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The elusive phenomenon of churches without God

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leonmen

A really excellent idea. People that don't believe in God have no place to go to meet others like them that believe that morality -being good has its own rewards ; even Games Theory supports this hypothesis.
Social clubs must always be good as they alleviate loneliness where people can meet real people, as opposed to Facebook where only 'virtual friends' are created on an exploitive forum. The doctrine of morality and all that this term implies- fairness, tolerance, equality, rights and obligations, is no less a belief than all the other religions but without the 'higher being' controlling things.

Bruce1253

Belief in a higher power seems to be an almost universal human need. Most people worldwide belong to a group that espouses a belief in a supernatural power and imposes a set of rules. People don't seem to care if their group commits even outrageous crimes, the need to belong to a large group out weighs any disgust that the group's actions might cause. The need to belong is so strong that those who make their way without an affiliation are viewed with suspicion. Indeed, if you are too vocal about not needing to belong to a group, that group has been know to force you to drink hemlock.

umghhh

Maybe people need a (possibly positive) identity and group around that. There was this story I saw on one of the documentary channels on how Judaism has developed and how the book was written (faked?) and how certain rites have been developed or strengthened to distinguish the group from others. If people actively search for discussion and higher ideas like moral and like minded individuals (there must be some common ground like language and some basic respect for the others or there is no discussion possible) then it is only to be appreciated. I think however that in today's Western society the ideas that are not welcome will be branded as nazi, sexist etc - that is as unavoidable as the apple that falls from the tree. I would propose a thesis that we as a society urgently need something that is valid for most of us. Something that in times of mass movements of people helps integration as if there is nothing to integrate how to keep working society when millions flow in?

This is really o/t but I found it interesting. I wonder how the discussion about hitting nazis ended. Especially in context a car used to hit other people by the right wing guy last year: maybe he had exercised his right to hit what he considered a (left wing) nazi? Maybe he was attacked by a guy exercising their right to hit a nazi? One has to be careful about these things and there are consequences to deal with either way.
A similar problem occurred few years back in Germany. It is widely accepted in German society that violence is evil (which may be questionable as German love their state and high taxes and so state has to be ready for violence any time and it mostly is). A German high ranking police officer threatened a child kidnapper with torture in quest to find the kid before it dies. The threat worked but the kid was found dead anyway. The guy resigned and admitted guilt w/o any doubt. He took responsibility for what he did. This has relevance because he chose the lesser evil. There have been many similar tragic and less tragic situations like this throughout history. What I found interesting is that the police officer in question did act outside of the box, left ideology (of non-violence) behind and acted in his quest against some basic rules that police force are supposed to follow. He very well knew that he chose evil even if it was lesser one. He took personal consequences for that too. He was prosecuted for that afterwards. Something he apparently expected to happen. Do the fighters against nazis expect the same to happen and are ready to accept consequences?

ashbird

An intriguing question arises as to why folks have a need to name a thing "church". What is the deliberate obfuscation and confusion for? What is the end purpose of it?
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If it is fellowship that is desired, call it a social club. If it is a place where common interests are discussed and debated, call it a debate club. If it is a place where food and refreshments are shared, call it a food club.
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Perhaps Marx (Groucho) summed up the wisdom about clubs: "I don't want to belong to any club that will include me as a member".
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What a disgusting idea to co-opt other people's good deeds and thoughts and sentiments as that of your your Church's, whatever the words are that precede them. Man has not known such sordid acts as that even in Extreme Quackery.
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This Seattle outfit is what give Atheists a bad name. Fodder for a USSC Defamation case.

ashbird

"So where do atheist churches belong in this spectrum? Obviously they appeal to people whose world-views reject the supernatural. But in their own way they are (as they themselves say) doing what all religious communities do, but simply without gods and the supernatural."
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I think Erasmus' Q EXACTLY flushes out the point.
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There is no spectrum, really; and there is no difference - considering the MANNER some of so-called "theist" churches are organized and run. Who is really the "God" in those "theist" churches, BUT the folks who make up anything and call it "God"?? Doing so, they start doing 3 other things, in sequence: (1) Preach their "God" is the BEST of all "Gods", everybody else's God's are inferior; (2) Side with one Political Party and assert everything about that Political Party is right ("right" as in 'correct") because "God said so", and they have a tablet of commandment to prove thy are right; in the event 10 is not enough commandments, invent more; (3) When all is done in the day, the "believers" go home and rest on the conviction they are the angels and saviors of ALL Man.
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NO. NOT all people who believe in a God (the label used for this "group" is "theist") or No God (the label used for this "group" is "atheist") behave in that way. Indeed and in fact, only a minority of them, in both groups, do. There is a name for this type of folks - both theists and atheists. It is Charlatans.
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The ultimate residence of a belief is in the heart. The language of heart is actions.
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When actions speak, all LABELS fall by the wayside, for LABELS don't mean anything except for minds that can't think without LABELS. Personally, I think "Can't think without labels" is the most elusive phenomenon of all. The closer we could get to the bottom of this most elusive phenomenon, the closer the spectre of peace approaches.

Angus Cunningham in reply to ashbird

Ashbird: Personally, I think "Can't think without labels" is the most elusive phenomenon of all. The closer we could get to the bottom of this most elusive phenomenon, the closer the spectre of peace approaches.
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Can't think without labels = can't think without words. Imagining is thinking without words, so might imagination, Ashbird, become the most sublime of human faculties?
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Labeling is only harmful when we apply negative or flattering labels to humans, ourselves or others. Labeling phenomena other than human beings helps us understand phenomena. So can we learn to use words as labels only when we are describing phenomena in our imaginations? In a church, theist or atheist, or in other fora? like TE, perhaps?

