Wednesday, July 23, 2008

40,000 men and women everyday

That was in 1976. It’s probably more like 80,000 now.

Death is the greatest equalizer ever. It’s the thing that Bill Gates and a starving child in Zimbabwe have in common. Their life-styles bear no resemblance, but they will both die and there is nothing that Gates’ fortune can do to prevent it. The greatest minds and the best science have not made a dent in this particular “problem”. Despite endless optimism, there is no impending Singularity.

We all “fear the Reaper”. Some of us have made an uneasy peace with the sure and certain knowledge of our finite existence. Others, most people, have not and they only have one answer, albeit a piss-poor one. They escape dealing with it through the use of the supernatural. Some think Jesus, Allah or Yahweh will take them to live eternally in heaven. Others think their soul will experience reincarnation. Still others have various other gods or spirits that they plan on living with as soon as this life is over. Unfortunately, in almost every case, there is a minimizing of this life in favor of the mystical next.

It’s my strong, yet unconfirmed hypothesis that fear of death is the single strongest impetus for association with a religious group or philosophy. In an attempt to get some small, unscientific indication that I am right, I contacted 30 Christian bloggers and asked them the following:

The question is this: thinking about your religious belief and its importance to you, what is the SINGLE greatest thing that you think your faith gives you now or will give you in the future? When thinking about it, please consider that you are trying to convince another human being that your faith is the one they should choose and you can only make one single argument for accepting it.

Unsurprisingly, no one answered by saying something along the lines of “I was scared of my family dying and never seeing them again and now I am relieved in knowing we get to live together in eternity”. Frankly, I’ve known a lot of religious people and have never had one express it quite like that. Very few people like to admit to their fears. And what greater fear could there be than the ultimate boogeyman – The Grim Reaper? Also, Christians and other believers tend to be very upbeat about their beliefs. So when asking such a question, it would be unusual to receive a negative as an answer to “what is the greatest thing about your beliefs”?

So we have to read between the lines a bit, and here I think the answers are probably extremely revealing. Before we get to the responses I received, let’s go on a bit of a digressive tangent.

As stated, 30 bloggers were contacted. I asked them to email their answers to me. Since I didn’t want to have to deal with a shitload of follow-up "Jesus talk" I gave them one of my back-up email addresses that I use for just such an occasion. I received a total of 8 responses and those were all within 10 hours of placing the requests. So more might be on the way and if they are enlightening, I’ll add the information in the form of an update at the end of this post. I figured as long as I was going to post at 30 Christian blogs I might as well use the opportunity to see how many of them employed the famous “moderation” option. Many of us have noted how frequently Christian blogs choose to censor the comments. It is very unusual to go to any atheist or free-thinking blog and find the moderation turned on. What the fuck; we aren’t afraid of anything that can be said in disagreement. To the contrary, we usually relish the opportunity to fine-tune our own thought processes on various issues. There is no better way to do so than by dealing with a contrarian viewpoint. 17 of 30 Christian blogs had moderation. There were many other blogs that I was unable to post at because they either required registration or because they didn’t permit anonymous comments. (Note: I used the name John Hoopman without linking to a URL. I did this simply to achieve higher compliance and serious answers on what I was looking for. Had I used my online identity and URL they would have realized they were dealing with a committed atheist).

Here are the key parts of each of the 8 answers. I think, if you are reading between the lines like I am, you’ll agree that fear of the Grim Reaper plays a big part in the beliefs of most of those who replied.

Knowledge of a God that is worthy to be God… Because He Lives… Everything that I believe is founded in the hope of a better life, future, and a world that will someday no longer be subjected to evil… we will have eternal life with Him… Faith will carry me through the storm when there is no light… Being a Christian gives me hope for the future and acceptance when situations or circumstances happen that I do not like, because I realize it is beyond my control… by trusting in Him we may know that we have (present tense) eternal life… The answer of your question is this: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

I’m neither suggesting that there are no other reasons that people follow their superstitions or that this small, anecdotal group verifies my point. I’ll leave that to the experts. I’d love to see some controlled study that looks into peoples deepest motivations for believing in mystical answers. I firmly think that the fear of death will rate right up at the top of the list.


