Mix n’ match religion

Interesting results from a survey into Australia’s religious beliefs, indicating that whatever Australians call ourselves when asked by the census, what we actually believe is much more personal and varied – no matter what some might like to claim.

We’re coming up to a day that for many people is the only day of the year – or one of only two days – on which they remember the faith they check on the census form. Hey kids, it’s the day we go to church! And then there are those for whom it does have great religious significance – so much so that it makes them angry that anyone could celebrate the occasion without any attachment to the religious meaning their ancestors added to it when they took a pagan event and gave it a new name. They even see declining to call it “Christmas” as a personal affront and call it a “war” on their beliefs.

But it seems like there are a lot of different versions of any given religion, even beyond the official variations. I know people who call themselves “Christian” but don’t actually think Jesus Christ was literally God in human form. Or who say they believe in God but what they mean by that is a sort of guiding presence in nature, rather than an immortal all-powerful omnipotent being who interacts with human beings in the quietness of their minds – and who judges them according to a set of arbitrary rules laid down in a particular religious text. I know many who have, like the survey suggests, an eclectic mix of beliefs that you’d think were largely incompatible, and the way they reconcile them is by ignoring the parts they don’t like.

I’m curious – are there any readers of this blog who consider themselves Christian, or Muslim, or Jewish, or whatever, but don’t necessarily hold to the fundamental beliefs on which the administrators of that religion publicly insist? If you’ve added parts in from other religions, or other sources, which bits have you chosen, and how do you reconcile them? I know it’s generally considered not the sort of thing you discuss over the dinner table, but we’re all friends/anonymous pseudonyms here, and we’re all muddling through the issue together.


Even fervent believers can get confused which event they’re celebrating

As I’ve written before, I abandoned the religion with which I grew up because ultimately I couldn’t convince myself that it was real, that it made sense. That God would create minds that could reason and then tell us to abandon that reason on the most fundamental question of existence. That a God that loves us would decide how we spend eternity based on whether we guessed right on an impossible riddle. That I wasn’t just fooling myself because I desperately wanted this short life not to be all that there is.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that I’m absolutely convinced of the opposite, either. The only thing I’m confident of is that it’s impossible to be certain. As a bumper sticker on the back of my car used to declare – “Militant agnostic. I don’t know and you don’t either!”

Of course, that’s why they call it “faith”. Still, it always surprises me how little you can tell from what religion a person claims to follow, about what they actually believe on the questions of life, the universe and everything.

About these ads

50 responses to “Mix n’ match religion

  1. It should be pointed out that the poll that the Fairfax papers are talking about involved only 1000 people. Honestly, that really isn’t a large enough number of people to get an accurate result from and I was dismayed to see it as a top story on the Sydney Morning Herald.

    I use “Occam’s Razor” for my views on religion: things make the most sense without a god or some form of sublime.

  2. I think Richard Dawkins proposed a ‘scale’ of religious belief, from 1 – 7 in The God Delusion.

    1 was a pure believer – someone who “knows” there is a God, whereas 7 was a pure athiest – someone who “knows” there is no God. He theorised that both were positions of faith, in that nobody can truly know the answer to such a question.

    But he also noted that there are very few people who can accurately be said to inhabit position 7 on the scale (as opposed to position 1, which has an enormous number of adherents) and in that regard rated himself as about a 6.9.

    I’d rate myself similarly.

  3. I used to call Xmas my “Religiously imposed non-payment period” when I worked a fulltime job. Now I call it a “Tradesman unavailability window”.

  4. [It should be pointed out that the poll that the Fairfax papers are talking about involved only 1000 people. Honestly, that really isn’t a large enough number of people to get an accurate result from]

    I thought that a thousand was a big enough sample for any survey. From here:

    http://janda.org/c10/Lectures/topic05/GallupFAQ.htm

    I read this:

    [For example, with a sample size of 1,000 national adults, (derived using careful random selection procedures), the results are highly likely to be accurate within a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points. Thus, if we find in a given poll that President Clinton's approval rating is 50%, the margin of error indicates that the true rating is very likely to be between 53% and 47%. It is very unlikely to be higher or lower than that.]

