Something I've seen quite a bit on Mumsnet is confusing me slightly

(390 Posts)

...I often read statements along the lines of, 'I'm an atheist because I there is no God,' and, 'I don't want my child to be taught about your fairy stories [religious teachings],' which is all fair enough but what's confusing me is, aren't these just people's opinions? One person can't provide definitive proof of the absence of a deity, anymore than another can provide definitive proof of the existence of a deity, surely? Or am I missing something?

This is a genuine query - I'm interested to know. I'm not trying to stir up arguments, although I'm happy to be argued with and told that I'm wrong.

As a person with a faith, I'd say it's all a matter of faith - either you believe it, or you don't. If I was without faith, I guess I'd say it's a matter of opinion. In any case, I don't get the absolute confidence people have that there is no God. I think there is, but I couldn't prove it and wouldn't think to tell another peson that I'm right on that topic and they're wrong. Where does all the certainty come from?

Himalaya Tue 27-Nov-12 19:13:50

Holo - hello!

Isnt it more accurate to say Christian belief is trust in a dead person who is able to communicate with the living ?

Again it is very different from what is usually meant by trusting a person, and it erases the precisely the bit that is hard to believe from the conversation.

I think eliding religious belief with the "I believe you" campaign is a bit of sleight of hand - one is about not treating women who report they have been the victim of an assault as if they are lying, the other is about belief in the supernatural. Not the same at all!

NicholasTeakozy Tue 27-Nov-12 19:19:46

When asked if I believe in God I always ask "which one?" Invariably the answer is either Christ, in which case I point out that Christ isn't a god, merely a prophet of Jehovah, or Allah. In both cases I point out that as they only believe in one of the 4000 or so gods they're only one god away from atheism. smile

I also adapt what Douglas Adams said: God used to be the best explanation we had. However, we have thousands of better explanations now.

MrsHoarder Tue 27-Nov-12 19:21:39

What evidence do you have for the existence of Jesus as reported in the Bible?

Not just a popular figure who spoke of loving your neighbour, but as the son of God who was resurrected. No historian would accept the word of 12 people as definitive fact that something happened.

I could have faith that Father Christmas is the immortal incarnation of St Nicolas.

As it is, I had a Christian upbringing (in which Father Christmas also played a role) and gradually came to the conclusion that however much I would like there to be a loving interventionalist God, I didn't really think there was any God at all (this came a decade after the gradual realisation that Father Christmas was actually my parents).

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 19:23:44

Colditz, maybe you're using the word 'idea' in the same way that I'm using the word 'belief.' They are not that far apart.

You sound like a very pragmatic and good person. I'm the kind of person who likes the thought of myself believing in things (e.g. I like having strong political ideas / beliefs, I like the thought of myself believing in feminist ideals etc). I'm also quite philosophically attuned and aware of the deeper currents behind what people say, and more given to spotting connections between, for example, an 18th c. philosopher and a MN poster, and I'm happy to think of myself in relation to various modes of 'careful thought' down the centuries. Maybe you're less inclined to think about yourself in those terms (apologies if I've got you wrong).

Techno, I don't accept your analogy between Father Christmas and Jesus.

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 19:29:50

Him, sleight of hand no. Trust, faith, belief are all the same word in Greek (the language of the NT).

colditz Tue 27-Nov-12 19:30:08

But the difference between my ideas about feeding my dog, and your ideas about believing in your god, is that should evidence be provided that I DON'T need to feed my dog daily, that it is in fact bad for her, I would stop doing it. Whereas if evidence was presented to you that your two hours in church would be much better filled in the bath, you'd ..... Ignore it and go to church anyway. Because you have faith that its the right thing to do, because your god has told you to.

MMMarmite Tue 27-Nov-12 19:32:58

Thanks for the reply holof. What I'm trying to get at, is that you and a muslim (or another christian) end up with very different beliefs about the nature of God, the supernatural and God's will. So what method do you use to decide what you believe about God? For example (don't answer all these if it takes too long!), how do you decide whether to believe God is all-powerful or not? How do you decide what he wants us to do? How do you decide whether hell exists?

MorrisZapp Tue 27-Nov-12 19:33:19

I don't agree that atheists should have to state what they 'believe in'. I don't believe in anything that doesn't definitely exist.

If you believe in god etc then that's fine. I don't, and there is no chasm to fill.

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 19:36:30

I don't have a dog. I do have a cat. I've read cat care books, taken my cat to the vets and I feed my cat. All of these things are based on...what? Trust that the vet really is qualified and not a charlatan? Or evidence of some kind? Trust that the cat care book was written by someone who knows a bit about cats? Or evidence of some kind? Trust that what is in the pouch really is cat food? Or evidence of some kind? I'm not being obtuse here, I am genuinely interested in the interplay of trust and evidence.

