This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

← A different interpretation of religion?

A different interpretation of religion? - Comments

QuestioningKat's Avatar Comment 1 by QuestioningKat

Comment Removed by Author

Mon, 08 Aug 2011 11:22:57 UTC | #859047

KJinAsia's Avatar Comment 2 by KJinAsia

I have no doubt that group identity is THE most important reason why organized religion still persists in the modern world. It goes to the core level of human social needs - the need to belong.

The problem with organized religion, of course, is that it harnesses the belonging need in the service of an authoritarian (essentially fascist) belief system, which also happens to be utterly incorrect and demonstrably harmful to adherents and the wider community at large.

Apologists that argue for the "comfort" that religion supposedly provides willfully ignore and/or deride the myriad of other ways that people can fulfill their need for belonging. Organized religion's place in society has been reduced to little more than a blatant con job that benefits only those that profit from it.

As I've argued before, if societies go after the money of religious leaders/institutions, even just by repealing their tax exemptions as a start, the edifice will crumble all the faster. People will find other, less destructive, ways to belong.

Mon, 08 Aug 2011 11:40:26 UTC | #859051

Steven Mading's Avatar Comment 3 by Steven Mading

The old idea of religion that most of us hold is that religion is based on belief--meaning a firm conviction that something is true. It is why we use the words theism and atheism, and the religious debate in the west has largely revolved around whether or not God exists.

I think this view is inadequate, both because our argument tends to involve all forms of radical non-theistic religious beliefs, as well as other forms of irrationality such homeopathy or other anti-scientific and anti-rationalist positions.

If you're going to try to sell the truly bizarre idea that religion has nothing to do with beliefs, you're going to have to pick examples that don't contradict that premise. Belief in homeopathy is a belief. You're failing to make your point.

You keep claiming, like famous atheist-but people like Karen Armstrong, that religion has nothing to do with beliefs, but then expecting us to accept this without any attempt on your part to back it up.

Mon, 08 Aug 2011 12:41:19 UTC | #859065

Quetzalcoatlus's Avatar Comment 4 by Quetzalcoatlus

If modern religion is only for group identity and sense of belong, then it is should not be called anymore religion. It is then an association or society.

For example: "The association of people that like to gather every Sunday and talk to an imaginary friend that we all know anyway that does not exist".

Mon, 08 Aug 2011 12:42:43 UTC | #859067

aquilacane's Avatar Comment 5 by aquilacane

So, instead of saying I think you're full of shit, I should say...

I dislike, very much, the group you chose to identify with. I think it makes you look ignorant and arrogant; especially if you don't actually believe it. I have no respect for your decision to join a social club who promote the idea that I should suffer eternal damnation and torture. I consider the pride you show for your self proclaimed gullibility to be a great weakness of yours. I had thought you to be of a moral caliber higher than to affiliate with promoters of infanticide, genocide, rape, murder, slavery and worse. I think if you look hard enough, you'll find there are several wonderful groups of people who would be happy to have you join their more positive and socially productive outlook on life.

Mon, 08 Aug 2011 13:31:09 UTC | #859089

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 6 by AtheistEgbert

@aquilacane,

Well you're making out as if group mentality is a chosen lifestyle, but I am saying that there is no choice, it all depends on which family or culture you were born in, or what your social status is, or any other number of environmental variables.

That is why people reflect their cultures, their families, their jobs, their roles, social status etc.

It is perhaps luck (or maybe not) that I was born within a culture that had liberal values so that my psychological development would tend toward atheism.

In fact, many atheists and naturalists might actually agree with me because they may reject the notion of 'free-will'. I actually think that there is a possibility of freedom, but for the vast majority, they are overwhelmed by social pressures to conform.

Mon, 08 Aug 2011 13:54:59 UTC | #859101

DavidMcC's Avatar Comment 7 by DavidMcC

It seems to me that the Milgram and Stanford experiments illustrate the dangers inherent in creating an artificial world, in which individuals' behaviour is no longer subjected to "normal" rules. In addition, some of the "pathological" behaviour in the Stanford experiment may have been opportunistic, although it was probably also exaggerated by Zimbardo making the rules worse than in a typical prison.

Having said that, there was a prison in the US where the SOLE role of the guards was to prevent the inmates from escaping. They did not care if prisoners murdered each other, and consequently that is what happened. I forget the name of the prison, but it created some serious social problems and some very dangerous underworld characters before the "experiment" was finally ended, AFAIK.

