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Monday, 1 October 2012

Why Religious People Behave Like Atheists

In just about every way that matters in everyday life, religious people behave just the way Atheists do. To watch them, you would be hard-pressed to know if they are real Atheists or not.

Take, for instance, crossing a road. You will never see a religious person standing at the roadside praying for the road to be clear, then just stepping out into the traffic secure in the knowledge that their god has stopped the traffic and made it safe for them to cross. Instead, they behave exactly like an Atheist would. They check first and wait for a safe gap, or wait for the lights to change. They even behave like Atheists and bet their life on the absence of evidence being evidence of absence just as Atheists do with cars and gods - which is why Pascal's Wager fails to work on people who aren't already afraid of a god.

What would we think of religious fundamentalist parents who taught their children just to pray then walk across the road, instead of doing what normal people like Atheists would do and teach their children about road safety?

Take the example of people on a sinking ship. Religious people might take a moment to say a prayer then get into a lifeboat. Atheists of course will already be getting into the lifeboat. It might be that a few honest religious people who haven't thought things through properly will refuse to get into a lifeboat but will just rely on prayers, thinking their god is going to miraculously lift them off the boat and put them on dry land. There is no record of this ever happening so they will drown unless they abandon their touching but futile faith in time and realise the Atheists are right after all.

The other day I was in Tescos buying the weekly shopping and a woman in a burkha paid for her shopping with money from her purse, just like I did. I expect the woman with the large and conspicuous cross on a chain round her neck did the same thing. It's a good bet that their money came from earnings, just like mine did. None of it came from prayer and Tescos won't accept prayers in lieu of money. These two religious women had had to behave like me, just as though they were Atheists too. In fact, just like any Atheist, they actually went shopping and didn't just pray to a god to have food appear in their cupboards. Obviously, like Atheists, they know that wouldn't work.

I suppose it's possible that a religious person, especially one like a Christian who believes they just need to say sorry to their god and all wrongs are forgiven, could have tried stealing the shopping and confessing in church on Sunday, so there is that. Fortunately for civilised societies, not that many Christians seem to believe that part of their faith so it isn't a major, major problem. It could explain the disproportionately high numbers of religious fundamentalist and the disproportionately low number of Atheists in prisons, and the fact that atheistic societies like Sweden are the most law-abiding whilst the most religious tend to be the most criminal. To be fair to most religious people though, this probably isn't a significant advantage to them.

You're probably thinking now about that old chestnut that religious people always spout when the prayers they believe will work don't - "God helps those who help themselves" (which is a really useful slogan if you have an indifferent or an absent god). But, if you think about it, that's just like saying God helps those who behave like Atheists. Strange then that all preachers and holy books tell their followers to behave exactly not like Atheists and no religious person would ever admit to doing so, even though we can see them doing so nearly all of the time in order to lead a normal, independent life, free from constant adult supervision.

So, what could religious people be getting out of their otherwise bizarre occasional religion-inspired behaviour which doesn't seem to produce any tangible benefits and just adds a lot of overheads and extra effort?

That will be the subject of another blog, about motivational psychology.


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11 comments:

  1. The sinking-ship cartoon reminded me of this -- not exactly about religion, but pretty entertaining if you haven't seen it already.

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  2. Similarly, in the circumstances that you described, don't atheists behave just like agnostics, deists, and Buddhists? I'm not sure why it would be surprising that a religious person believes that it is important to look both ways before crossing the street. There is nothing in most religions with which I am familiar to teach that one should disregard such general laws of nature on a typical daily basis. In fact, it seems interesting to me that many atheists choose to behave like religious people when it comes to many moral issues. I've met many atheist who are very moral as defined by traditional judeo-chiristian standards, and when I as they why they choose such behaviors, I often find that their answers are simply because it seems like a good way to live or because it produces well-being for self and/or others. Those are concepts that were embraced by the religious long before they were embraced by any atheists.

    However, religious people behave quite differently from atheists. I'm not sure if Gandhi would have make the same choices and behaviors if he were not religious. I say the same for the behaviors of Mother Theresa, and a myriad of others people with less known names. It seems like a straw man to somehow suggest that people are never inspired to behave differently on the basis of their religious beliefs. Instead of choosing examples about crossing the street, consider examples about acts of sacrifice, choices to behave consistent with one's religious belief system (non-violence, vegetarianism, sexual abstinence, or whatever else it might be within various a specific religion).

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    1. Are you suggesting that people weren't "nice" before religion came along?

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    2. Strange isn't it. I think the assumption that there is no reason to behave decently unless for a reward or to avoid punishment speaks volumes of theists.

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    3. Just reading ancient Greek or Roman stuff shows that what they thought about religion was completely different from this era. To be fair & balanced, I doubt FoxNews & politicians & evangelical folks will not like this eh.

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  3. lol okay here we go...

    Firstly, religious people do not need to pray to cross the road because it is a situation were they can control. You don't need to pray to cross the street because your OWN intelligence and common sense will help you out. That is why your point is moot and a gross misrepresentation.

    "What would we think of religious fundamentalist parents who taught their children just to pray then walk across the road, instead of doing what normal people like Atheists would do and teach their children about road safety?"

    We would think they are horrible parents. But thankfully most if not all religious parents don't do that. As for the point "Normal people like Atheists" normal according to who? Everyone's meaning of normal is different. On the world wide scale, MOST people believe in god are the normal ones, cause most of the world believes. Being atheist is normal for YOU, but worldwide it is not the normal view. Passing opinions that suit your belief, does not make it a fact.