As for the evidence that my time in church could be better used elsewhere, what kind of evidence could suggest this? How could it be measured?

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 19:39:14

Morris, I didn't say that atheists have to say what they believe in. That's their business. But I think it's intellectually disingenuous, or maybe naive, to think that it's possible not to believe anything at all.

MMM, one moment...

colditz Tue 27-Nov-12 19:41:44

First, I trust that the vet, a qualified person, knows what they are talking about, because vets generally know how to treat animals, this is backed up by statistics. Secondly, if my dog were to become ill as a result of following the vets advice, I would take her to a different vet.

Would you become an atheist if a prayer didn't come true?

colditz Tue 27-Nov-12 19:47:52

Ok, as for the church time thing, it was a hypothetical position, but if we maintain this.... Firstly, I would need to know why you go to church. Shall we assume peace of mind? Based on that assumption, if I say, took you to a two hour yoga class, which gave you immense peace of mind, would you stop going to church and do yoga instead?

Or maybe you go because doing so makes you feel like someone who is ding good things. Based on this assumption, would you not volunteer in a homeless hostel instead? Or an old people's home? These are both good things, and they benefit more people than yourself. Would you stop going to church to do that instead?

Or maybe you go for a sense of general spiritual well being. How about if you got a more intense sense of spiritual well being at a seance? Would you go to seances instead of church?

Because I go to my counsellor for guidance. If I fund better guidance elsewhere, I would simply go elsewhere. I don't BELIEVE in her, I just know that since seeing her, I have felt better. If I felt better from having a long hot bath instead, that is what I would do.

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 19:53:59

So MMM, how do I work out what is true? Well, I had a Christian upbringing too. I have friends of different religions and I am the type of person who is always inclined to see what we have in common rather than what we disagree on. So I'm not the type of person who is happy with having a Christian identity which is formed in contrast to other religions (i.e. saying 'we are right and they are wrong.') I've spent a lot of time reading the Bible, reading about the Bible, reading history, philosophy etc, and searching my soul pretty deeply - as deeply as I'm capable of, anyway. I have changed my mind on various issues over the years, and hopefully will continue to do so.

So after all that, for me, it does come down to (sorry to be a stuck record) Jesus, who Jesus was and what he did, and what he said about God as the Father of all. I'm not sure if I'd believe in God if it weren't for Jesus. I'm not sure it'd be a question I'd find interesting. So I am quite a WWJD person. But I also believe in the Spirit, and I believe that in the Spirit, all who have died will live forever, and all who are alive can enter into the fulness of life. So those are pretty much my basic beliefs, and from them, I bumble along and try to do what seems right.

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 20:01:59

The vet could be a really good actor, Colditz [paranoid] wink

Would I become an atheist if i said a prayer and the thing I prayed for didn't happen? Of course not. That would be extraordinarily premature. We are bounded by time ('Days are where we live' - Philip Larkin). God isn't. Who am I to tell God when to do things? At what point do I decide He's not heard?

The thing about church is this; far be it from me to speak for anyone else, but for me, going to church is a priority because it is the absolute centre of who I am. The other things you suggested; yes, they're good things to do, no question about it, but there isn't one other single thing which expresses 'this is who I am' - othre activities might express aspects of who I am, but only worshipping God in church expresses the whole for me. So it's irreplaceable. It's the centre out of which all the other stuff I do comes.

headinhands Tue 27-Nov-12 20:11:37

And again Holo how do you know who/what god is? A Muslim/Hindu will say the same things about their path to belief as you do about yours? Many will have been equally earnest and genuine in their soul searching and studies but come to be every bit as convinced of a different answer.

headinhands Tue 27-Nov-12 20:15:19

Holo, when you say it's 'intellectually disingenuous for someone to not believe in anything' do you mean things they have no evidence for?

Himalaya Tue 27-Nov-12 20:19:53

Holo -

I wanted to go back to something you wrote earlier about not being a materialist (... I know we've chatted about this before).

This is what I cannot get my head round.

99% of the time I think you are a materialist - about thunder, floods, disease, Derren Brown, where all the biscuits went, people who hear voices in their heads etc..I bet your explanation of these things are much the same as mine. And even where we don't know the answer , as with Derren Brown, I bet we both agree that he is a clever entertainer rather than able to do actual magic (I.e. we presume materialism)

Also about things like your DH not being an alien pretending to be human by defying known (materialist) laws of physics, the fact that you are the same person who as yesterday etc...I imagine you are a materialist?

it is only concerning "the feeling of god" that you are not a materialist and allow for supernatural explanation.