LexHumana

I am glad to see atheists finally acknowledging something they have previously fervently denied: they are a belief system just like any other religious belief system (all of which are empirically unprovable, by the way, and thus rely solely on faith to justify themselves). The logical conclusion from this realization is that any attempt by the government to secularize themselves is an implicit endorsement of atheism, and would be equally prohibited under the First Amendment if you were to apply prevailing Supreme Court precedent uniformly.

guest-theritz in reply to LexHumana

A distinction that is probably meaningless in general human terms is that one can prove a positive statement, but not a universal negative.
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In all such matters, humility and recognition of ignorance are necessary. I find the aggressive New Atheists (Dawkins et al) to be as obnoxious as any other religious fanatics.

ashbird in reply to LexHumana

You are absolutely right, LexHumana!! Good you wrote it!!
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But few people have the mental facility and agility it takes to process the thought you presented!!
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The existence or nonexistence of God has always been a red herring in First Amendment debates. It simply makes no sense, since neither the existence nor non-existence of "God" is empirically provable . Bona fide scientists (Dawkins and Weinberg, et al) insist on sticking their noses in in someone's spiritual belief and presumably thereby prove (?!) their intellectual prowess. What a silly game.
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In the final analysis, all of this tangle is about tribal power-struggle, nothing new.
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And of course the vending-machine Bible regurgitators are only too happy to join in the excitement by declaring a Pope's Edict that they are the best and besttest of all religious beliefs. Why? Holy Ghost tells them, they say.
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There are many religious beliefs in the world and all should be RESPECTED unless the belief tells its adherent to kill, rape, murder..... and troll the Jesus out of Erasmus.

Noijmiw in reply to LexHumana

I do not agree, atheism in this case is still not a belief system. But it does define a moral system. A "belief system" is just a subset of all "moral systems": all belief systems are moral systems, but all moral systems are not belief systems. Then again, it's all a question of definitions. Here's how I define this and why I don't consider atheism a belief system:
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Both "Atheism" and "Religion" represent sets of moral systems, which are defined by the stated goal of those moral systems (the goal defines the evil-to-good axis in a moral system, unmotivated morality is an illusion). These moral systems can be divided in two groups:
1. Empirical systems: both the goal of an empirical moral system and the method to compare situations on the evil-to-good axis defined in such a system are based entirely on rational deduction and empirical evidence. Such moral systems do not require a non-empirical "belief" factor and can thus not be considered belief systems.
2. Non-empirical systems: these systems require the acceptance of of something that can't be empirically proven and can thus be considered "belief systems". The belief factor can be minor (for instance someone using the scientific method as his comparison method but towards a religious moral goal), or very extensive (religious extremists for instance).
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If these atheist churches do not require you to accept non-empirical methods or goals, they cannot be considered belief systems, but they do define a moral system.

LexHumana in reply to Noijmiw

Actually, your distinction between a "belief" system and a "moral" system is largely irrelevant in regards to how things are analyzed under the First Amendment. Under the prevailing legal standards in the U.S., a "religion" does not have to espouse the belief in a God, gods, or any sort of supreme being at all. Likewise, it does not have to be widespread or widely held/observed -- you can, theoretically, have a religion of one person. Moreover, the law has made it clear that "religious" beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent, or comprehensible to others in order to merit First Amendment protection. Some of my personal favorite cases of this particular genre are the decisions involving the "Church of Body Modification" (CBM). As you can probably guess from their title, they are strong proponents of tattoos, piercings, and other body modifications. They do not espouse any belief in any supreme being, and believe that body modification helps unify their body and mind and allow them to connect with their inner "power". The more interesting cases that I can recall involving CBM are Cloutier v Costco, and Iacono v. Johnson County School Board (North Carolina).
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In its 1961 decision Torcaso v. Watkins, the U.S. Supreme Court stated that the establishment clause prevents government from aiding “those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs.” In a footnote, the Court clarified that this principle extended to “religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God … Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism and others.” Thus, with the inclusion of things like "ethical culture" and "secular humanism" and "others", it seems quite clear to me that "atheism" is on the exact same footing, and should be treated the exact same way as any other "religion".

Noijmiw in reply to LexHumana

Maybe, but there's a vast difference between a legal definition and a rational definition. A legal definition has a goal in mind, for instance promoting equality of all before the law, minimizing unnecessary distinctions for better efficiency, etc... It doesn't need to be rationally correct. That's why for instance in the US empirical atheism is classified as a belief system, even though from a rational p.o.v. it isn't one. Also, mainstream purely empirical moral systems are quite a recent and small phenomenon, so legally it wouldn't make much sense to create a separate "class" for those moral systems.
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It's the same reasoning as for instance legally considering a motorized tricycle to be a car (an example from my country). The tricycle isn't a car, and will not magically turn into one because a law says so. But from a practical legal p.o.v. it's better to classify it as a car because there aren't many around and it wouldn't make much sense to create a whole new legal definition for them alone.
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So to conclude, my position is that if you analyze rationally what the term "belief system" implies, you cannot use it to describe purely empirical moral systems. And since rational definitions don't depend on which country you live in (a legal definition does ofc), I would argue that the rational definitions of "moral system" and "belief system" are more universal than the legal definition by one particular country. But from a legal p.o.v. I agree that atheist churches and religious churches should be treated on the same footing (but I'm in favor of treating them ALL as non-profit companies, not as the tax-exempt legal fantasy they are for the moment).

LexHumana in reply to Noijmiw

I hope you would at least recognize that your definition of a "belief" system is, in effect, a tautology. You have defined "religion" in the context of being a "belief system", and defined a "belief system" as something that provides for a "non-empirical belief fact0r". By pre-limiting your definition of "religion" and "belief" to everything that allows for non-empirical factors, you force the conclusion that anything that is strictly empirical is not a "belief".
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I am reminded of a quote from the Nobel Prize winning physicist, Werner Heisenberg: “The positivists have a simple solution: the world must be divided into that which we can say clearly and the rest, which we had better pass over in silence. But can anyone conceive of a more pointless philosophy, seeing that what we can say clearly amounts to next to nothing? If we omitted all that is unclear, we would probably be left completely uninteresting and trivial tautologies.”
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As Heisenberg understood, the tautology you have created is not actually very robust or valid. For example, there are a LOT of scientific theories that are still only hypotheses, and have not yet been subjected to any tests for falsity (and in many respect, they might not even be capable of being tested for falsity). Furthermore, in reality, atheism itself is non-empirical -- just as a theist cannot empirically prove the existence of god or gods(s), the atheist also cannot empirically prove the non-existence of god or gods. Both sides simply believe what they believe as an act of faith.
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The existence of god(s) is a simple binary equation: X either equals 1 (yes) or 0 (no). Neither side of the debate is capable of solving for X. The atheists tend to take the lazy way out by saying "you have been unable to prove X equals 1, therefore X must equal 0". Any mathematician will tell you that this is a false statement. The mere failure of a form of proof does not disprove a hypothesis --the only way to disprove a hypothesis is to have a definitive test for falsity (e.g. if X equals 1, then Y must always equal Z, and Y never can equal Z, therefore X cannot possibly equal 1). Atheists must come up with their own proof that X equals 0, which they can't. Therefore atheism is an act of faith.