The Exterminator said...

Dear John Hoopman:

The greatest thing about my beliefs is that I get to be afraid of going to Hell, every minute of every hour of every day of my life. But I still can't stop jerking off.

Great post, Evo. I think your hypothesis is right on the money.

John Evo said...

I always think my hypotheses are right on the money. And you know what? Probably more than half the time they are!

I'd speculate that on the times you agree, it's closer to 60%. But I'm not convinced. And I don't like you. Fuck head.

Death is a killer.

PhillyChief said...

Great follow through on your shot at why people are religious. They try to lay up these lame shots for their belief but they fall like bricks. Nice to see you get in the paint and take this to the hole. I think you've got a slam dunk here, which is more dramatic than any of our shooting from the outside. It's about time they got called on how they've been traveling on that fear of Reaper. That's more than just a technical foul, that should eject them from the game.

Ok, I"m out of metaphors, Hoopman. Great work here.

And how do christians reconcile masturbating when Jesus, their dead grandmother and all their dead friends and family are allegedly watching?

Roger Sutton said...

I got to your blog via a comment you left on a book blog I read, and I have to say your survey represents a piss-poor apologia for atheism. Basically, you decided what answer you wanted (Christians are Christians because they're afraid of death) and, when that's not what the results of your survey revealed, you decided to need to a) "read between the lines" and b) selectively quote from the responses to prove that you had been right all along. This is exactly how fundamentalists "share their faith," so maybe you have more in common with them than you think.

PhillyChief said...

So does the University of Chicago teach in their Library Science curriculum that one can post a review of and reach conclusions about a written work without reading it in its entirety? The lines that followed where you apparently stopped reading Mr. Sutton:
I’m neither suggesting that there are no other reasons that people follow their superstitions or that this small, anecdotal group verifies my point.

That's a shame. I thought that was a good school.

John Evo said...

@ Roger Sutton

I think what you are saying applies to you as well. You're reading what you want.

I think I went overboard in making it clear that this is evidence of absolutely nothing. That's most definitely not what theists do.

As to your complaint about my selective quotes... uh, not really. I stressed to them to keep it short. They all did except one. I grabbed the most meaningful sentence in regards to the question for each one. In several cases I quoted them in full. To their credit, they were mostly brief.

I will refer you once again to my last paragraph. It says it all.

Niggardly Phil said...

Hi John, et al.

I disagree with you. I think the strongest impetus is not death, but childhood, that people are raised in one religion or another so that it becomes part of their pre-rational framework.

I don't think most have the time or courage to stop and consider death as it applies to them.

What do you think of that?

PhillyChief said...

Childhood influence sets the stage, no doubt, but what holds them is the fear of death, or hope in an afterlife, which is essentially the same thing. Nobody wants to die, and nobody likes the idea that they won't get to see those who have died again. Cast off religion and you cast off thinking you'll escape death and that you'll see dead people again.

John Evo said...

@ Niggardly Phil - I think your point is a good one and I think Philly gave the right answer to it. SPECIFIC religions would face meme extinction if they didn't use the kids the continue their cult. But kids grow up and remain entrenched, even often when they are very well educated. A lot of that has to do with fear of the unknown, death, separation.

If "virtual immortality" became a reality I am quite sure you'd see a very steep reduction on the influence of religions almost overnight, and within a few hundred years, they would lay in ruins.

Niggardly Phil said...

By "virtual immortality", you mean if I could store myself in my hard drive and remain active, something like that?

John Evo said...

Phil - exactly. If you check out my links at the top of the article on Science and on the Singularity... that's what I'm talking about.

Niggardly Phil said...

