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Is belief a choice? 
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Post Is belief a choice?
I just had a discussion with a devout Christian at my workplace. The jist was this:

She states that I CHOSE to not believe in god. I explained that it was not a choice, but an understanding of the truth. That after experienceing life, along with 18 years of being raised in a religious family, 12 years in Catholic school and other experiences, I just did not believe in god. Not a choice, but an awareness.

I even tried to be fair and asked her that if she wanted to, could she STOP believing in god. SHe said she did not know, because she always believed.

My problem is that she is making it a "choice" on my (or atheists) part...precluding that god does indeed exist and that it is my "choice" not to believe. Does anyone feel that our atheism or theism is a conscious choice? Or is it simply what we know/believe to be true? Can we change what we honestly accept as truth?

To me, this reminded me of the mythos mindset as opposed to the logos mindset. It may not be a good example, but that is what it brought to mind.

Mr. P.

The one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.

I came to get down, I came to get down. So get out ya seat and jump around - House of Pain

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Thu Feb 10, 2005 3:37 pm
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Post Re: Is belief a choice?
I completely believe that no one chooses whether or not they believe in a god or gods. I don't think anyone lays out all supporting facts for and against in this matter, takes a good look at them, and then decides that they believe one side or the other.

When I believed in a god, no arguments against his existence would have changed my mind. When I quit believing in deities, it was affected by all the things I had learned throughout my life to that point, but it wasn't following a specific new argument that swung the balance in my mind. It was a sudden rearrangement in my mind of how I felt about things I knew. I went through a long period of doubt before this happened. I doubted both sides. The thing is, I didn't decide to choose one side and stick to it. It was like my mind rearranged the information it had into a different order and told me that I no longer believed in any gods whatsoever. I haven't doubted the non-existence of gods ever since, but I didn't consciously choose to not believe.




Thu Feb 10, 2005 5:33 pm
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Post Re: Is belief a choice?
Scrum:

This was basically my take. It just is...it is not a choice.

Mr. P.

The one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.

I came to get down, I came to get down. So get out ya seat and jump around - House of Pain

HEY! Is that a ball in your court? - Mr. P

I came to kick ass and chew Bubble Gum...and I am all out of Bubble Gum - They Live, Roddy Piper




Thu Feb 10, 2005 5:58 pm
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Post Re: Is belief a choice?
Of course I would have to disagree, BUT I will state that I believe there are very, very few of those like myself, that have studied and sought out the facts of the cosmos, physics, chemistry, evolution, etc. and after all of the facts are laid out, CHOOSES to believe in divinity and the both theology and the sciences can indeed be a parallel world.

I think that the choice that one chooses is that choice of proof versus belief, although those that choose proof cannot be blindly led. This is where the problem lies and heated debates and accusations begin.

Most "believers" are only followers of a tradition that has been handed down to them. Mr. P, you state that you are from a Catholic background; Was it not your choice to rebel and accept only scientific proof/theories instead of following the tradition handed to you? It has been my findings that most of the atheists that I have personally known or read above, came from a Catholic background. I believe that this stems from all of the excessive dogma, restrictions, and ultimately guilt that is experienced by Catholics; But this can also be said about other Protestant sects as well as Judaism and probably the most restrictive, Islam.

So Yes I do think it is a choice; some people choose to accept teachings without questioning; some people choose to reject those teachings all together; some people choose to accept some teachings while rejecting other teachings because they are continually questioning the whole process.




Thu Feb 10, 2005 7:30 pm
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Post Re: Is belief a choice?
I think it's possible for people to choose whether or not to accept the teachings of a religion, but really think about what you call a choice to believe in a god, Yello. What is the main reason you believe in a god (or whatever you call what you believe in, I don't mean to put words in your mouth)? When someone asks you why you believe, how do you explain it to them?




Thu Feb 10, 2005 8:09 pm
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Post Re: Is belief a choice?
Quote:
Was it not your choice to rebel and accept only scientific proof/theories instead of following the tradition handed to you?