PS, does anyone recognise the prison I have described? I based this para on a TV program about it that I saw some time ago.

Mon, 08 Aug 2011 14:23:01 UTC | #859108

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 8 by AtheistEgbert

Another famous experiment that is relevant is the Rosenhan experiment. Here, test subjects managed to get themselves diagnosed and admitted into psychiatric hospitals, only then to act normally, but were still treated as insane by staff and were contained for months. This shocking blunder forced changes in diagnosis of mental disorders in America.

Essentially, staff could not distinguish between sane behavior and insane behavior.

Mon, 08 Aug 2011 14:36:37 UTC | #859110

Sean_W's Avatar Comment 9 by Sean_W

You come across as throwing the baby out with the bath water. Wouldn't it be more prudent to discuss the group-think aspect of religion rather than attempt to make it the defining characteristic of religion? If it should turn out to be the case that group-think fully explains religion, then that realization should come about by way of demonstrating how it accounts for everything else we know about religion. So, if you think our understanding can be improved by defining the group-think aspect then go right ahead--you can't be alone--but I don't see why it should automatically follow then that all the other work done to explain religion should just fall away.

Religion is about belief. Religion is group-think.

These aren't mutually exclusive claims, are they?

Mon, 08 Aug 2011 15:43:34 UTC | #859124

Ignorant Amos's Avatar Comment 10 by Ignorant Amos

Group identity is definitely an issue here in Northern Ireland, the Orange Order being an obvious top contender.

lot's of people I know are members solely for the partying experience. The festival piss ups every summer. They have no more interest in the religious aspect of the organisation than I have. They attend few if any meetings, they are purely cultural Protestants.

Anecdotal evidence aside, I know a fellow who put Atheist on his application to be a member and couldn't understand why he was laughed at when he submitted it. Granted, the young lad wasn't the sharpest and only seen it as a club of good ole boys having a party time. I wanted to know why there was a box asking religion in the first place, I thought it would be pretty obvious only a Protestant Christian would be applying, how wrong was I? From both angles too.

Mon, 08 Aug 2011 16:02:25 UTC | #859129

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 11 by AtheistEgbert

@manilla wise (comment 9)

These aren't mutually exclusive claims, are they?

I think the rationalist perspective works great when analyzing arguments, but it is limited to analyzing arguments. When we try to understand reality and the human mind we turn instead to science. And so the same goes for religion. In order to understand religion properly, we need to turn to science.

That's all I'm suggesting, a new hypothesis for what religion is--group identity. And if it means we can understand religion better, we may also be better able to defeat it, and the other evils related to group identity. If I am wrong, I'm wrong, I don't mind, so long as we get to the truth.

What I've noticed among fellow atheists is that they're not immune to group identity, however being a rational atheist certainly gives some hope out of group mentality. That is what I'm attempting to expose here--that group mentality is overwhelming, and applies to all of us, and a bit of conscious raising might actually liberate us from it.

Mon, 08 Aug 2011 17:07:17 UTC | #859141

Steven Mading's Avatar Comment 12 by Steven Mading

Comment 6 by AtheistEgbert :

@aquilacane,

Well you're making out as if group mentality is a chosen lifestyle, but I am saying that there is no choice, it all depends on which family or culture you were born in, or what your social status is, or any other number of environmental variables.

That is why people reflect their cultures, their families, their jobs, their roles, social status etc.

If what you are saying was true, then there would be no such thing as people defying their parents and taking a different path.

It is certainly harder to be an atheist if you come from a highly religious culture, but it's not guaranteed that a child will end up with the religion of its parents, and if there was no choice, as you claim, then passing on of religion would happen 100% of the time, not merely a majority of the time.

It is perhaps luck (or maybe not) that I was born within a culture that had liberal values so that my psychological development would tend toward atheism.

In fact, many atheists and naturalists might actually agree with me because they may reject the notion of 'free-will'. I actually think that there is a possibility of freedom, but for the vast majority, they are overwhelmed by social pressures to conform.

There are pressures, but your statement about there being "no" choice is really too strong a statement to be making. All it takes is the existence of one individual exception case to prove such an absolutist statement wrong, and there are plenty more than just one such case.