    I'm not going to respond to the point about lifeboats just for the very reason, most SANE religious people don't believe god intervenes in worldly affairs like you like to imagine. Again you are presenting assumptions and opinions as facts.

    Really? The Christian and Muslim ladies are acting like YOU, just cause they decided to pay for their purchases? On the contrary, a mathematician and statistical analyst could argue that YOU are acting like the RELIGIOUS WOMEN, for the very reason more people GLOBALLY believe because it is in their BELIEF not to steal.They are not following atheist behavior, in they are following the LAW in the society you both live in, which is also in accordance with their faith. If the Hindu family in front of you at costco pays for their items, and you go right after and pay for your purchases to, does that mean you are following the Hindu beliefs? Thought so! And again no sane religious person will pray for that because that is a matter under our control, does not need divine interference.

    "atheistic societies like Sweden are the most law-abiding whilst the most religious tend to be the most criminal. To be fair to most religious people though, this probably isn't a significant advantage to them."

    Have you ever thought most religious countries, are third world countries and live in horrible conditions and it is a fact that crimes are more common in poorer areas? Also, many third world "religious" countries have been grossly exploited by the "atheistic societies", and as a result are hell holes. Social-economics contribute to crime in societies, not religions as you like to pass of. Another point being an atheist nation does not mean its all crime free and safe, see communist/atheist Russia in the 20th century.


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    1. Anonymous

      >Firstly, religious people do not need to pray to cross the road because it is a situation were they can control. <

      Have you any evidence that religious people can control situations they can't control?

      >As for the point "Normal people like Atheists" normal according to who? <

      Normal according to people who don't believe they can control reality with magic spells.

      >Being atheist is normal for YOU, but worldwide it is not the normal view. <

      Seeking safety in numbers eh? Unfortunately for you, no religion has ever commanded the support of a majority of the world's people, so on that basis, no religious view is normal. There is only one Atheism however, and that has been around, unchanged, for as long as there have been intelligent beings. Apart from Skinner's pigeons, can you think of any other species which has developed religion?

      >I'm not going to respond to the point about lifeboats<

      Except you just have...

      > just for the very reason, most SANE religious people don't believe god intervenes in worldly affairs like you like to imagine. <

      Er... I rather thought it was YOU who believes that a god intervenes in worldly affairs, otherwise you would be agreeing with me - and you're not. Are you now saying people who pray to gods to change things are insane?

      >Really? The Christian and Muslim ladies are acting like YOU, just cause they decided to pay for their purchases? On the contrary, a mathematician and statistical analyst could argue that YOU are acting like the RELIGIOUS WOMEN, for the very reason more people GLOBALLY believe because it is in their BELIEF not to steal.<

      Ah! You felt you needed to impugn the morality of people who behave like normal Atheists and pay for their purchases, instead of doing what so many Christians do, and commit a crime then pray for forgiveness in the hope that the Bible is right about them being forgiven, eh?

      >They are not following atheist behavior, in they are following the LAW in the society you both live in, <

      Your evidence that Atheists don't obey the law is to be found where, exactly, please? How does it explain the fact that religious societies tend to be MORE criminal and that atheists tend to be highly UNDER-represented in prisons? (Cue the 'No True Scotsmen fallacy)

      Don't you feel just a tad embarrassed needing to try to smear Atheists because you found it hard to deal with the main point of my blog - that religious people just carry an additional overhead with no discernible benefits?

      >Have you ever thought most religious countries, are third world countries and live in horrible conditions<

      Indeed. Thank you for pointing out that religion is often a feature of backward societies. Do you think this is a cause or an effect of religion?

      >Another point being an atheist nation does not mean its all crime free and safe, see communist/atheist Russia in the 20th century.<

      I'm wondering now how far away from the point of the blog you are going to need to go in your attempt to disguise the fact that you haven't yet dealt with its main point.

      To bring you back to the point, here is the question you avoided:

      "So, what could religious people be getting out of their otherwise bizarre occasional religion-inspired behaviour which doesn't seem to produce any tangible benefits and just adds a lot of overheads and extra effort?"

      Can you answer it without resort to smears and WITH resort to truth and honesty?


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    2. You don't need to pray to cross the street because your OWN intelligence and c"ommon sense will help you out. That is why your point is moot and a gross misrepresentation. "

      Thank you! Common sense will help people cross the street, but the same common sense will not stop you from believing in a god you never see but only hear about.
      Lukhman

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    3. >You don't need to pray to cross the street<

      Of course not. You behave like a perfectly normal Atheist - which is the entire point of the blog. Can I suggest you read past the first sentence next time.

      Delete
  4. Anonymous:

    >However, religious people behave quite differently from atheists. I'm not sure if Gandhi would have make the same choices and behaviors if he were not religious.<

    Ghandi is on record as having said that he would be a Christian if it wasn't for all the Christians

    >...many third world "religious" countries have been grossly exploited by the "atheistic societies", and as a result are hell holes<

    One such 'Hell-Hole' I have repeatedly visited in recent years is ruled by 2 governments: The elected government, and by the guys in long robes and funny hats, and the guys running the elected government dont do anything without getting the permission from the guys in robes and funny hats, and boy, what a mess that place is. even the corporates kowtow to the funny-had brigade, cant see much evidence there of 'Atheistic Societies'

    Unless you refer to such groups as Freemasons, who have a few teachings and concepts that 'Christianity' would do well to consider

    ReplyDelete

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