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Belief in God Low Among Young Americans

While all cohorts of Americans have a relatively strong belief in the existence of God, that belief has plummeted among the Millennial Generation, according to the American Values Survey conducted by the Pew Research Center.

TPM‘s Sahil Kapur has created a much more useful visualization of the data:

Her assessment:

Young Americans are abandoning God in droves.

A new survey by the Pew Research Center finds that belief in the existence of God has dropped 15 points in the last five years among Americans 30 and under.

Pew, which has been studying the trend for 25 years, finds that just 68 percent of millenials in 2012 agree with the statement “I never doubt the existence of God.” That’s down from 76 percent in 2009 and 83 percent in 2007.

Among other generations, belief in God is high and has seen few changes over the last few decades. Between 81 and 89 percent of older generations say they never doubt the existence of God, although the older the generation, the more likely they are to believe in God.

Now, given that a full 68 percent of the millennials claim to never doubt the existence of God, “abandoning God in droves” is a bit hyperbolic.

Still, something interesting is going on. It’s not simply that young people are less religious by nature. Here’s a look at that question broken down by age group, not generation:

To be clear, this is a look at the responses by age group at the time of the survey–a moving target–rather than by generational cohort. In the early days of the survey, the 18 to 29 and 30 to 49 groups were at the bottom in terms of their belief but the spread between those two groups was modest and not consistently directional. Further, the gap with even the oldest group was pretty small.

In 1987, the lowest faith groups had 86 percent claiming they never doubted God’s existence while the highest faith group was at 93 percent. Jump ahead a quarter century and the highest faith group (those over 65) were down modestly to 87 percent. The next group (50 to 64) is clustered so closely that the interactive chart doesn’t function; call it 86 percent. My own cohort goes down to 81 percent. The under-30s, though, are at a mere 67 percent.

My hypothesis is that it’s a rejection of the social value system taught by Christianity, particularly its more fundamentalist strains. Looking at the crosstabs gives some evidence for this.

On the question “I have old-fashioned values about family and marriage,” those who agree increase with each generation.

Ditto the question, “School boards ought to have the right to fire teachers who are known homosexuals.”


What’s interesting on this question, though, is that, over the past decade, even the Silents (born 1925-45) and Boomers (1946-1964) have come to disagree with this notion. In 1987, when I was in my senior year in college and this survey was first taken, a majority of all Americans agreed, as did more than a quarter of college graduates.  Now, less than a quarter of all Americans believe it and only 30 percent of even the Silents buy off on it.

My strong guess is that the declining belief in God among the younger generations is a sheer function of the older generations being more comfortable with cognitive dissonance. Americans are, on the whole, much more religious than our counterparts in Europe and other developed societies. But our attitudes on such issues as divorce, premarital sex, the role of women in society, and homosexuality is nonetheless evolved or evolving at a rapid clip.

Baby Boomers and other older Americans–whose attitudes on those social issues lags those of the Millennials and Generation X’ers–have taken a belief in God for granted for so long that they simply convince themselves that their new attitudes on things that were considered major sins in recent memory is somehow reconcilable with their religious beliefs. Younger folks are simply more likely to figure that, if their religion is teaching them things that they believe to be silly–such as that homosexuality is wrong–then their religion must be silly, too.

 

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Bleev K says:

    Finally, some good news.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 21 Thumb down 7

  2. Jeremy says:

    Thank God. (Whoops, did I say that out loud?)

    That said, James, have you seen this piece yet? Its from the Atlantic, so I would like to say yes, but I don’t want to assume anything. I found it to be quite interesting and you might as well:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/06/the-religious-right-turns-33-what-have-we-learned/258204/#.T9YFiK_9uXM.gmail

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  3. Brian Lehman says:

    I believe there are few things that would be more salubrious to the American political scene than the decrease in the influence of the fundamentalist religious right. Not even so much religion in general, but the radical strains that strive to dehumanize gays, lesbians, atheists, Muslims… anyone who is not like them. It will be the ultimate irony if that very segment takes along some religiosity with it.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 4

  4. grumpy realist says:

    Why should I believe in a religion that considers me inferior?

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 20 Thumb down 7

  5. mantis says:

    Not nearly low enough.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 6

  6. Greg R. Lawson says:

    It is very smug to call the continued secularization of America an unalloyed good. Without a faith in the transcendent, everything becomes immanentized. This is very problematic as the only solutions now are those that can lead to a utopia in this world. Given the unlikelihood of this, man will keep banging his head into the wall wondering, “Where is Perfection?” We won’t get it in the real world of dirt and grime, faith allows us an escape, When that is closed, hope will eventually be abandoned. Why are we such a “therapeutic” culture? Why do we need so many anti-depressants? Why are secularized, or secularizing, societies having demographic challenges (like Europe)?

    These negative outcomes are some of the ill effects of a rapidly and not assimilable secularization.

    By the way, is not our whole notion of “Human Rights” really a form of Christian thinking that attempts to remove “God” as arbiter? Eventually, we may find that without “God” there is no external measure of morality and ethics. What then stands between us and the next Hitler? Especially if we begin enhancing humans through DNA manipulation and bio-engineering?

    Faith and God, in particular, is the break we tap before plunging head long into an unknown abyss from which we really don’t know what will be on the other side.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 58

  7. LaurenceB says:

    Younger folks are simply more likely to figure that, if their religion is teaching them things that they believe to be silly–such as that homosexuality is wrong–then their religion must be silly, too.

    As long as we’re speculating on the reasons behind the trend, here’s mine:

    What makes you Catholic or Mormon or Atheist? There’s no single answer that applies to everyone, but there is a single best answer that applies to most people most often. Here it is: Your parents were Catholic or Mormon or Atheists.

    And (this is my hunch) it seems to me that what most often causes folks to cease to be Mormon or Catholic or Atheist is the combination of a) an separation from family, friends and/or fellow believers; such as going away to college, moving to another country, or getting married, and b) exposure to differing religious (or anti-religious) beliefs.

    In other words, if it is true that younger people are recognizing flaws in their religious upbringing and therefore abandoning it, as you suggest, then I’m going to speculate that the larger issue here is not the flaws or the recognizing of them but rather the increased exposure to alternative ideas – perhaps through the internet, or perhaps due to the increase in young people attending college.

    So, I don’t necessarily disagree with Dr. Joyner, but I think there’s a larger picture.

    Feel free to rebut my speculation with your own. I freely admit that I have no factual foundation for any of this. It’s strictly, anecdotal observation on my part.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  8. Jeremy says:

    @Greg R. Lawson: Oh please. If you need some external force to keep you doing good, then you’re not really a good person.

    Atheism did not lead to Hitler. It did not even lead to communism. No amount of historical revionism will make that true.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 51 Thumb down 5

  9. Tsar Nicholas says:

    My strong guess is that the declining belief in God among the younger generations is a sheer function of the older generations being more comfortable with cognitive dissonance.

    That’s a bold statement. As an atheist part of me wants to agree with it. As a perpetual skeptic, however, part of me wants to call bravo sierra on it.

    Another explanation is that older people feel their mortality a lot more often and with a much greater sense of urgency than younger people. The saying “there are no atheists in foxholes” has become so commonplace as to be trite, but there are shades of truth therein and the same concept might apply to older people. It’s easy to be an atheist at 20. When you’re 80, however, and today literally might be your last day, it might be more difficult.

    Another explanation is the hard shift to the left over the past couple of decades in K-12 schooling, the mass media, colleges and universities and pop culture.

    In any event, those are fascinating charts and this is a good post. First off I was glad to see that the author immediately recognized there is a dichotomy between the polling results and the headline. Also, there’s a further dichotomy: Believing in God and doubting the existence of God are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Stated another way, a person firmly can believe in God but nevertheless not be able to say they “never” have doubted God’s existence. A death of a child or other loved one could effect that scenario. A heinous crime. Witnessing some sort of calamity. So on, so forth. Beliefs tend to be much stronger than doubts in beliefs, especially transitory doubts as applied to long-standing beliefs.