Mon, 08 Aug 2011 17:16:30 UTC | #859146

Steven Mading's Avatar Comment 13 by Steven Mading

Comment 11 by AtheistEgbert :

@manilla wise (comment 9)

These aren't mutually exclusive claims, are they?

I think the rationalist perspective works great when analyzing arguments, but it is limited to analyzing arguments. When we try to understand reality and the human mind we turn instead to science. And so the same goes for religion. In order to understand religion properly, we need to turn to science.

Since when are rationalism and science mututally exclusive? In fact science requires the use of rationalism. Rationalism is only a problem when people believe it works all alone by itself without emprical evidence. (By itself rationalism only tells you how to derive conclusions from previously known facts - if those previously known facts are not based on empirical observation themselves, then it's all resting on a house of cards, sure, but there's nothing in rationlaism that requires that you take your premises on faith alone.)

If you argue against the use of rationalism, you are essentially arguing against the use of math. And that really messes up science.

Mon, 08 Aug 2011 17:22:34 UTC | #859148

Steven Mading's Avatar Comment 14 by Steven Mading

Comment 9 by manilla_wise :

Religion is about belief.

Religion is group-think.

These aren't mutually exclusive claims, are they?

This is the core of what's wrong with Atheist Egbert's arguments. He treats them as mutually exclusive, because he acts as if proving there is group-think involved in religion counts as proof that religion isn't about belief.

A claim that "I have proved it is X, therefore it can't be Y" requires that X and Y be mutually exclusive things.

Whether religion is about belief or about group identity are NOT mutually exclusive.

Mon, 08 Aug 2011 17:26:18 UTC | #859149

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 15 by Schrodinger's Cat

Do you agree or disagree, and what are your thoughts?

I'm highly sceptical of any attempt to explain individual belief systems through group associations. It is certainly true that once beliefs evolve they can take on a group aspect as a meme that is somehow independent of any one individual..........but I'd argue that the fundamental starting point of all belief lies with individuals. It is, for example, not groups but individuals that start religions.

I do a lot of hill walking in the wilds.....and in such places there is a sense in which 'society' seems ( and largely is ) utterly irrelevant. On the top of some mountain in the middle of nowhere, the oh-so-important distractions of society fade to insignificance. Cities seem nothing more than delusional togetherness. Think of Jesus and his 40 days in the desert, Mohammed and his cave, Buddha and his tree. Religion starts at the individual level. If only it stayed that way.

What society does, and where the true evil of much religion comes in, is to convert the wilderness experience of some individual into a dogmatic and destructive meme. Largely because most people can't be bothered going out into the wilderness ( or even just that of the mind ) themselves so settle for a second hand experiece...but also because the whole thing becomes bound up with power. Whatever personal insights some founder may have gleaned get institutionalised, converted into an establishment, written into 'holy texts'.......and ultimately used to oppress people.

From my perspective, established religion can go to hell....as that is where it belongs. Anything other than that still small, personal, voice in the wilderness begets yet another meme for a world that doesn't need any more.

Mon, 08 Aug 2011 18:46:42 UTC | #859171

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 16 by AtheistEgbert

but I'd argue that the fundamental starting point of all belief lies with individuals.

I would tend to agree. Personality cults seem to explain the birth of group mentality. In the ancient world, gods were local personality cults, mostly dictated by which ruler put them there. Hierarchy is of course, one of the structures that seem to arise among groups, and you usually have a leader at the top.

But leaders are not necessarily individuals, they not only shape the crowd but can be shaped by it.

What organized religions seems to do is replace a leader or personality with words instead. The words serve the same function as the personality, rather like a totem replacement.

And I think what makes religious identity different to other group identities is mythology. Mythology allows the group to pass down the group identity from one generation to another. That mythology is held as 'sacred' and holy, of course, and elevated to king (divine) status.

Important, perhaps essential, to that mythology is the 'persecution complex' which seems to bind group identities together and form a kind of group justice. Jesus is the personification of persecution complexes, for obvious reasons, but so too were Moses and Mohammed. As we can see, all those different forms of monotheism are in fact different personality cults surrounding legendary or mythological leaders and their writings.

And yes, reality crushes the ego into insignificance, which is why individuality is such a fragile thing. A rock may be boring and inanimate, but still be there long after I die, and that's just a rock. Society functions as an objective truth or force, and as you may know (being an existentialist) it creates terror. In order to get rid of that terror, society simplifies human identity so that we can have mutual understanding, which also aids the survival of that group.

