Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for January, 2011

 

One of the most difficult tasks for a parent to do is come up with a name for their future offspring. Yet, it is a necessary and critically important task, given that an offspring will carry his or her name for a lifetime. The best advice I can give is to be considerate in naming your newborn. Think about how a name can affect a person later in life. Naming a newborn isn’t about you; it’s about them. Usually, well meaning family members want to be involved and make suggestions, some serious, some not, but ultimately—parents need to take sole responsibility for naming their newborn.

 My daughter is expecting her first child in late February, 2011.  She wants to be surprised as to the baby’s gender. So, she and her partner must go about the business of making lists for both males and females.

 Last November the entire family was sitting around the Thanksgiving table coming up with names for the newborn. Everyone had suggestions, few of which I liked.  Listening to family members is seldom the answer. Everyone had suggestions and their own preferences soon crept into the conversation (including my own).

I suggested, tongue-in-cheek, that my daughter ought to name her newborn, if it’s a male, after Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Otherwise known as Mahatma Gandhi). Mahatma Gandhi was an iconic symbol of non-violent protest and a great spiritual leader in India. I also suggested the name Paris if it’s a girl, and thought Sarah was also a beautiful name.

I also thought, if the newborn is male, it might be named Crixus, after the gladiator opponent in the TV series, Spartacus. Based on a picture I saw from a Baby Sonogram the head image looked like it was sporting a crew cut, and looked just like the TV character, Crixus. I really wasn’t serious about any of my suggestions (like Mahatma or Crixus) because I knew names can have consequences.

Fortunately, my daughter just smiled politely at all the suggestions and told everyone that she and her partner hadn’t made any firm decisions yet. This, of course, means their difficult task of naming their soon-to-be newborn—remains ahead. This all begs the question, how should one proceed to do the task of naming a newborn?

NAMING A NEWBORN AND ITS PROCESS

I’ve thought a great deal about this. I soon realized that naming a newborn is more about exclusion of names rather than inclusion. I also discovered that besides names, exclusion rather than inclusion, also applies to the very process of how to name a newborn. For example, naming a newborn after some recognized infant behavioral characteristic (Happy, Smiley, or Sleeper) may be a misplaced convention since a newborn’s normal and enduring patterns of behavior may not be observed until years after its birth, and even then maybe not at all. Also, more importantly names, for legal purposes, are usually required before a newborn leaves the hospital. Nick-names of course will surface during childhood, but often no one has any inkling of what they might be, and certainly very little control over them.

Sometimes parents like gender-neutral names like Shelly, Elliott, Francis, Dale, Lynn, Marion, and Leslie. These names are all perfectly good names. But, because of the newborn’s actual gender, gender neutral names may present awkward moments later on in life.

In the early1950s my sister Dale actually received a draft notice from Uncle Sam to report for basic training with the U.S. Army during the Korean War. In one sense this was quite funny (my sister thought it was funny but my parents were less amused) and in another sense it was just plain embarrassing. So, if you choose a gender-neutral name a word to the wise—consider your choice very carefully. Just remember Johnny Cash’s famous song—a boy named Sue. 

 

WHAT NORMALLY HAPPENS

What normally happens is that parents tend to rely on books with 5,000 baby names. With baby-name books in hand, often there is simply a feeling about names that strike us first. To be brutally honest, the names of people a parent had a negative relationship with growing up (or simply currently doesn’t like) are eliminated from the get-go.  

Sometimes, public figures from culture form the basis of our choices, such as first names like Elvis or Cher. Sometimes a cultural icon, historical or otherwise, is combined with the family name like creating Marlin Brando Jones, David Copperfield Smith, or Marilyn Monroe Cantrell.  

Another common way people go about naming a newborn is to tie one’s offspring name with a racial or ethnic identity. One could argue that creating such names is more about valuing or protecting the parent’s group identity than it is concern for the newborn’s individualistic name.  For example, Chinese families tend to choose Chinese first names; Hispanics tend to choose Spanish names; whites tend to choose European names, most often English, French, Italian or German.

There is nothing unusual about this. However, on the one hand as a society, we value diversity and equality and pay tribute to our country as the great American melting pot. We also manifest beliefs about the importance of the individual, regardless of ethnicity or race, as having universal worth or value. Yet, despite this egalitarian ethic, people seem to want to fall back to placing greater value with maintaining the legacy of their own racial or ethnic group. I have no answer for this typical convention in naming a newborn. I may hope for a singularly American identity, but alas—none can be found since we are a nation of immigrants, legal or otherwise.

My own preference (again tongue-in-cheek) is to adopt the child naming convention of the American Indian during the 18th and 19th centuries. That is, they liked to name a brave or squaw after who they became, or after some animate or inanimate object, or some combination of same. Some might have acquired rather dramatic names like Running Bear, Silent Wolf, Eagle’s Eye, Lion Heart, Summer Fawn, or perhaps a made-up name like Princess Summer Fall Winter Spring (After Howdy Doody fame).