Noijmiw in reply to LexHumana

You're not wrong, my answer could be seen as a tautology. But then you have to start asking the question of what gives the "correct" definition of a word or a concept. And I don't accept that the legal definition determines the actual definition, for the reasons given above. I do indeed define "belief" as "the acceptance of a non-empirical factor", and so it is logical that I consider that a purely empirical system can't be a belief system.
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But I don't agree with your third and fourth paragraph. Though it is true we can't empirically prove non-existence (of gods, a giant pink unicorn, the existence of an orange in solar orbit between mars and jupiter...) this doesn't mean "not-proving empirically" is equal to "believing in something non-empirical". I'm atheist not because I've been able to empirically prove non-existence of gods, I'm atheist because nothing in my environment points towards the existence of gods, meaning that using the scientific method, it's probability of existence tends towards zero (which is not the same as saying it is zero!). So my atheism IS a result of empirical deduction. I do thus not agree with your statement that atheism is always non-empirical. A lot of people are atheist for non-empirical reasons, but empirical atheism is indeed possible.
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I just want to also point out a logical fallacy in your last argument: you're basically saying in mathematical terms that "if the negative of a statement can't be proven, then the positive of that statement is always an act of faith". This is wrong when the probability of the negative tends towards zero, as shown above.

LexHumana in reply to Noijmiw

You are extrapolating from "probability" and equating that with "certainty". This is a fallacy as well. The mere fact that you may have never seen a white crow or a black swan may mean that the probability of its existence may be low, but that is not the same thing as saying it is empirically certain that they do not exist (both do exist, by the way, although they are extremely rare as compared to the overall population of black crows and white swans). If an atheist were to take the position that "the probability of god existing seems low because I have never experienced God", that would at least arguably be semi-empirical based on a (partially biased and limited) set of personal observations (data points). However, atheists do not speak in terms of probability. They say "God does not exist". That leap to certainty is a pure leap of faith.
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I would also question the quality of the atheist's "data" in assessing probability. What data points are you observing that you believe would "point towards the existence of gods"? If you are looking for divine magic tricks, or something similar, perhaps you are looking for the wrong sort of evidence. Thus, your failure to find "evidence" of god is not necessarily proof of anything one way or the other. This reminds me of the old joke about the drunk looking for his keys under a streetlamp. When asked where he lost his keys, he waves down the darkened street saying "back there". When asked why he is then looking under the lamppost when he lost his keys elsewhere, he states "because the light is better over here". If you are searching for the wrong evidence in the wrong places, I can guarantee that you won't find what you are really searching for.

Noijmiw in reply to LexHumana

That's exactly what I'm not doing. I'm completely aware, and accept, that my data-set from which I extrapolate is only a very small subset of all evidence in the universe. That's why I call myself a statistical or empirical atheist, as opposed to an ideological atheist (let's fiddle about the definition of "atheist"). I accept that there is a small probability, tending towards zero, that a god or gods actually exist, but their probability of existence in my worldview is just as small as the probability of existence of a giant pink cosmic unicorn or that the Earth is flat: not only does no evidence point in the direction of their existence, but most of what I can observe seems to also indicate that those overly far-fetched theories aren't required to explain the universe. In relation with religion: not only have I never seen or experienced anything that would indicate the existence of gods, I also don't need gods to explain how the universe came about. Even better: we can explain from an evolutive p.o.v. why we are primed to belief in something bigger than us even though it isn't true, because it gave our ancestors an evolutive advantage (i.e. increased cooperation).
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It's not impossible that this is all "faked by gods to hide themselves" or something like that, but it's extremely unlikely. And if I'm not going to accept each and every other "very low probability" theory of the universe as being true, and act consequently, why would I accept the very low probability concept of gods? You see the intellectual problem here? If I accept the existence of gods, I also have to accept all the other "very low probability theories" to be intellectually honest. That not only means accepting as true an infinity amount of such theories, it also means accepting every "very low probability theory" AND their opposites at the same time. No matter the contradictions between them. I would for instance have to accept at the same time the the Earth is flat and round. I would have to accept at the same time the concept of the christian god, but also of all other gods, of the flying spaghetti monster and of the giant pink unicorn theory: all would be absolutely equal at the same time from a statistical p.o.v.
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So I do accuse you of cherry-picking which "very low probability theory" you decided to accept as true and which ones you decided to not accept. This cherry-picking is intellectually dishonest, as explained above. To break this intellectual dishonesty, you have to either accept ALL "very low probability theories", or you have to present evidence that demarcates your pet-theory (i.e. "gods") from the other "very low probability theories". And in doing that, you would also get your theory out of the set of "very low probability theories", showing once more why cherry-picking a "very low probability theory" is intellectually dishonest.
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As to what data I assess: everything. I don't throw out a single data-point, but I do assess their credibility using the scientific method and logic laws. And there just isn't a single evidence for gods that passes this credibility assessment. Not only have I never seen one single data-point pointing towards gods, people have been trying to present such a data-point for over 300 years and still haven't found a single one.