    So if Fairfax had a decent selection process then you can expect that their findings are accurate to within +/- 3%

    [I was dismayed to see it as a top story on the Sydney Morning Herald.]

    I agree it would be lame if it were a top story, though it doesn’t appear to have much of a profile on their web page.

    So summing up, 1 000 is a sufficient sample and although I haven’t seen the front page of the SMH the story doesn’t appear to have any presence on their homepage, it’s probably there but it isn’t prominent.

    FTR – I’m an agnostic, I was raised an Anglican but I think the whole concept of Christianity and any other major religion I’m aware of as preposterous. If I were a betting man I’d place money on their being no god, but I appreciated that I can never know that for sure, just like nobody can know for sure that a god does exist, they say they know but actually they don’t.

    As far as mixing and matching your own religion ie claiming to be a Christian but not believing that God and Jesus are the same thing, well, that’s strange, but no more strange than believing the stuff peddled by the Church (which changes from time to time).

  5. D’oh – sorry about the square brackets, I keep forgetting which blog I’m on.

  6. On Dawkin’s scale, what’s a five represent? I tend more to the “it’s likely we’ve just invented the concept to make ourselves feel better” than strict neutrality, but I don’t think it’s insane to think there might be something that explains “life”.

    I’d find it hard to “worship” a deity that seeks to force that “worship” by threatening eternal damnation if you don’t. I don’t really get the mindset of those who claim to “love” such a being.

  7. Hello Jeremy and Rob

    I was raised Church of England, but I’ve never been a churchie type — I think I’ve seen too much of the evils of mankind to be able to believe in a “God” who supposedly loves us all but at the same time allows such evil to occur.

    Having said that, if believing in said being makes people happy or gives them some meaning to their lives, then I suppose I’m happy for them.

    Dawkins is an interesting character isnt he — did either of you happen to see his interview with Denton the other night ?

  8. RobJ and Jeremy, you both describe yourselves as weak atheists, yet you avoid the term. Do you deliberately do this? If so, why?

    I am also a weak atheist, a 6.9.

    summary here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weak_and_strong_atheism

  9. “Having said that, if believing in said being makes people happy or gives them some meaning to their lives, then I suppose I’m happy for them.”

    It is a problem when people say they follow a religion, and then that religion’s leaders claim those people agree with them in whatever form of bigotry they’re pushing – and when politicians erroneously assume that they should therefore do what that religion’s leaders demand.

    Boz – I’d call myself agnostic rather than atheist because it’s not that I believe there is NO God, it’s just that I don’t believe either way.

  10. I found myself in hospital recently and upon admission (lying in emergency) a nurse asked me “what shall I put down as your religion?” She looked at me with pen poised awaiting an answer and all I could think of saying was “Oh God, I don’t know, put down whatever you like.”

    After that, she said “Shall I just leave it blank?” To which I replied “Yes, that sounds good.”

    It got me to thinking that maybe I’d better have a better answer prepared next time.

    The only “religion” I’ve ever been interested in is Buddhism.

    I really can’t bothered with Christianity in its myriads of forms and reject the basic premise that we’re all born as sinners and need to apologise for our very existence and seek forgiveness.

    What a lot of guilt-ridden bollocks.

  11. “It is a problem when people say they follow a religion, and then that religion’s leaders claim those people agree with them in whatever form of bigotry they’re pushing – and when politicians erroneously assume that they should therefore do what that religion’s leaders demand.”

    No argument there Jeremy — although I think in many cases those politicians do so because they believe in what the leaders of whatever religion it happens to be, say as well.

  12. On Dawkin’s scale, what’s a five represent?

    Well, from memory, the scale measures the extent to which you believe in a God, but it is not specific about which god. Ergo I imagine someone convinced of the existence of Gaia would score a 1, even though their belief might be described by some as agnostic.