There are times when I wish my parents followed the name conventions of the American Indian and named me Iron Man or Brave Heart. That way, my older brother might have been named Mad Dog, or Running-off-at-the-Mouth (Just kidding brother!).  

If the parents of republicans currently elected to Congress this last election had adopted the same idea, they might have given their children names like Cry Baby, Dirt Bag, Underhanded, Greedy, Get Nothing Done and son of Get Nothing Done, Wrong Way, Ms. Take and Indecisive, Gridlock, Stalemate and Pass-the-Buck. These are all good names for republicans. For democrats this term in Congress, their parents might have named them Big Spender, Pet Project, Ms. Take and Indecisive (also republican names), Two-faced, and my favorite—Robin Hood (steal from the rich and give to the poor).  

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

With all the caveats how should one seriously approach the problem of naming their newborn? What do the experts say?

It turns out many parents often tend to name their newborn after a loved, but nevertheless deceased, grandparent either with first, middle, or even a made-up nick-name. Others like to name their newborn after celebrities or even politicians. For example, after the 2008 presidential election many parents named their newborn Barack or Obama, Michelle, Sasha, or Melia. Were it not for the election results in 2008, we might have had names like John McCain or Sara Palin running around a lot more now. No, I won’t make a joke about that!

Tips on Naming the Newborn

In searching the internet I found the following suggestions on how to approach the problem of naming a newborn. Here are a few name-choosing tips to help you find the right name for your baby.

Put In a Lot of Thought

A name to be proud of is a name well thought out. When choosing a name give yourself a lot of time to think of what you would like your child’s name to be. One pointer would be to find some significance to your child’s name. Avoid choosing a name just because it sounds right.

In the past, parents would choose names that would describe their children or the circumstances regarding their birth – hence names such as Grace (believing their child to be given by grace), Hope, Red, and others. Names surrounding circumstances are also good starting points. Names such as Serendipity, however tortuous, still make a unique sounding name. You will want to avoid names such as Running Dog and Hot Summer, though.

Some will choose a name based on people they want their children to be like – John (after St. John), Mary, Peter, Errol (Yes, Errol Flynn), Angel and the ever-popular Junior. You will want to stay clear of names that might bring to mind unsavory historical figures of infamy (Adolph?).

Put Yourself in Your Child’s Shoes

Constantly ask yourself the question, will this name cause me a lot of grief in school? Try avoiding names that are hard to spell and write. That would make it a problem in the future with documents and correspondence that are mislabeled due to confusing names. For example, if you name your child Mychael instead of Michael, people will still think Michael is the right spelling. While Mychael is quite a unique choice, it could lead to a lot of confusion.

Also test if the name you chose will be the source of teasing and rhyming at school. Find a name that is less likely to be used in teasing (which is terribly hard – you can never underestimate the creativity of grade school kids). You will have to think well and hard to avoid names that would create that kind of childhood torture. Consider your family name when doing so. The way your family name and the name you choose go together will determine whether your kid arrives home crying every day or not.

As a general rule try avoiding having names where vowels and consonants run into each other. If the name you choose ends with a vowel and your family name starts with a vowel, it could create the illusion that the full name is a single word. For example, Lei Orr doesn’t quite sound right does it? Nathan Matterhorn is a little confusing isn’t it? Also as a general rule try avoiding tongue twisters – that probably removes Peter Piper from your list.

Consult and Consider

Consulting a baby name book can yield some pretty interesting results. The advantage of these books is that they also give the meaning of the names they list. This makes it easier to find a name that best describes what you would want for your baby. Relatives and friends will want to suggest names, let them do just that—- suggest.

But in the end, the decision is yours. It’s a decision they will not live with, so make sure you still have the final say. If you would like more information on choosing a name for your newborn, then visit http://caringforyournewborn.myreferenceguide.com

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Alicia_McWilliams

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religions in it.

John Adams (Second President of the United States, 1735-1826)

In Part III of Religious Beliefs in America I report on what I consider to be the most important aspect of this series—Why People Believe.  Also, I do repeat my explanation from Part I regarding the work of Erich Fromm. Of critical importance to understanding religious beliefs is to first understand it’s psychological basis. 

Although many people filling out questionnaires or responding to telephone surveys say that they believe in God or various aspects of Christianity, very little is known as to why. Is it because of how one is raised and where? Is it simply a matter of geography? Is it because of emotional needs? Or is it all a failure to take responsibility for one’s life? Or is it out of fear and concern for the death we will all face one day and what, if anything, follows that? Or is belief in God deep rooted in the desire of the “ego” to protect the “self” at all costs, including the cost of giving up intellectual honesty?