LexHumana in reply to Noijmiw

"So I do accuse you of cherry-picking which "very low probability theory" you decided to accept as true and which ones you decided to not accept."
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It is your turn to miss my point, which hinges on how you are deciding what is "true" and therefore acceptable. I am not cherry picking anything. Those who are religious do not rely on empirical proof at all (although some people seem to enjoy the mental exercise of trying to come up with "proofs" of god). For the religious, their belief is an open and acknowledged act of "faith", not of "proof". Thus, for the religious, there is no consideration of "low probability" or "high probability" -- there is simply belief without the need of proof. As a consequence, there is no need for a religious to accept any other so-called "low probability events" merely because he or she is accepting the existence of god as an act of faith. I am merely pointing out that atheists are essentially doing the exact same thing, but are being hypocritical about it by denying that they are making their own leap of faith.
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The atheist is preoccupied with having empirical "proof" in support of his or her beliefs. However, as I have pointed out, the atheist is incapable of coming up with "proof" of the non-existence of god. Moreover, whatever data points they rely upon to discount the existence of god are themselves empirically suspect. The fact that a caveman might have attributed the sun to divine origin is largely irrelevant today -- we now know exactly what the sun is, but that does not prove or disprove god one way or the other. The Big Bang does not answer the question of the existence of god either -- knowing a theory as to how the universe "started" does not answer the more metaphysical questions of why, or what existed prior, or what will exist after.
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In the end, an atheist is largely using fallacious logic -- "because I don't need to rely on divine explanations for a lot of observed physical phenomena anymore, there must be no gods". That is akin to saying "because I have a lot of observable economic, material, physical, and biochemical reasons for being attracted to my spouse, love must not actually exist". The existence of causal explanations does not disprove the existence of additional related phenomena, any more than the discovery of gravity somehow nullified the existence of other subatomic forces yet to be discovered -- in fact, such discoveries often beg the underlying question of what causes those causes and why. Moreover, the fact that you have not seen what you feel is acceptable proof of the existence of god does not make the probability higher or lower, given that your personal sample size is tiny compared to the size of the universe and may be made up of data points that are potentially irrelevant to the question. There are a lot of things that we have not seen or experienced or calculated, but that does not make the possibility of those things greater or lesser. It took over 300 years to prove Fermat's Last Theorem, but that didn't make the theorem invalid for those 300 years, just unproven. Thus, when an atheist claims there is no god, even if they are relying on the assumption that their limited observed data points show a reduced probability, they are not stopping at the statement "I don't know" or "I'm not sure" or "It's possible, but I think its unlikely" -- they are moving straight to unbelief. This is an act of faith, not science.
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“The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.” -- Werner Heisenberg
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“The existing scientific concepts cover always only a very limited part of reality, and the other part that has not yet been understood is infinite. Whenever we proceed from the known into the unknown we may hope to understand, but we may have to learn at the same time a new meaning of the word ‘understanding’.” -- Werner Heisenberg

Noijmiw in reply to LexHumana

Interesting conversation we have here, but I do have the impression that you are starting to fall back on the same arguments over and over, not taking into account my answers or any of the debunking of arguments I did. And I'm truly asking myself if this is because of debate-fatigue, or because our worldviews are so different from one another that we are starting to not understand each other anymore. Anyway, here's some feedback on your previous post:

- The cherry-picking argument still stands even if I do away with my request for empirical evidence: why did you cherry-picked to have faith in one specific non-empirical scenario over an other non-empirical scenario to explain the universe? What makes your scenario of a universe created by your god more "believable" than a scenario where it is created by another god? Or a non-empirical scenario where no god is involved? Nothing. You're still cherry-picking.

- " I am merely pointing out that atheists are essentially doing the exact same thing, but are being hypocritical about it by denying that they are making their own leap of faith."

This was the subject of almost all my previous post... I was trying to explain to you that while a lot of people are atheist because they indeed do a leap of faith, doing a leap of faith isn't absolutely required to be an atheist (it is absolutely required to do a leap of faith to be a theist though, as you stated). I've explained to you why I don't think gods exist, and I don't make a leap of faith in any step in my opinion. I don't exclude the possibility of gods, I just consider their existence highly unlikely, with probability tending towards zero. That still makes me an atheist in my opinion (of course if you define an atheist as "someone who does a leap of faith to not believe", then this discussion is about word-definitions instead of religion).

I can do an analogy with gravity to make it clearer: we don't know yet entirely how gravity works. So there is a very small chance it is actually generated by invisible gnomes physically pulling stuff together. I don't exclude the possibility that it is generated by invisible gnomes, I just consider this explanation as being highly unlikely, with probability tending towards zero. So am I now a believer in gravity generated by invisible gnomes? No, of course not, that would be preposterous.

- You don't seem to understand that from a mathematical/logical perspective "proof of existence" and "proof of non-existence" are two very different things, you seem to constantly equate them.

- Data points and theories can indeed be empirically suspect. That's why we take into account a measure of "efficiency" to in effect classify them. In practice this is done by using the scientific method: a datapoint or theory becomes less suspect if it can be reproduced in the same conditions by other people. That's why I don't believe: no religious datapoint (claimed miracles, apparitions, ...) or religious theory (how the universe was created, how life started, ...) has ever been able to pass this efficiency test. You say it yourself: there is no empirical proof for religion, none whatsoever. And the concept that religion shouldn't be asked for empirical proof and relies on blind faith alone is only a very recent trend (I love studying religious history), it's apparition coincided with the adoption of the scientific method exactly BECAUSE religions began to understand they couldn't produce acceptable datapoints. You're turning the historical chain of consequences around...

- "In the end, an atheist is largely using fallacious logic -- "because I don't need to rely on divine explanations for a lot of observed physical phenomena anymore, there must be no gods"." & "Thus, when an atheist claims there is no god, even if they are relying on the assumption that their limited observed data points show a reduced probability, they are not stopping at the statement "I don't know" or "I'm not sure" or "It's possible, but I think its unlikely" -- they are moving straight to unbelief. This is an act of faith, not science."

You seem to really be wanting to make this conversation about the definition of the word "atheist". I DO stop at the statement "I'm not 100% sure" and I don't say "gods absolutely don't exist", as explained above. And this doesn't make me a theist, for the same reason that I'm not suddenly a believer in "gravity generated by invisible gnomes" because I said that I'm not 100% sure that gravity isn't generated by invisible gnomes. So no, I don't take a leap of faith, and I'm still an atheist.

