like telling a 15 year old kid they will get more presents if they will still believe in Santa Claus - basically it just doesn't work!
user 44368812
Dennison, OH
Post #: 53
I had this discussion with some friends in Cleveland today and thought I would resurrect this old post.
Jack W.
user 117931072
Coshocton, OH
Post #: 3
Community is certainly part of the appeal for many believers. I can speak to different aspects, as well, because my strongest period of belief coincided with a time of isolation. I couldn't relate to most other local Christians, seeing them as either hypocrites or blind followers. So, my own religious experience wasn't fueled by community--at least not church community. It was the confidence that came from feeling at one with true reality, at having a map to navigate through life, and knowing despite the endless number of tragedies in this world, all was well. Ultimately, it was all okay. Religion tells the believer their sorrow is not in vain. A powerful comfort for those who see no way of finding peace through earthly means.
Andrew K.
user 192340445
Newcomerstown, OH
Post #: 1
I think religion can be a comfort, beyond the aspect of community. Some people find comfort in the idea that they'll see their loved ones in the next life, for example. Or they find comfort in the idea that it isn't all just random chance, that maybe there is a plan behind everything. Perhaps some even find comfort in feeling superior to others. I used to belong to a literalist Christian church and I can tell you that the idea that you're right and everyone else is wrong has a kind of comforting feeling to it, until you take a moment and think about how horrific the consequences of that is, especially if your belief calls for everyone who doesn't think like you to go to hell.

Now I'm a Buddhist. It is a religion, certainly, but the emphasis is more on practice/philosophy than belief. You won't be condemned to one of the hells (there's 18!) if you don't believe the right thing. You don't even have to believe in the hells, or the heavens, or the wrathful deities, or the divinity of Buddha, or any of that. Do I take comfort in the practice, in the philosophy? I do. It isn't as much a sense of community, aside from feeling at one with all beings in an abstract sense, because there aren't any Buddhists around here. It isn't like there's a temple on every corner, haha. The comfort comes more in finding that peace, that stillness, in myself and knowing that it is always there and can be accessed anytime.
Lori M.
user 11676686
Sugarcreek, OH
Post #: 10
Most people do not want to be 'bothered' with thinking outside of what their preacher says. I would hazard a guess that most hear what is said, but don't truly believe it, even though they will defend it vehemently. They take 'comfort' in the fact that they are surrounded by a community of people who think exactly like they do and never think to question it. I can see where they get comfort in thinking they are going to see loved ones again. It is a coping mechanism.
Andrew K.
user 192340445
Newcomerstown, OH
Post #: 2
It's definitely true that among any group the "true believers" make up a minority. I would liken it to the video game community. You have the core "hardcore" gamers who are, well, just that. Hardcore. It's their life. Then you have the people who game as a hobby. They like games, but don't devote every waking hour to thinking about them. These are a significant fraction of the community. But the majority are the casual gamers. The people who like their phone games to kill time in a waiting room or something. It's really the same with religion. Most people are casually affiliated, and go more as a social outing. They'll only get defensive when pushed. Then you have people who are more serious about it, but it isn't their entire life. Then you have the loud minority, who I really think is the focus of this discussion (and most other discussions about religion.)

To bring things back to the original point, how much comfort people get from religion probably comes from how committed they are to it. I think the bulk of it is probably the sense of community, as mentioned before. Especially for the vast majority who are not as serious. For the true believers, well, I would think that since they think it is true without a doubt, the beliefs themselves would give some comfort, but probably in a practical sense most of it comes from a sense of community (and perhaps a sense of being "holier than thou")
T. M.
user 165421772
Massillon, OH
Post #: 3
Please forgive my laziness and my verbosity. This conversation reminded me of a conversation I'd engaged in on another blog a while back. It is late and I am tired and will have to get back up before too long, and I am having difficulty reformulating these thoughts to fit in this discussion. But I am going to copy and paste a couple fairly large portions of my side the conversation and see if it still makes sense in the context of this discussion...

...Given what I said about the disintegration of the family unit, and further consideration of the increasing occurrences of people being dislocated, or relocated away from family and friends, I believe church communities can and do serve a very important purpose in connecting people to a larger community, both within the church, and the community in which the church resides...

...Yes there are many non-religious groups that pursue a variety of secular interests or non-religious-affiliated social services -- if, indeed, you can find these groups in your area -- not always easy or possible.

They are certainly more scarce, and harder to find, than available churches in any given location practically anywhere in the country.