 Aside from the issue of why people believe, or don’t believe, we also know very little about the degree, bond, or commitment individuals have to their beliefs. Are their beliefs casual and transitory? Do they change every time the wind blows, or are one’s beliefs constant and enduring? For now I will look at the reasons people believe in hopes of generally answering the question, “why” people believe.

Paul Kurtz has identified possible explanations as to why people believe “such as the need for identity, the quest for community, the role of indoctrination, the power of tradition, and ethnicity.”[1] However, he focused on two other explanations. He believes that the first explanation as to why do people believe is that believers have not been exposed to the factual critiques of their faith. These critiques apply to the cognitive basis of their belief and were alternative explanations of the alleged phenomena. This would appeal only to some people who were committed to inquiry but that also many people would use rationalization to intervene to rescue their faith.[2]

Kurtz also provided a second explanation. Accordingly, there are non-cognitive tendencies and impulses that temp believers to accept the unbelievable. He feels the disposition to believe, in spite of insufficient or contrary evidence, has deep roots in our biological and social nature.[3]

Most of us in our daily lives try to exercise common sense and reason as we cope with the many problems of everyday life. Kurtz also asserts that people do exercise common sense, and are cognitive in liberating us from false ideas in everyday life. We constantly, in everyday activities, use reason to refute unwarranted beliefs. However, he describes what he calls a “class of over-beliefs” for which no amount of evidence seems to suffice; at least for some people.[4]

Over-beliefs have a special name; they are known as “transcendental beliefs.” It is with these types of beliefs that faith, or will to believe, intervenes. “Transcendental beliefs are not verifiable and lie beyond normal observation. It is outside rational coherence and is enhanced by mystery and magic.”[5]

Kurtz believes many people accept unverified occult explanations when they are clothed in religious, supernatural, or paranormal guise.[6] Why do people believe in such things? He felt the answer lies in part because such accounts arouse awe and entice the passionate imagination. He labeled this, “the transcendental temptation”–the temptation to believe in things unseen because they satisfy inner needs and desires. More will be said of this last statement when the work of Eric Hoffer is reviewed.

All of us can find many reasons in our lives for things that seem, temporarily or otherwise–events, actions, or objects–that can overwhelm us. If one lives long enough we all encounter such things that make us afraid, to fear the known as well as the unknown. The transcendental temptation that Kurtz describes makes sense. It is a coping mechanism that helps one deal with calamity, disaster, pain, suffering, grief, sorrow, and even death all around us, and all the trials and tribulation of everyday living.

 Said another way, perhaps supernatural belief systems are the hopes and rationalizations we all use to protect ourselves in the face of personal hardship, difficulties, and sometimes tragedy. The transcendental belief is a lure (and fans the flame of unreality) which has the power to make otherwise intelligent people submit to it. It is a delusional characteristic that in other circles might be described as “mental illness.” As Kurtz reports, “It is the mystery and magic of religion, its incantations and rituals, that form the passions of over-belief, and nourish illusion and unreality.”[7]

 It is fair to say that when one person has a delusion, it is called mental illness; when millions of people have a delusion it is called religion. [I highly and enthusiastically recommend people read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins]. Interestingly, Richard Dawkins makes the same point I do about mental illness and religious beliefs. According to Dawkins, “You say you’ve experienced God directly? Well, some people have experienced a pink elephant, but that probably doesn’t impress you. Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, directly heard the voice of Jesus telling him to kill women, and he was locked up for life. George W. Bush says that God told him to invade Iraq (a pity God didn’t vouchsafe him a revelation that there were no weapons of mass destruction). Individuals in asylums think they are Napoleon or Charlie Chaplin, or that the entire world is against them, or that they can broadcast their thoughts into other people’s heads. We humor them but don’t take their internally revealed beliefs seriously, mostly because not many people share them. Religious experiences are different only in that the people who claim them are numerous.”8

 Can you imagine what it must have been like for primitive peoples, long before science provided explanations for thunder, lightening, fire and floods? Earthquakes, volcanoes, typhoons and tornadoes all demonstrated terrifying power. Such natural power must have scared the living daylights out of ancient and primitive people and tribes. How easy it must have been to concoct explanations of unseen gods (The Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians were masters of such concoctions) and other things that go bump in the night.[8]

 Humans tend to corrupt their vision of reality in order to survive in a world they cannot fully understand.[9] Modern man finds his troubles no less daunting than primitive man. The fact that he now has so many competing explanations may increase modern man’s desire to escape the very freedom he works so hard to achieve. This is certainly the case as revealed by one of the seminal writers of the 1940s, Erich Fromm.

