Author Topic: Why religious people don't know their own religion  (Read 356 times)

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Offline nogodsforme

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Why religious people don't know their own religion
« on: September 26, 2013, 03:33:58 PM »
I was thinking about the fact that I never learned the history of the JW's until I was no longer a JW. We often find that religious people are highly ignorant of the historical background, etc of their own religion. Why is that so often the case?

Suppose a person from a particular religion invites you to start attending their church. You attend for a while, and decide to join up. Why? You are swayed by the emotional content of the service, the niceness of the members, the power of the preaching, the way the teachings resonate with your life experience, etc. You are supposed to make one of the most important decisions of your life purely based on how you feel about it.

While you are deciding whether to join, are you given lessons on the background of the denomination, or historical information about the founding of the religion? Are you expected to analyze the religion factually or comparatively? Are you invited to critically examine what the religious group got wrong in the past and how it was fixed?

Usually not. People can be members for a lifetime without knowing any facts about how their church or denomination fits into history, when and where it originated, who the leaders were, what motivated them, how it has changed over time, etc.[1]

Compare that experience to earning a college degree in nearly any field--say geology or anthropology. You take a few classes and decide you like it enough to major in it. You talk to the professors and they advise you on whether they think you would be a good candidate for that field.

Then you take more classes, including methods of investigation specific to that field. You learn about the history of the discipline, who the important thinkers were. And you are expected to know about the different debates that have gone on in your field, why people follow this theorist vs that thinker, what mistakes people made along the way and how they were fixed. You learn about how, over time, the field became more rational and scientific.

For example, anthropology in the 19th century was full of racist and sexist ideas. The early thinkers were fooled by hoaxes, etc. They did things that we consider wrong, like experiment on slaves as research subjects.  As an anthropologist you are expected to know about this and not do this kind of sh!t anymore.

But in religion, this kind of introspection and examination is not generally encouraged-- I think some Buddhist groups and Catholic Jesuits may be exceptions. Because members are supposed to think that their religion is the right one, there is rarely any discussion of what the religion got wrong in the past. (You don't have to learn about mistakes if there never were any.) And if you feel good about your religion, why confuse the issue with messy facts?
 1. I have talked to young Mormon missionaries who did not know that their religion had discriminated against black people until the 1970's. :?
Extraordinary claims of the bible don't even have ordinary evidence.

Kids aren't paying attention most of the time in science classes so it seems silly to get worked up over ID being taught in schools.

Offline Jag

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Re: Why religious people don't know their own religion
« Reply #1 on: September 26, 2013, 06:19:28 PM »
I think for some, maybe lots, it's a matter of being born into it. Your exposure is under someone else's control from the beginning, long before you have an opportunity to question anything.

I was raised Catholic, even attended a Catholic elementary school. I went to Wednesday night catechism classes, and followed the normal processes of going through the various sacraments up to the point of confirmation - I think it could be considered roughly on par with an adult baptism, although I only recently noticed that. I attended services, went to classes, heard bible stories, colored pictures, went to vacation bible school in the summer, and there weren't any questions to ask  really. I was spoon-fed answers in advance of thinking to ask them, I was a well-behaved child (not so much teen though) who believed that yes, Jesus loved me, because I'd been singing that song since I was old enough to lisp it out apparently.

I didn't think much about Catholic history or theology, most of my inquiries were about god, not church. But during those years, I could have explained my beliefs, articulated what being Catholic meant (at least what it meant to me) and probably gotten the broad strokes down, enough to satisfy anyone who might have thought to ask me.

I could have identified certain differences between various denominations services - my Methodist friend said some extra lines at the end of the LP that Catholics don't say. At the time it was just something she did and I didn't; I see it quite differently today but I'm not sure I would if I still thought I believed in that God.

My Lutheran friends, I actually kind of liked going to church with them (since I had to go in any case) because their services were more upbeat and cheery than the ones I daydreamed through at our church. That may have been a matter of church leader/pastor/priest/whatever than the denomination itself though. It never occurred to me to ask about the differences, by and large we were screwing around very quietly more than anything, or daydreaming alone if the friend's parents were particularly strict about it. One or two were; most were daydreaming themselves and we were fine as long as we were quiet.

My friends and I spent lots of Saturday nights in various combinations of sleepovers, but it was just a given that where ever you had spent the night, the parents would take you to their church in the morning. I'm not even sure many people would have thought much about it one way or another. It was just, well, the way it was. Small Midwest town with a handful of churches all in pretty close quarters and no big fusses about who went to which one. I knew services had minor differences (too rural, small, and Minnesota Nice a town for anything too far out there; and I was a kid) but I'm not sure I really even gave much thought to what made any particular sect different from any other. I mean, we all believed in God and we had way more fun stuff to do than talk about religion. Most of the time - there were a few stretches in elementary school when we'd all get a dose of the holy and act really stupid and make plans to join convents until it wore off. There's a lot of pressure to admire saints and such put on kids and it was kind of creepy for the girls - most of the women we were supposed to admire had some pretty nasty sh!t done to them before being martyred.  In retrospect that's a really weird goal to set for young females and I'm reminded again of why I find religion so disturbing.