Well, I am one of those "entrenched", and as I look back I think growing up Catholic has a lot to do with my being Catholic today.

There are other reasons that I am Catholic today, but I think the role of habit cannot be underestimated. And while fear may play a role for some, the reason I don't think it is the primary motivation is that habit (guided by upbringing) is already present before fear. I don't think most parents use fear of death to encourage religion in their children, at least not with much success. Rather, children imitate their parents (they are also very sensitive to hypocrisy). So by the time one poses the question to oneself by about college or shortly before, one has a habit and many models of behavior that set this religion as "normal".

The inertia from that point is probably quite strong. But life has a way of cracking you open and forcing you to deal with the question through suffering.

This is of course a dialectical and not scientific approach to the question.

John Evo said...

Phil, I never meant to imply that this is an absolute or that everyone has it as the primary reason for faith - just that I believe it is primary for most people. I'll bet if you really examine your feelings about religion at this point in your life, you'd agree that either the carrot of eternal life or the stick of damnation or nothingness play some role in how you feel. I could be wrong and, as I said, it's not going to be the same for everyone.

So - thought experiment. Ray Kurzweil has developed a way for your consciousness (and actual bodily feelings) to carry on despite the "death" of your corporeal self. You know for sure that it works. Friends and family are "uploading". You decide to do it. 470 years from now, the conscious entity Niggardly Phil still exists. What would your Catholicism mean to you at that point?

Niggardly Phil said...

First of all, I definitely agree with you we can't validly draw any universals out of just my ramblings. Just another account I guess.

Second, to me, the idea of consciousness/soul/personhood or all immaterial aspects of the person or what have you transferred to some physical storage medium is literally absurd. And by that I don't mean, "incredibly goofy", but rather inherently contradictory. An oldie: suppose we found a square with the same area as a circle, what implications would that have for Euclidean geometry? Such is not a question. There is nothing there to answer. The fact that he would propose having "actual bodily feelings" without a body shows some deep Cartesian underpinnings that I think are patently false. Man is a unity of soul and body, and emotions come from man. After death, (and I think this is orthodox Catholic thought), there is no longer a man, such that we won't have emotions, or memories based in sensation, or anything of that sort, until the resurrection of the body.

Re: eternal life, well, no secret that Catholicism without eternal life isn't Catholicism. But I think that's different than saying the only reason you are Catholic is because of eternal life (which to my mind implies a kind of selfishness which you seem to find objectionable - do ut des).

I would ask you to examine what you mean by "eternal life" - is that simply life as we have it now continued ad infinitum, near the invisible sky wizard (and by the way if your concept is to ridicule this as a conception of God, let me be the first to join in the mockery - insofar as you purify us of that idolatry, you do us (christians) a great good)?

So I'm all over the lot here, and I appreciate your respectful tone. I guess there are meanings to words - God, man, life which we mentioned but also hope, faith which I suspect you may be taking in a common but superficial sense - that go beyond the univocal and the quantitative.

So if you're going to go all Vader on me and tell me to "search your feelings," I will be Skywalker and say "I know there is good in you", I can tell by your honesty. That involves a humility that is admirable. And obviously you care about others, in that you get angry (which flares up to obtain a good), and care about others knowing the predicament we are in.

PhillyChief said...

No one here is going to say "search your feelings" because you know what that will tell you about any truths? Nothing. If any defense of an idea about god, souls, duality, or anything woo-y like that goes along the lines of "well I feel.." then I ain't listening. I mean, I can't, because I'm laughing too loud to hear.

To engage briefly in this theoretical mind dump idea, I'd say that's a highly improbable thing to ever come to be. Are brains are who we are, so you'd need to be able to physically replicate not just a brain, but each individual's specific brain.

You might enjoy 'The Accidental Mind' by David J. Linden.

Jodi said...