    Lastly, I could not help but notice that wide divergence in 1990-1994. A large spike in theism among the Silents and a corresponding plunge among my fellow Gen X’ers. Then a mutual reversion to the prior mean. These items to me are astonishing. It’s not as if the period between 1990-1994 was so noteworthy. We had a recession. But it was far milder than the recession of 1982-1983. We had the Gulf War. Not a watershed moment in history. We had the S&L crisis. Child’s play compared to the housing meltdown of the present day. Seems to me to be inexplicable.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  10. `` says:

    It is not inconsistent to believe in a God and support equal rights for all people. If there is a God, then god made gay people, right? One shouldn’t overly link a belief in God with a belief in the pointy-hat people on Earth who claim to speak for God.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 3

  11. Nikki says:

    @Greg R. Lawson:

    What then stands between us and the next Hitler?

    Please. If WWII and the Holocaust were the results of god standing between the first Hitler and the rest of us, what makes you think he will be any better at it a second time?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 40 Thumb down 2

  12. mattb says:

    @Greg R. Lawson: Wow… slippery slope much?

    Without a faith in the transcendent, everything becomes immanentized.

    It should be pointed out that throughout history and in numerous current world religions, it’s entirely possible to believe in the transcendent without believing in a single creator being (or a pantheon of beings).

    Likewise:

    Eventually, we may find that without “God” there is no external measure of morality and ethics. What then stands between us and the next Hitler?

    This is problematic on two fronts. First, it pretends that we have the same fundamental morality and ethics that were held either in the period of the writing of the Old Testament or the writing of the New Testament. That is a fundamentally flawed view of the world and demonstratively false. Morals and ethics (especially when you get outside the core 11 commandments) are fundamentally social and cultural, tied to specific times and places.

    But beyond that, there is plenty of evidence of tribal cultures who live without a mono or pan-theistic religious order who still have a core set of morals and ethics similar to our own. So imagining or predicting that all that stands between us and the Hitlers of the world is a belief in God is a fundamentally flawed understanding of both human nature and culture (not to mention the fact that at least initially Hitler justified most of his action through the perversion of scripture and exploiting existing historical tensions between Christians and Jews).

    Oh, and before I’m labeled as a secular humanist/heathan, let me out myself as Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (though I’d probably cop to the title of a Religious Humanist).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  13. WR says:

    @Greg R. Lawson: You might try meeting an actual human being some day. I believe you’ll find they are much less scary than theories based on your own prejudices.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 6

  14. gVOR08 says:

    @Jeremy: I’m with Jeremy. I don’t trust people who don’t trust themselves to behave decently without the threat of eternal damnation. I’ve never noticed any tendency for the atheists and agnostics of my acquaintance to behave any worse than my religious acquaintances.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 32 Thumb down 4

  15. al-Ameda says:

    Younger folks are simply more likely to figure that, if their religion is teaching them things that they believe to be silly–such as that homosexuality is wrong–then their religion must be silly, too.

    … and you can add to that women’s reproductive health issues, too.

    Anecdotal observation of mine:
    Both my daughters graduated from liberal arts colleges in recent years and I have observed that for the most part, they and their friends are not interested in organized religion, yet most seem definitely interested in spirituality. They are not New Age types either.

    My youngest daughter was a member of her on-campus spirituality croup – it was wide ranging interfaith group with members of many faiths (muslim, jewish, catholic, protestant, hindu … ) attending meetings. Their activities centered around discussions of morals, ethics, and activities that involved social service or assistance to non-profit organization efforts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 3

  16. I think it is a mistake to take “never doubt” as a measure of religiosity.

    There is, for instance, a seminarian inspired meme out there, that one cannot survive seminary without doubt, and flirtation with agnosticism, at the least.

    (I’ve lived long enough to have clergy share their doubt with me.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  17. Jeremy says:

    @LaurenceB:

    I’m probably not a good example whatsoever; even though I was raised in a relatively conservative Methodist household (though nowhere near as conservative as the Baptists; my parents would never go on anti-gay screeds and thought the anti-abortion signs they put up near schools were utterly tasteless), I think from birth I was an agnostic. An “Agnostic Methodist,” if you will. I had severe doubts as a child that what I was being taught was true, because it just didn’t make sense to me and always felt heavy handed. Though, I will be honest, it was largely because I was bored sitting in the pews and ultimately only went to church for the donuts.

    In junior high, I became more of a nerd, and started thinking about it, and became a deist (though at the time, I thought it was atheism because I hadn’t heard of deism.) I later on became an actual atheist in high school, but after interacting with a bunch of them online and in college, I became an ignostic because I realized that the whole argument over this is really rather pointless.

    But one thing I have noticed is that many young people with religious parents have turned away from it. I think one reason is that parents try to use their religion as a tool to control their kids, which doesn’t turn out well. (Hell, my parents wouldn’t take me to work one day because I admitted I was an atheist. Heh!) It doesn’t have to do with a phyiscal disconnect; rather, there is a cleavage between the two generations. They just don’t get each other, and the more they try to force it, the more a Great Schism between them grows.

    The exposure part, though, I do think matters. Hooray for Wikipedia!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  18. Jeremy says:

    @: That’s true, and I apologize if I ever have. Its not that every Christian believes gays are bad, just a lot of Christians do.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  19. mantis says:

    What then stands between us and the next Hitler?

    Hitler was a Christian. Tremendously stupid example.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 23 Thumb down 6

  20. James Joyner says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: But, as noted using data from the same survey over the years, young people have historically answered the question roughly the same way as older people. This is a phenomenon of the last decade. Indeed, unless there’s something really skewed about this sample, Millennials have dropped off 20 points in the last six years.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  21. Nikki says:

    @James Joyner:

    Millennials have dropped off 20 points in the last six years.

    Hmmm…the two wars, the state of the economy, the political dysfunction, the ongoing destruction of the dream that was America…yeah, all of that would kill my belief in god, too.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  22. @James Joyner:

    There might be a generational shift in “never doubt” questions in general. I mean, surely everyone doubts. St. Augustine: “Doubt is but another element of faith.”

    The question might be whether one publicly admits doubt, as Augie was willing to do.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  23. Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith. –Paul Tillich

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  24. PD Shaw says:

    Younger folks are simply more likely to figure that, if their religion is teaching them things that they believe to be silly–such as that homosexuality is wrong–then their religion must be silly, too.

    That’s just silly; its as if homosexuality is what Christianity is about. Anybody who thinks homosexuality is not wrong would likely have to make great effort to find themselves in a church service next Sunday where homosexuality is even mentioned.