In Escape from Freedom he writes that man strives for independence and individuality, in essence to be free. History shows that freedom from external domination. According to Fromm, “The history of economic liberation, political democracy, religious autonomy, and individualism in personal life, gave expression to the longing for freedom, and at the same time seemed to bring mankind closer to its realization. One tie after another was severed. Man had overcome the domination of nature and had made himself her master; he had overcome the church and the domination of the absolutist state. The abolition of external domination seemed to be a necessary but also a sufficient condition to attain the cherished goal: freedom of the individual.”[10]

But Fromm wondered why it was, despite the long history of wars and fighting to achieve freedom, people (like in Italy and Germany during World War II) were so willing to give up their freedom so easily to a charismatic leader or dictator. He concluded that people tend to want to escape from freedom and that this process is very much psychological. Freedom, while very welcome on the one hand, nevertheless presents the individual with too many choices he must confront in his life. A few can handle this freedom. Many cannot.

The reaction to such choice is often aloneness, isolation, and a desire to escape such freedom. Often the form that it takes is to submit oneself to a higher authority, a religion, or a charismatic leader. If aloneness is the price of individuality, “impulses arise to give up one’s individuality, to overcome the feeling of aloneness and powerlessness by completely submerging oneself in the world outside.”[11] As one submits, one realizes that the price it pays is giving up strength and the integrity of the self. Once again, according to Fromm, “This identity with nature, clan, religion, gives the individual security. He belongs to, is rooted in, a structuralized whole in which he has an unquestionable place. He may suffer from hunger or suppression, but he does not suffer from the worst of all pains–complete aloneness and doubt.”[12]

 Christianity is a mass movement and, as such, provides a level of analysis as to why mass movements are found to be so attractive to the individual. One of the most fertile minds of the 20th Century was that of the late longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer (The True Believer, 1951; The Passionate State of Mind, 1955; The Ordeal of Change, 1963; and The Temper of Our Times, 1967–among others).[13]

In the True Believer he answers the question: Who is the True Believer? According to Hoffer, “he is a guilt-ridden hitchhiker who thumbs a ride on every cause from Christianity to Communism. He’s a fanatic, needing a Stalin (or a Christ) to worship and die for. He’s the mortal enemy of things-as-they-are, and insists on sacrificing himself for a dream impossible to attain (like a heaven and eternal bliss or happiness). He is today everywhere on the march.”[14] [Just consider for a moment the religious right].

 This more aggregate sociological look at what motivates people to become a true believer for some mass movement, ironically perhaps, leads one to the psychological basis for such belief in a cause. While there are vast differences between various mass movements as to purposes and doctrine, they nevertheless share common characteristics such as uniformity in all types of dedication, of faith, of pursuit of power, of unity and of self-sacrifice.[15]

 The working hypothesis found in Hoffer’s work on the True Believer is that during the active, revivalist phase of mass movements, the phase is dominated by the true believer–the man of fanatical faith who is ready to sacrifice his life for a holy cause. According to Hoffer the frustrated predominate among the early adherents of all mass movements and they tend to join of their own accord.[16]

 “A mass movement, particularly in its active, revivalist phase, appeals not to those intent on bettering and advancing a cherished self…Their innermost craving is for a new life–a rebirth or, failing this, a hope, a sense of purpose and worth by identification with a holy cause.”[17]

Hoffer was able to show what seems to connect an ardent follower of a mass movement and his psychological characteristics. For Hoffer, “faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves…The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause…The burning conviction that we have a holy duty toward others is often a way of attaching our drowning selves to a passing raft. What looks like giving a hand is often a holding on for dear life. Take away our holy duties and you leave our lives puny and meaningless. There is no doubt in exchanging a self-centered for a selfless life, we gain enormously in self-esteem. The vanity of the selfless, even those who practice utmost humility, is boundless.”[18]

The famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud was a convinced, consistent, aggressive atheist. According to Peter Gay, “In the manner of the eighteenth Philosophes, he argued that religion and science are mortal enemies and that every attempt at bridging the gap between them is bound to be futile…By 1907, when he published Obsessive Actions and Religious Practices, in which he dwelt on the profound affinities between the ceremonies of obsessive neurotics and the ceremonies of religious believers, he had already told Jung proudly that he had got to the heart of religion: it was founded in the child’s sense of helplessness.”[19]

 For Freud man is always in conflict with his culture because of instinctual drives that are suppressed. But in order to deal with dangers outside such as nature, civilization serves a role of defending against nature. Nature never lets man control her through earthquakes, fires, floods, storms, and painfully the riddle of death against which no medicine has been found, nor ever will be. Civilization fights these forces of nature. In addition to nature and the hardship of life, civilization in turn, while being protective through communal action, nevertheless imposes privation on man and other men bring him a measure of suffering, either in spite of precepts of his civilization or because of its imperfections.[20]

Why People Believe in God

The Skeptics Society surveyed two populations for their beliefs (or disbeliefs) in God. In 1995 a survey was conducted among members of this society.[21]  A majority of members were scientists or professionals who were very well educated with a fifth who had a Ph.D. and three quarters who were college graduates. The results were surprising.

