I have been struggling of late, to understand religion and belief, asking myself the question...

Why do people feel the need to believe in fictions?

This past weekend my mom said something very telling to me that I think struck at the heart of my personal dilemma for the past few months.

"We (my family) did not need Religion, the way others families did."

To put some context around myself and this post (I warn you its a bit of a ramble, if you want to skip to the bottom I understand)...

I generally considered myself to be a quiet polite person, the stereotypical "polite Canadian" if you will. When it comes to a conversation, I might interject here and there, but generally I don't drive the conversation. Thus it seem to me, that most of my friends and acquaintances, generally assume that I share the common liberal stances when it come to most things. When I express a dissenting opinion, I often seem to catch people off guard. When I actually question someones opinion, it can go even further.

I like discussion, I enjoy hearing other peoples thoughts on things and sharing my own. As time went along however, I began to realize that as a group, and a culture there were certain areas of conversation that were considered best to avoided. Religion, beliefs, and politics being the top of that list, unacceptable dinner conversation, therefor off-limits... unless you are in group of like minded individuals. In the last few years this limitation on conversation really began to bother me. I used to think it was me, that it was simply because no-one-else was interested in talking about these things. The more I looked, the more I saw that in a lot of ways we were simply conditioned not to want to talk about these things. It's not a conspiracy or anything, it is simply seems too me that the freedom of {specific idea} somehow trumped freedom of all ideas.

Some people I know do believe in what I consider to be strange things, and for the most part it seems to do them little or no harm. Everyone I know, seems just for the most part just as normal and as much a person as I am, that is to say they are all definitely "Human". I don't see anything wrong with the fact that they believe in different things then I do, in so far as long as their beliefs are not harming others. This is of course the sticking point, since belief does influence actions, how do you separate the harmful from the benign.

It started to feel as if the free exchange of ideas, which I feel is the heart of freedom of expression and thought, had limits. I like the concept that two or more people should be able to talk about whatever is on their minds. After all how can you understand something if you can't freely talk about it. When I say freely talk about it, I mean talk about all aspects of it. What point is there in freedom of expression if you can't hear the other-side, and they can't hear you.

The problem I now see is it seems that there is an umbrella effect that comes from this overall belief in what I see as fictions. I will admit, I am still surprise that for the most part I am in the minority when it comes to my views on certain types of fiction. I am someone who has a basic high-school diploma education, but beyond that I went right into the workforce. Most of my peers have at least 4 years of university, if not more. Yet a lot of them believe in fictions, that I don't see any real evidence for.

Back to what my mom said...

"We (my family) did not need Religion, the way others families did."

Why do people need religion or belief in fictions, could it be because they don't realize that there is another valid option.

I fear that religion, superstition, and fuzzy thinking will away be a part of humanity for some time to come, if not forever. We are not that many generations along as "Homo Sapiens", when you think about how many previous generations of animals and species it took to lead to us. While we might have freed ourselves from aspects of our environment, we are still very much trapped by many aspects of our biology, we are an animal just as much as we are human. The current state of evolution, of our brain is much newer still when compared to total generations of the genus "Homo".

That we don't really understand why people believe is no surprise to me, but I think a lot of those people might like to know, that an alternative is available, if they are interested. You don't need to believe in a fiction to lead a good and productive life.

This site has been an eye opening experience for me, to which I thank everyone in general for making me to think. In many ways I now recognize the problem that exists, and I am now beginning to feel a way through, a way to stand up and make my own contribution. Isn't that what a community is all about, the diversity of individuals, bringing whatever skills and abilities they have, to help those around them.

When I first started to really think critically, one of the hardest things was turning on myself, actually asking why I believed and thought the things I did. I looked at what I knew to be true, and tried to question all my assumptions, and look at why I thought {idea}={truth}. It is easy to think critically about what others believe, it is tough to think critically about what you believe.

Sometimes when you look at what you believe and why, it can start a chain of events. Sometimes those events, will force you to revise your position. Being able to revise your position in light of new evidence or a convincing argument, is one of the main ideas when using critical thinking. I don't think most people realize this, it is almost like asking someone to revise one of their positions, is the same as asking them to completely give up everything they believe. The two are not necessarily the same thing at all.

A loss of community and a loss of the afterlife seem to be one of the big issues and a common theme for newcomers from very religious backgrounds. There is also a lot of anger there towards the various religions (I know that this is a gross oversimplification of the issue), however it is an anger that I will probably never posses in the same way, I never had that level of indoctrination forced upon me.

I do recognize that I need to be more outspoken however, and push the boundaries of casual conversation, of those around me. My view is just as important as anyone else's, even if it makes me less popular, I can live with that. I know I am a decent human being and everyone around me should know that as well, no matter that I believe different then they do. I do however pledge to continue to try and recognize the "Human" in everyone, that there is a person behind those eyes, just as confused and frightened as I am sometimes. That what they really desire is the community that humanity has to offer, and the freedom to think for themselves. Showing others that there is an alternative way to think and live, that is every bit as emotionally fulfilling as anything that believing in a fiction has to offer.

I know perhaps that I am just the tip of a secular unspoken iceberg. I know my uncles' an atheist and even within my immediate family, my sister is basically the same as me (agnostic). While she isn't as vocal or really outwardly talks about it, I know that she will raise her children, as my mom did with us, to have a choice. My family on my grandfathers side might actually be a bunch of agnostics/atheists to hear my uncle talk about them.

It seems that the secular option sticks very well through the generations, and my family keeps passing it along, I should as well.

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Comment by wallflower on August 25, 2009 at 2:47pm
Anthropologists, sociologists and psychologists have a lot to say about why some people need religion; why some people must have religion; why some people are coerced into religion. Theories of relgious experience complement one another. Their positive influences are remarkable. Their negative influences are notorious. The bulk of folks are between, and see no reason to do anything novel. Some are compelled to think & act. While the world secularizes, it is very important to tolerate those who cannot, if we want a peaceful world. The Internet Revolution (I.T.), seems to be changing minds faster than any charismatic leader. Just let it do its thing. peace



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