Nope. I look back and see that I have always doubted the existence of a god and the teachings of my, and now other, religions. They are all lies.

But I did not 'choose' to go against anything. I remember the final straw clearly. I was sitting in my High School (Catholic school, yes) cafeteria in my senior year and just thought: This is all bullshit, there is no god and religion is just a means to control, the 'opiate of the masses'. It was at that moment that my non-belief was solidified. I was not looking for nor did I effectuate a change.

Quote:
those that choose proof cannot be blindly led.


Quote:
some people choose to accept teachings without questioning



Uh...your kidding right? This is like a pot calling the pot a pot.


Those of us who rely on proof do not make any absolute claims of truth, so it is hard to be mis-led or blindly led. Science is about accepting what knowledge and research has shown us, but also about being prepared to modify our understanding as a result of our research. This is done freely. This is called progress.

Religion changes by tooth and nail battles with reality; those that accept on faith not having the capacity to cope with change. And this is what makes people who follow religion and submit with blind faith dangerous and counter-productive to the growth of our species, IMHO.


Mr. P.

The one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.

I came to get down, I came to get down. So get out ya seat and jump around - House of Pain

HEY! Is that a ball in your court? - Mr. P

I came to kick ass and chew Bubble Gum...and I am all out of Bubble Gum - They Live, Roddy Piper




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Post Re: Is belief a choice?
This is a profound question. The legitimacy of religion, especially Christianity, hinges on this! If you are a Christian, one of your dogmas has to be on the acceptance of choice and pure free will, otherwise, your religion will seem cruel and arbitrary.

The evidence is abundant that what you believe is, in the largest degree, a matter of where you were born. Few will argue that we choose our place of conception. To a lesser degree, we do not choose our genetic makeup of our personality that in most cases unquestionably slants toward accepting anything that slides in our brain at an early age, and then is cemented in place (like the curing of concrete) and is essentially unalterable regardless of life experience.

But then some of us, without choice, are born with a genetic make-up of always asking questions, and remain curious to our last dying breath. These individuals do change their mind frequently based upon life experiences and will either become skeptics, invent or alter their religious beliefs to be in tune with their life experiences, or choose a pre-existing faith that is closest to their living observations.

The evidence is clear that the Christian tenant on the existence of choices is clearly false in what one believes. It is not an equal opportunity religion, nor does it explore the quality of persons "making it into heaven" compared to the rest that don't. Identical twins separated at birth and then raised in different parts of the world would demonstrate that a set of genes would pass into heaven if born in a Christian nation, and to hell if born in an Islamic or Hindustan nation. This would indicate the test is bogus and does not isolate for any real difference of quality except for one; no skeptic would ever get to heaven! That is the only thing that would ever get weeded out!

But when you think of it, if you are seeking power, you want your underdogs to accept what you are saying, obey, and not to question your authority. The power of a story to survive and flourish (Memeplexes) is to have the ability to sweep aside skepticism and critical inquiry, and to create a society that loathes, punishes, & silences dissent. So religion naturally is attracted to political power and the strong drive to expose young minds.

My view is the necessity of belief for ascension into heaven is an evil concept that denies humanity the unaltered 'pursuit of happiness'. It takes the advantage of our need to find meaning in our existence and our struggle through life.

Monty Vonn
Meme Wars!

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Tue Feb 22, 2005 10:18 am
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Post Re: Is belief a choice?
Quote:
This is a profound question. The legitimacy of religion, especially Christianity, hinges on this! If you are a Christian, one of your dogmas has to be on the acceptance of choice and pure free will, otherwise, your religion will seem cruel and arbitrary.



I had this discussion with the same person at my office. I asked how there could be free will if her god was all knowing. (Classic debate I know). There really was no answer from her. The whole Christian religion is a contradiction to itself.


Quote:
My view is the necessity of belief for ascension into heaven is an evil concept that denies humanity the unaltered 'pursuit of happiness'. It takes the advantage of our need to find meaning in our existence and our struggle through life.



So then why has this meme survived and why does it seem to be so resilient to our species?

Mr. P.