Over a third (35 percent) thought it “very likely” or “possible” that there is a God.  Sixty-seven percent said, “Not very likely,” “Very Unlikely,” or “Definitely Not.” Interestingly some 77 percent said they believe religion is “always” or “sometimes” a force for morality and social stability. According to those conducting the survey, while the majority of skeptics and scientists did not believe in God, a surprisingly large minority did.[22]

The question was why does anyone believe in God? These authors reported that a partial answer is based on how our brains and genes are wired. Some scientists believe that genes account for 50 percent of the beliefs in religiosity. However, that still leaves the environment to play a major role as well.[23]

A follow-up survey was conducted by members of the Skeptics Society as to family background, religious beliefs, reasons for belief or disbeliefs, and an essay question asking why people believe (or disbelieve), and why they think other people believe.[24] Some 1,700 responded to the survey, 78 percent men and 22 percent women, with an average age of 49. The following are the results of the survey for the question, why do you believe in God:

Why Skeptics Believe in God

Arguments based on good design/natural beauty/perfection/complexity of the world or universe. (29 percent)

  • Belief in God is comforting, relieving, consoling, and gives purpose and meaning to life. (21.3 percent)
  • The experience of God in everyday life / a feeling that God is in us. (14.4 percent)
  • Just because /faith / or need to believe in something. (11.4 percent)
  • Without God there would be no reality. (6.4 percent) [25]

 Why Skeptics Think Other People Believe in God

 Belief in God is comforting / relieving /consoling / and gives meaning and purpose to life. (21.5 percent)

  • The need to believe in an afterlife / the fear of death and the unknown. (17.8 percent)
  • Lack of exposure to science / lack of education / ignorance. (13.5 percent)
  • Raised to believe in God (11.5 percent)
  • Arguments based on good design/ natural beauty/perfection/complexity of the world or universe (8.8 percent) [26]

 Why Skeptics Do Not Believe in God

 There is no proof for God’s existence. (37.9 percent)

  • There is no need to believe in God. (13.2 percent)
  • It is absurd to believe in God. (12.1 percent)
  • God is unknowable. (8.3 percent)
  • Science provides all the answers we need (8.3 percent)[27]

 The other survey pertained to the general population. Survey of the general population resulted in 1,000 responses.[28] Average age of respondent was 42. Sixty-two percent of respondents were men and 38 percent were women.

The results were different. A belief in God amounted to 18 percent among the skeptics sample, but 64 percent in the general survey. When they looked at why people believe or do not believe they found that the three strongest predictors supporting religiosity, and belief in God, were being raised religiously, gender (more women are religious than men), and parent’s religiosity.[29]

The three strongest predictors of lower religiosity and disbelief in God are education, age, and parental conflict. In other words being male, educated, and older tends to make people less religious, while being female, possessing less education, and raised by religious parents makes one more religious. The researchers reported that socioeconomic status had no direct influence on beliefs, but political beliefs did. Conservatives were found to be more religious and liberals less so.[30]

“David Wulff, summarizing a sizeable body of literature on the subject, reported that ‘measuring piety’ as a function of religious affiliation, church attendance, doctrinal orthodoxy, and self-rated importance of religion, researchers consistently found positive correlation with ethnocentrism, authoritarianism, dogmatism, social distance, rigidity, intolerance of ambiguity, and specific forms of prejudice, especially against Jews and Blacks. That is to say, greater religiosity was associated with higher scores for these personality traits–traits that are the very antithesis of political liberalism.”[31]

Another way people believe in God (or don’t believe) is related to sociobiology. According to Morton Hunt, “Sociobiology holds that a certain part of human behavior is based on our biology–specifically, by gene-directed tendencies developed in us by evolution…complex interactions among numerous genes give us the capacity and inclination to develop into people who are either more or less violent, more or less altruistic, monogamous or polygamous, Muslim or Catholic, or whatever–depending on how our upbringing, experience, and the myriad of influences on us of the culture we are immersed in elicit the potentialities within those cogeries of genes. That’s how the individual develops.”[32]

Edward O. Wilson of Harvard made popular the new branch of human behavioral science known as sociobiology. Wilson coined the term “gene-culture coevolution.”[33] What does this mean? It means that certain psychologically based preferences charmed the development of culture. He uses the example of the development of family life in every culture in response to the infant’s and mother’s need for continuing sustenance and protection.[34]

“On the other hand, certain cultural influences reciprocally favor the selection and evolution of particular genetic tendencies such as society’s need to inhibit uncontrolled aggression by favoring people with built-in responsiveness to social control of aggression.”[35]

