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Author Topic: Why do you believe?
Ikemook
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quote:
I don't know how to edit, so here's a quick fix--I didn't mean that some people can have spiritual experiences and others can't, but that some experiences are misslabeled as spiritual when they really aren't. That there are both true spiritual experiences, and experiences that seem to be spiritual >_< which makes the whole thing waaaay to complicated for my simple mind
My experience with anthropology is that people and culture are often far more complicated than our forms of analysis give them credit.

Except, of course, when they're not ^_~

quote:
What if both sides are true? What if some people associate spiritual meaning to occurances that are merely cultural programming, while at the same time some people truely have spiritual experiences that have nothing to do with symbolism or culture? Does it have to be an either or?

And now I'm done ^_^ My unfinished homework is calling, so I'll have to tag out.

No, I suppose it doesn't. It could be both cultural and spiritual.

*shrug* Like I said, I'm just putting out a different opinion. Unfortunately, I don't have the time for a long, engaging argument on the subject. I have way too many final projects due in way to short a time.

If anyone wants such an argument, feel free to email me, and I'll respond whenever I can.

--David

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0Megabyte
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I know plenty of depressed Christians who wonder why they should bother living, not caring whether ther eis another world because this world causes them so much pain, at least in their opinion.

In fact, I wonder what percentage of suicides are Christians?

And for non-Christians, how much of the depression comes from feeling ostracized from your society because you don't believe as they believe?

Just an interesting tangent, to me at least.

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MattP
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I tend to believe that people who are depressed or suicidal are that way because of problems other than religion or lack thereof.
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0Megabyte
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Yeah. But it'd be interesting to see percentages.
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Ikemook
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quote:
Some people do "turn back to religion" for this reason. Others of us turn back because we see truth and happiness there.
Oh, I understand that, and didn't mean to imply otherwise. I was simply expressing my opinion that, if you as an atheist find atheism too painful and genuinely feel a particular religion is right for you, then I think its generally best that you follow said religion.

quote:
In fact, I wonder what percentage of suicides are Christians?
Well, strictly speaking, I'd hypothesize that given the large amount of Christians in this country, a significant portion of suicides are Christians. In other words, if we do find out the percentage of Christian suicides, it might not necessarily say anything special about Christianity.

And my previous post wasn't a suggestion that Christianity, or religion in general, is a cure-all for suicide. As you say, there are plenty of depressed Christians. In my own personal experience, it was the realization that there is nothing but, well, nothing, after death that helped keep me from suicide. So believing in a life after death is not an a priori protection against suicidal tendencies.

As Paladine essentially said, everybody's different.

quote:
And for non-Christians, how much of the depression comes from feeling ostracized from your society because you don't believe as they believe?
In my experience, not much. It was more due to personal isolation (due to my own social and psychological traits), stress, and a genuine feeling of emptiness, hollowness, or "void" that came from an inability to reconcile my desires and intellectual beliefs with the challenges to them posed by my atheism and (to a lesser extent) my expanding education in anthropology.

That's not to say depression couldn't be caused by such an isolation. I imagine that if you were in a heavily Christian community, with no known atheist or non-Christian friends, you could suffer depression from that isolation. Family tensions due to disagreements about your atheism can be nasty and painful.

I think this social isolation is going to be especially painful if you're unsure of yourself or your beliefs (beyond that you're an atheist) or if you're young. I imagine the rapid changes in social and personal identity as a young adult, combined with the chemical and physical changes in your brain, would not help matters.

--David

[Edited to add: To a lesser extent, I agree with what Matt said. Though I do think that interal religious and even philosophical tension can cause depression. I don't think we should assume that that's the case in any given case of depression, but with certain people in certain contexts, I could see it being a factor.]

[ April 12, 2007, 01:50 AM: Message edited by: Ikemook ]

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Everard
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On the whole atheism-depression thing, it certainly wasn't the cause of my depression. The cause was my sensitivity to criticism from others.