    A 4 is someone who is effectively neutral – who believes the existence of a god is equally as likely as not.

    Based on your description above I would guess that between 5 and 6 is a reaonably accurate position for you on the scale.

  13. “Do you deliberately do this”

    No.What’s wrong with the term ‘agnostic’? I reckon that’s what I am.

    “Having said that, if believing in said being makes people happy or gives them some meaning to their lives, then I suppose I’m happy for them.”

    Thing is, some people kill in the name of religion. If it makes them happy and doesn’t infringe on others well being then I’m sort of happy for them, actually I’m a little bit sad for anyone who needs religion to gain fulfilment (considering I believe what I was taught is utter nonsense.)

  14. “I’m curious – are there any readers of this blog who consider themselves Christian, or Muslim, or Jewish, or whatever, but don’t necessarily hold to the fundamental beliefs on which the administrators of that religion publicly insist?”

    i think there would also be atheists who like to cherry pick the “good bits” from the bible…i can relate to the new testament stories

  15. Atheists demonstrate the adage that when people think they believe in nothing, they’ll actually believe anything at all.

    We have new religions these days – socialism, environmentalism and all manner of hippy dribble. No doubt we will all suffer Gaia’s wrath now that we have dispensed with the ETS, thus failing to offer proper tribute to this deity du jour.

    Funnily enough, with the decline of traditional belief the narrow-minded self-righteous moralising has increased rather than decreased. This site is rife with white-hot anger at the wickedness of others.

  16. Are you over 60 SB?

  17. Dawkins’ scale: http://christophersisk.com/dawkins-belief-scale-images/ I think it’s paraphrased, but you get the idea.

    While the scale isn’t perfect, it works pretty well for most people. I’d consider myself about a 6; while I can’t know for sure, I don’t believe in a God and live as though there isn’t one.

  18. Not quite, Michael.

  19. I once would of identified as agnostic, but reckon I’m more atheist these days.

  20. Northern Exposure

    I myself am a deist. I reckon there is a bloke in the sky, who got bored one day a while back and made the universe, and then stepped back, put His feet up and said “off you go”. Then when we were like, “ooohahahoh my, i have hands and i like shiney things and tools,” He gave us a soul the ability to reason. He wants you to act morally more often than imorally, but leaves the interpretation up to us. Then, when we die, we go to a lovely place to exist until he decides He’s had enough and starts it all over again.

    I don’t begrudge anyone for believing in prophets or whatever, or not believing in them. They’ve found something that makes them feel safe and accepted, or reasonable and justified, so good on them. Just not worth the effort frankly.

    Christmas is fun times. I don’t care really about the religious (pagan to be precise) connotations, everyone just gets together and gives eachother things while listening to the beautiful David Hasselhoff Christmas album.

    Merry whatever everyone.

  21. Atheists demonstrate the adage that when people think they believe in nothing, they’ll actually believe anything at all.

    Hmm…I don’t believe:
    * some guy collected 2 of every animal on the entire planet and built a giant boat to save them
    * woman was made from the rib of a man
    * in risking death by being crushed to death in the massive crowds, for a pilgrimage to some Middle Eastern backwater (ie Mecca) every year because it is what some imaginary sky creature wants

    and so on and so forth.

    I’m pretty sure it’s the theists that will believe anything at all.

  22. There are a lot of people here misunderstanding what an atheist is. Literally ‘no belief in God’. I agree that anyone who says they believe there is no God has just as much faith as someone who believes there is. ‘Not believing in God’ is not equal to ‘Believing there is no God’. I am an atheist, but I don’t ‘believe there is no God’. I simply don’t have a belief that there is one. If you follow me.
    However, it suits religion’s apologists to portray atheism as just as much a faith as theirs, without seeing the inherent irony in trying to use faith to discredit someone else’s viewpoint while using it to bolster their own…
    I think Dawkins made the comment “If atheism is a religion, then ‘not collecting stamps’ is a hobby.”

