The Atheist’s Thumb

January 29, 2011 § 49 Comments

I want to tell a joke about an atheist. Hopefully, no one will take offense—my goal is not to mock atheists, but to ask whether or not there’s any grain of truth behind the story. It’s not really even that great of a joke, but for what it’s worth, here it is:

An atheist and his friend are doing a woodworking project at the atheist’s house, and the atheist accidentally bangs his thumb with a hammer. After a few choice words of immediate response, the atheist says, “Hey, now I can do my ‘homework.’ I’m taking part in a study of pain relievers, and I’ve got a bottle of pills upstairs.” So he takes the pill and sure enough, within minutes the pain in his thumb is gone. Following the instructions on the bottle, he waits 30 minutes, then calls the research lab, and reports his results. After a short conversation, he returns to his friend, picks up his hammer, and very deliberately hits the same thumb (and repeats the same choice words as before).

“What did you do that for?” asks his friend.

“The lab told me the pill was a placebo,” replies the atheist, “and I know placebos don’t really do anything, so my thumb is supposed to still be hurting.”

Ok, like I said, Leno’s career is in no danger from me. But I still want to ask the question. Do you think there’s any grain of truth in the story? The mental context of the joke is the oft-repeated question believers ask: “If there is no God, what’s the harm in believing that there is?” Can religion play a useful role as a kind of experiential relief, even if it’s only a placebo effect? Are atheists going too far in rejecting what they know to be false, and thus depriving themselves of beneficial effects? Can you know a thing is a placebo, and still appreciate the fact that the pain is no longer afflicting you?

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§ 49 Responses to The Atheist’s Thumb

  • Tina S says:

    Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that when God and Jesus finally take over the earth they will turn it into the paradise that it was meant to be: clean water, fresh air, plenty of food easily grown, no more extreme weather (hurricanes, floods, earthquakes) as well as perfectly healthy humans with no disabilities, disease or death. This is a pretty story. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the earth clean, safe, fresh? Witnesses don’t vote and probably don’t take part in activist parties for “greening” the planet. They take note of the disasters, etc, only to confirm their belief that the end is near. So, if the end is near, why take care of the planet? Why vote in presidents who are concerned about global warming? Why join green websites to learn how to clean with “green” cleaners? Why take any action to care for our planet and fellow humans if this is all going to be set right by God……you get the idea.

  • mikespeir says:

    I’m deeply offended. ;-)

    Seriously, though, it’s fine to bring up the point that religion can be a placebo that relieves a kind of pain. What’s not so fine is to ignore the fact that religion can also inflict a lot of otherwise avoidable pain.

  • Tina S says:

    Before I began studying with the JW’s I had thought that religion did no harm. It was comfort; here is a god that loves you unconditionally. Religion was about love, tolerance, acceptance, “do unto others…”, kindness, politeness…God loves all his creations. I can’t really blame the JW’s entirely for destroying my belief in the Christian god. I was ignorant of the bible. Fundamentalists (Ann Coulter, “Jesus Camp”) and that nutjob who with his family picket military funerals with “God hates Fags” signs helped. But once I started reading the bible and reading books (agnostics, atheists, rabbis, ministers, bible historians) along with studying with the JW’s…well, I really began questioning religion. Does it really help even if it’s not true? For some, yes. That doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Guess it’s how religion is used in one’s life: to help and not hurt. Is there any reason why we should live with guilt because we don’t measure up?

  • “The consolation of imaginary things is not imaginary consolation.” (as the saying goes)

    When one considers that for perhaps 1,000,000 years our human ancestors had NOTHING in the way of health care other than “belief” in some nonsensical magical ceremony or procedure, it isn’t hard to see that evolution selected for the placebo susceptible…. the hypnotizable… and the “believer”.
    You may want to consider… “The Corruption of Reality” by John F. Schumaker (A unified theory of hypnosis, religion and psychopathology) It’s a powerful read!

    Human beings need to know that their lives have value in a world that has meaning. Culture is the medium that assures this. Culture decides what avenues madness is permitted to flow along. Religion is how culture makes sense of what is, when viewed logically, an absurd universe. That is the function of culture.