Morton further reports, “The primary needs met by religion, socio-biologists say, were the allaying of fear and the explanation of the world’s many mystifying phenomena. With the development of the brains’ capacity for language, human beings were able to develop concepts and have experiences that had been available to pre-humans, among them the consciousness of risks and of death, of time. The past and the futures of reward and punishment: puzzlement about natural phenomena; the satisfaction of problem solving; and aesthetic pleasure, wonder, and awe.”[36]

While primitive humans developed and experienced a sense of awe at the world around them, modern humans could think with the increased brain size and capacity with language. For early man religion had no competition for explanation. Mysteries of the world for early humans were demystified by religious explanation. Real living by people produced both positive (health returning after sickness, crops harvested, new child birth, the balance of justice among people, and pleasure in beauty and awe in the world around them) and negative experiences (sickness, hardships, crop failures, death and loss of loved ones).[37]

More than 75 percent of the world’s people try to make sense of the negative and positive experience described above by means of religion. If evil exists it is the work of the evil deity such as Satan. Or it is the product of evil desires in human beings. People pray asking the deity to make all turn out well. People seek reassurance after the death of a loved one with the hope that they will live after death in heaven. If life is terrible your reward is in heaven by a loving father. On the other hand, when everything in one’s life goes well, shouldn’t one give thanks to the one who is the supposed source of all good things, i.e., the “sky God who judges you?”

Religious explanations cover the entire myriad of experiences in life, the good and the bad. That is, all the bases are covered. Religious explanations act to bind and cement both our emotional and physical life. Religion meets the need to understand and control life. Through either ancient shamans, or modern-day priests and ministers, one is encouraged to trust in them, and submit in order to live together in harmony. The need to live together is biologically based. Finally, according to Morton, “we require social life to thrive emotionally–and, in fact, physically. Recent evidence shows that people who live alone have less immune resistance to disease than people who live with spouses or ‘significant other’ partners.”[38]

Why People Don’t Believe

In 1900 1% of the American population considered themselves atheists or free-thinkers. In 2000, that percentage had increased to 15-20% of the population. Figures in Europe are much higher. In Australia the figure is even higher, i.e., 25 percent. Given that religion has been described as the opium of the people, and gives order to their lives, why do some people not believe when the majority of people do? Don’t unbelievers, agnostics and atheists ever get caught up with the transcendental temptation?

 Kurtz believes there is a plurality of explanations.

 For those who go through conversion, the conversion is a rather rapid emotional transformation.

 For those who go through de-conversion the process (based on autobiographical accounts) is a slow, cognitive process.

 One could argue that, on average, those who don’t believe are much smarter (or have more education) than the believer. There is research evidence that the more intelligent an individual is the less likely he or she is to believe in God or a religion. Or perhaps non-believers are a much more advanced species of humans. Both believers and non-believers are a product of millions of years of evolution. Both types evolved from a common ancestor a few million years ago. There is a sequence of events that moved our evolution along on the road to modern man. Intelligence increases were possible through a series of interacting events.

We now know that the crucial turning point in our evolution was when the great apes and/or australopithecines stood up and became bipedal on the African savannah. This allowed their hands to free up, and led to a greater ability to make tools for cutting which in turn provided greater access to animal protein. More protein via meat-eating thus led in turn to an increase in the size of the brain. Those who had an edge in the brain department were more likely to survive and reproduce. All of these things helped early man on the road to language, and then correspondingly to the evolutionary development of culture.

 The Role of Experience and Culture

 What role does experience and culture play in evolutionary development? I reported earlier that 52% of Jews do not believe in a God, 21% of Catholics, and 10% of Protestants. As a group, Jews are much better educated than most other groups. But they also have cultural experiences like the Holocaust that would tend not to strengthen one’s belief in a benevolent deity. Said another way, experience in life is important as well as education in matters of belief.

There are a large number of people who regard consistent laws of nature governing the behavior of galaxies, human genes, and quarks, with the awe and respect that others accord to a more traditional God. An often stated quotation of Albert Einstein is, “science without religion is lame; but religion without science is blind.” What Einstein actually meant by the term religion is different from how the term is normally used in Christianity. For Einstein religion or religious meant the awe and respect he had for the natural laws of the universe and those discoverable through the sciences of physics and cosmology.

Albert Einstein did not believe in a personal God who meddles in the affairs of humans. To be religious, to Albert Einstein, was to enthusiastically hold in high regard the laws of physics and of the universe that he spent a lifetime trying to determine and theorize about. Ultimately, Albert Einstein was a scientific Pantheist, not a traditionally religious person at all.