  23. [b]SB:[/b] Atheists demonstrate the adage that when people think they believe in nothing, they’ll actually believe anything at all.

    Oh please… Explain how by rejecting the claims of theism, one will proceed to “believe anything”.

    Dylan:I agree that anyone who says they believe there is no God has just as much faith as someone who believes there is.

    I suppose that depends how ‘God’ is defined. If someone tells me the god they believe in created the earth 6000 years ago, the first woman from the rib of the first man, came to earth as his own son and “saved” us by dying and coming back to life, would I be exercising the same amount of faith as them by arguing that such a god doesn’t exist?

    If someone’s god hypothesis is a god which kicked of the cosmos and never interfered in nature or human affairs (after they arrived on the scene 13.5 billion years after the creation of the universe as we know it), then perhaps one could be accused playing the faith card in asserting that said god does not exist, but it seems like a pretty pointless god hypothesis to me.

    However, it suits religion’s apologists to portray atheism as just as much a faith as theirs, without seeing the inherent irony in trying to use faith to discredit someone else’s viewpoint while using it to bolster their own…

    Yes, such rhetoric is always good for a chuckle. I’ll never tire of religious apologists accusing non-believers of “religious fervor” in advancing their “faith” via a secular “crusade”!

  24. “actually I’m a little bit sad for anyone who needs religion to gain fulfilment (considering I believe what I was taught is utter nonsense.)”

    Those you feel sad for probably feel the same for people like us and most likely would pray for our souls Rob, because they believe in what they were taught — End of days when we all find out who’s wrong and who’s right could be interesting don’t you think ?

    “Thing is, some people kill in the name of religion. ”

    Thats true of course, but on the other hand some people do great work to help others in the name of religion.

  25. “Thats true of course, but on the other hand some people do great work to help others in the name of religion.”

    Yeah, you got that right, easily the best thing about religion is the likes of the sally Anne’s and St Vincent’s etc etc, I thought about that after i’d fingered the tiny minority who do evil in the name of god.

  26. I agree that anyone who says they believe there is no God has just as much faith as someone who believes there is.

    I think this is nonsense.

    I believe there is no God, but this is an evidence-based position rather than one of faith. I see no scientific evidence of God, nor do I see any sound basis of logic or reason in the theory that he exists.

    In other words I reject God because I have no faith.

    Those who believe in God, however, face exactly the same lack of evidence as I do and yet continue their belief regardless. That is a position of faith.

  27. I thought about that after i’d fingered the tiny minority who do evil in the name of god.

    But we also have to remember those who don’t go around killing people, but continue to oppress people in the name of religion, or seek to push political agenda based on their religion. The continuing discrimination against minorities, and on a lesser scaler the fucking internet filter are things that come to mind.

  28. seantheblogonaut

    Jeremy with regards to your Agnosticism what do you think of this

    http://wiki.ironchariots.org/index.php?title=Atheist_vs._agnostic

  29. GavinM: “End of days when we all find out who’s wrong and who’s right could be interesting don’t you think ?”

    Could? man, that would be mega interesting!
    I’d certainly be looking for somebody to high five in whatever after life there would have to be to allow this if i find I’m not going to hell for not going to church.

    Personally, i believe in Festivus for the Rest of Us!
    Now it’s time for the “Airing of the Grievances”, starting with SB…

  30. GavinM: …but on the other hand some people do great work to help others in the name of religion.

    Religious people often make that claim, but I can’t help but wonder how many good deeds are in fact committed by religious people for, at least primarily, the same reasons that non-religious people committ them. I mean, is there really any virtue in doing something good just because your religious system asks you to? There are perfectly good secular reasons to act in an altruistic fashion.

  31. I think Northern Exposure is on the money.

  32. Hello Sammy,

    You make a good point, I was thinking also of organisations like the Salvos and the Brotherhood of St. Lawrence though and I’m not convinced that all religious people do charitable work solely because their religion tells them to.