    You may wish to consider…

    http://mrsneutronsgarage.wordpress.com/2010/11/27/homo-suggestibilis/

  • Father of Time says:

    I suppose it depends on the Atheist as I’m always hearing conflicting points. I was under the impression that the relieving of pain isn’t the problem Atheist really care about.

    In fact, I must be a weak Atheist because I don’t really care what others believe and I don’t despise them for wanting to lose the pain in their thumb, but it’s the ignoring of facts and trying to define our laws around their morality based on their religion.

    The joke would probably make more sense if the Atheist upon realizing the pain killers didn’t work would’ve started to feel the pain again. However, this would not have been such a joke.

  • Autumn says:

    The skeptic would probably be more interested in why his pain went away, instead of thinking of that his thumb deserves to hurt. He would wonder if it was the placebo effect, time, or some other reason. If his thumb had stopped hurting due to major damage, he should be seeking additional medical support.

    I recommend reading Mother Teresa’s Come Be My Light. She loved suffering- she encouraged it. She reveled in poverty.
    Read about her orphanages and the houses for the dying; the blunted reused needles, the lack of sanitary conditions, the lack of adequate medical care- even simple painkillers.

    Jesus has surely chosen her [Sister Bernard] for something special, since He has given her so much suffering.
    Mother Mary Teresa

    And I would not wish at any price to give up my sufferings.
    Mother Mary Teresa

    Mama is writing very regularly-truly she is giving me the strength to suffer joyfully.
    Mother Mary Teresa

    And when the night [of spiritual darkness] becomes very thick-and it seems to me as if I will end up in Hell-then I simply offer myself to Jesus. If He wants me to go there-I am ready-but only under the condition that it really makes Him happy.
    Mother Mary Teresa

    [Mother Teresa] conclud[ed] that the darkness was purification of her imperfections.
    Father Brian Kolodiejchuk

    “The U.S. Cardinals said they are going to develop a code of ethics to help them deal with the sexual scandal. Wait a minute, I thought their already was a code of ethics, it’s called the Bible.” —Jay Leno

  • Arthur says:

    You can “know a thing is a placebo, and still appreciate the fact that the pain is no longer afflicting you,” but I don’t think the point survives the analogy. How can your religious beliefs relieve you of emotional or existential pain unless you actually believe them?

    We can observe the placebo effect in someone else, and speculate that someone else’s religious beliefs function in that sort of way, but can’t include our own religious beliefs in that picture, if we hold them sincerely. Can we?

    Personally, I think believers overstate religion’s analgesic properties anyway. I’m told that there are no good people, and that everyone burns in hell forever unless God decides to save them for unpredictable reasons of His own—and the people who say this, in the same breath, express astonishment that atheists can even get up in the morning, what with the meaninglessness of their worldview and all. This sounds like a lot of bluster to me. Either their religious beliefs cause them pain, or they’ve amputated their brains, as it were.

    • I’m afraid you lost me with the last bit Arthur.

      ..”God decides to save them for unpredictable reasons of His own-” No, the reasons are entirely spelled out. ALL religions are “Denial of Death Schemes”. They cover the angst inevitable in a sentient creature when faced with the prospect of the universe without “them” in it. As such, the way to deny death must be spelled out. “Culture” does that.
      Think beyond the placebo effect. We don’t have to be talking about physical pain. Consider the emotional pain of a mother who has lost a child. Is that child decomposing, or, is it only their body decomposing and mother and child will be reunited again in an afterlife? If that “belief” relieved a mothers suffering… or removed it… would that mother not consider an atheists world view crazy? Would the chemical change and reduction of stress hormones in her body be any less real?

      …” they’ve amputated their brains”… is only half correct. What they have done is called dissociation. It is the exact same neurological technique used by a hypnotist to invite a patient to neurologically disregard any and all input contrary to what has been suggested. It’s just self done… as is all hypnosis. If you study hypnosis you can’t help but notice that all highly successful TV preachers are masters of hypnotic induction techniques.
      Reality is as plastic as silly putty to humans Arthur.

