How To Talk To The Religious
Why do cultures around the world all feature a religion? It seems to be part of human nature to want to believe in something.
To understand the cause of religion, the origin of the human mind should be considered. Our brains evolved over billions of years - we share many primitive parts of our brains with reptiles and other such creatures.
Every creature's number one priority is to stay alive. Anyone who has been in a sticky situation knows how strong the survival instinct is. The primitive parts of our brains therefore tell us, scream at us, to survive at almost any cost. But, very recently in our evolutionary history, more modern parts have been 'bolted on' to this primitive brain. This modern part gives us our self-awareness and this self-awareness means that we know we are going to die no matter what we do.
This creates a massive conflict between modern and primitive parts of the brain: Millions of years ago, when our primitive brain became aware of a survival threat it would deal with it and either survive and move on, or die. But the primitive brain was not designed to deal with a constant, long term threat awareness of the kind created by the modern brain's awareness of our mortality.
Our modern brains therefore invent a coping mechanism, ie religion. We tell our primitive brain that death is not the end and we will, for example, be reborn or float around in clouds playing the harp (couldn't they make us play easier instruments like the triangle? I hope they have harcore gabba techno in heaven)
This is a reassuring illusion, but it is not very stable. That is why it creates such violence and hatred. By telling someone religion is for fools, the atheist is triggering that person's survival instinct as their primitive brain is reminded of death. The idea is perceived as a threat to their survival and is dealt with as such. It is similar when Religion A meets Religion B: the idea that they are praying to the wrong god is again a survival threat.
The illusion of eternal life can sometimes be too convincing, leading some to embrace death. The coping mechanism to deal with the realisation of imminent mortality can corrupt into an active desire for death. Examples are Muslim suicide bombers and the millions of Christians who can't wait to die in the second coming, or the rapture or whatever.
Something to bear in mind when talking to the 'true believers' is that religion infantalises the mind. For example, for those who never want to grow up, Christianity provides the Father. Why develop the mindset of an adult when you can say "gee father, I have done some naughty things, if I say sorry and you stop my allowance, will you forgive me?"
Another example: those who think for themselves work out what is right and wrong through internal reflection and contemplation. Not so the blessed. Their moral compass is in the hands of others. They devolve all moral responsibility to old books and old men. For example, the crazy guy who shouts "kill em all and let God sort em out" has, like a child, given all responsibility for his actions to God (his Father). How can they know what is truly right and wrong if they just follow like sheep what they are told to think by others? They cannot develop mentally into adults until they learn to think for themselves.
A specific example then of how to try to talk to them: Let's take abortion. It is pointless talking about women's rights or whether the fetus suffers. These words will wash over them. They won't even register. To them, all that matters is what is written in old texts and spoken by old men. You therefore need to talk their language and argue over which passeges of text forbid abortion. If you know them well, you could gently prod them by wondering out loud why some Christians think abortion is ok and some don't. But I would not try to tell them that their faith is simply a coping mechanism. A lot of people seem to need this to get through life - and let's face it, it's a pretty crapy deal (either non-existence or a few short years, most spent working or sleeping, lots of conflict and worry, lots and lots of mundane humdrum moments, a very few truly happy moments and then death) - and think what happens when you try to take away a child's comfort blanket, tantrums ensue. Only if they express doubts to you would I recommend discussion.
We are relatively enlightened (in both senses) in Britain. About 3% of the population are regular worshippers. I have noticed that here we say "I am lucky" (implying a godless universe where our good fortune is due to chance) but in the USA they say "I am blessed" (implying a 'godded up' universe where a wise father with a beard has seen fit to bestow upon them some benefit). Three words that demonstrate the mindset of those who speak them.
Americans are increasingly moving backwards to a pre-enlightenment, pre-scienentific world where facts are less important than belief and knowledge less valued than faith.
posted by A Wise Fool