    The Baby Bommers maintained their identity as Christians (or Jews), but were too self-indulgant to attend services or do anything that inconvenienced their prior desires. They raised children who watched what their parents did, not what they said.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 5

  25. I wonder how much the absolutist phrasing of the question “I never doubt the existence of God” has to do with the responses? It could be the Millenials aren’t less religious, they’re just more likely to accept they may be wrong about things. I’d like to see results for less absolute phrasings like “I consider it very likely/somewhat likely/somewhat unlikely/very unlikely that God exists”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  26. James Joyner says:

    @john personna: @Stormy Dragon: I agree that the question wording sucks. “Always” and “never” are almost always distractors in these things. But they’ve been asking exactly the same question over 25 years, so the wording is a constant, not a variable.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  27. Scott says:

    In broad general terms, it seems throughout history that whenever a religious establishment gains power, there is almost an opposite reaction, e.g, the anti-clericalism that swept through Mexico in the 20s and 30s. We may be seeing a similar reaction to the rise of the religious right here in the US.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  28. @James Joyner:

    The word is the same, but the way people react to it may not be.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  29. Tlaloc says:

    It is very smug to call the continued secularization of America an unalloyed good. Without a faith in the transcendent,

    It’s vastly more smug to assume if people don;t believe in your god they believe in nothing beyond themselves.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  30. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon: True. Given the abruptness of the change, though, it strikes me that social attitudes about things like gay marriage have changed faster than our perception of the word “never.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  31. Tlaloc says:

    Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith. –Paul Tillich

    Faith is the borg; everything else must be assimilated as part of the faith, or denied to even exist…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  32. Tlaloc says:

    if you look at the track of the previous cohort (the gen-xers) you;ll see a big dip in their faith before it rebounded most of the way and leveled out. We may well see the same thing with the millenials, unfortunately.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  33. anjin-san says:

    I have observed that for the most part, they and their friends are not interested in organized religion, yet most seem definitely interested in spirituality. They are not New Age types either.

    I’m inclined to agree. A lot of young people I talk to clearly have a great interest in developing a rich spiritual life. They seem less interested in traditional religious doctrine and the “if you want to talk to God, you have to talk to me first – PS, don’t forget to bring money” approach to spirituality we see so much of.

    I think we are also seeing some of the benefits of having time for some of the ideas of the 60s to become more mainstream – tolerance, free thinking, and please don’t tell me who I have to hate…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  34. swbarnes2 says:

    @PD Shaw:

    That’s just silly; its as if homosexuality is what Christianity is about.

    If your Christian teachers are telling you things about gay people and Jesus, and you can see that they are full of crap about gay people, then it’s only logical to figure that they are as full of crap about Jesus and God.

    Anybody who thinks homosexuality is not wrong would likely have to make great effort to find themselves in a church service next Sunday where homosexuality is even mentioned.

    But that’s not the point. If those Christians are so utterly wrong about people they can observed every day, why expect them to be right about a bunch of theological stuff that can’t be observed at all?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  35. PD Shaw says:

    @anjin-san: Is it possible for a youth in San Francisco to find a church that isn’t presided over by a backcountry minister demanding that we round up gays into concentration camps?

    The rest of your comment suggests youth are making choices independently from organized religion. Belief in God is not the same as agreement with organized religion, it never has been.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  36. Rob in CT says:

    I love that ~70% is “low.”

    You might file this right alongside the data concerning people’s faith in institutions. Religions are institutions.

    Granted, this is just asking about belief in God, which isn’t the same as organized religion.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  37. grumpy realist says:

    @Greg R. Lawson: What does a belief in the transcendent have to do with a belief in God?

    You remind me of the survey people who asked me about my religious belief:

    “Do you believe in God?”

    “What do you mean by God?”

    “Well, you know, God.”

    (I think for a moment.) “Is your deity a self-aware god?”

    (survey taker looks aback, then turns to other survey taker:) “Hey, what do we mean by this question?!”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  38. grumpy realist says:

    @Greg R. Lawson: P.S. in too many cases, “God” is simply nothing more than an appeal to an invisible authority figure to support the speaker’s own belief/claims as why he should be obeyed.

    Instant authority–just add water!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  39. WR says:

    @Tlaloc: My hat is off to you, sir (or madam).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  40. ernieyeball says:

    “Thank God…to remove “God” as arbiter?..Believing in God and doubting the existence of God are not necessarily mutually exclusive…the pointy-hat people on Earth who claim to speak for God… god standing between the first Hitler and the rest of us…if you want to talk to God, you have to talk to me first…”
    Will someone please define God?

    “Lutheran Church Missouri Synod” Do you still teach that the Pope is the anti-Christ? Seems like I remember this from my Luther’s Catechism class 50 years ago.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  41. mattb says:

    @ernieyeball:

    Do you still teach that the Pope is the anti-Christ?

    Yes… but not in the revelation-ie sort of way (apparently Luther wasn’t a big fan of Revelations).

    But that typically isn’t covered in confirmation.

    And man, when I first found out about it, it took a while to wrap my head around the logic.

    Generally speaking things are a bit warmer between the Lutherans and the Catholics now a-days.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  42. mattb says:

    BTW, for an exploration of the Lutheran doctrine behind the entire Pope/AntiChrist thing (which Michelle Bachmann got wrapped up in last year), I’d recommend this (dense) read on the subject via one of the Lutheran Synod sites:

    http://www.wels.net/about-wels/doctrinal-statements/antichrist?page=0,0

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  43. PD Shaw says:

    @mattb: Were you actually taught the Pope was the anti-Christ, or did you independently learn this was the position of the Church?

    The reason I wonder was I found the Michaelle Bachman episode on this amusing. First, that the MSM seemed unaware that this bit of Luther’s legacy persists in the beliefs of the Lutheran churches, and second that she must be lying when she denied knowing of it. I found it quite plausible that the Pope was no longer a preoccupation and issue of instruction in the twentieth century.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  44. PD Shaw says:

    @mattb: I don’t know if that link answers my question; I was typing my question/comment before you posted it, but I’ll have to read the link later.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  45. Jeremy says:

    @grumpy realist: Hey, look! Another ignostic! High five!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  46. G.A. says:

    Sigh…..one doubts most anyone here has one single clue about what a Christian is or who God is at all.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 16

  47. mattb says:

    @PD Shaw: Short answer, to the best of my memory, the topic never came up in either the ~2 year confirmation process or in any Sunday School/Church services.

    But even within a given synod, there’s a lot of flexibility on what is covered beyond the core doctrinal material. There really wasn’t an effort — at least on Long Island — to push the distinctions between the modern Lutheran and Catholic churches.

    I think I had first found out about I was in my mid 20′s and at the time I shrugged it off — assuming that the topic had something to do with Revelations and my own media-biased idea of what the Anti-Christ was.

    I think I finally wrapped my head around the entire thing a little before the Bachmann controversy came up.

    Generally speaking this is exactly the sort of issue that the media does a terrible job of covering because its a pretty doctrinally dense issue.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  48. MM says:

    @G.A.: Or a true scotsman.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  49. al-Ameda says:

    @PD Shaw:

    The Baby Bommers maintained their identity as Christians (or Jews), but were too self-indulgant to attend services or do anything that inconvenienced their prior desires. They raised children who watched what their parents did, not what they said.

    That is certainly the shallow easy-to-consume stereotype that pop sociologists lay on the baby boomers, isn’t it?

    I’m a baby boomer who grew up in the Catholic Church. I went through the sacraments, and so forth – it was essentially by rote and with not much belief and conviction on my part. Half of my eight siblings experienced it in the same manner, and to no one’s surprise half of us are lapsed Catholics who attend church primarily on Christmas and Easter and for friends and family occasions such as baptisms, first communions, marriages, and so forth. It has nothing to do with self-indulgence.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  50. mattb says:

    @PD Shaw:

    I found it quite plausible that the Pope was no longer a preoccupation and issue of instruction in the twentieth century.

    Generally speaking this is the case. Easpecially for us God-less NorthEastern Lutherans who live in close proximity to Papists and Juh-oos.

    That said, I know that as you head into the Midwest and Pennsyl-tucky areas things get pretty old school with a capital “O”. So it’s entirely possible that in those Churches this teaching becomes much more front and center.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  51. G.A. says:

    @G.A.: Or a true scotsman.

    Blah….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5

  52. G.A. says:

    0 2

    Ok then what is a Christian and who is God….

    This should be good for some lolsI mean heartfelt sighs.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  53. Clearly I am outnumbered here. However, for clarity, I think people should read a bit more carefully before casting their stones.

    My reference to Hitler in full:

    “What then stands between us and the next Hitler? Especially if we begin enhancing humans through DNA manipulation and bio-engineering?