Oh yeah, I forgot about when the "Moonies" moved to town, but that's a different story.

I've had some weird moments of culture shock as I've learned how other sects of Christianity view Catholics. I haven't considered myself a Catholic for decades, far longer than I've been a non-believer, but I seem to have a lingering thread attached somewhere, because I sometimes feel a tiny twitch of ... knee-jerk defensiveness?... when certain parts of the doctrine get criticized. No rationale, no idea what is going to trip it, not even a sincere wish for it to stop entirely - I think it's a good reminder for me that assaults on beliefs can hurt. It's strange to experience it.

I was having enough trouble getting answers to questions about God, I hadn't even begun to question doctrine against any other doctrine. I could identify things the Church said that I thought were wrong, and for a few years I was pretty sure I'd be spending a lot of time in Purgatory making up for going against the Church (even if only in my head, cause I sure as hell wasn't admitting them out loud to a preist in confession no matter how many times they insisted that he's simply standing in for God. I know when a human is judging me... it's a trap - if I won't confess I can't be forgiven and I was gambling that I wasn't committing a mortal sin, just a venial one. No wonder so many Catholics drink.). I did realize that I was in disagreement with the Church, there's no question about that. I wasn't entirely sure if I was in disagreement with God about them though, and that was a weird place to be. Even weirder to realize now that my apparent reconciliation of the problem was to expect a very long time out.  :?

I think there are a lot of... "mushy" believers out there. They believe in God in a vague, ill-defined way. Their beliefs might even vary, without their awareness, depending on the issue. I also am pretty sure that a lot of them do not actually believe the things they claim they believe. If they did, they wouldn't act the way they do. Believers when convenient, perhaps.

Edit:formatting
« Last Edit: September 26, 2013, 06:24:29 PM by Jag »
My tolerance for BS is limited, and I use up most of it IRL.

Offline Anfauglir

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Re: Why religious people don't know their own religion
« Reply #2 on: September 27, 2013, 03:36:21 AM »
While you are deciding whether to join, are you given lessons on the background of the denomination, or historical information about the founding of the religion? Are you expected to analyze the religion factually or comparatively? Are you invited to critically examine what the religious group got wrong in the past and how it was fixed?

But, to be fair, outside of the degree study you mention, does anyone do that with anything?  For the average supporter of a sports team, how much do you learn about the history of its founding before you chose to follow it?  If a 20-year old gets into computer games today, how much will they want to know about Jeff Crammond, about Imagine, about Brben and Bell?  If you join a political party, do you care about what they do now, or how the party was founded 200 years ago?

I agree that - for what should be the most important decsion of a lifetime (according to religions), its history and basis should indeed be at least as important as what the religion is saying today, but you are correct that most people don't really seem to care.  It only goes to reinforce my opinion that very very few professed adherents really do believe.
Just because you've always done it that way doesn't mean it's not incredibly stupid.
Why is it so hard for believers to answer a direct question?

Offline nogodsforme

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Re: Why religious people don't know their own religion
« Reply #3 on: September 27, 2013, 10:51:16 AM »
True, many people don't delve deeply into the past history of their hobbies or interests. (Lots of people aren't even interested in the history of their own country.) But religion is supposed to be more than a hobby; it is supposed to be the defining purpose of your life-- and eternal afterlife. You would think it would be more important to find out who thought it up, where it came from and whether it really made sense or not.

Only after leaving do some of us start researching what it was we were a part of!
Extraordinary claims of the bible don't even have ordinary evidence.

Kids aren't paying attention most of the time in science classes so it seems silly to get worked up over ID being taught in schools.

Offline Nam

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Re: Why religious people don't know their own religion
« Reply #4 on: September 27, 2013, 11:20:17 AM »
While you are deciding whether to join, are you given lessons on the background of the denomination, or historical information about the founding of the religion? Are you expected to analyze the religion factually or comparatively? Are you invited to critically examine what the religious group got wrong in the past and how it was fixed?

But, to be fair, outside of the degree study you mention, does anyone do that with anything?  For the average supporter of a sports team, how much do you learn about the history of its founding before you chose to follow it?  If a 20-year old gets into computer games today, how much will they want to know about Jeff Crammond, about Imagine, about Brben and Bell?  If you join a political party, do you care about what they do now, or how the party was founded 200 years ago?

I agree that - for what should be the most important decsion of a lifetime (according to religions), its history and basis should indeed be at least as important as what the religion is saying today, but you are correct that most people don't really seem to care.  It only goes to reinforce my opinion that very very few professed adherents really do believe.