  • Arthur says:

    So…we agree?

  • Except for the “unpredictable reasons” part. Predictability is essential. Oh, and the “amputated brains” part. Some very brilliant people can dissociate… and remain very brilliant people.

  • Arthur says:

    How about if I change “unpredictable” to “inscrutable”? or “unknowable”?

    And how about, instead of “amputated their brains” (which was just for color, really), I just say: “Either their religious beliefs cause them pain, or they’re not really thinking about them, really, ever”?

    • Arthur, if it isn’t knowable and predictable it would hardly be a scheme.

      The last sentence I’m afraid, I don’t understand where you are going at all.

      • Arthur says:

        How about this?

        Personally, I think believers overstate religion’s analgesic properties anyway. A lot of them claim to believe really scary, disturbing things.

  • Len says:

    “If there is no God, what’s the harm in believing that there is?” None, except that you’re building your belief systems on a lie.

    The problem comes when people are so used to the placebo working (and they don’t even realise it’s a placebo) that they really start to believe it, which makes it even stronger. Even this could be OK, until they start trying to impose their ways (beliefs, rules, etc) on others.

  • [Arthur]… I don’t think it is possible for me to evaluate, let alone overstate or understate, something that you claim has analgesic properties for you. Besides, what is scary and disturbing to me may very well be quite comforting to you. Remember, “The consolation of imaginary things is not imaginary consolation.” Our feelings are, in the end, chemical. Do I have the right to decide what chemicals you need and what thoughts or beliefs you utilize to obtain them? What government agency would you put in charge of policing such matters?

    [Len]… The BIG lie is culture. Is there a religion that isn’t the only religion? Don’t all countries have the bravest men, most beautiful woman, best food and, if they are not at the apex of the pecking order, somehow, they have been unjustly screwed out of it?
    The point of a placebo is to not realize it’s a placebo. Of course they MUST attempt to get everybody to follow their belief (impose) if they can. A denial of death scheme [read: religion] loses power if it can be openly questioned. Questioning threatens what people want most. To KNOW that they will not really die provided they follow the culturally sanctioned madness that is religious belief. Many have speculated that it is this “madness”, sanctioned by a particular culture, that not only formed the glue that held humans together in times of stress, BUT, prevented a much LARGER wholesale insanity that would have resulted at the prospect of realizing that they were, after all… just meat…
    From this, though largely unarticulated, religious people get the idea that atheists couldn’t possibly be moral creatures since they lack beliefs that raise the rest of humanity above the level of animals. Likewise, other cultures that hold to false religions. That’s why good Christians can feel wonderful about manufacturing missiles and fire them into crowded Muslim neighborhoods killing grandmothers and babies. “Those people are animals”.

  • Arthur says:

    Mrs. Neutron’s Garage:

    I think we’re having two different conversations.

  • I don’t think so. (Unless you are referring to me-you, me-Len.

    I think you and I are attempting to have the same conversation, but, I refuse to converse about what I see as a very complicated subject on a superficial level.
    I am an atheist Arthur. With that comes the responsibility to not just condemn to stupidity those whose views I don’t hold. I am in the small minority. It behooves ME to explain why paranormal beliefs, religions and superstitions are ubiquitous. It’s up to me to, if I’m right, explain why there is no such thing as a culture, now or any time in the past, that DOESN’T follow what, to me, is nonsense. I’m the odd man out Arthur and if you are too we have a responsibility to explain WHY we are the evolutionary freaks. CLEARLY there is something deeply human going on here. If 11% of humanity were born without a right ear or color vision what case could they possibly make to claim THEY were the superior ones? Even if they could it would not absolve them of diagnosis of “abnormal”.
    Until atheists fully understand the phenomena of religion, condemning it out of hand will do nothing but fuel the engine that makes religion run in the same manner that indiscriminate use of antibiotics fuels the evolutionary genetic engine of micro-organisms to the detriment of everybody.

    • Father of Time says:

      Excellently written!! However, I have to say it is not a responsibility, but an extra role you may choose to take on.

