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Tucson Atheists Message Board › Religion from the gut

Religion from the gut

A former member
Post #: 7
We are spending way too much time in trying to assert our logical positions about the non-sense and the contradictions of religions.
Once we accept that decisions come from the “gut” and from emotions, and that the brain kicks in AFTERWARDS by construing the justifications and reasons, we will be much more effective in promoting a secular society: much better than by just blaming the majority of the nation (and that’s what the believers are) for being stupid and immune to reason. It is an offensive stance, which leads to hurt pride and feelings, and an even more intransigent reaction.

Most of us atheists claim to be creatures of reason. When arguments are logic, we will accept them and base our decisions on them. But is this really so? Social and moral psychologists have shown in experimental studies that our brain is not the commanding force in determining our values and decisions. Instead, it is emotions which are determining our morals and actions.
As an atheist, you will likely deny this, because you consider yourself a person only beholden to the rationality of science, and capable of throwing out irrational feelings.

Yet, science does not only mean physics and formulas: science also examines the way humans perceive reality, and the mechanisms of our actions (quite erratic at times). Moral and social psychology are rather infant sciences, yet they have already been able to discover mechanisms of human behavior which are, unfortunately, rather detrimental to our secular attempts to remove spirituality, and thus religion, from our society.
I do not intend to reproduce here the scientific evidence which has led psychologists to claim that there is an innate human need for spirituality. (As a starter, I am citing Jonathan Haidt’s “Happiness Hypothesis” for this, and, for a condensed read of his essential findings, the Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.o...­. While Jonathan Haidt is an atheist himself, he does acknowledge that there is a natural psychological inclination towards spirituality, or rather elevation, as he defines it.)

Once we understand our human need for the emotion of elevation, we can accept that the desire for religion is a natural aspect of our psyche, and that it therefore takes enormous efforts to overcome religion. This may appear a contradiction: if it is natural to us, why overcome it? Well, the same way it is still natural for the human body to try to gather as many calories as possible for survival ....well, I’m not wasting any more words on this obvious problem in our society. Overall, Religion brings us more harm than benefits.

The need for religion also arises from our species’ intelligence: we are intellectually capable of contemplating the future, which includes our own death. This death we vehemently deny, first on an emotional basis, and then, as far as spiritual individuals are concerned, on a pseudo-rational basis, because we are incapable of contemplating the void: “There simply must be something beyond death!” And voilà: We humans have created heaven and the gods.
Humans are the only species who have the ability to contemplate death, and therefore create symbolisms and religions to overcome this horrendous finality. (Cultural anthropologists, such as Ida Magli, have also contributed to explaining the human need for creating transcendental entities.)

I have come to the understanding that there is a natural need for humans to create fictions which allow them to deal with death. And it is difficult to jump over your own shadow and overcome religious indoctrination suffered as a child. Therefore, I do not approve of demeaning and militant confrontations with religious people, depicting them as purely ignorant. This doesn’t mean I am not in favor of promoting a secular society, but since pure reasoning is unlikely to promote change in a religious person, we should consider more assertive ways to promote a society without religion.


Mitchell
zenguy
Tucson, AZ
Post #: 165
I would like to distinguish between belief in mythology, and a search for connection. Examples of the former include Christianity, Islam, Judaism & Hinduism. To we atheists, all of those are based on beliefs that specific mythologies are true. We of course do not share those beliefs. But that is not to say that we know the TRUTH about the ultimate mysteries, such as: How did we get here? Does my life have meaning? What should I do in life? Is there something outside of the reach of science? Many atheists are concerned with question such as these, and turn to practices such as meditation, seeking answers. In my view, atheists, while scorning belief in mythology, should be open to alternative methods and visions of truth-seeking.
Patrick S.
Tropciseed
Tucson, AZ
Post #: 5
I feel a better way to promote a secular society is by example. Attacking or simply disagreeing with beliefs is a sure road to conflict, and the fact that religious beliefs are not rational or logical makes them immune to argument. Even if the religious person realizes that most convictions are from the subconscious, this is simply reinforces the idea that their religious convictions come from God. However, by showing that we atheists are just as moral, ethical and "good" as anyone else through our daily actions we can perhaps at least demonstrate that atheism is not inherently evil and work towards it being more accepted in our society.