LexHumana in reply to Noijmiw

It is an interesting conversation, and if it appears that I am repeating myself, it is because the central point of what I have been saying seems to be getting lost. Theists are acting on faith, not on empirical proof. I have never disputed that; in fact, I have stated that from the beginning. However, everyone seems to want to judge this act of faith as empirically suspect -- you can't judge faith empirically, because it is beyond proof. It simply is. When you ask why do you believe (or in your words "cherry pick") one concept ahead of others, the answer is simply "because I do". That is the nature of faith, and to claim that it is flawed because it is non-empirical pointless -- it is akin to criticizing the color white for not being the color black, or saying it is wrong to like vanilla because it is not chocolate. Similarly, I have simply been saying that atheists are doing essentially the same thing -- jumping to a conclusion without any quantum of actual proof to support that belief.
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When you wrote "You don't seem to understand that from a mathematical/logical perspective "proof of existence" and "proof of non-existence" are two very different things, you seem to constantly equate them", this statement makes no sense to me, because this is the precise distinction I have been making in every comment. My analogy was straight to the point: God is a binary solution, either X equals 1 or X equals 0. The theists are faced with trying to solve for X=1 (proof of existence), and atheists are faced with trying to solve X=0 (proof of non-existence). Neither side can solve their own equation empirically. However, on the atheist side of the question, they do seem to avoid having to solve their own equation by simply pointing out that the theists cannot prove their equation, and that failure of proof on the part of theists somehow validates an atheists unbelief. I am merely pointing out that this is mathematically a fallacy, and your quote basically says the same thing. Theists avoid solving for their equation empirically by simply stating "I believe x=1" and foregoing any attempt at proof, thus they are abandoning any pretense of being scientific. Atheists, on the other hand, seem to stubbornly cling to the notion that they are more empirical and scientific, when in fact they are just as guilty of non-empirical thinking as the theist is. I respect those atheists that do what theists do, and simply declare their belief that x=0, and don't apologize for being unscientific about it. It is those in the atheist camp that cling to the illusion that they can somehow disprove the existence of god (or somehow show that the likelihood of god is mathematically estimated as being "low") that I generally find the most frustrating, because if you actually do an inventory of what atheists claim are "evidence" that god does not exist, you find that this evidence is not really evidence of anything.
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We have made great strides in quantum physics, but I have to question why any of those discoveries can be said to prove or disprove god? There is a phrase in Arabic, "allahu a'lam", which means "God alone knows" or "God knows best". It is intended to convey factual uncertainty, and I am positive that every human culture that has existed has utilized some variation of that phrase since the dawn of human language. That phrase (or its equivalents) was likely used to explain a variety of physical phenomena throughout the ages, attributing them to "God". Over time, as we learned more about the world, more and more things we used to attribute to "God" could get crossed off the list of unknowns. However, no matter how many things you cross off that list, there are two fundamental truths: (1) there will always be infinitely more things on the list, and (2) crossing things off the list does not and cannot ever answer the question of "is there a God?". Saying that the Sun is not really Apollo, or that earthquakes are not really the movements of a large catfish "Namazu" (in Japanese mythology), does not answer the more fundamental question.
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Thus, everything that I am assuming you are taking as data points showing a diminishing likelihood of god, I must question first -- are they ACTUALLY proof of God in any way, or are they simply crossing things off an infinite list of unknowns in the universe?

Noijmiw in reply to LexHumana

- "... you can't judge faith empirically, because it is beyond proof. It simply is. When you ask why do you believe one concept ahead of others, the answer is simply "because I do"."
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But that means you just created a logical structure around your reason to believe that shields you from ever having to explain why (to yourself or others) and can be used to justify absolutely any non-empirical belief. You basically created an argument that dismisses yourself from having to argument your belief. That's a circular reasoning structure. Circular reasoning is a logical fallacy that allows you to pseudo-prove any argument you want. It's honorable that you're trying to actually put your belief in a logical framework (I value logic and rationality over ideology very much), but in my opinion the only logical argument that adequately explains belief, and which isn't circular, is that we belief because of the evolutionary advantage it gives us. For me, you just believe in your own non-empirical scenario because you were born in a group of humans where that belief is predominant and adhering to that predominant belief is evolutionary advantageous (unifying narratives are a powerful tool for social groups to promote unity, and more unified social groups have better survival chances).
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- About your second paragraph: you are making the wrong distinction between the two statements. Unfortunately you do indeed equate the "atheist demand for theists to prove a positive" with the "theists demand for atheists to prove a negative"... Where proving a positive can be done in theory with a single data-point, proving a negative requires in theory infinity minus one data-points. This means that while atheists are asking theists for one single data-point respecting the scientific method to prove existence of gods, theists are asking atheists an infinity minus one data-points to disprove existence of gods. Those requests aren't equal. And refusing to provide an infinity minus one data-points (which is empirically impossible) isn't equal to refusing to provide one data-point (which is empirically possible). That's why those two aren't equal statements.
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- You seem focused on the notion that crossing things off the list doesn't disprove the existence of gods. But crossing things off a list cannot disprove a non-empirical scenario by definition of the word "non-empirical" itself! So we're falling back on the circular reasoning illustrated above. And "crossing of a list" doesn't disprove your pet non-empirical scenario (existence of a god), but it also doesn't disprove any other of the infinite amount of possible non-empirical scenario.
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- To conclude:
1. If you state that religion is non-empirical, and want to stay coherent with logic laws (so no circular reasoning like above), you have to find a way to statistically distinguish it from the infinite amount of other non-empirical scenarios, but using non-empirical means. This is impossible in my opinion, by the definition of "non-empirical" itself.
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The logical consequence of this is that since you can never distinguish a non-empirical scenario from the others, the infinite amount of them will all be equally likely. This means that if you ascribe a 0% probability to one of them, you have to ascribe the same 0% probability to all of them. And if you ascribe a 100% probability to one of them (as you do for the existence of gods), you have to ascribe the same 100% probability to all of them. ==> In effect this means that you can only either accept all non-empirical scenarios at once (which I don't because that would mean accepting logical impossibilities, like accepting a statement and it's opposite at the same time) or reject all non-empirical scenarios (avoiding logical impossibilities).
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2. If you state that religion is empirical, then you have to provide empirical proof.