ADDENDA: Of course it's not beliefs that individuals create for the masses, rather it's symbolic identity. That identity is pushed externally into people, through mythology and togetherness. It is the community and it's natural biases that persists, not beliefs. It's not the crazy supernatural stories that matter, it's their story structure. The structure is of the struggle of the group to overcome some evil and persecution, making them the 'righteous' and the others the 'unrighteous'.

Mon, 08 Aug 2011 19:45:06 UTC | #859194

eljeffe's Avatar Comment 17 by eljeffe

continuing with sam harris' great description of religion as a failed science, i'd say that group-think is a failed peer-review process.

Mon, 08 Aug 2011 22:04:31 UTC | #859254

MAJORPAIN's Avatar Comment 18 by MAJORPAIN

I apologize if someone had already mentioned this but I think Sam was describing more how religions got started not what they've evolved into. They started as people were trying to explain things. What makes the sky go boom? (thunder god) What makes things grow? Why do some women have babies and some can't? (fertility gods)

Religion and especially organized religions now are all about in groups and community because, as Sam said, we've explained these things now.

Tue, 09 Aug 2011 00:04:34 UTC | #859288

12PM's Avatar Comment 19 by 12PM

Religion seems to pass across generations through stories or myths that provide explanations, meaning and purpose to people's lives.

There are also true unexplained facts too - such as miracles - especially medical wonder. They happen again and again. That also empowers group think. As not explainable, people conclude the way they want.

I think group identities have even begun to influence modern atheism,

Agree with that. Also it tends to throw the baby out with bath water too. Naturally we cannot study all ideas developed in many centuries of the past. As atheism qualifies to reason about the religions in the societies it was born, it should take the elephant way of climbing a hill - elephant first tests the stability of the ground before it make a foothold for another step as it needs to be very careful of falling as it has a very big body.

I think group thinking is far more powerful, and it explains religion, as well as many of our political and social problems.

Yes, include atheism in that. :D

Milgram experiment

People with faith and people without that same faith behave differently. Without faith, nothing can be accidentally achieved - this is psychology. Faith faculty is very important in either doing something good or bad. Whether faith is created from brainwashing or creating from study and understanding about facts, it causes similar effect on people to behave a certain way.

A Brainwashed person would say what he believes as just the way a scientist say about what a breakthrough in his study subject. The benefit is different. A zombie ant cannot gain a profound knowledge but will bear the very much pain believing that will give him a profound reward.

Whilst a brainwashed person would do anything, including giving his own life for his cause, the one who found out the truth would do the same too - Copernicus for example. But there are not many Copernicus. It's hard to find out whatever hidden in the nature. I don't want science accusing those who found such reality as failures. Nobody knows 100% of the nature.

Inconsistency in understanding things can exist - just the way two profound laws of physics as theories cannot have reconciled yet. I don't thus claim physics as a whole is just failure - as long as it doesn't say it alone knows the ultimate truths and only its methods are the ways to find out truths unless it is true.

Tue, 09 Aug 2011 00:50:29 UTC | #859295

jameshogg's Avatar Comment 20 by jameshogg

The greatest irony that stemmed from the "punk movement" here in the U.K. during the 70's was that it led people to behave in non-conforming, conforming behaviours. In order to be seen as rebels, punks had to have cared to an extent that the public thought of them as such, while at the same time spewing the contradictory, doublethinking nonsense that was "I don't give a fuck what you think". There were a good number of bands that genuinely did not care, and subsequently did not care that others knew their indifference. Their artistic accomplishments quite rightly warranted more serious recognition from sensible people with a genuine interest in sincerity.

That's why The Sex Pistols were doomed to fall apart after a short time, which they did. The sole intention of that band was to wind up as many people as possible using any means necessary, while bafflingly and insultingly, even to this day, reaching top rankings in music magazines alongside bands that they simply do not deserve to be beside. It is a slap in the face of all the talented rock musicians of the world when all you need to do to earn "deserved" recognition is to be lucky enough to lead a causeless movement with one message at the most, regardless of how good the music, the single most important issue that needs to be judged primarily, actually sounds.