      As an Atheist, we may define it as our duty to help spread our ideas and knowledge. However, it is not required. Atheism is just a belief system. Some Atheists may be happy with their belief and never wish to talk about it.

      Also, you made wonderful comments earlier about cultural differences and seemed pretty understanding of what makes people follow a religion. Then you mention “condemning to stupidity,” make up your mind they’re dumb or they’re just having trouble with what society as taught them.

      I agree it is stupidity, but I think Atheists tend to push people away by our incessant need to say “You’re dumb!”

      • Autumn says:

        Be careful- you capitalize atheist and talk about the atheist belief system. It makes it seem like a religion. There are many atheists that take great pains to avoid that misconception.

      • Father of Time says:

        Wow.. Thanks Autumn. As you can tell from my post, my grammar is not always wonderful. I should really learn to type properly.

  • You misconstrued me Father (That’s where you say, “I never TOUCHED you!”)

    I don’t think religious people are stupid, BUT, if atheists insist upon claiming the logical “high ground” I think they are, in effect, SAYING everybody else is stupid. Do you get that? I want to avoid the trap because, in the end, almost everybody with beliefs thinks people who don’t share them are stupid. As an atheist I want the high ground! I do not want my position to sit upon a foundation of… “Oh, if you are not an atheist you are stupid”.
    Claiming “logic” and “science” to be on your side does NOTHING to explain the phenomena of religion and paranormal beliefs. NOTHING!

    People adopt and follow a religion, with few exceptions, because THAT was the avenue madness was permitted to flow along “within” the culture they were born into. You do NOT see this:

    Location… Lynchburg Virginia
    [Doctor]… “Well, I have good news and bad news.”
    [New Father]… “What’s the good news Doctor?”
    [Doctor].. “Your wife is fine and you now have a healthy baby son.”
    [New Father]… “Well, what’s the bad news Doctor?”
    [Doctor]… “He’s a Hindu.”

    One more thing… I thought atheism was a LACK of a belief system.

    • Father of Time says:

      Mrs. Neutron, I was actually trying to point out I thought you were falling into the trap you speak of.

      I agree completely. A belief (or lack of belief) is a person’s own foundation. I want more people to believe similar positions as myself, but who doesn’t? Stubbornness tends to blind us to the possibility of others’ opinions.

      Hmm.. atheism really is a lack of a belief system. Atheism is disbelieving any gods because they lack significant evidence; however, what do we call the dogmatic atheist whom no matter the proof will always believe no god exists?

      Does that not constitute a belief system?

      • Autumn says:

        Do you believe in Santa? Will that ever change? Where is this atheist dogma?

        The word know in common usage is flexible. I know that my car will start. This means I have no reason to suspect that it won’t. Why should it be different for religious-related beliefs? Until additional information is presented, it is easier to say know instead of using a ton of retailers qualifiers.

        Dawkins had his 7 point scale. 1, you know there is a god, 7, you know there is no god. Most skeptics are not 7. Even Dawkins himself describes himself as a 6.

        The idea of dogmatic atheists is largely a strawman.

      • Autumn says:

        Sorry, on my phone. I don’t know why the word retailer is there.

  • I don’t think it does Father. Furthermore… I don’t think your example is valid.

    I can say I “believe” in evolution, or, see the theory as a good one, BUT, should I be strolling down the street one day and hear a clap of thunder, see a bolt of lightning followed by a booming voice saying… “LET THERE BE PANGOBATS”… followed by the appearance of a male and female pangobat poofing into existence in front of me…

    … I would, hence forth, become a Creationist. You probably would too.

    You can have a system of beliefs. You can’t have a “system” of not believing anything. See my point?

  • Father of Time says:

    Mrs. Neutron, I completely see your point. I took a misstep in my thoughts and tried to point out that being overly dogmatic about something in particular does not actually mean you are creating a belief system. An atheist is really just a person in search of proper knowledge and truth. The searching for knowledge and truth comes first, the atheism is an end result.

    I did not know that about Dawkins. Thanks for the info and the cordial debates.