The one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.

I came to get down, I came to get down. So get out ya seat and jump around - House of Pain

HEY! Is that a ball in your court? - Mr. P

I came to kick ass and chew Bubble Gum...and I am all out of Bubble Gum - They Live, Roddy Piper




Wed Feb 23, 2005 10:43 am
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Post Re: Is belief a choice?
I agree, P, that "choosing to believe" is a peculiar concept. How do you do it? Let's assume that I figure out that I would be a lot happier if I believe that my wife is not having an affair with the butcher boy. So how do I go about changing my belief. I could repeat to myself every half hour "My wife is not having an affair with the butcher boy". Would that help? It does seem to be kind of like trying to spend one minute without thinking about 'hippopotamus'. The harder you try the less successful you are going to be.

This is what happens if you try consciously to change your beliefs, and it seems to me that something of the sort must be involved in the Christian dogma that you get rewarded (by salvation, for chrissakes!) if you believe one thing, and punished if you believe something else. This has always struck me as one of the most dishonest and shameful doctrines in any religion. Because belief is not something you should ever try to produce in yourself - it fatally compromises your commitment to finding the truth.

There is, however, something else that people may be thinking of when they say that 'you choose to believe....'. This is the case where people's beliefs are affected by their wishes not to give up a cherished position. It seems very clear that this happens. It is no coincidence that people who have a commitment to Biblical Inerrancy have great difficulty evaluating the evidence for Darwinian Evolution. I think what happens is that any particular argument or piece of evidence simply triggers in them a search for the weakness in the point being made. They never get to the point of trying to figure out whether they might be wrong and the biologists right. They just go into a mode of finding a way to undermine the point, or find a way to stop it having the ramifications being claimed for it.

Is this 'choosing to believe'? Well, no. But from a distance it doesn't look that different. I want to believe something (it would be distressing to me to abandon this belief) and I end up believing it. And based on the frequency that this happens, I think we'd have to say that the desire to believe has a causative relationship to the belief we end up with. Choosing? No. But very close.




Wed Feb 23, 2005 6:41 pm
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Post Re: Is belief a choice?
I asked how there could be free will if her god was all knowing.

Because knowing is not guiding, and the Judeo-Christian God is external to time. Boethius gives the classical answer to the problem, and in light of his answer I really can't see the delimma as more than a diversion.




Wed Feb 23, 2005 10:59 pm
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Post Re: Is belief a choice?
No...sorry.

If the God knows, there is no choice. Once someone or something knows the result, the actions of those observed are nothing more than a sadistic peep show.

Sounds like the explanation of the Judeo-Christian God is paying lip service to what those who follow "him" (another point that God is man-made...it has a sex?) want to believe.

If the outcome is known from the subjects birth, there is no way to change it and thus there is no choice.


Mr. P.

The one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.

I came to get down, I came to get down. So get out ya seat and jump around - House of Pain

HEY! Is that a ball in your court? - Mr. P

I came to kick ass and chew Bubble Gum...and I am all out of Bubble Gum - They Live, Roddy Piper




Thu Feb 24, 2005 9:37 am
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Post Re: Is belief a choice?
Mad, I've read quite a few of your posts now, and I never seem to get any closer to understanding what it is about religion that interests you. Sometimes I think that you are interested in it as a social and cultural phenomenon. But that would not preclude you from recognizing the falsity of many of the beliefs upon which it is based. Perhaps you are like an anthropologist who has gone native, and is reluctant to distance himself too far from his subjects for fear of losing an empathic connection he relies upon



Mon Feb 28, 2005 7:13 pm


Post Re: Is belief a choice?
Alternatively, Mad, perhaps you could tell us what you think are the core beliefs which make someone either (a) a monotheist, or (b) a Christian. Then whether you yourself hold any of those beliefs.




Mon Feb 28, 2005 7:19 pm
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Post Re: Is belief a choice?
Ken Hemingway: Mad, I've read quite a few of your posts now, and I never seem to get any closer to understanding what it is about religion that interests you.