LexHumana in reply to Noijmiw

"But that means you just created a logical structure around your reason to believe that shields you from ever having to explain why (to yourself or others) and can be used to justify absolutely any non-empirical belief."
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I haven't created any logical structure at all, nor have I been seeking to. Faith is outside of empirical proof. It is a choice, not a deduction. Therefore any attempt to frame it within a structure of logic or scientific explanation is pointless. This does not make the belief somehow invalid -- you can choose to love someone and marry them; you can choose to like attending baseball games instead of football games; you can choose to like cake instead of pie. None of these choices are right or wrong, and none of these choices require justification through logic. The choice justifies itself. My point is that such choices are decidedly non-scientific (that is not the same thing as saying they are invalid or wrong).
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In the realm of human thought, there is fact and opinion (aka belief). Facts ought to be testable and verifiable somehow. Opinions do not have to be (and actually cannot be, otherwise they would not be opinions). You don't have to be logical about opinions, nor do you have to justify holding one opinion while rejecting other opinions. You, on the other hand, seem to be arguing that EVERYTHING must be logically defensible, which is silly. When you write that "The logical consequence of this is that since you can never distinguish a non-empirical scenario from the others,, the infinite amount of them will all be equally likely" you are ABSOLUTELY RIGHT. However, this statement is both true and non-contradictory -- you CAN have an infinite number of opinions/beliefs about something, all of which are equally legitimate. What you cannot have is an infinite number of scientific facts about something -- it is invalid to say that a physical object can have simultaneously a mass of 100 grams and a mass of 50 grams, for example. It has only one mass at any given moment, and this would be provable.
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So you are inadvertently proving my underlying point. Both theism and atheism fall within the realm of opinion and belief, not fact or logic or science. Neither is empirically provable. Any theist or atheist that attempts to "scientifically" prove their hypothesis is doomed to failure. You seem to be saying that your atheism is based on science and logic, and I am challenging that assertion as unfounded by pointing out that the "factual data" you seem to be relying on is not actually proof of anything. Your belief is not science, or math, or even provable -- that does not make it invalid, it just means it falls outside of the realm of the empirical.
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As a consequence, theism is not something that can be refuted via science or logic. It simply is, and attempts to make objective rational judgements about it are largely pointless. My overall point is not to try and rationally justify theism, it is to point out that atheism is exactly the same thing -- not a deduction or something derived from logic or scientific observation, but instead is entirely a subjective choice.
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Your attempt to explain that X=1 and X=0 are not equivalent forms of proof is not correct, because you are claiming that X=0 requires an atheist to prove a negative. That is not correct. I could just as easily ask a physicist to prove that black holes exist, or prove that they cannot exist. Likewise, a climate scientist can be asked to verify whether anthropogenic global warming exists, or does not exist. Both conclusions are amenable to scientific testing for falsity. The test for falsification for each outcome may differ from one another, but they can be tested for, regardless of the fact that one of the outcomes happens to be the negation of the other. I simply raise the mathematical analogy to make the comparison of the two positions simple and clear -- these are two functions for X that are mathematically and scientifically unsolvable. However, a person can CHOSE to believe one or the other.
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In contrast, you are correct about one thing -- proving the existence of god and proving the non-existence of god are both equally impossible, but not because one is an attempted proof of a negative, but because both are incapable of a valid test for falsification. This is because both questions are inherently non-scientific and untestable. But this is the central point of my argument -- atheists are asserting a non-scientific and untestable hypothesis. As a consequence, it falls in the realm of belief and faith, and outside the realm of logic and science.

Noijmiw in reply to LexHumana

Instead of answering point by point, I'm going to address a couple of note-worthy points first and then try to make a synthesis of how I understand your p.o.v. (and why I don't agree with it).

--------------------------------------------------------- Point-by-point answers ---------------------------------------------------------
1. There is no such thing as "conscious decisions" ("choice" if you prefer). I'm not going into details, but choice is a biological illusion. It's been tested: decisions are taken by the brain outside your consciousness, then only come to the attention of our consciousness afterwards, after which our consciousness claims to have "taken a decision". And even after showing participants the scientific proof that they didn't take a conscious decision, most of them just didn't want to accept it, showing that we are primed to believe that we take conscious decisions, even though we don't. I would recommend reading about the "theory of mind", it's absolutely fascinating.

2. " You, on the other hand, seem to be arguing that EVERYTHING must be logically defensible, which is silly. ".
I do indeed defend the idea that everything in the universe is "explainable" through logic. I base this on a thought process similar to why I don't "believe". I don't agree that it is silly, and you don't seem to be considering you have to defend your position that not everything is explainable through logic (remember, there's nothing as dangerous to one's argumentation than relying on "common sense"). I'd appreciate it if you tried.

3. From the analogies you give, I think your error in the "proving a negative" debate is that you seem to be considering that everyone sees the world like you do: people have made their mind up about questions in their environment, answering them by either TRUE or FALSE, based on some system (science, religion, other systems ...). You don't seem to realize a lot of people like me see the world in probabilities, and are just fine at leaving it at that, without the need to declare the most probable TRUE and the less probable FALSE. When I say that for me the probability of existence of gods tends towards zero, this doesn't mean I've made a judgement/leap-of-faith that "gods" is FALSE and "no gods" is TRUE. I'm just assessing the probability, not declaring one or the other true (the "leap of faith" you accuse atheists of). So I'm doubling down on this: I'm still not making a leap of faith (and still consider that my worldview qualifies as "being atheist"). If you don't agree, please show me black-on-white and in simple terms where in my argument I make a leap of faith in your opinion.