Morton Hunt put his finger on the characteristics of the unbeliever when he said, “Perhaps unbelievers do not so much reject the religious needs and impulses of the human race, as adapt to them in realistic and humanistic terms, replacing the fairy tales of conventional religions with the more intellectually demanding tales, provided by modern science, of natural laws and of the demonstrable, repeatable evidence of cause-and-effect relationships…perhaps unbelievers differ from the great majority of human beings in one other way: possibly unbelievers are psychologically adult, needing no invisible parent figure, able to face the reality of life and death without fear (or at least live with that fear), and too sensible to believe in anything that has no proof, any explanation of the world that is either impossible or absurdum.”[39]

 The Caring Hypothesis and Death

 Most of the variables so far used do describe why people believe in a God or heaven seem to dwell on the naïve nature of people, and because of fear of the unknown. This is because there is strong institutional support for maintaining those beliefs. This author proposes a new hypothesis on why people believe that relates to fear but also ties in to the social nature of caring about others. I think there is a positive motive, most likely unconscious, as to why one wishes to believe in a God and heaven. This might be characterized as The Caring Hypothesis and Death.

Most of us care deeply about the people we live and socialize with in our lives. Caring for people is one of the greatest activities to give people meaning and purpose in life. One’s spouse, significant other, children and/or friends collectively comprise, along with perhaps humanity in general, the nexus of caring for others–all others.

Because we care so deeply for others we would like there to be a safe place for those we love after death. An invisible caring entity (The Sky God who judges you) that looks after those we care about is very appealing. The old expression, “Life’s a bitch and then you die” doesn’t make one feel any better even if the expression is sometimes true. An eternal life for those we love, without pain and suffering, is very appealing.

This desire to help our loved ones in all things makes the suspension of disbelief also appealing despite our normal observation that when life is over the body decays and rots in the grave or turns to ash following cremation.

 Five billion years from now the earth will be no more, and everything will all become stardust again. As nice as that thought of becoming stardust can be for people, it is not as appealing or compelling as eternal life.

We do everything in our power to deny the obvious–to engage in denial. Fairy tales are much more appealing than rotting corpses, pain, loss, and personal suffering by those left behind. “He’s in heaven now dear” said a relative to the grieving widow, or among those who really believe in their hearts, “Life’s a bitch and then you die.” These people would rather say, “He’s in a better place now.” Yeah! Well better than what?

The Burden of Proof

When it comes to non-believers there are 1.1 billion worldwide. They are a sizable minority compared to the other 4.9 billion inhabitants of the earth who identify with some religion. An Agnostic may be defined as a person who believes that the existence of God, or a primal cause, can be neither proven nor unproven. The word agnostic comes from the Greek word meaning “unknown” or “unknowable.” The term agnostic needs to be contrasted with the term “Gnosis” or Gnostic where the later term means knowledge.

Another term used to refer to one’s position on God or primal causes is Atheist. Atheists, as a group of non-believers, have certain disadvantages in their position taken. The first disadvantage is a verbal assertion about what is unknown, unknowable, supernatural, or invisible. That assertion is–that something does not exist. Such an assertion is patently “unscientific.”

By asserting that something does not exist one immediately clashes with what science has long held as its own limitation. That is, it is impossible to prove a negative hypothesis. Science doesn’t work that way for what data would one collect (and data is the cornerstone of all science) in order to test one’s hypothesis that something does not exist? Put very simply–it is impossible to do that.

Ironically, to make an assertion about non-existence of a God is strikingly similar to the person who lives by faith that God does exist. Many people don’t realize it but the religious zealot and the atheist share a common perspective i.e., they are both trying to make a “leap of faith.” The believer and the non-believer share the same podium in that respect. Nevertheless, there is an important difference here that does favor the Atheist over the Theist or Deist. And that difference is the burden of proof.

The burden of proof does not lie with the atheist or the scientist to prove something does not exist. Such proof technically lies with those who make claims of a supernatural nature; otherwise claims are only assertions of belief unsubstantiated and without the benefit of actual proof. What is different between the atheist and scientist on the one hand, and the true believer or religious zealot on the other, are their tools of measurement, willingness to measure, and the approach taken.

Interestingly, the invisibility of the subject matter of religion or science isn’t even the issue. Why? Because even where invisibility of the subject matter is concerned, it is measurement, and a willingness to measure, that does matter. For example molecules, atoms, protons, and even the elusive neutrino are invisible to the naked eye. Nevertheless, they can be measured for their proof of existence. God is alleged to be invisible to the naked eye, yet theologians and fundamentalist “true believers” of all types have yet to provide proof of existence through any kind of “measurement.”

Said simply, they have failed to provide the needed proof to substantiate their supernatural claims. It is interesting to note that the 20th Century’s greatest scientist Albert Einstein never attributed bizarre supernatural forces as an explanation for the fundamental laws of the universe.