What brought me back from my depression was, to some extent, was finally giving up on the idea that their might be some god out there. I still could be wrong, and there could be a god, but being the agnostic I was when I was a teenager helped perpetuate my depression because "how could god let me feel like this unless he's evil?"

Embracing the idea that there is no god allowed me to start fixing myself.

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Ikemook
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Ev hit it on the head, I think. At least, much better than I did (which is what I get for posting at 2am in the morning ^_~).

I wonder...

In the instances where depression is exacerbated by struggles with atheism and agnoticism, how much does overcoming those struggles help in dealing with the depression?

For example, in my case, while it certainly didn't cure my depression in total, "embracing the idea that there is no God" (as Ev puts it) did eventually help deal with the most severe parts of depression. The other factors involved, such as the extreme lonliness, seemed in retrospect to gain a little help. "Embracing my atheism" helped solidify my identity, increased my self-confidence and made it easier for me to approach other people. Which, of course, helped me find more friends and comrades and decreased my lonliness. But part of overcoming this shyness was also a conscious choice to push myself to do so. The act of embracing atheism didn't "cure" me, in the way an antibiotic might cure someone of a bacterial infection.

I'd be interested to see how these factors play out in general, if they do at all. What is the extent to which issues with ones belief system, and difficulty with it, influence depression? And how useful is "coming to terms" with these issues in overcoming said depression?

--David

[Edited to add: I'm having some difficulty speaking about this, because I don't want to give the impression that I think atheism or religion or similar cultural elements are sure-fire cures for depression. There is, in my experience (and that of my family) a fair number of factors involved in depression, and I certainly don't think overcoming it is a matter of finding the right faith.]

[ April 12, 2007, 10:03 AM: Message edited by: Ikemook ]

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MattP
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Ev's comment struck a chord with me too. Finally deciding that He wasn't really out there was a moment of liberation for me. I wasn't depressed prior to that epiphany, but I was frustrated and annoyed.
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PlaydoughBoy
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Echoing Ev's and MattP's sentiments...

While I never made the decision that God didn't exist I still experienced a very empowering moment when I realized I didn't care.

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Adam Masterman
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quote:
I think you're setting up an artifical contrast here. Many Christians find their faith to be proved the same way yours is. By believing as they do, they treat people better and feel better about themselves and those around them. It may not be self-evident to you that Christ died on the cross for your sins, but neither is it self-evident to us that we'll attain enlightement within seven lives after becoming stream-hoppers (or something of the sort).
I'm not talking about feeling better, which has very little value in establishing truth (I doubt many religious experiences could compete with shooting heroin in terms of purely making one feel good). But on the level of doctrine, I do think there is a difference. Let me give you an example:

Buddha declared that all things are impermanent, subject to eventual decay and dissolution. Its a central Buddhist tenet, but it doesn't need to be taken on faith at all (indeed, that would be counter-productive). Instead, Buddha calls our attention, both to the fact of impermance, and to our tendency to believe in permanence. We experience continual sorrow when things we thought of (or wished were) permanent prove to be not so: marriages end, possessions break or are lost, friends die, etc. The more one works with the practices, the clearer it becomes that

1. EVERYTHING is impermanent

and

2. We fight this basic fact tooth and nail, generating much of our own suffering in the process.

The Buddha's solution is the only one that makes any sense (at least, to me): make peace with the non-negotiable fact that everything is impermanent. And its a wonderful solution, because impermanence itself isn't a problem. The reason we suffer is merely that we desire permanence in an impermanent world.

Anyway, with all that as context, what I see with a lot of theistic religions is an attempt to create the illusion of permanence through the supernatural. Fear of death is assuaged through the promise of eternal life. A permanent, unchanging God is posited as the source of all existance. Transitory relationships are credited with having an eternal, post-death reality. But the thing is, these suppossedly permanent aspects of reality are entirely theological and beyond direct experience. In the world we actually live in, the law of impermanence is without exception. To believe in anything permanent, we HAVE TO take it on faith, because nothing in our experience is or ever has been, permanent and unchanging.