Malcolm Mclaren seemed to dwell on casting as much anarchistic, sociopathic nonsense as he could, such as deliberately organising The Sex Pistols to play in front of, specifically, "redneck bars" in the US. It wasn't much of a surprise that John Lydon began to see through it at that point. Even after all of this, Lydon is still someone I have respect for since he seemed to have a decent degree of wisdom back then as he does now, especially with his contributions to the importance of freedom of speech and expression, which would have been much better off without the careless, pointless involvement with music. However, he's dead wrong about Green Day. You cannot make a big deal about doing things your own way, as his followers were also apparently doing, and not caring what they thought of you in return, while at the same time laughing at a self-declared NON-punk band for sincerely doing things their way and ignoring any returned comments completely and totally. Also, I'm pretty sure American Idiot was ultimately a million times more important politically than Never Mind The Bollocks ever was. Blindly calling the nonetheless admittedly troubled monarchy of England a "fascist regime" never did draw the same parallels as the enlightenment that was "don't want a nation under the new media!". (Perhaps one can say that left-winged thinking still has plenty of faults, but surely you'd have to aim that criticism towards the former band's intentions as well as the latter.)

It is because of image-comes-first, narrow-minded, talent-sucking mentality like this that nowadays we have T.V. shows of similar ideology such as the X-Factor. I hope the irony is not lost on The Sex Pistols.

......

The point made here is that even fighting against group identities can cause new group identities to form as an ironic result, even if you claim to have the likes of reason and science on your side. It is ironic because the whole point of science is that it is the ANTI-thesis of human instinct, collectively and individually. I still do not understand how some people who happen to be atheists (as opposed to just saying "atheists" in case one stupidly interprets the following criticism as some kind of argument against atheism) persist in using that label as opposed to the foundational system that attacks ALL forms of irrationality. Why would someone call themselves an atheist before a rationalist or skeptic? And isn't it possible that one can be reasonable but happen to make an honest mistake about the subject of God? Would it make any sense to ignore what a person could say on global warming, politics or even kindness just because he believes in God, and not necessarily religiously?

I'll prove it to you further: from what I remember although I may be mistaken, the Buddhists do not have a God to believe in. If I am mistaken, I can still make this analogy fairly clearly: if one encounters a religious group that does not have God associated with their faith, what role do atheists have in criticising that religion? After all, the disbelief in God is quite irrelevant. They would have to call themselves something else in order to make their stances known in a more appropriate fashion. Eventually, they will have to proclaim themselves as supporters of reason and evidence. Debates about God and debates about religion (and faith) surely have to be distinct in that sense. One might believe in God, but only because he is mistaken in his logic, and not because he wants to have wishful faith in God; one might be faithful in the most dangerous, murderous, toxic beliefs, but not believe in God.

In short, anything the atheist label can do, the labels of explicit reason can do better. Sam Harris is spot on with this. The deliberate abandonment of reason that is faith, with all its emotional and totalitarian baggage, ought to be the main enemy of the free thinker, even more so than God. The advocating of reason and evidence will do well in making those who "argue against reason" in the name of blind faith look very silly indeed. To also add, do you think bogus memes such as "Hitler was a person of reason" or "Reason has its share of atrocities as well, such as Stalinism" would be taken as seriously as the current pests that are going around nowadays?

"Reason" as a label (Jesus how I hate labels) could very well have its flaws too. For instance, it immediately puts a great deal of pressure on the person not to make a mistake in his thinking, which is bound to happen at some point. It could be remedied by advocating the principle that "a person of reason is not going to be perfect", but that may tempt society into shrugging their shoulders at such a stance and asking what exactly it is good for. "What are you claiming, if you cannot make any promises?". Sigh. It's troublesome. I doubt my plea would be heard that I don't believe in promises at all, because we as humans probably have a need to endlessly hold everybody we possibly can accountable for something... no, anything. Such a thing is evident when politicians are criticised for making what could be justified "U-turns" in policy making. ("How dare you try to correct your mistakes?!" It's so pathetic.)

Scientific thinking in particular is a system of indiscriminate disproof, and has to be applied on everything, regardless of what group or label you hold. Its nature to be indiscriminate in criticism attacks the very thing that is rooted in discrimination: group mentality. That may very well be why an appropriate "collective stance" on the subject can never be found. I personally feel this perspective has led me on to the following point...

