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kcrady



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Going through the list from the "Seattlepi" piece:

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1) Security and stability. We are speaking not of physical security, but of emotional security at the deepest level. Religious believers testify to an ultimate reality, or supreme being, who bestows this sense of security and stability through the storms of life. Metaphors such as rock and mighty fortress express a sense of fulfillment of this need. [emphasis in red added]

Note that religion does not offer any boost in actual security.  Instead, it offers what amounts to a pacifier or security blanket.  As has already been pointed out, when one's luck runs out and something bad happens, the "sense of security" can turn to thorns, as the person starts having to wonder, "Did I do something to make god/the gods mad at me?"  Believing that whoever's in charge of the Cosmic Events Department likes you may provide one a "sense of security," but unless there actually is someone in charge of a Cosmic Events Dept., and they actually like you, the "sense of security" is false.  As it is written in the Litany of Gendlin:

What is true is already so.
Owning up to it doesn't make it worse.
Not being open about it doesn't make it go away.
And because it's true, it is what is there to be interacted with.
Anything untrue isn't there to be lived.
People can stand what is true,
for they are already enduring it.

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2) Love, acceptance, companionship. This need is partly fulfilled by other people, but friends and lovers can be fickle, spouses unfaithful and loved ones die. We need one who is always there, always faithful. We have what Max Otto (not a believer) called "the hunger for cosmic support." Scripture testifies that "God is love."

As with "security," we are once again not talking about an actual love from an actual being that gets manifested in some way.  Instead, it's a "sense of being loved" that works in about the same way that a pacifier works as a substitute for a nipple.  Humans need love because we're social animals.  Being loved and "belonging" means that our tribe has our back.  A lack of these things means that we're alone against the hyenas and lions, and our chances of survival go way down.  Religion can offer membership in a community that takes the place of our ancestral tribes.  Some religions have evolved the trick of creating a sense of "virtual love" from the deity or deities.  This lets them set a hook into this human need, much like an addictive chemical "fits" into receptors for neurotransmitters, generating an artificially intense "high" in place of the positive feelings normally generated by the brain.

The secular replacement for this is a real human community that really looks out for its members.  The most secular nations (such as Northern Europe and Japan) are the ones that provide comprehensive social support systems, transit systems, and the like, reducing the existential worry of their citizens.  In the U.S., the most religious of the developed nations, opposition to such social support networks correlates strongly with religiosity: religion fears the competition.

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3) Meaning and purpose. This need may be the most basic. It's hell to look at life and perceive it all as meaningless. In part, this need is cognitive and intellectual, for we need to make sense of life. But the need is deeper, more "existential." We may have rational answers to all the questions and problems, and still not be satisfied.


Once again, we're talking about a false "sense" of purpose, rather than an actual purpose.  Unless the religious person is clergy or a missionary or a guru or ascetic, they actually live pretty much the same kind of lives as everyone else.  They go to the same kind of jobs, pay the same kind of bills, do their best to raise their children, etc..  Ask a religious person, "OK, so you've got this purpose for your life that I don't have.  Alright then, what is it?"  They don't have very many options for response here.  They can either say that their "Purpose Driven Life" means that god/the gods has/have "placed" them where they're at, so that their chosen vocation isn't just a job, it's a Divine Purpose!  Unless they can point to some mystical experience where an angel or theophany manifested to them and told them in a big booming voice, "Harold: Behold, your purpose, decreed by Heaven, is to be an insurance agent and raise three children!  Go forth, and fulfill thy purpose!" then they very likely chose their "purpose" in about the same way as the rest of us do.  Religion allows them to paint a sparkly halo around it in their minds.

Another option might be to say that their purpose is to worship their god/s and/or "spread the Message."  Again, unless they're a professional clergy-person/missionary/guru/etc., they're not really fulfilling this "purpose."  Singing hymns and listening to a sermon for an hour or two a week and passing out the occasional tract is hardly "living to worship/spread the Message."  It's more like a hobby--a "sense" of purpose, rather than the real thing.

The secular alternative is to do what the vast majority of religious people do, and choose our own purpose--only, accept the truth that this is in fact what we are doing.  I point, again, to the Litany of Gendlin.

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Yet in the Bible, Job was finally satisfied to know the presence of God, even though his desperate questions were not answered.

The Book of Job is an odd place to go in an attempt to defend the notion of Divine "purpose."  Above, Mr. Burres says, "It's hell to look at life and perceive it all as meaningless."  And yet, what could be more meaningless, pointless, and capricious than what Yahweh does to Job?  Job's family is murdered and the man himself brutally tortured, because Satan made a bet with Yahweh that his favorite little minion would not continue to worship him loyally if he chose to act like the Devil would want him to.  Rather than tell Satan to beat it, "for I am a just and righteous God, far be it from Me to betray the trust of My most loyal servant and violate My Covenant with him!" Yahweh's ego makes him eager to see if he can receive worship from Job even when he doesn't deserve it.  "To win a bet with the Devil" is hardly a grand, lofty Divine Purpose that justifies mass murder and torture.  The Book of Job is not very good at providing a "sense" of Divine protection and purpose.  If anything, the author of Job is deliberately sticking his thumb in the eye of those who taught that Yahweh provides protection and his purposes are wholly righteous and just.  Those people are represented by Job's friends, who get pwned in the end. 