    Transhumanists actually believe we can “TRANScend” human nature. If we do that through those efforts, it may actually be a debatable issue whether humans have rights much as it becomes debatable whether animals have rights. After all, humans will then be on a lower rung on the evolution ladder. With DNA manipulation and bio-technology, this potential is no longer a strictly fantasy notion. This is what Singulatarians like Ray Kurzweil postulate and Kurzweil is far from being considered a kook, so I would say this may become mainstream in a relatively short period of time.

    We’re quite obviously not there, but we’re not there YET. Faith in an external judge can block us from becoming, or at least attempting to become our own gods, a project many secularists seem to want to accomplish going all the way back to Nietzsche with his “Ubermensch.”
    Once we become so convinced, it may be a thinner line that separates us from Hitler than we think. Its not the specifics of his ideology I was talking about, it was the fact he and the Nazis were an extension of actual scientific theories like eugenics which came long before him.

    Nietzsche was actually worried about the nihilism that resulted after we “Killed God” in his famous words. Does anyone wonder why he saw a connection between nihilism and the “death of God.” Yes, he tried to conquer that through the Ubermensch and transcendent beings, but he recognized what you get, “the Last Man.” Even Fukuyama in his triumphal “End of History” thesis despaired of the “Last Man…”

    Also, Communists, avowed atheists that they were, committed quite grandiose atrocities in the name of making a utopia here on Earth. Look at the death tolls of Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. The blood on the pages of Communism’s history are even more than Hitler and, by the way, a Polish Pope (ie. a Christian) is generally considered to have played a large role (though in battling back Communism at a critical stage of history.

    Max Weber, a pretty well known sociologist, discussed the “Protestant Work Ethic” and its importance to the growth of capitalism. Yes, he has been criticized since, but the point stands that the Christian underpinnings of morality seem to help a great deal. At the very least is debatable and not something that can cavalierly be dismissed.

    By the way, why did none of the critics above confront the demographic question I raised? Check this out for context, http://american.com/archive/2012/may/why-the-future-will-be-more-religious-and-more-conservative-than-you-think.

    My general point was that those who call the decline of faith an unabashedly good thing may be missing some pretty important positives associated with religion. I stand by that and would argue that numerous statistics and thought experiments bear this out.

    We can quibble over radical right wing religion and quieter variants of faith until the cows come home, but I think the casual glee some people who have commented here have over a decline in faith is misguided and indicative of a significant cultural issue we should confront rather than embrace.

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  54. An Interested Party says:

    Also, Communists, avowed atheists that they were, committed quite grandiose atrocities in the name of making a utopia here on Earth. Look at the death tolls of Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. The blood on the pages of Communism’s history are even more than Hitler and, by the way, a Polish Pope (ie. a Christian) is generally considered to have played a large role (though in battling back Communism at a critical stage of history.

    Oh yes of course, because as we all know, throughout the whole of human history, there were never any killings, massacres, torture, or other heinous acts committed (against large numbers of people) in the name of religion, right?

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  55. michael reynolds says:

    I think it’s pretty simple. Western civilization has secularized for the excellent reason that there is precisely zero evidence that any sort of God exists. The US is just behind the curve.

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  56. @ An Interested Party

    Of course you are correct but miss the point.

    The point is not to say that religion, Christianity or otherwise, has a pristine history. The point is to raise the question as to whether the advent of secularization is an unvarnished good. Clearly, avowed secularists can be every bit (and one can legitimately argue more) bloody as they seek to impose their terrestrial utopias or as Eric Voegelin says (and I mentioned above), they seek to “immanentize the eschaton.”

    I seek merely to have people pause before assuming this is a good trend.

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  57. @michael reynolds: Ironically enough, to be a devil’s advocate, what is the definitive proof a God does not exist? Has science managed this feat yet? I agree that evidence does not prove a god’s existence, but question the that the absence of proof is necessarily an absence of existence.

    After all, we still are debating “Dark Matter”, multiple dimensions and multi-verses as well. We don’t yet know what all of that is. We also are still seeking the Higgs Boson, though we may finally be getting close on that one, http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2012/0612/CERN-scientists-excruciatingly-close-to-discovering-Higgs-boson

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  58. @grumpy realist: Valid point. Religion and “God” can clearly be misused, but that doesn’t automatically obviate its usefulness either.

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  59. Ben Wolf says:

    @Greg R. Lawson:

    Ironically enough, to be a devil’s advocate, what is the definitive proof a God does not exist? Has science managed this feat yet? I agree that evidence does not prove a god’s existence, but question the that the absence of proof is necessarily an absence of existence.

    There’s no reasonable explanation for a god who wants us to believe in her yet goes to extraordinary lengths to eliminate any evidence of her existence. And no, an omniscient god wouldn’t need to test our faith because she’d know exactly how much we’re each capable of. Testing would be redundant.

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  60. mattb says:

    @Greg R. Lawson:

    Max Weber, a pretty well known sociologist, discussed the “Protestant Work Ethic” and its importance to the growth of capitalism. Yes, he has been criticized since, but the point stands that the Christian underpinnings of morality seem to help a great deal. At the very least is debatable and not something that can cavalierly be dismissed.

    I think you really need to reread Weber in that his argument, which we can get into the validity or not — is not that Capitalism is an outgrowth of Christianity, but rather an outgrowth of a very specific form of Protestantism (i.e. Calvinism). He is rather explicit that other Christian Sects — in particular Catholicism — were less structurally suited to be a launching point for modern capitalism.

    Additionally it should be noted that Weber also states that almost as soon as the Calvinist bent in Christianity gave birth to the nascent form of modern American capitalism, capitalism became disconnected from Christianity/Calvinism and became a secular force unto itself, trapping culture within his famed “Iron Cage” which is completely apart from any sort of Christian (let alone Calvinist) morality. In fact, as he’s following Marx (though going in an entirely different direction) it’s fair to say that Weber sees absolutely no moral or Christian component in Modern Capitalism. (And for extra points, we can go all the way back to Smith who saw not relgious or inherently moral component in Capitalism).

    So, why did I spend all that time in that explanation?

    As I look across the post that you mentioned Weber in, I’m struck by how your argument contains all the hallmarks of someone who has read a lot of stuff and apparently understood very little of it. Your analysis of Nietzsche has some of the same problems as your gloss of Weber in that it’s superficial and tuned more to your beliefs about the text than what the text says.

    Rather than going down the singularity path — and man, I’ve noticed how a certain type of Christian has a real hard-on for Kurzwiel (who deserves to be questioned, but not for the reasons you list) — a better place to start would have been to actually address the issues that I and others had discussed with your original post.

    I realize that it may seem like you’re putting forward a deeply intellectual argument. The problem you face is that you’ve hit a site where a lot of us have read your sources (and arguably more closely than you have based on your gloss of Nietzsche and Weber). I’m going to guess that this won’t be the typical discussion environment that you are used to.

    Why not start by actually addressing the points that we raised and we can discuss from there?

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  61. mattb says:

    @Greg R. Lawson:

    Ironically enough, to be a devil’s advocate, what is the definitive proof a God does not exist?

    The problem with this line of argumentation is that, as Douglas Adams brilliantly pointed out, true faith can only exist in the absence of true proof.

    And, in fact, it goes deeper than Douglas Adams, and right back to the main man JC. The entire story of doubting Thomas (along with numerous other parables and incidents in the Gospels) is an abject lesson in the fact that religious faith should only exist in the absence of immediate proof.

    @Ben also nicely sets up the logical problem with proving God’s existence too.

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  62. @mattb:
    Yes the point of faith is to believe in the absence of proof. My point was to counter the notion that just because we have no proof of existence does not neccessarily mean a lack of existence.