I find that a bit different. In sports, it's mainly volunteering to be on a team. Beforehand, one gets interested in the individual sport because they enjoy the aspects of the sport itself. Like when I was a child I was really into baseball. I played it with friends, I bought books (or my parents did) about the history of baseball, and when I decided to join a team it was based on the information I already obtained and the fact I really enjoyed the sport.

Religion is different. You're pushed into it, basically, from birth. You have no choice. They don't care if you don't enjoy it, and when you read their books, and say you didn't like what it said they give a plethora of excuses. If you question anything, you're being a bad person, or what not.

It isn't necessarily comparable with other aspects of life because other aspects aren't normally
forced on you like religion and politics.

-Nam
« Last Edit: September 27, 2013, 11:22:02 AM by Nam »
A god is like a rock: it does absolutely nothing until someone or something forces it to do something. The only capability the rock has is doing nothing until another force compels it physically to move.

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Offline nogodsforme

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Re: Why religious people don't know their own religion
« Reply #5 on: September 27, 2013, 04:05:59 PM »
It does seem like people don't really have faith in their all-powerful god(s). Otherwise, they would not mind people learning all about a religion before making up their minds. You expect to know something about a product before you buy it. If someone tries to get you to fork over the money before you know exactly what you are buying, you feel like you are being tricked or conned.

Except when it comes to religion. Then you are just supposed to accept the fact that you don't know much about it. God is too mysterious or too complicated or whatever. Some religions,, like Scientology, purposely keep most of the secrets, well, secret, until you have been with them a good long while.

People who study cults say that this is a powerful psychological technique--rewarding members for staying in longer by giving them access to secret knowledge, and forcing members to rationalize the crazy sh!t they are supposed to believe. After all, you would be a fool to be in a religion for 15 years if it made no sense at all, right? Therefore it has to make sense, because otherwise you would have to realize that you had been tricked, conned, or made a fool of by people you trusted.  :o
Extraordinary claims of the bible don't even have ordinary evidence.

Kids aren't paying attention most of the time in science classes so it seems silly to get worked up over ID being taught in schools.

Offline neopagan

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Re: Why religious people don't know their own religion
« Reply #6 on: September 27, 2013, 04:20:09 PM »
In my recent UNcloseting, my believer spouse demanded I not speak of my atheism or views on religion with our kids, because it "could cause them to doubt."  So yeah, it is cult-like and there is a vested interest in not questioning the dogma.
If xian hell really exists, the stench of the burning billions of us should be a constant, putrid reminder to the handful of heavenward xians how loving your god is.  - neopagan

Offline viocjit

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Re: Why religious people don't know their own religion
« Reply #7 on: September 27, 2013, 05:41:48 PM »
I think that people don't know their own religion by ignorance.
Examples :
1.I know many "cafetaria catholics" who don't realise that if you're a Catholic you must do and make what say the pope. But they find always an excuse like "la contraception c'est nécessaire " (the contraception is necessary) etc... to avoid obay to "the head of church".
Also I know many of them who don't know what is "Vatican II".

2.I know a Muslim girl who don't wear a hijab. Also she did never read all the ahadith in the category sahih and this teenager did never read the whole Qur'an (even a translation in her own language). She say that she's a feminist and don't care about some "ayaat" of the Koran because we are in the XXIst century and Fatima (this is not her real name) think that she's a good Muslim. This young woman can't understand that in "Mainstream Islam" she's considered like a kafir and a murtad (some people will say that she's not a "murtad" because they consider her like a "munafiq").

3.On Youtube I can read many stupid comments by "Christians and Muslims" who show theirs ignorance about the religion.

The question is what is/are the source(s) of ignorance ?
1.They won't learn more.
2.They think already know their religion.
3.A mix of 1 and 2.
etc...
« Last Edit: September 27, 2013, 05:46:51 PM by viocjit »

Offline nogodsforme

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Re: Why religious people don't know their own religion
« Reply #8 on: September 27, 2013, 07:56:48 PM »
Or, like the Muslim girl, they realize that their religion is full of contradictions, stupid rules and unnecessary restrictions. But they are too afraid of the social fallout to ditch it entirely.  They give lip service to belief and then just do what they want anyway.  Life is easier. But I don't think these people really believe that god is watching them, will send them to heaven or hell, and all that.

Extraordinary claims of the bible don't even have ordinary evidence.

Kids aren't paying attention most of the time in science classes so it seems silly to get worked up over ID being taught in schools.

Offline viocjit

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Re: Why religious people don't know their own religion
« Reply #9 on: September 28, 2013, 01:36:30 PM »
Or, like the Muslim girl, they realize that their religion is full of contradictions, stupid rules and unnecessary restrictions. But they are too afraid of the social fallout to ditch it entirely.  They give lip service to belief and then just do what they want anyway.  Life is easier. But I don't think these people really believe that god is watching them, will send them to heaven or hell, and all that.

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