Probably the greatest reason why I admire Christopher Hitchens so much is his wish to consistently challenge the majority consensus. If it were not for this, I would have continued to remain so immodest about my stance against the 2003 Iraq invasion. Those who hold the stance with no mention about the evils of Saddam Hussein have missed a vital component in the core concept of liberty: that totalitarianism is the enemy. My stance over the invasion is now on the fence, only barely leaning towards still being against it. But... oh my God, how it's hard. I cannot help but be very uneasy in the stomach at the idea of leaving a psychopath, who would force his electorate to vote by any means necessary year after year, in power. However, do not underestimate my furious lashing at the incompetence of the US and its foreign policy in arming such a madman in the first place, and completely mismanaging both invasions. That's always going to stay with me.

His willingness to be a contrarian in the polemic sense is something that I am taking onboard with my current philosophy. Some here on this board may have witnessed me make comments that are just flat out wrong. They should know that it can be a result of my tendencies to criticise solely for the sake of criticising, even if I know it is not going to lead to a sensible outcome. On occasion, the idea that someone is doing too well in a debate appeals to me as a personal challenge, and it leads me to try and shoot down all claims within my sight even if I agree with them.

Is that a good thing? Perhaps. I suppose it takes experience to learn when being a contrarian is in good taste. But I am inclined to think that it is the best stance to take: one that is directly opposed to group hierarchy. It also does not carry the problems of starting a movement in itself, since if it does, the principles can by their very design lead to a willingness to self-scrutinise. So maybe, if I were forced to choose a label, I would on occasion choose a label from a list of decent ones that does the job of highlighting the dangers of group mentality: polemicist, or contrarian.

And on addition, a real irony about people who advocate their presence in a movement fail to remember that all those under the banner do not think 100% alike. There is a still what has to be a huge variation on opinion within each person, although the illusion can usually be given that everyone under such a banner DOES think alike, and it is a form of prejudicial, stereotypical thinking. A polemicist/contrarian does not have that problem, since the tag makes it clear what his motives are, while making ambiguous his actual perspectives on issues of discussion.

It does have the obvious weakness of not explicitly aligning itself with science and reason, but maybe that can be cleared up on clarification. It may also fall for the troubles of group thinking, after all. However, it does well with the consistent, repetitive questioning of commonly held assumptions... something that is at the core of the disbelieving, falsifying system that is science.

Tue, 09 Aug 2011 03:56:18 UTC | #859316

Tony d's Avatar Comment 21 by Tony d

I may have seen some group thinking in Hackney when i was driving to work in Islington last night.I drove passed large groups of rioters intent on smashing up the infrastructure of the community's they live in. The group think of the police was to stand and watch.

Tue, 09 Aug 2011 07:35:24 UTC | #859337

Chris Boccia's Avatar Comment 22 by Chris Boccia

Comment 12 by Steven Mading :

Comment 6 by AtheistEgbert :

@aquilacane,

If what you are saying was true, then there would be no such thing as people defying their parents and taking a different path.

It is certainly harder to be an atheist if you come from a highly religious culture, but it's not guaranteed that a child will end up with the religion of its parents, and if there was no choice, as you claim, then passing on of religion would happen 100% of the time, not merely a majority of the time. >

There is no choice because free-will violates natural laws. The reason a person can depart from his/her parent's faith is due to outside sources having an influence on the person. Once again, it's not the person's choice to decide who's going to say what and when and whether that's going to end up having some effect on his/her thinking.

Tue, 09 Aug 2011 09:02:24 UTC | #859357

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 23 by AtheistEgbert

@Comment 19 (12PM)

I think that hypnosis may play a part in this process of group think. The psychologist Gustave Le Bon (The Crowd, A Study of the Popular Mind 1896) wrote that hypnosis played a part in crowd psychology. Some are more prone to hypnosis or suggestion than others. And I think faith is just another way of saying 'trust' and some are more trusting than others.

In fact, I think the word 'belief' can be replaced by the word 'trust' in regards to religion, and then we can see more clearly why it's about group identity. We rationalists use the word 'belief' to mean justified opinion.

Theists have no justified belief, they always say it's based on faith or a leap of faith, which means that their belief has no justification, there are no premises leading to a conclusion. Belief and faith and trust are all the same thing.

Now, atheism is not based on belief but unbelief, you don't have to be rational to be an atheist. Atheists can be just as trusting and open to group think than anyone else.