I found this blog looking up lyrics of "don't fear the reaper" by blue oyster cult on google, and I got to reading it...I know this post is kind of old but I'm commenting on it anyway. I agree that belief in an afterlife is a huge part of religion but that it isn't something you can choose to believe in, because it can't be rationally explained (and therefore can't really be compared to Euclidean geometry, sorry Phil). I'd love to be able to choose a religion and stick to it with in the comfort of living happily every after with Jesus in eternity, but faith is something I just don't have, although I am afraid. So faith wasn't born out of fear. But maybe there are people who are able to convince themselves in a way I can't and their fear fuels that?

John Evo said...

Jodi - thanks for stopping by. It's an older posts, but one of my favorites (on religion).

I agree, you can't force yourself to believe in god (Pascal's Wager). Once you have decided that it's all man-made stories, you can't just start believing again.

PhillyChief said...

Well there was JP

John Evo said...

There are always exceptions. But don't you wonder whether he really ever convinced himself that religion was just stories made by men?

Jodi said...

Yeah, pascal was on crack. There is no probability in faith. Maybe I'll go check out your new posts, haha

Anonymous said...

im a christian and i belive that i will go to heaven when i die. but lets say im wrong. and i just die and thats it. i have lived my life the way i wanted to. helping the poor, fighting injustice, being kind, forgiving and understanding of people. yes i want to go to heaven. but as a christian i want to be like jesus. and if you dont belive he is the son of god thats youre choice to make. protesting abortion clinics and pushing intelligent design would not be on the agenda of jesus. so their not on mine either. take care

PhillyChief said...

Well it depends on what you consider "fighting injustice and being kind". Luckily your definition doesn't include pushing Creationism or protesting abortion clinics. For others it does, and they feel that's what Jesus would do. Also, if you see allowing gays equal rights as "destroying traditional marriage", then you would be compelled to fight that injustice, wouldn't you?

WWJD? Too bad what he apparently wouldn't do was leave clearer instructions. ;)

Anonymous said...

annon again. jesus instruction is clear. its the new testament bible. gays getting married has nothing to do with my marriage at all so im all for it. you have to judge people that say they are christans my their actions. not how many fish magnets they have on their car. i guess im one of the people that knows the diffrence in a scientific theory and a law. and that science is science and faith is faith you cant mix and match the two. in closing no scientific discovery could change my faith in God and no preacher could change my love of dinosaurs.

PhillyChief said...

How can the instructions be clear if not everyone can agree on them?

Zakk Wilcox said...

john hoopman, the great thing about being christian is getting to know my god and you know what. if i'm right about god and he's real, i go to heaven and you spend eternity in hell but if i'm wrong and he's not, nothing happens to me..... so who's at a loss?

PhillyChief said...


If you're right about god but picked the wrong god, you could spend eternity in that god's hell (which may be worse than the Christian god's hell)

If you're right about god but picked the wrong list of rules for following him (ie - you chose Baptist when the Catholics, Lutherans or maybe the Mormons have it right), you could spend eternity in hell.

If you're right about god and picked the correct list of rules but misinterpreted that list of rules for following him, you could spend eternity in hell.

How are ya liking your odds now? Want to reconsider your wager?

John Evo said...

In addition to Philly's comments, Zakk, the problem is - there is no wager!

You simply believe what you do - without any empirical evidence whatsoever.

Seeing the lack of any evidence, I do not believe.

If I was to think your wager made sense, that would go exactly nowhere towards changing my deepest convictions, would it? I'd have to pretend that I accepted your version of the fantasy and if it happened to be true, your god would know (I assume) that I was merely faking it.

So there can be no such thing as Zakcal's Wager.

That "death" thing really has you upset, huh?

Anonymous said...

Christians. Please make sure to use proper capitalization, spelling and punctuation. It really doesn't help the world view that we have no intellect when you can not communicate effectively.


Anonymous said...

wizi cqprh Huge Boobs xwscar k px m cqh

Anonymous said...

vkdn pljrd [URL=]Big Tits[/URL] alqjuc m xj q psc