  33. I was thinking also of organisations like the Salvos and the Brotherhood of St. Lawrence though and I’m not convinced that all religious people do charitable work solely because their religion tells them to.

    Indeed, I suspect that the number of religious folk who do charitable work purely in the hope that God will give them a big high-five as they pass through the pearly gates is in fact extremely small.

  34. Religion doesn’t cause bad people, bad people use religion as a reason for their actions. If it wasn’t religion it would be nationalism or idealism that gets the blame.

    The term “Atheist” has a large stigma in Australia, people that are labeled atheist are considered to be aggressive and generally immoral.

    Thanks rob for that infomation on polls, its always great when someone can challenge my own views and expand my mind a bit so I can deal with it better next time.

  35. Socialism a religion?

    You really are a shit stirrer SB!

    However, speaking of political ideologies that really ARE like a religion, how’s ’bout unfettered free market capitalism?

    Y’know…a belief in an omniscient and omnipotent “invisible hand” that can solve all the worlds ills, if only we stopped meddling in the divine plan?

    To be honest im suprised you are not leaping to confront these arseclowns, with their “faith based” approach to economic managment and cornucopian fantasies of infinite growth within a finite system, they seem the prime target for such a comparison.

  36. AdamtheLurker, what you’ve said reminds me of a quote I like by Steve Weinberg (not sure why – guess I just like the quote)

    With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

  37. “We do God’s work…”

    -Lloyd Blankfein, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of Goldman Sachs.

    “One cannot serve God and serve money”

    -Jesus Christ, Son of God and our Lord and saviour.

    Who are we to believe?

    Jesus? Or a bunch of thieving bankers and coinclippers?

  38. I’ve heard the quote before, and I agree that it makes an interesting point that religion can make good people do bad things. In light of it, I have to agree that religious ideas are potentially corrupting, if someone thinks that a suicide bombing is a good thing for example. Balancing this, religion can be a force for altruism, although an arguably unneeded one.

    I still think my point stands, religion has been used throughout history as an excuse for violence, two euro centric ones are the Crusades and Hitler’s use of Christianity.

    I’d be interested to see which is a more influencing factor: human nature or religion.

  39. The General Patton quote.

    “There are no atheists in fox holes ” much like many conservatives.

  40. philip tr vers

    The lucky folk here who don’t h-ve English letters go missing,think,their experience,underst-nding & observ-tion settles the problem -dmr-bly,it doesn’t.I still re-d on the subject.H-rd Evidence M-g-ine J-n.-Feb.Twenty&ten Vol.Ten Number One. Comet C-es-r D-rk Comet inTwenty twelve -ccording to the -rticle is the money sovereign depiction on origin-l coin,&thus wholly – process of influence on Christi-nity -nd hum-nity ever since. If one depicts oneself in – m-nner th-t re -uires ceremony ,then going -g-inst this soci-lly constructed influence,tod-y seems somewh-t of – perspective problem. Very dis-ppointed by this l-test f-ilure of my computer experience

  41. JB- “Atheists demonstrate the adage that when people think they believe in nothing, they’ll actually believe anything at all.”
    You are roughly 100% wrong- it is the sheer depth of scientific illiteracy among religious believers which makes them such fertile ground for silly cultists sales-pitches. A better catchphrase might be: “when people don’t know anything about reality in the first place, its possible to talk them into accepting just about anything”.
    I’m surprised nobody else has mentioned science much in this discussion- for me its at the heart of the matter.
    You cannot genuinely reconcile the daft, adulterated tall-tales of floods, invisible friends and eternal holiday resorts in the sky with the ‘in front of our very eyes’ evidence for the scientific story of how we got here. (Or at least you can’t without going down the ‘religion as a self-service buffet’ experience which, while popular, is completely without integrity. Yes Buddism-dabblers: I mean you).