And so when you bring up brainwashing, you're describing more or less what I'm suggesting. That brainwashing or indoctrination are all part of the process of group think.

@Comment 20 (jameshogg)

There is a kind of personality out there called that we are all familiar with called 'the rebel'. The rebel is not necessarily a thinker, and will happily join other rebels and then group think takes over. This seems almost a natural process among teenagers as they shift their thinking from their parents to their peers.

I think rebellion can explain much of atheism and any dichotomy in society.

The point made here is that even fighting against group identities can cause new group identities to form as an ironic result, even if you claim to have the likes of reason and science on your side. It is ironic because the whole point of science is that it is the ANTI-thesis of human instinct, collectively and individually. I still do not understand how some people who happen to be atheists (as opposed to just saying "atheists" in case one stupidly interprets the following criticism as some kind of argument against atheism) persist in using that label as opposed to the foundational system that attacks ALL forms of irrationality.

That is a good point, and I often use the word 'atheist' like a slap in the face, it has connotations of being a rebel word. Atheist is a periphery word, it isn't central to any world view much like not believing in fairies. It does not form the centre of any thinking. 'sceptic' and 'rationalist' (or even 'naturalist' or 'freethinker') are far better words, but of course, not all atheists are successful sceptics and rationalists. I must admit, I am not so good at playing the rationalist game, I find it sometimes boring, I am a bit more rebellious and irrational to allow rationalism to define me. And also, rationalism is really confined only to arguments and has lead us into the trap of taking theism too seriously. Scientific naturalism is far broader, but has still yet to penetrate fully into the social science and beyond. I think scepticism or freethought are more general and friendly terms for what we're doing.

if one encounters a religious group that does not have God associated with their faith, what role do atheists have in criticising that religion?

Exactly, hence why I think the first part of Sam Harris's video points out that religion is far more complex and broad a term than theism. And since atheists (especially new atheists) attack all kinds of organized religion and irrationality, the terms we use are no longer adequate. We even argue that state Fascism and state Communism are state religions (not exactly true but they are about group identity) but clearly they're not theistic religions--they are personality cults or ideaologies. Even ideaology could be viewed as group identity.

To also add, do you think bogus memes such as "Hitler was a person of reason" or "Reason has its share of atrocities as well, such as Stalinism" would be taken as seriously as the current pests that are going around nowadays?

Unfortunately, those under group identity believe they're being rational. You can be insane and rational at the same time. This is why I throw caution to the idea that only rationality is a solution. Ordinary people can do extraordinary evil things when under the control of authority. They begin to rationalize what they're doing.

This is why I think group identity is so overwhelmingly powerful, because it can even affect those who believe they're reasonable and scientific. I have given a few examples above, but clearly this happens most often in politics, especially authoritarian politics. A good look at some Adam Curtis documentaries will show all kinds of other examples.

I don't have all the answers to how to combat this. I did suggest that authentic individuality is perhaps one solution, but forming your own identity free from society or group mentality is not only difficult but impractical. It can also be a bit of a miserable life.

Sigh. It's troublesome.

Indeed, and clearly you recognize how problematic things really are. But if we are to begin to tackle this problem, then atheists must recognize the full scope and landscape of the problem. One of the positives about Sam Harris is that he wants to expand the scope and the landscape as much as I do, but the negativies is that he's creating a following. A bit like the Monty Python Sketch in Life of Brian "Yes we're all individals"

Scientific thinking in particular is a system of indiscriminate disproof, and has to be applied on everything, regardless of what group or label you hold.

Agreed, and this is possible if we were to promote the critical thinking tradition. Simple doubt or simple scepticism are also useful tools. We can also create new tools once we become aware of the trap of falling into group think.

Probably the greatest reason why I admire Christopher Hitchens

Yes, Hitchens is a rebel at heart and I also admire him greatly. I also often disagree with him, sometimes strongly. He can be a bit of a rabble rouser, but I don't know of any living man that has mastered the art of rhetoric like him. I think Martin Amis's article about Hitchens was very informative and honest.

And that leads to another problem--authentic individuals can sometimes become bitter enemies, and they start to create followers and groups to use as weapons against others. They can sometimes become the dictator and the tyrant.