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  63. mattb says:

    @Greg R. Lawson:

    Yes the point of faith is to believe in the absence of proof. My point was to counter the notion that just because we have no proof of existence does not neccessarily mean a lack of existence.

    Fair, but the bigger problem is that if you acknowledge the idea that you cannot prove the existence of God, then any argument based on proof — even the idea of has x been disproved — is problematic from the start.

    In other words, its an argument that gets your side no where — especially since in making it you are implicitly suggesting the “proof” matters. This is a problem if, at the same time you are acknowledging that you are defending something that can never be proven.

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  64. ernieyeball says:

    just because we have no proof of existence

    don’t you have to define god before you can decide what “proof of existence” would be?

    on the other hand not demanding “proof of existence” means you (the god believers) can make up anything you want and we are supposed to accept it because you claim it is true and must be accepted on faith……

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  65. @mattb:
    There is a cottage industry of varying interpretations of Nietzsche. It is clear he was an opponenf of nihilism. One can debate the allure of transcendence to him.

    As for Weber, the point I am consistently trying to make is that religion is not ipso facto a negative thing which seemed to me to be the dominant, though not exclusive, trend in thinking here. I am aware of the specifically Protestant nature of his argument. I also am well aware oc his views on modern capitalism. Again, if we do take his views on the genesis of American, specifically, capitalism, there is a positive role for at least some form of Christianity to have played rather than it being some overwhelmingly bad influence. I even said it was debatable but therein lies my point. There seem to be many comments here that want to be derisively dismissive of faith without acknowleding many benefits that accrue to it.
    As fo your slippery slope, it probably was overwrought, but does a secularist believe in transcendence?

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  66. Scott O. says:

    Not only is there no proof of god, there isn’t even any evidence.

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  67. mattb says:

    @Greg R. Lawson:

    As for Weber, the point I am consistently trying to make is that religion is not ipso facto a negative thing which seemed to me to be the dominant, though not exclusive,

    But it should have been clear to you that I was arguing against your initial thesis WITHOUT arguing that Religion is a negative thing (especially since I consider myself to be a religious person).

    My issue is your position that without Religion then morality falls apart (or that morality must be God given in the way that judeoChristians understand it). Again, there is a huge amount of persistent cultural evidence to suggest that this is an incorrect assumption — regardless about how you feel about religion.

    Beyond all of that, I have an issue with the idea that Weber necessarily considers “modern capitalism” a good thing in the way that you seem to. Let me remind you that he refers to modern capitalism and it’s effects as an “Iron Cage”… not exactly the happiest stuff that’s ever been written on the subject.

    As fo your slippery slope, it probably was overwrought, but does a secularist believe in transcendence?

    Yes! Clearly. There have been countless secularists who have written about the possibility, hope and promise of transcendence (Vonnegut immediately comes to mind). To pretend that they don’t exist, or that the concept of transcendence is somehow only reserved to Christianity or other religions of the Book is a flawed premise from the start.

    As is to somehow reduce the broad range of spiritual beliefs expressed in different cultures to a western understanding of Religion.

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  68. jan says:

    @Greg R. Lawson:

    I enjoyed reading your posts. Even though you were ‘outnumbered,’ your point was well debated. Having ‘faith’ is difficult for those who are captivated by science, so much so, that nothing exists without ‘proof.’ We have become so enamored with scientific doctrine (or indoctrination), that the vast areas of ‘unknowns’ in life, and beyond, are vigorously disputed, despite the reality that at some point we all don’t exist, and no one really knows what happens after that.

    That’s where having ‘faith’ becomes the poultice in bridging the gaps of what we don’t understand. It also helps us to become more aware of and accept life’s synchronicities as being derived from higher powers other then ourselves, putting a check on one’s ego, while gracing our persona with greater dollops of humility.

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  69. Franklin says:

    @G.A.: How very high and mighty of you. Is that what the Bible tells you to do with your faith?

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  70. john personna says:

    @jan:

    You did the worst thing there, setting faith in opposition to science.

    Remember, scientists themselves break about 50/50 on religiosity.

    The false choice, that the religious must reject science would lead to fundamentalism and stagnation – either that or a “two cultures” where the fundamentalists depend in atheists for their space stations, etc

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  71. G.A. says:

    @G.A.: How very high and mighty of you. Is that what the Bible tells you to do with your faith?

    I don’t get your point,.to be sad for you?

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  72. @mattb:
    Understood.

    I reiterate that my point in initially commenting was never to debate the intricacies of Weber, Nietzsche or Kurzweil. My point was to push back against what appears to me to be an overwhelming trend here to assume it to be a good thing that it appears the secularization trend is growing in the US. Am I wrong here in terms of this trend?

    Since you also accuse me of misreading Nietzsche, here is a quote from Thus Spoke Zarathustra,

    “The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

    “How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us—for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.

    I never said Nietzsche despaired of killing “God”, but I did say he felt it immensely important to replace God with something we ourselves create. His transcendence is a conquering of what it means to be human and to become something greater.

    Again, another Nietzsche quote,

    Man is a rope, fastened between animal and Superman – a rope over an abyss.

    A dangerous going-across, a dangerous wayfaring, a dangerous looking-back, a dangerous shuddering and staying-still.

    What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal; what can be loved in man is that he is a going-across and a down-going.

    Man is clearly not an end to Nietzsche, but is to be transcended. So how does man transcend himself? Eugencists in the 19th and early 20th Century seemed to have some ideas how to “purify” man and they did so on the altar o what they believed to be the all powerful altar of science, most importantly, settled science. By the way, I am not saying this is a direct tie to Nietzsche any more than I would say Nietzsche was a Nazi (which many seem to attempt). Yet, there is a kernel in his thinking that opens the path to such outcomes. Is it a slippery slope? Of course, but slippery slopes are real.

    A faith or any religion, not necessarily Christian (though I think it i the best embodiment of this), that appreciates the uniqueness of man by a higher standard helps to inoculate (though obviously it too can fail as is historically demonstrable with any religion) against some of this hubris.

    Great writers like Shelly and Robert Louis Stevenson wrote of the dangers of a headlong rush into tweaking all too much the natural order of things. Of course, I am not arguing science is bad or that it has not yielded immense benefits to mankind, my point is that a certain element of religiosity helps tap the brake and make people think through the consequences of their actions before a headlong rush into the unknown. It should not prevent experimentation and the seeking of as much knowledge as we are capable of assimilating, it is meant as a caution because there is a risk that a slippery slope that many (if not oneself) could slide down is real.

    It is within that context that I sought to make people consider their rush to judgment that it is a good thing religious faith is declining.

    I well understand that after such a debate, many will conclude that it is still a good thing, but I sense that this debate has not really been joined. Simple aspersions are cast, derogatory comments made. You, particularly, may not have been critical from the religious aspect, but it evident that many others are and, from the nature of those comments, they do seem quite smug in the assurance of their correctness. It is to them I am speaking.

    As a final aside, I remain curious as to what people think regarding the demographics question I raised. No one has yet stated unequivocally that faith plays no role in the expansion of population. Do they think so?

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  73. Ben Wolf says:

    @Greg R. Lawson:

    No one has yet stated unequivocally that faith plays no role in the expansion of population. Do they think so?

    Why would anyone care?

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  74. Mikey says:

    @Greg R. Lawson:

    my point is that a certain element of religiosity helps tap the brake and make people think through the consequences of their actions before a headlong rush into the unknown

    Funny thing, I have no “religiosity” whatsoever and I have absolutely no problem thinking through the consequences of my actions before taking them.

    This whole concept, that most people are apparently too stupid/venal/murderous/(insert negative attribute here) to deal with life unless they believe in the magical sky fairy, is just ridiculous.

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  75. Mikey says:

    @Nikki: Exactly this.