  • Arthur says:

    mrs. neutron’s garage:

    I think you and I are attempting to have the same conversation, but, I refuse to converse about what I see as a very complicated subject on a superficial level.

    Then you’ve confirmed that we’re having two different conversations. All I did was relate an anecdote, and close it with an apparently confusing turn of phrase. You’ve covered quite a lot of complicated yardage with that ball, and I can’t even tell if you’re going somewhere, or just sprinting all over the place.

    I am an atheist Arthur. With that comes the responsibility to not just condemn to stupidity those whose views I don’t hold. I am in the small minority. It behooves ME to explain why paranormal beliefs, religions and superstitions are ubiquitous.

    Then I’m clearly not an atheist, because I don’t even want to do the work of figuring out what the hell you’re talking about when you talk.

  • I’m sorry I wasn’t clear enough for you Arthur. Honestly, it wasn’t for a lack of trying.

  • Hunt says:

    I just finished reading Eliezer Yudkowsky’s Dark Side Epistemology, which is think is apropos here:

    http://lesswrong.com/lw/uy/dark_side_epistemology/

    The problem with letting untruth in the door is that something else always comes in along with it, and to maintain untruth, you need to fabricate more and more of it. The question you suggest is essentially: Can beneficent untruth be contained without adulterating the rest of our world. I tend to think the answer is no.

    • Hunt… that was a GREAT article and I, for one, thank you for it.

      That being said, I’m afraid I have to disagree with it TOTALLY on purely philosophical grounds.

      Alan Watts once wrote that life (reality…the universe) is the GAME of black and white. That the biggest mistake a person could ever make was thinking it was “White Must WIN!” I can see the truth in that. The writer of that article cannot.
      For a moment, consider the plight of a recently sentient organism… our distant ancestors. For the first time a living thing is capable of “contemplating” a truly “objective” reality. It’s mind knows no bounds! It’s imagination, as we know, can reach the stars and contemplate quantum physics. Its potential, in comparison to the rest of the organisms it shares the planet with are Godlike. And yet… it is meat, no different from any other meat, destined to decompose leaving nothing behind. It is, with its Godlike intellect… ABSURD. Of no more importance than a flea, or a worm, in the scope of the universe.

      Do you think it is a coincidence that man rejected this truth? Do you think it is a fluke that no culture exists, or ever did, that DIDN’T reject this truth? I’m afraid it isn’t. I’m convinced that in crossing the neurological Rubicon from animal to sentient “being” we were forced to learn the technique of dissociating ourselves from objective reality… or go insane. Denying the reality of death has been far more than a hobby to man throughout history. It is only very recently that the bulk of humanity would tolerate the existence of an openly atheistic person. Even today, they don’t suffer us gladly.

      Again, we go back to my original quote: “The consolation of imaginary things is not imaginary consolation.”

      Certainly, the more secure a society becomes the less we can expect to see of bold and openly religious people. But, that does NOT mean that humans have changed. Only the level of existential stress has diminished. The neurology is still there poised to kick in at a moments notice and save our sanity.
      It is my belief that religion, hypnotism and most psychopathology are the same thing, but variations on the same theme. The “creation” of a reality we choose to inhabit.
      Did you know that certain particular “mental illnesses” ONLY exist within the confines of particular religions?

      Here is what I hope Hunt. I hope I live long enough to see the creation of artificial sentient intelligence. I want to be around when a machine awakens to what humans awakened to. I’m not at all sure that it will act any differently than humans did. I’m not at all sure it will have any choice.

      • Father of Time says:

        I’m curious Mrs. Neutron, when will our religion denying neurobiology receptors kick in? As atheists, do we not believe the things that we are just “meat”?

  • Perhaps, Oh Father of Time… never. I don’t see mine ever kicking in, but, one can never predict the future entirely.

    I was speaking of man in general. History is full of revivals of a religious nature. Atheism, as a movement, is a rather new thing. Who can predict where masses of people will put their faith should civilization take a bad turn? When the visible means of support disappear all that is ever left is the “invisible”. Religion, of one kind or another, can always be relied upon to “kick in” and provide comfort when a culture runs out of rope.