I suppose it takes experience to learn when being a contrarian is in good taste. But I am inclined to think that it is the best stance to take: one that is directly opposed to group hierarchy.

According to Martin Amis, Hitchens takes is contrarianess a bit too far, arguing with taxi drivers and ordinary people. That may work well if you're well established, famous and confident, but that is itself a position of privilege. We all have our idols and people we respect, but that too is a bit of hierarchy that can turn us into followers.

Something that we often fail to do is treat people as individuals, and in order to do so we need a bit of empathy and compassion. That's not to say people should be challenged, they do, however it's whether or not it has any results that matter.

I think it's good sometimes to play devil's advocate and disagree for the sake of disagreeing, just to expose the typical conformation bias that appears so readily.

So maybe, if I were forced to choose a label, I would on occasion choose a label from a list of decent ones that does the job of highlighting the dangers of group mentality: polemicist, or contrarian.

And we need more of those to keep us on our toes. There are some pitfalls to that, like the risk of alienation and ostracization from others. It's a lonely business unless you have the charm and personality to go with it.

Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

@Tony d

Yes, group think is very important for governments, states and tyrants, and that is why democracy is used to limit their powers, and why individualism or rationality are important tools for a healthy democracy. The rioters were clearly following their own form of group think--gangsterism. So many social, political and religious problems can be considered a result of group identities, which is why I wanted to bring it up.

Tue, 09 Aug 2011 11:57:34 UTC | #859391

KenChimp's Avatar Comment 24 by KenChimp

I don't see "Religion" as failed science. The so-called "pseudo-sciences" are that.

Religion is organized exploitation of ignorance for money and power.

It should be against the law to swindle people out of money for a non-existent product. It's not only absurd, it is criminally absurd!

Tue, 09 Aug 2011 15:48:30 UTC | #859441

Mr DArcy's Avatar Comment 25 by Mr DArcy

Isn't "gangsterism" what is practised by the Christians? - Pay us now, or else we cannot guarantee your continued protection. When you look at the Christian missionaries who went to various parts of the world, especially South America, IMO, those "gangsters" made Al Capone look like a veritable angel.

Of course religion is dependent on "group identity". It is after all nothing more than organised superstition.

Tue, 09 Aug 2011 22:07:44 UTC | #859504

maria melo's Avatar Comment 26 by maria melo

Sam Harris is absolutely balanced to think "religion" as a broader phenomenon, I am afraid I can´t think the same about the OP as far as you think it may have a single "explanation" rather than being broader: "social transmition". (perhaps you should think social phenomena more complex, as Sam Harris). Then, after reading more comments you´ve made I found a main contradition and I really don´t understand what are the difficulties you find to do so: are you understanding your own words and that they implie just the same as Sam Harry has concluded: "religion"as broader ?

Tue, 09 Aug 2011 22:09:31 UTC | #859505

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 27 by AtheistEgbert

@maria melo

I actually agree with Harris in the first part of his video that religion is a much broader term than simply limited to god belief, but I do not agree with his second point that religion is an archaic form of science.

I think religion serves a social function, and group identity probably has a naturalistic explanation itself, and probably relates to survival in groups. But it doesn't serve the function of explaining nature or providing knowledge.

Tue, 09 Aug 2011 22:44:54 UTC | #859512

maria melo's Avatar Comment 28 by maria melo

" (...) and the religious debate in the west has largely revolved around whether or not God exists."

My opportunity of illustrating:

"Wether God exists or not, we are enslaved by the discussion (both arguments)."

Tue, 09 Aug 2011 22:51:00 UTC | #859513

aldous's Avatar Comment 29 by aldous

Surely we have got beyond the inane debate about 'whether or not God exists'. There are a great many gods and they all exist.

Tue, 09 Aug 2011 23:39:52 UTC | #859521

maria melo's Avatar Comment 30 by maria melo

I think religion serves a social function, and group identity probably has a naturalistic explanation itself, and probably relates to survival in groups. But it doesn't serve the function of explaining nature or providing knowledge.

Again the same difficulty ? As far you may consider "religion" broader, why don´t you consider too that it has been claimed too as a "form of knowledge", although providing a naive explanation of nature ? It is really broader ah, as "social facts"indeed are, and reflects the whole aspects of human nature, what else could it be ?

(the truth is really round).

Tue, 09 Aug 2011 23:46:50 UTC | #859523