 Why America is turning more Secular

 The data from the Barna survey strongly suggested that the slide toward syncretism may be responsible for the decline of Christianity in the 20th Century. Evidently, the democratic trend toward freedom of religion and freedom from religion took heart in America. However, the net effect of these changes within and outside Christianity is the move toward a more secular society.

There are three basic reasons American society, in particular, is becoming more secular: (1) The religious right is trying to invade secular society, (2) scandals within the church has lowered its status in the eyes of the public, and (3) simultaneously, science education and technology has come to dominate the social landscape of our culture through laboratory research, and through educational programs on television and in the classroom.

 It is also true that alienation produced by fundamentalists gone amuck with their disdain for liberal and mainstream Protestant denominations created an atmosphere where younger potential converts automatically looked askance at religious institutions altogether with contempt. As stated before, until mainstream and liberal churches gang up and fight fundamentalists politically and socially, they will continue to lose adherents, and suffer from the consequences of a right-wing extremist theocracy.

Adding fuel to the decline in Christianity is the undeniable scourge of sexual abuse of innocent children at the hands of Catholic priests, Protestant ministers, along with many other types of church workers. Not only have these offenders brought dishonor and disgrace to themselves as individuals, but have lowered the value and status of the various religious institutions they represent. The outcome of these and other scandals has harmed and denigrated whatever value remains of religious institutions in America. Such disgrace and dishonor has resulted in the continued decline in attracting new people to the faith of Christianity.

Squabbles both inside and outside the church will continue to paint a picture of church leadership as incompetent. Cognitive dissonance perceived by others as phoniness and hypocrisy in actual conduct by believers, will continue to cast a light on the bigotry and hatred that has lessened the status of religious institutions everywhere. If Jesus were alive today he would be ashamed of what has happened in Christianity during the last 2000 years in His name. The following quote is worthy of repeating. As Mark Twain said in the 19th Century, “If Jesus was alive today there is one thing he certainly wouldn’t be–and that is a Christian.”[40]

Joseph Campbell discussed in his book, The Power of Myth that every culture holds dearly to its myths. And there is a tendency in every culture to believe one’s own. Why people hold on to their religious cultural myths has been the subject of this blog. Holding on to cultural myths (for all you sociologists) is a product of learning in small social groups. But it is also due to the vast institutionalization of Christianity in America. Such mythology does have power that has persisted into the modern era. Some of the reasons have been discussed in this series of blogs. But cultural wars employ many of the same tools such as television programs that provide an instant audience of millions of people.

Right now as one scans television’s power they’re several first rate channels on DISH and cable networks. They include: The Science Channel, Discovery Channel, Learning Channel, The History Channel, and many other programs found on NOVA. In addition the Science Channel in 2008 brought back the award-winning program COSMOS, originally written and hosted by the late scientist, Carl Sagan.

Collectively, these kinds of programs can have a profound influence on shaping and developing young fertile minds, and help stimulate opposition to the mythology of the Christian world. Organized religion, including Christianity, is all about social control of its adherents. But in a true democracy like America, Christian radio and television exists right along as competition for the attention of people. There is “Freedom of Religion” in our U.S. Constitution. But guess what? By implication there is also “Freedom from Religion” as well.

 


[1] Paul Kurtz, “Why Do People Believe or Disbelieve?” In Science and Religion: Are They Compatible, ed. Paul Kurtz with assistance of Barry Karr and Ronjit Sandhu  (New York: Promethius Books, 2003), 283

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 283-284

[5] Ibid, 284

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, 285

[8] Polytheism and paganism involved characteristics of animism, shamanism, and anthropomorphism. 

[9] Ibid, 285

[10] Erich Fromm, Escape From Freedom (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1941), 3-4.

[11] Ibid, 29

[12] Ibid, 35

[13] Eric Hoffer published ten books between 1951 and 1982, and an eleventh was published after his death in 1983.

[14] Eric Hoffer, The True Believer (Perennial Library Harper & Row Publishers, 1951), back cover.

[15] Ibid, Preface.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid, 23

[18] Ibid.

[19] Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion, with a biographical introduction by Peter Gay (London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1961), xxiii

[20] Ibid, 19-20

[21] Michael Shermer, How We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God (2nd Edition) A.W.H. Freeman/Owl Book, (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2000), 74-75

[22] Ibid, 74

[23] Ibid, 75

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid., 77

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid, 78

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid, 79

[30] Ibid, 80

[31] Ibid, 81

[32] Morton Hunt, “The Biological Roots of Religion” Paul Kurtz ed. In Science and Religion (New York: Prometheus Books, 2003), 303

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid, 303-304

[36] Ibid, 304

[37] Ibid, 305-306

[38] Ibid, 305

[39] Ibid, 308-309

[40] Mark Twain was also known as Samuel Clemens.

Read Full Post »