That's probably the most complicated question I've been asked on BookTalk. I am interested in them as social and cultural phenomenon, as well as intellectual phenomenon, which people tend to exclude. But that doesn't describe the whole of my interest, and I reserve judgement on the validity of religious belief until I feel satisfied with my understanding of the context in which religious belief takes place. One of the crucial mistakes in the popular modern evaluation of religious belief, I would say, is thinking that it necessarily attempts to occupy the same creative or intellectual space as philosophy, science or the arts.

or perhaps you are afraid that if you confronted the truth too directly it would undermine your belief in the value of what you spend so much effort investigating?

And what truth would that be?

Alternatively, Mad, perhaps you could tell us what you think are the core beliefs which make someone either
(a) a monotheist
-- that's rather simple, I'd say. A monotheist is anyone who believes in the existence of a single deity to the exclusion of all other deities; certain conclusions tend to arise therefrom but are not entirely necessary to the core belief --
or
(b) a Christian
-- this is a rather more complicated question. The first belief, I would say, is in a modified form of the Judaic God, or rather of the continuity of the Judaic God in the form of an explicitly Christian God. The second belief is in the existence of Jesus, though that belief may be literal, mythical, or abstractly theological. That is to say, that once you've established the notion of Jesus, Christianity permits a number of variations. Mainline Christianity, I would say, is characterized by the imposition of Pauline interpretation, which posits a historical Jesus with a somewhat specific theological slant -- ie. that Jesus is the incarnation of a particular character of God, and that via a cosmologically significant act of sacrafice Jesus has removed a metaphysical obstacle between God and man (the guilt of sin). Some theological work is necessary to maintain Christianity as a strictly monotheistic tradition, and some would argue that it is nearly impossible to do so (this is, incidentally, one of the Islamic arguments against Christian theology).

Then whether you yourself hold any of those beliefs.

I believe in God, though I'm more than upfront about the fact that such belief is not susceptible to logical proof. My argument in BookTalk have mostly been geared towards demonstrating the "reasonability" of theism, as opposed to its presumed rationality or irrationality. (Have I made the differences between reasonability and rationality clear elsewhere, or should I reformulate the distinction here?)

Having established that tenent of belief, the rest of my theological beliefs tend to follow a line of descending confidence. A God may exist, but it is beyond the capacity of humans to say anything concrete about God with any real certainty. Forced to speculate, I would say that the conception of God that makes most sense to me is largely Hellenistic in the Aristotelian sense. That includes characteristics of monotheism and a certain abstract purity. That is not to exclude the possibilities explored by other religious traditions, and part of my study in comparative religion is of a personal interest.

As for Christianity, there's a lot I could say in its defence both as an instance of religion in general and in defence of Christianity for its own sake, but I'll consign myself to outlining the points at which I diverge most from the doctrine of mainline (Pauline) Christianity. Probably the most notable departure is my interpretation of the doctrine of the Kingdom of Heaven, which I read in the Gospels as institutional rather than cosmological. That isn't to say that I reject the notion of an afterlife altogether, just that I don't think that's what was implied in Jesus' references. The cosmological, almost Zoroastrian concept of a dualistic afterlife seems to me an implication of the Pauline interpretation of Messianism in Christianity, although these are ideas that I'm still exploring in my reading. The second major departure is along cultural and ethical lines, by which I mean that mainline Christianity seems to me to have falsified much of the ethical content of Jesus' teachings in favor of a materialist notion of Christendom. The question of the central assertion of Messianic Christianity -- ie. that Jesus was the incarnation or "son" of God -- I leave open as a possibility.

I hope that clears some things up for you, though I hope it doesn't nail be down too much for the simply reason that I myself and reserving judgement in the desire of maintaining an honest search for truth.




Tue Mar 01, 2005 3:43 am
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Post Re: Is belief a choice?
Mad: Thanks for taking the time to explain this. Now, when you say: A monotheist is anyone who believes in the existence of a single deity and I believe in God, what is it that the terms God and deity refer to?




Tue Mar 01, 2005 9:05 am
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