  42. Jeremy, you might find this of interest…

    Last election it was WorkChoices.

    This time it’s gonna be a battle of ChurchChoices…!

    http://guttertrash.wordpress.com/2009/12/28/churchchoices/

  43. (Or at least you can’t without going down the ‘religion as a self-service buffet’ experience which, while popular, is completely without integrity. Yes Buddism-dabblers: I mean you).

    As a self-professed “Buddhism dabbler” may I ask…

    Why not…?

  44. Religion, properly so called, is a matter of subjective experience, not belief. In that sense, it involves the adherent in some form of practice which either yields, or does not yield, an experience that is so sublime it cannot be denied. It is an experiential rather than an intellectual or emotional process, and as such, can be compared to a scientific experiment (albeit that one is objective and the other subjective). The adherent seeks the evidence of the reality of the divine. If he finds it, he becomes a devotee. If he doesn’t, he either gives up the search or pursues it elsewhere. SB is a Catholic, so he will dismiss this as hippy dribble. The fact that it is the central message of the greatest religious thinkers in history (even including the odd – usually persecuted – Catholic) will mean little to the likes of our resident shit-stirrer.

    Some people will read this and think Philip Travers is playing funny buggers with his name. No, I’m not Philip. If you take the trouble to read the above paragraph carefully, it actually makes a kind of sense. That is the difference.

    Agnosticism is the only intellectually respectable position for those who have not had an experience of the divine. Atheism shuts it out and assumes it away, and is therefore intellectually dishonest or at best naive.

  45. “Agnosticism is the only intellectually respectable position for those who have not had an experience of the divine. Atheism shuts it out and assumes it away, and is therefore intellectually dishonest or at best naive.

    The jury is out on a proper definition of atheism. I am an atheist. I don’t believe in god(s) the same way I don’t believe in pixies in my backyard, the flying spaghetti monster, or leprechauns. I am neither intellectually dishonest or naive.

  46. I’d suggest you refrain from using the word atheism if you don’t think it’s been defined properly. Or perhaps you could let us know your definition, then we can have a sensible discussion. The stuff about pixies and leprechauns is dismissive and irrelevant. Religious experience is a well-recognised phenomenon, has been for millennia and remains so today. The fact that it hasn’t happened to you makes it difficult for you to imagine, but that doesn’t mean you have to dismiss the possibility of it by comparing it to childish fantasy. If you haven’t had it, by definition, you wouldn’t know. I have no trouble with people not knowing the divine. My problem is with those who define it out of existence, those who lack the humility to admit they don’t know.

  47. I was once religious – then I used my brain. So I’ve had a “religious experience”. Don’t be so presumptuous.

    I don’t know for certain that pixies, werewolves, the tooth fairy, leprechauns, yeti, the Aboriginal Dream Time Serpent or any other creature didn’t exist. But I have no proof they did. So I say it’s a safe bet they didn’t and I don’t think I lack humility because I am not 100% sure but I am 99.99% sure. There is no difference with ‘faith’ here.

    My definition of atheism: no belief in the existence of a deity or deities.

  48. Being religious and religious experience are two very different things – in some ways diametrically opposite. All the Abrahamic religions have a long history of hostility to and persecution of religious experience, albeit that they have always had minorities who seek it. Only Hinduism and Buddhism embrace it wholeheartedly and place it at the centre of their practice. Perhaps mystical experience describes it better, but people wilfully misunderstand that word too.

    Your definition of atheism is fine, but there is no need to have faith or to believe in deities (or anything for that matter) to have the kind of experience I am talking about. That is why Buddhism, for example, has often been called an atheistic religion. Not entirely true, but not oxymoronic either.

  49. All this talk of atheism vs. agnosticism!!
    They’re the two sides of the same wishy-washy, passive-aggressive coin.

    I prefer the full on, cock-out approach of apostasy.
    It leaves no one in doubt!

    Cheers and Happy New Year.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s