This is what I was referring to as the difference between the Dharma and theistic religions (again, for lack of a better term). Of course, I can't speak for other faiths, and perhaps I have mischaracterized the theistic position. Feel free to refute away. [Smile]

Adam

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Jesse
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For me, the moment when I started to make real headway in dealing with my depression and anxiety was when it hit me that "The message is in the Gift".

This was shortly after reading Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut (who just passed away), in which an oft repeated line is "You were sick. You're better now, and there's work to be done."

There isn't any more to it. Yes, I do believe that this world is not the product of random chance, but whether or not it is has no relevance, at all, to how I should treat my fellow human beings or what my goals should be.

That realization was absolutely freeing.

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Kent
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Faith, Cognitive Dissonance, and the Psychology of Religious Experience

quote:
People from many religious traditions have "spiritual" experiences--feelings, insights, premonitions, and encounters which they are left to their own conclusions to decipher. It is not unusual for people to conclude from such experiences that God is their God, that He is nearby, or that something associated with that experience is God's will. Often in the Church we encourage people to look for such feelings and experiences as evidence of God's hand, or of the truthfulness of the Church's message. Yet people from many religious backgrounds can have such experiences. How do the goosebumps and tearfulness I experience when someone speaks in a testimony meeting differ from the goosebumps and tearfulness I experience when the 4:00 parade begins at Disneyland?
quote:
But as a psychologist I also believe that when we discuss these topics, particularly when they evoke strong emotional responses, it may not be reason alone that we are dealing with, but also psychological phenomena like betrayal, power, trust, and trauma. Sometimes what we need to clarify our beliefs are reasoned answers to reasonable questions, but sometimes what we need is healing from old wounds of betrayal, powerlessness, or loss that get reopened by new information or experience. Faithful Church members, honest critics, angry former saints, and committed apologists may all benefit from such considerations. So I would like today to touch on the process of belief rather than on its contents.

As we wrestle with the question "Believest thou?", some of the sub-questions which intrigue me are:

How do I decide what to believe in religious matters?
How do I deal with doubt, disillusionment, or betrayal?
How do I free myself once and for all of self-doubt, doubts about the Church, or doubts about the existence or trustworthiness of God?

I was at a conference on Mormonism when Wendy Ulrich (PhD) read this paper. Pearls for the swine, I'm sure. [Wink]
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Kent
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And my favorite part:

quote:
I have noticed that many of the people I have known who have left the Church did not do so because they believed too little, but because they believed too much. In their excessive idealism, they have held Church leaders or God to expectations which were inevitably disappointed, and they have felt betrayed. They have not believed God when He told them that ours is a lonely, dreary world where we will surely die, and they have chosen instead to believe another version of reality, one which claims that they can be protected from being molested, disappointed, or made afraid. They have been angry at God or other Church leaders for not keeping promises which God has not, in fact, made. I note with interest that of all the names for the Savior in holy writ, He is never called the Preventer. Agency is the plan, and this means that all of us, including Church leaders, learn by our mistakes and are subject to misinformation, blindness, hubris, and error. The old joke is too often true: In the Catholic church everyone says the pope is infallible but nobody believes it; and in the Mormon church everybody says the prophet is fallible but nobody believes it.

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gruevy
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quote:
Originally posted by Adam Masterman:

We experience continual sorrow when things we thought of (or wished were) permanent prove to be not so: marriages end, possessions break or are lost, friends die, etc. The more one works with the practices, the clearer it becomes that

1. EVERYTHING is impermanent

and

2. We fight this basic fact tooth and nail, generating much of our own suffering in the process.

The Buddha's solution is the only one that makes any sense (at least, to me): make peace with the non-negotiable fact that everything is impermanent. And its a wonderful solution, because impermanence itself isn't a problem. The reason we suffer is merely that we desire permanence in an impermanent world.