    When times of trouble come about people like us will most likely not change our views… BUT, if we expect something to eat, we will do as atheists probably always did… get down on our knees, mouth the proper words and send our children dutifully off for their “religious instruction”.

  • David D.G. says:

    Mrs. Neutron’s Garage: “The consolation of imaginary things is not imaginary consolation.”

    Maybe so, but even if the truth hurts, at least it’s the truth — something I can work with, or at least try to work with, and have some chance of success. I’d rather have that than pleasant lies or blissful ignorance. The original post implies a comparison of religion and other such untrue beliefs to “placebos,” but I think that a comparison to “mind-altering substances” is more like it.

    ~David D.G.

  • Absolutely David D.G.:
    “Mind-altering substances is a much better comparison.

    But I’m not so sure you are being absolutely truthful with us. You say, “but even if the truth hurts, at least it’s the truth — something I can work with”. OK tell us how you work with pain.

    Now you understand that there are many different kinds of pain. So, how do you work with the truth of a kidney stone or an abscessed tooth? Personally, I want mind altering substances. Short of that I’ll take any pain relief a placebo can provide because, take it from me, the pain of a kidney stone isn’t “untrue” pain. As a matter of fact I am willing to pay handsomely for a little “blissful ignorance” at such times.

    How about the pain produced by having to watch a child slowly and painfully die from cancer? How about the existential angst of being asked by a dyeing child, “What’s going to happen to me mommy, will I see you again”?

    I think these are the kinds of pain that can and do break people on the wheel of life and drive them to “relief” any place they can find it. It’s human, or, it wouldn’t be ubiquitous. It wouldn’t be found in EVERY human culture. Be it morphine for physical pain or religion for existential pain… nobody likes pain and we are neurologically programmed to AVOID it. You may not find it manly, or honorable, or even truthful, but, it’s human through and through. As a matter of fact, people who seek rather than avoid pain are considered deviant and mentally ill.

    It’s hard to see ourselves as rational beings, seeking truth and then wrap our minds around the quote: “The consolation of imaginary things is not imaginary consolation.”…. but, nevertheless… it’s the truth.

  • Arthur says:

    mrs. neutron’s garage:

    …I’m not so sure you are being absolutely truthful with us.

    I don’t see the problem with taking David D.G. at his word. It seems to me most people would say something similar. How many of us, forced to make a deliberate choice, believe that we should choose the blue pill?

    And, in any event, surely the effectiveness of a consolation depends on the conviction that its source is not imaginary?

    You say, “but even if the truth hurts, at least it’s the truth — something I can work with”. OK tell us how you work with pain.

    I don’t see the “pain” problem either. So pain can affect our judgment (or, for that matter, render us unconscious, or kill us). So pain compromises us sometimes, to varying degrees, in various ways, with varying reversibility, etc. Meh.

  • Here we go again Arthur.

    Pain is a true thing and I was doubting that David D.G. would rather have it than not.

    If by the “blue pill” you mean Viagra, as advertised on TV, I would suggest you consult with a urologist and not drag the rest of the readers into your dysfunction. (good luck, by the way)

    Beyond that, I’m not entirely sure you understood the meaning of the quote.

  • Arthur says:

    mrs. neutron’s garage:

    Oops, my fault. The blue pill stands for pleasant falsehoods, or words to that effect, as opposed to the red pill, which stands for the ugly truth. Like in The Matrix. My point being, again, that not only do I think David D.G. is being honest, but that I think most people would honestly answer in the same way.

    Pain is a true thing and I was doubting that David D.G. would rather have it than not.

    Clearly you believe the existence of pain–and the existence of imaginary sources of actual consolation–is a great big deal to people other than yourself. My only point here is that I don’t see any reason to accept this thesis. Everyone deals with pain in its various forms. No one avoids it at all costs. Pain is a pedestrian fact of life, not a deep truth people inadequately appreciate. Say I.

    Likewise consolation. You get it where you can, but no one runs to what they believe is a false comfort. I agree that we can be both comforted and mistaken, and I submit that this too is a plain everyday fact of life. Your quote is pithy, but what else is it?