You can't just say well "it's all faith" because I don't think you or anyone else really thinks that faith in god is the same kind of thing as faith that your DH isn't an alien imposter.

SolidGoldYESBROKEMYSPACEBAR Tue 27-Nov-12 20:24:00

Holo: There's no evidence that a specific individual called Jesus existed 2000 or so years ago. None at all. It's more likely that most of the Christian mythlogy (well, the bits that weren't ripped off from other mythologies and bolted on) is based on a mixture of outright fictions and exaggerated tales of various individuals who did good or useful (or just lucky) things.

And just how do you balance being a feminist with subscribing to a patriarchal and thoroughly woman-hating mythology? Or does it come down to the same old 'Well, Imaginary Friend knows best so I'll just ignore the cognitive dissonance'?

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 20:26:01

Hello HiH! No, I mean what I said, that it's either naive or disingenuous to say that you just don't need any form of belief in anything in order to live. One person's evidence is another person's toilet paper, anyway (this could literally be true - DNA - hmmm, best not to go too far down that route....)

So HiH, as I said, I have friends of other beliefs, so the arbiter can't be, to use Techno's words from earlier, 'careful thought' because as you rightly say, all kinds of people think carefully. I am slightly wary of using the word 'know' in relation to God because it is a bit presumptuous. I believe in / trust in Jesus, trust that Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God. I don't claim to be able to say in totality what that means, because it's a very deep statement. (To be fair, I don't claim to say in totality what it means for me to be a mother, because mothering is a lifelong relationship and i'm still quite near the start of it.) I fully accept that people of other faiths are equally committed to their faith as Christians, and I fully accept that people of no faith are as genuine and good as any religious person.

colditz Tue 27-Nov-12 20:30:25

Your point about DNA .... If more research is done, and it turns out to be untrue, or unproven, I will turn on a sixpence, I will stop thinking that DNA is the reason behind xy and z.

But throughout time, more and more and more research has been done into deities and supernatural beings, and not one shred of evidence has come up to disprove my stand point, which is that they don't exist. Not one. But the evidence has no impact whatsoever on believers, because they have faith. It is not belief which is needed for religion to stand, not belief as you have described it, it is faith.

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 20:38:13

The problem, though, from my POV, is this:

My MIL used to say 'money's only good for what it can buy' (good old fashioned saying). And IMO, research is only good for what it can do. Science is great at finding out about the universe. Brilliant. But it's no good for finding out whether God exists, because God isn't in the universe. So I don't see what research could be carried out that would definitively settle this one.

As I said upthread, in Greek (the language the New Testament is written in), trust, belief and faith are all the same word, all the same thing.

colditz Tue 27-Nov-12 20:41:05

But I don't speak Greek. I speak English, I think in English, and I make a distinction between trust, belief and faith. I cannot be expected to stop doing that because the New Testament, someone else's holy book, was once printed in Greek!

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 20:48:58

So how do you distinguish them? And why are those distinctions meaningful?

Reading this thread has reminded me of a really beautiful song by Nick Cave (lyrics below). So lets all just resect each other deeply held beliefs yeah? Speaking as a committed Atheist (apart from a few years wanting to be a Nun thanks to Julie Andrews and Powell & Pressburger!), I just can't accept the existence of a supreme being and it not a matter of opinion for me, any more than deeply held religious faith is considered an 'opinion'. I respect the person not the faith, thats just how I roll [shrug].

"Into My Arms"

I don't believe in an interventionist God
But I know, darling, that you do
But if I did I would kneel down and ask Him
Not to intervene when it came to you
Not to touch a hair on your head
To leave you as you are
And if He felt He had to direct you
Then direct you into my arms

Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms

And I don't believe in the existence of angels
But looking at you I wonder if that's true
But if I did I would summon them together
And ask them to watch over you
To each burn a candle for you
To make bright and clear your path
And to walk, like Christ, in grace and love
And guide you into my arms

Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms

And I believe in Love
And I know that you do too
And I believe in some kind of path
That we can walk down, me and you
So keep your candles burning
And make her journey bright and pure
That she will keep returning
Always and evermore

Sorry that was nonsensical in places, I think I need to practice editing before pressing post. blush

Anyway - respect the person and respect their right to a faith, but I reserve the right to not respect most world religions - I quite like Pagans and pantheists - as I can see the appeal but monotheistic, one supreme being religions, just don't seem to move me on any level. The songs and architecture they have inspired can be awesome though.

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