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4) Holiness. Holiness? Yes, in a moral sense we all need to feel that we are doing the right thing. If we don't, we live with guilt. We can either rationalize to try to justify our actions, or we can admit we were wrong and seek forgiveness.


Or we can...oh, I dunno, be moral people, instead of just cloaking ourselves in a "sense" of morality?  And when we do something wrong we can admit we were wrong, do our best to make up for what we've done, and seek forgiveness.

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In a spiritual sense we need reconciliation with the ultimate. Thus novelist Salman Rushdie confessed to having a "God-shaped void" in his life. Though we may try to fill that void with all kinds of things, only one can truly fill it.

And Charlie Manson confessed to being Jesus.  So?  Since Salman Rushdie is most famous for putatively blaspheming his religion and getting the knickers of the "holy" men thereof in a really big knot, he seems like an odd choice of icon here.  Nonetheless, if Salman Rushdie thinks he has a "God-shaped void" in his life, that hardly makes it a universal.  I can see your Salman Rushdie and raise you a Richard Dawkins, a Julia Galef, a Christopher Hitchins, and a Paula Kirby, all without "God-shaped voids"--not to mention myself, and (I'm guessing) just about all the members of this Forum.  Since Mr. Burres has already admitted that religion only offers a "sense" of fulfilling these needs he lists, he can't point to any actual evidence of "God-shaped voids" in people, or demonstrate that only those who worship the properly-shaped god get these "voids" filled properly.

The secular alternative to "reconciliation with the ultimate" is to do our best to develop the most accurate understanding we can of reality as it is, take joy in the merely real, and act within reality's parameters.  Making things up so that we can have a "sense" of getting our needs and desires met doesn't actually meet our needs and desires.

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5) Joy. Let's make a distinction between joy and happiness: Happiness is the satisfaction we get from achieving a goal, attaining something desired. But happiness is fleeting. Joy is a deeper sense of contentment that endures when the other needs are met. It is "the peace that passes all understanding" because it is completely independent of outward circumstances. We can have joy even in the midst of sorrow.

And this is sourced solely in religion, how?  Since Mr. Burres doesn't even make an argument that religion provides this, much less that only religion can do so, there's nothing for me to respond to here.  The vast majority of religious people go through life just like we do.  They cuss when they hit their hand with a hammer, they have arguments with their spouses and get mad at their kids and whack the dog with a newspaper when it poops on the carpet and...etc.  If religious people glided through life with serene, beatific expressions on their faces come what may, and the rest of us could only watch them enviously wondering what it was that they had and we didn't, Mr. Burres might have a point.  Doesn't work that way though, does it?

Perhaps one could point to practicing contemplatives who meditate or pray for hours a day over a course of years and say that they have this kind of beatific joy.  Since the benefits of meditation are measurable, it follows that those benefits would be most visible in "athletes of meditation" who regularly exercise.  In the same way, a person who spends those same hours practicing with the violin, or ice skating, or dance, or anything else, will develop abilities in those areas that significantly surpass those of "ordinary" individuals who don't, or who develop their abilities in something else.  One thing to notice though, is that the "joy" of the mystics is tradition-invariant.  Zen monks can achieve it as well as or better than Christian monks.  Zen is also notable for not having any doctrine to speak of.  You will find no gods or divine commandments there.

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Why, then, do people sometimes commit violence in the name of religion? People may belong to religious groups for any number of superficial reasons. If their existential needs are not genuinely fulfilled, then insecurity, lack of love, guilt and emotional turmoil may drive them to try to compensate in horrendous ways. It is all too easy to believe they are doing the will of their deity. But don't blame the religion for what some of its adherents do.

Och!  Nae True Scotsman, laddie!  It would actually be nice if violence committed in the name of religion was a man-bites-dog story, something only manifested by the occasional oddball straying from the path of their religion because their needs weren't being "genuinely fulfilled."[1]  Unfortunately, the worst religious violence is that waged by the religious groups themselves, under the authority of their most respected leaders, backed by the teachings of their religious scriptures and/or doctrines.  His own preferred "holy" book, the Bible, contains entire treatises on the art of genocidal religious warfare (see Exodus, Deuteronomy, Joshua and Judges for examples).  The "New and Improved" Jesus-y version adds the delightful idea of everlasting torture after death for everybody who doesn't get the right answers on the Celestial Quiz.  "Holy" religious violence, said to be perpetrated--at an ultimate level of sadism, and forever--by the Deity Himself.  With that as a holy ideal, religious violence from believers is not at all surprising.
 1. Considering that, over and over again, Mr. Burres has admitted that religion only provides a "sense" of these needs being met, rather than providing any evidence that an actual god/goddess/gods actually steps in to meet them, then its hardly a surprise that people might "try to compensate in horrendous ways."
Changed Change Reason Date
ParkingPlaces The devil made me do it! :-) February 13, 2013, 10:49:30 PM
Iamrational for offering alternatives, not just rebuttals February 14, 2013, 12:20:52 AM
screwtape good post February 14, 2013, 09:14:37 AM