Thursday, January 29, 2009

If there is no God, what are those people doing?

Stan's post regarding man creating God, etc. might be better served in a separate post on a subject that has bothered me for years:

If there is no God, what are those people doing?

I am lucky enough to have been a part of a couple of churches that included many smart, vibrant, committed Christians who were a great representation of their faith. I have also been a part of church groups that were the opposite.

In the former, glib pastors wax eloquently and passionately, the young music director leads hymns and choruses with his eyes closed and his hands raised high in worship and about 1 out of 10 of the congregation also raise at least one hand to the sky with their eyes also closed. Here and there a tear is shed.

The pastor then engages the congregation to drive home a new idea that will serve as spiritual manna for the next week, when the process is repeated.

To borrow a phrase from my old friend: "Wait a freakin' minute!"

What are those people doing?


  1. This cycle is part of the social construction process. We see each other do these things, and believe they have some value. We take our kids to these services, and teach them that this is "what right looks like." Through this type of social interaction, we come to accept a set of norms and shared understandings about how the world should be.

    Nonconformists are shamed and ostracized, to greater or lesser degrees depending on how important we find a particular norm or understanding. Note that religious people treat those who neglect spiritual training and attendance at worship services much more kindly today than they did even a hundred years ago. This shows that norms can change.

    The people who attempt to socialize others to believe in God do so not because God exists, but because they believe he does. Most are altruistic--this is in a sense an effort to control others, but normally not in a consciously cynical way. At any rate, the physical reality of God's existence or nonexistence makes no difference--the constructed social reality drives the behavior.

  2. This is interesting. When I returned to the church after an extended absence. I noticed that not much had changed. People behaved in much the same manner as they did 25 years ago.

    There's characters that remind me of characters I knew much younger. For example, there's the highly committed, addictive, but charmingly eccentric personality group. the group that dresses better and prays longer with more Biblical jargon (these upwardly mobile prayers become deacons and elders), the people who help with EVERYTHING and the wealthy gentleman who is always an elder/deacon.

  3. Of course people behave differently across time and culture. So what? What people do in their worship is irrelevant to me. I am incapable of reading minds so I can't make judgements about their motives and why they do things. I have enough trouble discerning my own!

    One thing is certain, as far as I am concerned. The history of human behavior is pretty wretched because people are self-centered at their core. We all suffer from a form of 'terminal uniqueness'. I think that's why its a bad idea to use people as a measuring stick to determine anything about spirtual truth. That's why God has to reveal Himself. People always get it wrong when left to their own thinking. One of the greatest comments I ever heard was: "Our minds are like bad neighborhoods. We should not go there alone!"

  4. The point about socially constructed reality is that much of what we think of as "truth" was invented by humans, and differs across societies. Our ideas about property are a good example--to us the idea that humans can own land is self-evident, but not all societies accept this norm. Some humans hold a spiritual belief that no single person can hold title over a part of nature.

    So what? Well, for one thing this suggests that people construct at least some "spiritual truth" themselves to privelege the shared understandings they hold. They are not the revelations of God, but socially constructed norms that humans use to self-identify and distinguish themselves from others. If God does not exist, we have to create Him.

    This need to distinguish ourselves from others matters because it suggests that humans are not by nature self-interested, but group centered. We know that some societies do not privelege self-interest--and in fact consider individualism immoral--while others privelege individualism and "uniqueness." These are not inherent characteristics of Man, but socially constructed norms that make up the competing societies we put together.

    Interestingly, even societies that privelege self-interest often do so on the premise that it will benefit society. This is, in many ways, the basis of capitalist economies.

  5. I don't think anyone will dispute that we construct some spiritual truth or even that some of that might be beneficial, i.e., help assimilate Truth or truth into meaningfulness.

    It does not naturally follow that there isn't a Truth out there because we socially construct other truths. Might we discover Truth but yet also see this manifested in the social constructs that you eloquently purport.

    We might argue, for example, that the U.S. is the most powerful (or most violent) country based on the number of active missiles we can deploy.

    This can be verified to be "actually" true. You may dispute my conclusion by choosing "violent" or something else as the adjective, but it is verifiable that we have more missiles. I might argue the same point by arguing something else that we normally stipulate: China has the highest population of any country.

    We might argue philosophically that there may be an undiscovered silo in WhereeverStan that has 1,000,000,000 of the same missiles stacked on top of one another, but we "know" (within reason) that assertion is false.

    We are able to know some Truth, it's just a matter of distinguishing between Truth (absolute and indisputable), truth (undeniable) and pragmatic planks that enable us to implement ideas and function. Each is valuable.

  6. I do not believe that there will come a day, that we are going to be told that God does not exist. Even is that so, we will never learn it. The whole thing is similar to the x-files series, "the truth is oute there" but noone can find it.

    I am an orthodox christian myself (according to my ID) and i live in Greece. I have forsaken though what christianity really is. You see, how can a religion have so many believers?

    Let's see... by baptizing the "believers" at the age of 1. Nice tactic i could say, but we are talking about the church, not some damn corporation that exploits believing. Maybe church is the most succesful corporation of our times.

    The fact is that people are sheeps. Just a minority of people worlwide uses critical thought to search deeper and find out in a way, what they really believe to.

    Twenty centuries have passed since Jesus walked the earth, according to history. Humanity has done such a progress in so many levels that we can in a way be concidered God, without the need of a belief in a religion that seems now uncertain and fake in many parts. It would have been a great time for our God to show himself.

    Radical my points of view or not, i am damn sure that even someone can prove to all of us that god does not exist but only in our minds, nobody will believe him.
    Life habitts are not easy to change.

    With most of respect and without trying to offend anyone in any way,

  7. If you were baptized at one, can I assume you're Catholic?

    I think Stan would agree with much of what you're saying.

    Be aware that if I have been myself and have met "free-thinking, intelligent, thoughtful" people on different sides of this issue.

    I agree with you and my longtime friend that much of what many of us have been exposed to is man-made and pushes even the most sincere away.

    For me, if you consider what Jesus taught, and start over, it's a buzz that just won't quit.