    Whenever I hear some religious person ask a question like this, I ask right back: why didn’t God stand between us and the FIRST Hitler?

    Not to mention the first Lenin, the first Stalin, the first Mao, the first Pol Pot, the first Kim…the second Kim…the third Kim…

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  76. Ben Wolf says:

    @Greg R. Lawson:

    Eugencists in the 19th and early 20th Century seemed to have some ideas how to “purify” man and they did so on the altar o what they believed to be the all powerful altar of science, most importantly, settled science.

    The concept of eugenics predates science by thousands of years. Plato recommended it in Athens while the Spartans actively pursued improving human quality via mate selection and infanticide. Eugenics was never properly a science because it did not allow for proper observation, looking at one or two generations at most before declaring judgement on a family’s or individual’s genetic integrity, nor did it distinguish correlation from causation.

    A faith or any religion, not necessarily Christian (though I think it i the best embodiment of this), that appreciates the uniqueness of man by a higher standard helps to inoculate (though obviously it too can fail as is historically demonstrable with any religion) against some of this hubris.

    Asserting that humans are “higher” is hubris, the childish belief that one really is the center of the universe and is above all other things in the eyes of a magnificent creator. Obssession with ego is the hallmark of monotheistic worship and results in little more than justification for bad acts. It is the opposite of humility.

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  77. J-Dub says:

    I had an ultra-Christian co-worker ask the question as it relates to my atheism, “What keeps you from being a rapist?”. Uhhh, if the only thing keeping you from being a rapist is a book then remind me to keep you away from my family.

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  78. J-Dub says:

    Debating people whose position, by definition of faith, requires absolutely no evidence to support their position, seems infinitely pointless to me.

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  79. Phillip says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    Asserting that humans…opposite of humility

    That last paragraph was prophetic, sir. But I fear the monotheists have “hardened their hearts” to any rebuke that doesn’t come straight from the pulpit.

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  80. Bleev K says:

    Religion is like socialism, an ideology who has no respect for individual. For religion or socialism, man is bad and society is good. I believe the exact oposite.

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  81. @Ben Wolf: @Ben Wolf:
    For clarification, if humans aren’t higher, as that is so evidently an act of supreme hubris, why not eradicate annoying ones like one kills termites in a house or ants? Or are humans higher than those animals, but not necessarily others? Is there a hierarchy? If so, who is on top? If not, then how do we justify killing insects or any other animal for that matter, after all life is then equal?

    I am not saying any of those positions are ones that you share, but they could be logical positions if it is merely a hubristic assumption that humans are “higher.” I also know this question must be terribly similar to your “rapist” question you mention. But you didn’t really answer the question, you just brushed it off. If you were permitted, absent a law or a god, why would you not do it? That is a legitimate question. Because you feel guilty? Why? Is guilt an evolved human response? Is it a fig leaf to cover a utilitarian view of reciprocity?

    Dostoevsky wrote this in the Brothers Karamazov,

    And Rakitin doesn’t like God, oof, how he doesn’t! That’s the sore spot in all of them! But they conceal it. They lie. They pretend. ‘What, are you going to push for that in the department of criticism?’ I asked. ‘Well, they won’t let me do it openly,’ he said, and laughed. ‘But,’ I asked, ‘how will man be after that? Without God and the future life? It means everything is permitted now, one can do anything?’ ‘Didn’t you know?’ he said. And he laughed. ‘Everything is permitted to the intelligent man,’ he said. ‘The intelligent man knows how to catch crayfish, but you killed and fouled it up,’ he said, ‘and now you’re rotting in prison!’ He said that to me. A natural-born swine! I once used to throw the likes of him out—well, and now I listen to them.

    I am aware there is some debate over the exact translation and just because Dostoevsky said it is clearly not an authoritative proof that God is necessary. But it raises the question, when looked at in conjunction with Nietzsche, what happens when humans try to become gods?

    Ultimately, man needs idols. They can be religious or secular in nature, but idols they are. Without them, where is your meaning? Does it just emanate from us by nature? And what is nature? What was the beginning? Is there a beginning? Does science answer that question? And even if it comes to prove the Big Bang, doesn’t that just lead to more questions as to that event’s own origin?

    I suppose we could all aspire to be Socrates and pure philosophers (or pure Epicureans).

    Maybe that is our meaning and purpose. Maybe there is no God. But to assert it as a fact with a blase attitude is striking.

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  82. Rob in CT says:

    How many people assert that as fact, though?

    Most of us who do not believe are agnostics. Sure, I think it’s unlikely there is a god or gods (and vanishingly unlikely that it’s the God of the Bible, Torah, Koran…), but I do not assert this as fact. I strongly suspect it, given that there is no evidence of gods and also that the various religious stories and codes quite plausibly exist to further human ends (that is, I think people made them up). For instance, the Hebrew story of how God told them to go take out the Caananites. Heh. That’s classic propoganda. You see, we were entirely just when we came down from the hills, slaughtered/enslaved you and took your lands. God told us to do it! Really! It looks a little clumsy now, but at the time that was some state of the art stuff. Compare and contrast with the run-up to the Iraq war, and I think the ancient Hebrew propogandists come off rather well.

    I’ve been encountering variations of this argument (that w/o God how can you be moral?) since my freshman year in college. The first encounter was with a Catholic (who chose to become one, rejecting the agnosticism of his parents) friend who simply couldn’t square two things in his head: a) I seemed a decent fellow, with good morals; and b) I’m an unbeliever.

    This keeps coming up. To which I can only respond as follows:

    1) People do not get their morality from deities. They get their morality from their parents, their teachers (spiritual or otherwise), and the surrounding culture. It may be claimed that the moral code they learn is backed by the divine smiter, but this appears to be fantasy. People created and propogated these various codes. Just like secular philosophers do. The only difference is the claim of divine backing/inspiration.

    2) I see no reason, considering human history, to consider religious morality a plus. This does *not* mean that non-religious morality is superior. In fact, since I think the existence of a diety is highly unlikely and therefore the religious morality of the past to have been created by and for humans and humans alone, I would predict little change for better or worse.

    The guy (or gal, but it’s usually been guys) who comes up with a set of rules by which other people should live often backs it up with divinity. It’s the ultimate appeal to authority. Do as I say, or God will smite you! I think it’s time to put aside childish things, and accept that we’ve been working this out for ourselves all along.

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  83. mattb says:

    @Greg R. Lawson:
    First of all, thanks for hanging in on this discussion.

    For clarification, if humans aren’t higher, as that is so evidently an act of supreme hubris, why not eradicate annoying ones like one kills termites in a house or ants? Or are humans higher than those animals, but not necessarily others?

    Congratulations, you’ve just hit one of the core questions of Buddhism. I should also note that this is a fundamental question that is struggled with by radical atheist feminists as well (see Donna Haraway’s most recent writings like “When Species Meet” as one example of an attempt to seriously ask nontheologically based questions on the ethics of killing and inter-species relationships).

    And again, this gets to the fundamentals of our (you and I) debate. Let me try and directly address a few points:

    My point was to push back against what appears to me to be an overwhelming trend here to assume it to be a good thing that it appears the secularization trend is growing in the US.

    Personally, I find radical atheism as problematic as radical religiosity — both sides in attempting to put forward a “total” truth end up making arguments that just don’t hold together.

    To be clear, I don’t see a move to secularization as either a good or bad thing. The devil is always in the details.

    My issue with your like of thought from the beginning, is not that you are “standing up” for religion, but rather that your arguments (across all your posts) suggest that there is no other *good* possibility than Religion for guiding human morality and/or transcendence.

    Writing from my perspective as a Christian Humanist and a Cultural Anthropologist, I find both claims problematic.