And none of these groups offer the same level of cohesive community across such the wide variety of experiences:

Sunday school as "philosophy club"; Bible study as a book club or learning center; church service as time for guided meditation, contemplation, storytelling, and joyous communal singing; picnics, pot lucks, and holiday celebrations; child care; youth groups; community outreach -- all family friendly, and all from within a single coherent group who meets regularly once, or twice, or more, every week, wherein the frequency and extent of your attendance, participation, or patronage is purely dependent on your own will, whim, and abilities --

leaving us with the need to splinter our limited time, money, and efforts across a wider variety of diverse groups, without truly recreating that same sense of community at all.

Given the place that religion has held in our culture, whether such a community CAN be recreated without the bond of common religious affiliation, itself, is questionable. And maybe "ten years from now" it truly won't matter. But in ten years time, if there are no secular groups that can answer the same communal needs to the same degree that the church historically has, I would still count that as a loss.

And for newly minted non-believers who come from a close-knit church background, as well as isolated non-believers without close ties to family or friends, it could matter right now. And simply accepting or getting used to that loss, to me, is hardly the desired solution....
T. M.
user 165421772
Massillon, OH
Post #: 4
...It is not that there is a "superiority" to religiously oriented groups, so much as, religiously oriented groups, with their long history and evolutionary imprint on human culture (be that imprint biological or psychosocial), have a distinct natural advantage.

Religion has been a part of human thought and an integral part of human culture from the very beginnings of our tribal existence. Religion, from very early on, became a primary mode of tribal self-identification. Tribal community and religious community can therefore be seen as being synonymous.

As societies increase in size and complexity, they also become increasingly impersonal. In answer to our social needs -- our evolutionary nature as a social animal -- as nomadic existence gives way to agricultural communities, and agricultural communities give way to ever increasing populations of civilized societies, the need for familial cohesion and tribal/religious community persist...

...We are simply saying that the loss of this tribal/religious community goes against our nature and is felt on a profound emotional level...

...Religious communities are plentiful for those who maintain their religious faith. One could also argue that, for those who strongly desire this sense of community, it is possible to ignore the actual scope (or lack) of one's commitment to religious ideations altogether in favor of maintaining membership in these communities.

This goes to what I've said elsewhere regarding professing faith, even indeed maintaining one's faith, while approaching life and the world, in general and in fact, from strictly secular perspectives.

In this, once we understand our intent, rather than re-producing the whole culture, we can see that we only need attempt to emulate the scope and scale of the religious communities on a secular level -- and only for those who are seeking such community while finding themselves unable to profess any such religious ideations, or to do so in more inclusive manner than they can find in the religious world.

So maybe I just need to start my own Unitarian Universalist church and see what I can make of that. LOL.
T. M.
user 165421772
Massillon, OH
Post #: 5
...Yes, the emotional bond of the group -- that which ultimately holds it together, and from which members derive their strongest attachment -- is the experiences of kinship that naturally form within these smaller, long-term, cooperative communities, but especially in regard to shared ritualistic behaviors...

...Since our last time touching on this subject, I've been reading through a book entitled, "Believing in Belonging" by Abby Day, which you might find interesting -- or not :)

In looking at how religious "belief" has been viewed throughout various sociological and anthropological sources, the following observations are made:

"we know that people ‘belong’ to their religious organizations for a variety of reasons, some of which are unrelated to relationships with God ... many people ‘believe in belonging’, choosing religious identifications to complement other social and emotional experiences of ‘belongings’."


"beliefs [are] produced ... through rituals of belonging rather than interpreting ritual as a mirror or mere performance of already-existing beliefs ... what [is] being ... celebrated [is] not the entity [or God] of ‘society’ but ... the embodied, emotional experience of belonging."


"people’s sense of ‘tribal’ belonging was based on their social relations and not the inherent differences in physical characteristics or customs."

To note here, this would substantiate your point that kinship was the primary cohesive factor in tribal community, while that kinship -- those "social relations" -- was, in fact, defined in large part by common social religious ritual and belief, maintaining my point also...

...One other point I will make, and I hope it is further explored in this book, she notes another theoretical base in which it is considered how...

"some people maintain a private belief in God or other Christian-associated ideals, without church attendance or other forms of Christian participation ... [they] persist in believing in God but see no need to participate with even minimal regularity in their religious institutions."

This loosely touches upon the fact that not everyone experiences a "loss in community" as we have been discussing it, as some simply find 'no need to participate" in the first place.

This, in my mind, may stem from "belief", "belonging", and "ritualistic community" as they exist in a larger urban-type community, such as those which have been my primary focus, where, as MR points out, there are many more non-religious social communities from which people may gain their sense of belonging.

Whereas it may be observed that not all (contemporary Western) believers are inherently drawn to the "social belonging" of religious ritual, it might also be hypothesized that there are those amongst non-believers still longing for that sense of belonging -- the social and emotional experiences of kinship -- as it has historically been found within the church.

Just food for thought.
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