----------------------------------------------------------------- Synthesis -----------------------------------------------------------------
You consider that non-empirical systems shouldn't be approached using logic, I don't agree entirely. A non-empirical system could very well be logical. But ok, I can accept that you consider your faith as being a non-empirical and not bound to logic at the same time. But then you're basically saying: "I have no proof and there is no logical explanation for what I defend, but I assure you that it's true. And others saying it isn't true are doing just as much a leap of faith as me". That's preposterous. You say it's true, but in fact you have no idea if it is true, you are just wishing it is true. And "people using logic and empiricism to be able to say an argument isn't true" aren't committing a leap of faith on the same magnitude as "people prohibiting the use of logic and empiricism to be able to say their argument is true". (Note: I don't consider myself as being in either group of people, as I explained I see the world in probabilities and leave it at that, meaning that I don't consider myself to be doing a leap of faith)
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What I'm trying to tell you here is the following: "You don't know if it's true. You're wishing for it to be true and you're declaring that you're sure it's true, but the reality is you just don't know". And there's a danger associated with adhering to non-empirical and non-logical systems and then declaring them to be true: it gives you a moral free hand to impose it on others (I'm not inferring that you specifically do this, but you can't deny it's extremely common over the whole world). If adhering to a non-empirical and non-logical system was a strictly personal matter affecting only the person itself, I really wouldn't care.

LexHumana in reply to Noijmiw

Your point #1 about choice being non-existent is obviously an interesting assertion (and one that I dispute whether it is as certain as you claim it is), but it also sidesteps the point I was making about the distinction between fact and opinion. Regardless of whether you voluntarily or involuntarily make choices, it is WHAT you are making choices about that is the issue -- is it a fact (empirical), or an opinion (non-empirical)?
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In regards to your point #2, while it might be mentally comforting to some to believe that everything can be reduced to logic and maths, I have yet to see any rational basis for asserting that everything is ultimately solely empirical. Even your previous comments seem to acknowledge a realm of the non-empirical. Why do you like a particular favorite color? Why do you find a particular song or painting to be beautiful? Why do you like strawberry over lemon? Why do you find a particular joke funny? Why do you think a particular sports team is "the best"? Who do you think should have won American Idol? Who is better, LeBron or Jordan? People may engage in hearty debates on these issues, and marshal all manner of "facts" and "evidence" to support their position, but at the core these are all subjective opinions that are not going to be empirically proven correct or incorrect.
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Regarding #3, for those who are honestly in the "I don't know" or "I can't be certain") camp, then the term agnostic is more appropriate than atheist or theist (that is the literal translation of "agnostic" - no knowledge). If someone asserts that they think the probabilities are low or high, but still uncertain, I would still classify that as agnostic. You may not be making a leap of faith, but only playing the percentages, but you cannot really claim to be atheist if you acknowledge any sort of non-trivial probability of the existence of god. On the other hand, if you are claiming that there really is no meaningful probability of god, you have essentially discounted the probability to zero (not just "approaching zero"). If you are effectively "rounding down to zero", then you aren't really assessing probabilities, in which case you are an atheist that is taking a small leap of faith to close the gap down to zero.
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Note that I am being charitable about your assumption that the "probability of god approaches zero". I have not seen you provide any real logical basis for why the probability is even calculable, let alone approaching zero. Thus, when I say you are making a "small" leap of faith, that could actually be characterized as a huge leap of faith. I suppose a different way of looking at it is to answer "how did you calculate this supposed probability of god, and why do you believe you have calculated the probability correctly?" I think you might find that your calculations are actually predicated on a lot of assumed values, rather than anything empirically derived, which makes the faith leap even bigger -- after all, that basically is exactly what an assumption is: a leap of faith.
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For example, let's assume you start with the premise that the probability of god begins at 100%. On what basis do you start discounting the probability? Is the discovery of the atom worth a 5% discount? Is the discovery of subatomic particles worth a 15% discount? If a claimed miracle is later debunked as a fraud, is that worth a minus 2%? How do you come up with the values for all of these empirical data points? If you cannot come up with values that are not completely subjective, then how can you claim the probability is approaching zero? On the other hand, suppose you begin from the assumption that the probability of god is already 0%, and you are searching for empirical proof that you have yet to find. Isn't your starting assumption of 0% just as much a non-empirical choice (aka leap of faith)?
You don't know what the probability actually is. In fact, there really isn't a sliding scale of probabilities for this particular question, because there are only two possible outcomes and only one measurable event -- God either exists (100%), or does not exist (0%).
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"You don't know if it's true. You're wishing for it to be true and you're declaring that you're sure it's true, but the reality is you just don't know". That begs the question what do you mean by the word "know". If you mean what I feel to be fundamentally true, then you are incorrect. On the other hand, if you mean what I can empirically prove, then you are correct. However, the same can be said for every atheist out there. I am completely comfortable with my non-empirically inspired belief, but it appears atheists are decidedly uncomfortable with the thought that they are in the same boat.

Hedgefundguy

Soccer stadiums full of fans, football stadiums full of fans - both groups hating and willing to fight "those devil fans of the other team."
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Rap concerts, and basically any music concert that attracts a large draw (20,000+)
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I'm sure others here can list more - think what "Spring Break" crowds do.
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NSFTL
Regard

Kremilek2

Interesting article. It only confirms the well-observed fact that people have a tendency to gather with similar ones regardless of the religion. If such atheist groups will promote moral behavior and sense of a community then there is no reason not to support them.

Canajun eh

It is true that the purview of science is the understanding of the physical world, and that of religion is how to live in it. They are different spheres of understanding, but are not mutually exclusive. Throughout most of history religions have tried to encompass both spheres of influence and it has not worked well for society, Galileo's persecution being one example. After Scottish and French philosophers laid the groundwork for secular society in the 18th century the sciences exploded and our understanding of the world and what is in it expanded exponentially . Our understanding of how to live in it, on the other hand, has barely progressed, exemplified by the wars in the Middle East and the gun violence in the USA.
Religious rules governing morality have fallen like ninepins in secular society. Public attitudes towards divorce, masturbation, premarital sex, homosexuality, same sex marriage, abortion, even medically-assisted suicide have changed dramatically in the last few years. But have these changes helped us all live together in a better way? The "free love" of college campuses in the 1960s, for example, has slowly morphed into allegations of a "rape culture" on campus and the spawning of the #metoo movement of today.
Over the centuries religions identified these issues as so controversial that they opted for proscription as the practical solution. In our secular societies, however, premarital sex, for example, is the norm rather than the exception, but is there a case to be made that young people might benefit from sacrificing immediate sexual pleasure in order to understand the partner first? Although abortion is undoubtedly a woman's right, is it just another operation like an appendectomy, or are there deeper issues involved that make it critical that all choices and solutions are equally supported by society? If so, who is to explain that to the younger generation?
Our secular society has plenty of laws, but it is not laws that are needed. Nor do we need rigid moral codes. But we do need to work out a system of secular ethics and morality that guide individual individuals on the choices likely to be harmful or helpful to them. And we need places where young and old can congregate to consider and ponder these issues. We need to become philosophers, like the Greeks of old. The "Atheist churches" are a good start. The motto of the "Sunday Assembly" is particularly apt - "live better, help often, wonder more." Religion is not dead. It is just taking another form.