Anyway, with all that as context, what I see with a lot of theistic religions is an attempt to create the illusion of permanence through the supernatural. Fear of death is assuaged through the promise of eternal life. A permanent, unchanging God is posited as the source of all existance. Transitory relationships are credited with having an eternal, post-death reality. But the thing is, these suppossedly permanent aspects of reality are entirely theological and beyond direct experience. In the world we actually live in, the law of impermanence is without exception. To believe in anything permanent, we HAVE TO take it on faith, because nothing in our experience is or ever has been, permanent and unchanging.

...

Feel free to refute away. [Smile]

Adam [/QB]

Well, since you invited me. [Wink] You're basically exactly right. The reason that I study Buddhism is because it's the most effective philosophy that I've found to teach me how to deal with the here and now. It's a very empowering idea. Buddha was right: Today is just a day. If I feel like it's a good day or a bad day, those are simply adjectives which I attach to it. Today simply exists as a day. Feeling negative emotions is unpleasant--anger, sadness, jealousy, etc. So why do it? You have the option to decide each and every emotion that you feel. Buddhism really explains how to live as a proactive creature and not a reactive one. I don't let my circumstances change my peace and happiness in any way.

Then you get to the part about the theistic religions having to take everything on faith. YEP! Why is that a problem? Although, I will say that permanence is not beyond human experience. I felt my grandfather's presence at his funeral, so much so that I could point to where he was, and he still visits my grandmother from time to time, just letting her know that he's still watching out for her.

You say that religious faith allows us to find permanence in an impermanent world, and I absolutely agree. I do take it all on faith that there's a world after this one, and that all the important things I build up in this life (family, friends, knowledge) are not lost upon death. You say that that helps me cope with life, and you're right. It absolutely does.

I would simply say that the only thing that IS ultimately impermanent and illusory is suffering itself.

You've probably gotten the 'living happily' thing down. Now you need to start learning about the supernatural, spiritual realm [Wink]

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Adam Lassek
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quote:
Everard wrote:
What brought me back from my depression was, to some extent, was finally giving up on the idea that their might be some god out there. I still could be wrong, and there could be a god, but being the agnostic I was when I was a teenager helped perpetuate my depression because "how could god let me feel like this unless he's evil?"

Embracing the idea that there is no god allowed me to start fixing myself.

My realization that I was an atheist was like a burden being lifted from my shoulders. I was never as depressed as Ev, but was living in kind of an intellectual funk. I consider science to be far more intellectually fulfilling, and humanism far more moral, then any religion.

quote:
gruevy wrote:
You've probably gotten the 'living happily' thing down. Now you need to start learning about the supernatural, spiritual realm [Wink]

There isn't any way to prove the existence of a spiritual realm. Without evidence to base your belief on, how can you possibly separate truth from delusion?
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caladbolg1125
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I wanted to comment on uncertainty and atheism. So I will. In my adolescence (wait, at 20 am I out of it? [Confused] ) I began seriously questioning Christianity. I knew my whole life that I didn't feel quite right about it, but I wasn't sure. I knew I had never had anything I would call a supernatural spiritual experience, so I never had any proof (in my mind) for god's existance. I went to church camp at my grandmother's urging and continued to feel uncomfortable with it and to question it.

I did find some useful teachings in the Bible and I still read bits of it every now and then. Then I moved on to read some of the Buddhist thought my father had become acquainted with. Still, though, I was unsure.

I made several tentative steps into atheism but I wasn't quite comfortable with that yet. So I continued reading and badgering every person who seemed certain in their faith to tell me about it, so that, somehow, their faith, their certainty might rub off on me. I could never follow as blindly as they seemed to, though. And Buddhism was looking more appealing every day. The idea of impermanence was of tremendous relief to me.

Finally, I came to the conclusion that if god exists (I know. You can't prove a negative.) he doesn't talk to us. He doesn't asure us of permant life after death. Always, I was searching for some meaning and somewhere it just clicked; I think, I create, I'm spontaneous, I'll MAKE my own meaning in life.

Now, I've stepped with certainty into my atheism. I still study Buddhism and have begun meditating (difficult as it is) and I enjoy all the "flavors" of Buddhism and how I can be atheistic and still find purpose. No, make purpose.

And that is why I believe.

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