    Across your posts, you have suggested first that there is no possibility of moral transcendence outside of religious structures. I and others have pointed out that there are in fact numerous examples.

    In fact, one need look no further than Nietzsche to see an example of someone who argues for how the thoughtful, interrogated quest for transcendence, in and of itself, can create its own transcendence and moral framework.

    And this gets to the larger problem that I’ve been trying to point out with the way you have been citing material to “back up” your argument. You first used Weber as such:

    Max Weber, a pretty well known sociologist, discussed the “Protestant Work Ethic” and its importance to the growth of capitalism. Yes, he has been criticized since, but the point stands that the Christian underpinnings of morality seem to help a great deal.

    The problem with this is Weber’s argument is different that how you are using him. First of all Weber notes that Christianity didn’t create Capitalism but rather Modern Capitalism. Next he explicitly notes that Capitalism isn’t necessarily good or moral (or has any moral connection to Calvinism) — it just simply is. In fact, he arguably sees a lot of problems with Modern Capitalism, hence the Iron Cage.

    For Weber, Modern Capitalism is a piece of technology (broadly defined), like double column book keeping, bureaucracy, or the atomic bomb. But you attempted to use him to suggest that Christianity brought forth “good and moral” capitalism.

    Likewise you seem to at first use Nietzsche to argue that Nietzsche believed that God was necessary and that without God there can be no morality. As you correctly point out later, Nietzsche (to some degree following Marx and his German Ideology) is arguing that if man accepts that he created God, then Man must seek his transcendence within himself and create his moral system himself in that quest for transcendence. The abyss staring back at us is the recognition that the act of crossing it requires us to take more responsibility for ourselves (which is a prevalent theme in early Marx as well).

    Ultimately, man needs idols.

    I have no problem with the spirit of this statement. I would rephrase it that man needs to seek something beyond herself. And that something often becomes materialized as an idol (though the idol can be abstract).

    I suppose we could all aspire to be Socrates and pure philosophers (or pure Epicureans).

    Thank you. You’ve just opened up the possibility that there can be a route of transcendence that is not religiously based. That’s a good thing. And acknowledging that possibility in no way should take away from other religiously based paths.

    Maybe that is our meaning and purpose. Maybe there is no God. But to assert it as a fact with a blase attitude is striking.

    Fair points. Bu to assume that a blase attitude towards the existence of the divine equates an blase attitude towards the issue of morals and ethics is equally striking and problematic. That’s where you started. I think, though a good discussion, we’ve ended up at a different point.

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  84. grumpy realist says:

    @Greg R. Lawson: Then I’ll postulate the existence of Aphrodite, mmkay? And Thor. And Anubis. And Kali. And flying pink unicorns…. Why not believe in them as well?

    Napoleon to LaPlace, after reading his text on mathematics: “I see you did not include God in here.”

    Laplace back to Napoleon:” Sire, I had no need of that hypothesis.”

    A lot of us don’t believe in the typical conception of God because we have no need for that hypothesis. Prove us wrong.

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  85. mattb says:

    @john personna:

    You did the worst thing there, setting faith in opposition to science.

    Remember, scientists themselves break about 50/50 on religiosity.

    The false choice, that the religious must reject science would lead to fundamentalism and stagnation – either that or a “two cultures” where the fundamentalists depend in atheists for their space stations, etc

    This, this, 100X this!

    Science and Religion serve two separate, though at times overlapping, cultural purposes. To pretend that one can supersede the other is a mistake. It’s also a mistake to think they are in binary opposition with one always negating the other.

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  86. grumpy realist says:

    @Jeremy: I was going through my Taoist period at the time….

    A lot of religious belief does seem to break down between the monotheists and the polytheists/whatever/other. If you’re used to more than one god then it does seem a bit silly to go running around loudly proclaiming that My God Is The Best and trying to kill everyone else.

    And then there are the more philosophical belief systems. It’s a pity I keep running into Americans who are so insular they haven’t even been exposed to belief systems like Buddhism, Sufi-ism, and Taoism. (I remember trying to explain Buddhism to a Midwestern lady in her 60s and she was absolutely certain that it’s wasn’t a proper religion because it didn’t have a God.) A lot of the more esoteric belief systems do seem to all come together at the end.

    The reason I keep asking questions about self-aware gods and the like is because too many people think they have a belief in God and have never even stopped to think what their assumptions about God are. For far too many, God is the bearded white man up in the clouds whose authority they use to back up their own desires.

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  87. mattb says:

    @Greg R. Lawson: BTW, I realize that is seems like I’m getting overly hung up on Weber. The reason I keep returning to it is to point out an aspect of in your argument/line of thought that doesn’t hang together well.

    I appreciate the overall point — that Religions have produced more than suffering (the radical atheist strawman). But if you want to argue for the positive social impact of religions (or Christianity) rather than going to Weber and projecting stuff onto the text, I’d immediately point to the US civil rights movement which was directly tied to a number of religions of the Book.

    Do you see my point?

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  88. swbarnes2 says:

    @mattb:

    But if you want to argue for the positive social impact of religions (or Christianity) rather than going to Weber and projecting stuff onto the text, I’d immediately point to the US civil rights movement which was directly tied to a number of religions of the Book.

    And the forces opposing the civil rights movement were also directly tied to a number of religions of the book.

    ” I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church….I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?…So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.”

    Does anyone here think that self-described Christians were more likely to vote against NC’s Amendment 1 than for it?

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  89. mattb says:

    @swbarnes2: perhaps the most important lesson to take away is there is no single Christianity or any other religion. That allows us to see how much the ‘local’ (or rather locals) effects the interpretationand justification of morals.

    That said, the fact that some churches opposed civil rights does not negate the fact that others supported them. And there is nothing wrong with that contradiction.

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  90. Rob in CT says:

    @mattb:

    Much like, a century earlier, the abolitionists talked in stark religious terms… and so did their opponents, who dressed up slave power with their own religious rhetoric.

    Both sides slaughtering each other in the 30-years war seem to have thought God was on their side. And so on.

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  91. Mikey says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Both sides slaughtering each other in the 30-years war seem to have thought God was on their side.

    Not to mention the Crusades and pretty much all of the Old Testament. Why did we rubble that city and slaughter the inhabitants down to the last man, woman, child, goat, and housecat? God told us to, and that makes it A-OK!

    Religion seems to be a pretty spiffy tool for transforming one’s basest desires into Transcendent Truth.

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  92. G.A. says:

    So then I see we have a bunch non biblically educated voters who hate God because they don’t believe in Him and hate me for pointing it out. Swell……

    The reason I am sad for you…..The other reason is that I used to think the same way.

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  93. You can’t hate something you don’t believe exists, G.A.

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  94. Mikey says:

    @G.A.:

    non biblically educated

    I went to private religious school from grade 1 through high school graduation from a religious boarding school, and I earned straight A’s in all the religion classes. That’s 12 years of biblical instruction.

    I attended church weekly for 18 years.

    Baptized as a teenager, in my church that meant meeting requirements of Biblical and doctrinal knowledge.

    Read the Bible cover-to-cover, more than once.

    I’m more biblically educated than 99% of the Christians out there.

    And still atheist, not despite the above but BECAUSE OF IT.

    who hate God

    I don’t hate God any more than I hate the Easter Bunny. Can’t hate what doesn’t exist.

    I get so tired of believers who try to impute things to me that simply aren’t true.

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  95. ernieyeball says:

    The reason I am sad for you…

    I don’t want your pity. If you want to feel sorry for someone (for all the good it does) feel sorry for all the citizens sleeping in the streets or in soup lines. I’m doin’ just fine. And git yer finger out of yer nose…you are disgusting!

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  96. @mattb: I see your point and agree that I misused Weber. I actually largely agree with the thesis that modern, American style capitalism has a tendency to erode some of the very work ethics (Protestant or otherwise) that led to its creation.

