Which, of course, is shorthand for Your Hand? Whose Hand?

It’s an old college drinking game. Best left unmentioned, probably.

In my random travels today, I stumbled across some interesting reading in Why Do We Believe In God? (the first half, at least; the second half deals a lot with genetic components of spirituality and twins research, the latter of the two being my loss of interest in psychology). And per usual, a few tasty samples:

The study was blinded, so that most of the research team involved with questionnaires did not have access to the final data. When they were asked which group they thought would show the most disturbed psychopathology, the whole team identified the snake-handlers. But when the data were revealed, the reverse was true: there was more mental illness among the conventional Protestant churchgoers – the “extrinsically” religious – than among the fervently committed.

And more…

A Harvard psychologist named Gordon Allport did some key research in the 1950s on various kinds of human prejudice and came up with a definition of religiosity that is still in use today. He suggested that there were two types of religious commitment – extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic religiosity he defined as religious self-centredness. Such a person goes to church or synagogue as a means to an end – for what they can get out of it. They might go to church to be seen, because it is the social norm in their society, conferring respectability or social advancement. Going to church (or synagogue) becomes a social convention.

Allport thought that intrinsic religiosity was different. He identified a group of people who were intrinsically religious, seeing their religion as an end in itself. They tended to be more deeply committed; religion became the organising principle of their lives, a central and personal experience. In support of his research, Allport found that prejudice was more common in those individuals who scored highly for extrinsic religion.

The evidence generally is that intrinsic religiosity seems to be associated with lower levels of anxiety and stress, freedom from guilt, better adjustment in society and less depression. On the other hand, extrinsic religious feelings – where religion is used as a way to belong to and prosper within a group – seem to be associated with increased tendencies to guilt, worry and anxiety.

And I think this is my problem with religion — well, one of my problems. There’s a world of difference to me between sprituality and what the majority of the people of the world carry around. There’s a spirituality that seeks knowledge and truth, that helps one define oneself in better and stronger terms (call it morality, if you will), one that helps guide a person through the tough times and the unknown and gives hope. Perhaps you find this in prayer, or belief that there is a higher guiding power, or in karma, or simply in a convential belief that tomrrow’s gonna be a better day.

Then there’s what you mostly see, particularly in the public presentation, the Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwells and Popes. It is a spirituality that has nothing to do with the spirit. It seeks knowledge as a form of power over others. It rules through fear instead of hope. It provides a base and a foundation for self-centeredness and judgment of others who are different from one’s own group and a sense of elite belonging. That’s the sort of thing that sickens me. It’s insidious, too, in that believers are taught that they must preach and convert, that they are responsible for the sins of the world, and that not converting those around you to your beliefs is as bad as believing like they do.

Which is particularly amusing in this context, noted by Richard Dawkins:

Thousands, perhaps millions, of people have died, often accepting torture first, for loyalty to one religion against a scarcely distinguishable alternative. Devout people have died for their gods, killed for them, fasted for them, endured whipping, undertaken a lifetime of celibacy, and sworn themselves to asocial silence for the sake of religion.

And don’t forget that bit about “a scarcely distinguishable alternative.” It may strike you as idiocy, if you’re one of those who follow closely to the Judeo-Christian or Islamic (et al) paths, but stop and think about it for a moment: strip away the rules and the rituals and the holidays, and what are you left with?

A scarcely distinguishable alternative. And yet, distinguishable enough that most of this country is ready to kill or die for it. Most of the world, for that matter.

I get the reasons that people seek out religion. I understand wanting an explanation for the unknown — where do we come from? why are we here? what is Ozzy Osbourne trying to say? — and seeking a better way to live. I get the need for hope, the fear of a void after death, the need for Heaven and unconditional love.

What I don’t get is the hypocrisy, the judgmentalism, the holy wars and the terrorism in the name of a greater being. I can’t fathom for the life of me why people need to belittle others to feel better about themselves. I don’t get importance of having prayer in the classroom or the Ten Commandments in the courtroom foyer — if your god is really all that and a bag of Wafers, your kids and co-workers are gonna be okay at the end of the day, right?

All this need to surround everyone, every minute of every day, everywhere, smacks of insecurity to me. Of fear that we’re not doing enough to impress god, or maybe that someone else is doing more and doing it better.

Isn’t faith enough?

I’m all for separation of church and state, if only because you Roy Moore followers better think about one thing next time you push to keep a giant rock in the Courthouse: what if the dominant religion in your area wasn’t Protestant Christianity? Can you really look me in the eye and tell me that you’d be okay with a giant and not-too-aesthetically-pleasing symbol of someone else’s religion in your government halls?


I don’t believe you for a second.

You can’t fight for a principle just because your favorite stands to gain, without at least considering whether you’re going to be okay when one day you’ll be in the minority, and the pendulum swings both ways.

Oh, wait; there’s that hypocrisy again.

And before anyone says anything, I think that the atheists out there who are intent on destroying the faiths of the world are just as bad as the missionaries. If you don’t believe in anything you can’t scientifically observe, fine (but be a man and finish the thought — ditch dreams, hopes, and fears, since those aren’t any more rational, either). If you want to believe in God, Allah, Jesus, Buddha, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, more power to you. In fact, I might even be a little jealous, since faith is a nice thing to have. And if you want to inform the world of your faith, of your belief, of the wonder that you feel in your heart and soul, that’s fine — after all, no one can know the wonder of Jesus or Tao if they’re not educated. But after sharing the knowledge, how about letting everyone else around you make up their own mind about what they believe?

If that seems like too much, throw on your most impressive suit and head back to your billion-dollar church with the massive, state-of-the-art sound system and newly renovated steeple, and talk about helping people that you never will with the Joneses. Your status is all good with someone, at least.

Oh, and I have a fair amount of belief myself, just FYI. Not that that’s any of your business, but I figured I’d make a response to potential comments in advance.

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