It's harder for us to promote our ideas because we are such a diverse group. Not only are we spread across the political spectrum, but also across a belief spectrum. Some of us are on what I would term the rational end, meaning a rejection of anything that can't be quantified while others follow a more spiritual path, seeking connection. I count myself in the latter group and I don't think it's a fiction to seek deeper connection between myself and others, and between my Self and the Universe. This of course all comes from my gut! One thing I have come to realize is that the intellect can be fickle and should not always be trusted, any more than the gut. Some arguments are amenable to reason, but some benefit from a broader approach.
A former member
Post #: 11
Patrick, I fully agree with you. It is by example we should promote a secular society. Values can only be passed on to others, and in particular to our children, if we ourselves live by these values. And we atheists are really lucky as we do not have to pontificate about submission, abstinence, and unquestioned adherence to weird behaviorisms, just to find ourselves then in the ugly (and literally unbelievable) position of responding with contorted answers or blatant lies to questions such as pre-marital sex (“Did you actually kiss the boyfriend you had before Daddy?”), divorce (“Did god misspeak when he made your first marriage holy?”), contraception (“How come God granted your wish for only two children when starving children are only asking for food?”). Ok, I stop here, even though it’s so tempting to go on with these hilarious and obvious inconsistencies. I think we all need to admit though that there are situations in which what we profess is not in harmony with what we actually do, so I guess we Atheists are just a little bit better off because our hypocrisies are fewer.
When I referred to the “gut feeling” which determines our decisions (and then the brain follows with some plausible arguments), I meant our emotions. And what are these except not yet fully explained circuitries across the synapses of our … BRAIN? Social and moral psychology is finding more and more answers to the questions why we think the way we think, and why we feel attracted, repelled, disgusted, happy, or afraid. You wrote: “One thing I have come to realize is that the intellect can be fickle and should not always be trusted, any more than the gut.” Very true. This sentence alone reflects a phenomenon which already has been, and still will be the subject of more scientific research about why the intellect turns out to be fickle (because it is not following reason but emotions), and why the gut is not much better (because the main part of our brain stills follows the primordial commands of survival, and has not yet caught up with its just recently moved-in neighbor, the prefrontal cortex (http://www.wisegeek.o...­. So we are constantly living internal contradictions which have for millennia been described by philosophers and poets as the fight between the head and the heart, but which really are nothing else but a still imperfect and unbalanced output by our brains. While the evolution of our intellectual and cognitive capacities has been enormous, it has not yet found an equilibrium with the purely survival-inspired mechanisms within the animal homo sapiens.
I consider “alternative methods and visions of truth-seeking” and attempts to explore “ultimate mysteries” (as Mitchell wrote) as simply another manifestation of our not internally “synchronized” brain, and these methods and attempts are just one step short of believing in transcendental entities. The search for “the meaning of life”, or “the universal spirit”, and the need for elevation are scientifically observed, and already quite well-explained, behaviors. As irrational as they may appear, they are natural, and should therefore be taken as a reality, a given (but then, so are mosquitos).
It is not a coincidence that symbolisms and religions are only present in us humans who have the most developed prefrontal cortex.
I found it really interesting to read (http://www-psych.stan...­) that a similar brain area is only believed to exist in a very few certain other hominoids, in particular the chimpanzee and the bonobo. If you happened to listen to Prof. Darrel Ray’s speech a few weeks ago about sex and religion, you may remember the part in which he talked about other species besides homo sapiens in which sex did not exclusively serve the purpose of procreation: and among these were the chimpanzees and, in particular, the bonobos.
I do admit that I myself am not immune to elevating, but I do realize that my brain is fooling me and trying to trick me into creating chimeras. Again, I think it is no coincidence that the older people get, the more likely they are to embrace some kind of mysticism. After all, there must be a place the ever faster approaching grim reaper is taking us to, right? And as they saying goes, there is no such thing as an atheist on a crashing airplane.
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