    There’s a lot to unpack here, my hope is that all sides are a bit more open to dialogue than aspersions. Your continuing dialogue with me indicates this is certainly possible.

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  97. Bleev K says:

    @G.A.: I don’t hate what doesn’t exist. That’s why I don’t hate you. By the way, I’ve recently read The Book Of Genesis. Interesting book but knowing that people believe it to be true blows my mind.

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  98. Barry says:

    @Nikki: “…eah, all of that would kill my belief in god, too. ”

    Particularly as those who beat their breasts the most claiming to speak for God are most culpable.

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  99. John D'Geek says:

    @mantis:

    Hitler was a Christian. Tremendously stupid example.

    Actually, Hitler was creating his own religion based loosely on mysticism. The Swastika*, for instance, is actually an ancient symbol of Enlightenment — which he abducted for his own (political) purposes. (The History Channel is not a great historical source, but I think it did get this right).

    If you go to Asia and look closely (or pick up one of many books on Buddhism), you will still see the Swastika in it’s original form; it’s so closely associated with Buddhism in Japan, that Japanese Maps show Buddhist Temples with a Swastika.

    * Some will point out that the directions are different, one is a wheel spinning clockwise the other counter clockwise. I don’t, personally, think that’s significant but there it is.

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  100. mattb says:

    @Greg R. Lawson: Thanks for the great conversation. Glad that we’ve reached some shared understanding of each other’s perspectives. Let’s definitely keep unpacking!

    On Weber, I have to confess I’m a Weber junkie. :) And your comment is totally correct — he definitely argues that the same strengths that supported the strong Morality of Calvinism, once disconnected from the religion and applied to the development of Capitalism, in turn led to it’s excesses.

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  101. mattb says:

    MODs — there are two comments stuck in the spam que… any chance you could release one or the other?

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  102. mantis says:

    @John D’Geek:

    I’m quite familiar with the origins of the swastika. That doesn’t change the fact that Hitler was a Catholic.

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  103. mattb says:

    @mantis:

    That doesn’t change the fact that Hitler was a Catholic.

    No offense, but Hitler was Catholic in the same way Roy Coehn was straight.

    It’s one thing to say one is “X”, its an entirely different thing to live as “X.”

    Unless you are prepared to agree that Coehn was a “straight guy who just happened to almost exclusively sleep with men”, then the entire Hitler was Catholic is playing rather lose and fast with the truth.

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  104. al-Ameda says:

    @mantis:

    I’m quite familiar with the origins of the swastika. That doesn’t change the fact that Hitler was a Catholic.

    Hitler had brown eyes too. Time for a round up.

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  105. Mikey says:

    @mantis: @mattb:

    Hitler was raised in a Catholic household, and remained a formal member of the Catholic church for his entire life, but did not engage in the Catholic sacraments as an adult.

    Is a lapsed Catholic still a Catholic?

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  106. wr says:

    @Greg R. Lawson: Dostoevsky was a novelist. Various of his characters represented different ideas. The fact that one of his characters expresses an opinion that seems to match your point not only does not prove your claim true, it doesn’t even prove that Dostoevsky believed it.

    Or why I should be persuaded to agree with you simply because one (admittedly great) 19th century Russian novelist did…

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  107. mattb says:

    @Mikey:

    Is a lapsed Catholic still a Catholic?

    Entirely depends. Given that in my mind, belonging to a religion is based on constant action, in my mind, no.

    Part of that is a simple question: can you make a coherent argument that Hitler’s ongoing actions as an adult in sustained way represent the actions of a “good” Catholic (and note that this isn’t a “no true scotsman” argument). Did he go to church, did he take sacrament, did he engage in confession, did his actions in his everyday life comply with the teachings and beliefs of the church?

    All objective historical facts point to: no.

    Like the example that I used earlier, when one examines the life of Roy Coehn, it’s hard to argue (based on his actions rather than his words) that he was “straight.”

    And given that Catholicism is a relgiious demarcation versus a label that is once Religious and Ethnic (like Jewishness), you can’t argue that once a Catholic, always a Catholic.

    There are enough deplorable historical figures who did actively “practice” their religions to choose from (start with Spanish Conquistadors as one example, or the role Christians played in the Genocide of Native Americas). Trying to shoehorn Hitler into that group is just bad history, theology, and argumentation.

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  108. mattb says:

    @Mikey:

    remained a formal member of the Catholic church for his entire life

    But short of renouncing his own membership or eventually being excommunicated, being a “member” of the catholic church is a largely passive action. So it’s not the stablest ground to hang one’s argument on.

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  109. mantis says:

    @al-Ameda, @mattb, @Mikey:

    You guys can have fun arguing over whether Hitler was Catholic enough. I was responding to a comment by Lawson in which he basically said atheism leads to Hitler. I pointed out Hitler was not an atheist, but a Catholic, so such an assertion was absurdly stupid to make. Whether Hitler practiced Catholicism to your satisfaction or not doesn’t change my point in the least. Hitler was not an atheist, and atheism didn’t cause the Holocaust.

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  110. mantis says:

    @al-Ameda, @mattb, @Mikey,

    You guys can have fun arguing over whether Hitler was Catholic enough. I was responding to a comment by Lawson in which he basically said atheism leads to Hitler. I pointed out Hitler was not an atheist, but a Catholic, so such an assertion was absurdly stupid to make. Whether Hitler practiced Catholicism to your satisfaction or not doesn’t change my point in the least. Hitler was not an atheist, and atheism didn’t cause the Holocaust.

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  111. mattb says:

    @mantis:

    I pointed out Hitler was not an atheist, but a Catholic, so such an assertion was absurdly stupid to make. Whether Hitler practiced Catholicism to your satisfaction or not doesn’t change my point in the least. Hitler was not an atheist, and atheism didn’t cause the Holocaust.

    Totally agree. I called Lawson on it in my first response. I think it was a wrong statement then. I still do.

    That said, flipping to the opposite pole and suggesting that Catholicism can be tied to the Holocaust, as I read @Mikey to do is an equally wrong statement. And that’s what I was calling him on.

    A lot of terrible things have been done in the name of Religion, but the Holocaust wasn’t one of them.

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  112. mantis says:

    @mattb:

    That said, flipping to the opposite pole and suggesting that Catholicism can be tied to the Holocaust, as I read @Mikey to do is an equally wrong statement. And that’s what I was calling him on.

    I get you. I didn’t mean it that way. I don’t blame the Holocaust on Catholicism or the Catholic Church. European anti-semitism that helped create the conditions in which the Holocaust happened? I do think the church did its part in that regard, but that ain’t the same thing.

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  113. Mikey says:

    @mattb:

    suggesting that Catholicism can be tied to the Holocaust, as I read @Mikey to do

    If that’s how your read it, you’ve inferred something I did not intend to imply. It wasn’t my objective to tie Catholicism to the Holocaust at all, actually, but rather to point out that Hitler was, at least formally, Catholic. In fact, I personally doubt his formal Catholicism had anything to do with the monstrous acts for which he was responsible.

    However, Hitler was, most certainly, not an atheist, his lack of adherence to the rituals of Catholicism notwithstanding.

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  114. mattb says:

    @Mikey: Apologies. I then misread — easy to do in a thread like this.

    I totally agree that Hitler wasn’t an Atheist. I think its also fair to say that despite whatever he was raised, he wasn’t a Catholic, let alone a Christian for most of his adult life. I would rather classify him as a deist.

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  115. Mikey says:

    @mattb: I’ve heard that as well, that some think he was a Deist. I wouldn’t dismiss that possibility–much of his public speech would point to Christianity, but who can say what was his true belief and what was just meant for public consumption? He was, after all, one of history’s most masterful manipulators.

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