Peace Love and Understanding

I think to "believe in God" means simply to have faith that the elements of the Universe over which you have no control will unfold as they will and that you will be okay no matter what happens.

Why does everyone gotta complicate everything gosh

Yes. I agree, @Peace. But that's half of one whole pie only. The other half is acting in accordance with our conscience (I believe we all have one on the day we were born. Things happened to it and some people completely lost it, the ones who talk to ghosts, for instance) and pay a bit of attention to (the ghost people won't understand this one for they have been ghost-pickled, nor the women-haters for the quote was from a woman called Lady Astor, an nonbeliever) "Real Education should educate us out of self into something far finer, into a selflessness which links us with ALL humanity".

No argument here that integrity, honesty, courage, and many other adaptive values are central to a spiritual life.
I was referring more specifically to what it means to "believe in God" for this, though, as it relates to religious affiliation.
I make up that what you're referring to is more related to living harmoniously with the Universe in cognizance of the elements which we can and cannot control. Or as some would call it "living life on life's terms" or "living a Godly life" interchangeably. Which certainly is the difference between living in heaven or living in hell, in my view.

The problem is when you tell people "they better!" they misinterpret that as telling them either that they must obey YOU and what you want them to do, as if you are some sort of authoritarian religious figure..... or they interpret it as God will "punish" them if they don't live according to a certain way, like God is some sort of cruel figure who granted us free will only to demand certain behavior of us.

When in fact that is not what is meant by this at all.

What is meant is that trying to control things in this existence which you cannot control creates chaos and discord in both your physical existence and mental well-being. So does over-tolerating or assuming a victim stance in relation to things you do have the power to change (usually your own behavior). And understanding what you can and can't control is largely a process of trial and error for which you are absolutely and totally forgiven for stumbling to find.....Because that is the only real way to find it at all.

Thanks. @Peace.
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I was simply saying, in addition to all the stuff you've said in your post with which I 100% agree, the way a religious faith is practiced by some of its adherents (doesn't matter which religion, but we are graced by a fixture of a "real McCoy" on Erasmus), it is no longer in touch with a human's basic conscience, let alone curiosity, which is the natural desire to learn about things we don't know anything about. These same folks assume they have the authority to tell everyone what to do about everything, including things they don't know anything about, claiming, inter alia, the only book you need to read is the Bible and the only voice you need to listen to is that of the Holy Ghost. The circular recycling of "I talk with the holy ghost every day and ergo I am right about everything and ergo my religious faith is better than your irreligious faith" has pickled their conscience ALL humans are born with. That is all I was saying.
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For some people, a religious faith elevates the self and makes it work in the direction of selflessness [meaning of the "selflessness" as used in the Astor quote]. For others, exactly the reverse - for these sorts, the whole world and all the people in it is about them, about how they are better than you , "you" meaning everyone else (btw, most Trumpian). See the difference? [The is a clinical term for this kind of mental posture. Indeed, the precursor of a fascist paradigm. Very very sick people - Cf. all the posts written by me and others in the previous Erasmus post]. These folks want to run but have no legs. They want to have the last word, but have nothing to say (except endlessly regurgitating the bible which they rote-learn without the slightest comprehension, as attested to by the comments they leave over a period of 10 years). They don't live on life's terms, and certainly not "a Godly life", they live in a fog of non-comprehension of everything - *masterpiece of cult brainwashing*. Stay tuned. The best is yet to come.

I don't disagree with any of your observations here. Certainly there are a lot of people who claim the mantle of religious authority who don't really understand it as well as they think they do. I would just bring this back to the discussion we had in Erasmus' last post....
Here's the thing about organized religion: There are generally very few/no requirements to join or attend. Nobody has to pass a Christianity test to call themselves a Christian. Nobody has to actually be like Christ to call themselves a Christian. Nobody has to understand or live the Noble Truths or practice mindfulness to call themselves a Buddhist. Nobody has to perfectly adhere to the Qu'ran to be a Muslim.
There are a lot of people out there who preach when what they really should do is listen.
There are a lot of people out there who are only members of organized faith because they think they are supposed to or are merely using it for for the sake of their own vanity or pride or gluttony or wrath or power (etc.).
Does the fact that a whole lot of people who hear the message don't really understand it defeat all merit to faiths which, I'm pretty sure, are or were at some point doing their best to communicate the principles I have outlined above as a way of living that leads to less suffering for the self and others?
Because what if those same people who misinterpret and abuse the religious organization or the faith were not Christian? (Or Buddhist, or whatever)? Would they not still be flawed? Would they not still do harms to others? Whether they claim to do them in their own name or in God's name, is the harm not the same regardless? Where is the harm caused by the label itself?
Is not the harm always from the actions one takes that are disharmonious with the natural order, regardless of how a person identifies themself? Is the label not always a spurious correlation?

The truth is, communicating even a simple idea to the whole human race without being misunderstood is really, really hard.

It's like that game of "Telephone" where you say something around in a circle and by the time it gets back to you its totally different.

It isn't impossible to communicate, some people do understand it; but it's pretty dang hard to communicate a concept that EVERYONE will understand.

And when they don't understand it correctly, they apply religion and faith in ways not originally prescribed, perhaps even in harmful ways as a result of the misunderstanding.