  • Morning Arthur.

    …”Clearly you believe the existence of pain–and the existence of imaginary sources of actual consolation–is a great big deal to people other than yourself.”…

    I have no choice bet to recognize that Arthur. There simply are NO cultures that don’t champion and sanction paranormal beliefs, religions and imaginary consolations! NONE. ZERO.

    Last night I was reading about our Cro-Magnon ancestors who, 30 thousand years ago, were filling graves with goods for the dead to use in the “after life”. Christianity is 2 thousand years old. The human necessity to “imagine” that THEY are more than just meat is a deep one.
    You just can’t go thinking that all this religion folderol is just stupidity. It’s more than that. If I could be so bold as to suggest a book it would be “The Denial of Death” by Ernest Becker. It got the Pulitzer Prize, so, it’s not just me that thinks it’s a good read.

    Pain may be “a pedestrian fact of life”…. But death is the GREAT mystery to man. Perhaps not you and I, but, I contend that we are the freaks.

  • Arthur says:

    mrs. neutron’s garage,

    There simply are NO cultures that don’t champion and sanction paranormal beliefs, religions and imaginary consolations! NONE. ZERO.

    Okay… and my point is that these are plain everyday matters of fact. You seem to believe that these are deep, difficult truths, or something, which folks here are simply refusing to grapple with. In fact, you seem skeptical of anyone who claims to prefer a painful truth to a pleasant falsehood.

    You just can’t go thinking that all this religion folderol is just stupidity. It’s more than that.

    And you’re awash with people who say “all religion is just stupidity”? You’re worried that this blog is awash with them?

    Is this about my “amputated their brains” line? That was a toss-off, you know. And my actual point stands, for what it’s worth: people who are comforted by the belief that they, and everyone they know, will most likely burn in hell forever after they die, are not really thinking about that belief. (For simplicity I’m assuming we all agree on what “comforted” means.)

    Pain may be “a pedestrian fact of life”…

    It almost sounds like you’re agreeing that it’s a pedestrian fact of life. But that can’t be right. You just took David D.G. to task for not giving pain its due.

  • Arthur, you have lost me.

    …”comforted by the belief that they, and everyone they know, will most likely burn in hell forever”….

    Who could be “comforted” by that?

  • Arthur says:

    Calvinists, evidently. And I think one of them was some sort of Lutheran.

  • Settle down Arthur.

    Who are these Calvinists and Lutherans you are referring to? No one is “comforted” by the thought of eternal torment.

    Think of the millions and millions of people who buy lottery tickets. Their chances of winning are almost zero… BUT, the dreams of being rich, quitting their job and living the good life DO comfort them enough for them to make the dumb decision to buy a ticket every week.

    Perhaps they are Calvinists Arthur….. Or “some sort of Lutheran”.

  • Arthur says:

    Oh brother. Bye now.

  • Bye Bye Arthur…

    Now, for the serious enquirer into just what it is about our species that calls us to highly irrational levels of belief.. I offer this…

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/02/14/110214fa_fact_wright?currentPage=all

    A long (and I mean LONG) story of a highly successful man who spent over three decades La-La Land.

    I offer this because I think it fits the title of this blog, if only in a very round about way.

    Changing Religions… Building a post-Christian fellowship (And WHAT a fellowship it is!)

    Respectfully
    Mrs N

  • Haukur says:

    This reminds me a little bit of Why I Am Amusical, an essay by a guy who’s also making up his own religion.

  • Haukur says:

    Sorry – here’s a correct link to Why I Am Amusical.

  • Arthur says:

    Man, Deacon, you’ve got to come back. You’ve got to review Anthony Grayling’s Good Book.

  • Arthur says:

    14 ‘This is the teaching of all sages worthy of the name: that one must only be a pupil in order to cease being a pupil; 15 ‘That one must study in order to learn; and that one must learn in order to live. 16 ‘For in the brief season of life the first responsibility is to live, and to enrich life in oneself and others, 17 ‘So that the final history of things may be a history of good.’

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