Obviously there is no all-powerful floaty being in the sky. There are not winged people with white gowns who sit on clouds and look suspiciously like the Roman Nike. The universe is not permeated by some mysterious force of morality. People do not have incorporeal stuff in them which houses their consciousness. The incorporeal stuff which does not exist certainly does not hang around post-death, nor does it magically transfer to a happy place/a sad place/a new biological host.
We could go on like this for some time. Pointing out the myriad spectacularly idiotic things held to be quite literally true by various religions is like shooting fish in a barrel. If you really need to get it out of your system, head over to tumblr or reddit or something and come back when you've finished venting.
Ok, non-nonbelievers, you can open your eyes/ears now. The atheists are out venting at tumblr or reddit or something, so we can get some obligatory opening material out of the way.
God, atheists are assholes! I mean, you must have met one by now, right? They're always all like "I'm right, you're wrong, also you're a complete and utter moron how stupid do you have to be to believe in people with wings who sit on clouds and look suspiciously like the Roman Nike?" You'd think they'd look around a bit, notice that something like 95% of the global population disagrees with them, and wonder if just maybe 19 out of every 20 people are on to something.
Oh, I think they're coming back now... shhh!
Everybody back? We ready? Ok, I'm going to summarize the whole issue with this meme:
|The Dude comments on atheism.|
... that may have been unnecessarily harsh. But it's worth starting here: if it's really about who's literally right, then that's definitely the atheists. Hands down, no competition there. Yet we're still a bunch of assholes! The real question is why we're assholes, what we're missing, and how to fix the problem.
An awful lot of people find religion worthwhile. Presumably there is a reason that so many people find religion worthwhile. Presumably that reason is NOT that there's LITERALLY an all-powerful floaty being answering the prayer hotline. So what is it that draws so many people in?
There's a lot of answers to that question. I'm not going to dig into them much here; I'll save my main answer for another post. The main proposition I want to make right now is that religion does offer plenty of value, but most adherents don't understand that value very well.
Non-nonbelievers, you've probably had that holy feeling before. You know the one. Sometimes it feels like knowing things are going to work out. Sometimes it feels like something grand and powerful. Sometimes it feels like a weight is lifted. Sometimes it feels like certainty, when you suddenly know what to do. It's hard to explain, but you know it when you feel it.
Now we run into a communication problem. How do you explain that feeling? How do you explain the value of that feeling? How do you explain how much it would hurt to let that feeling go? How do you explain how much it hurts when an atheist comes along and calls you a complete and utter moron for following that feeling?
I think this is the core of the problem: there's this feeling, it's not just a placebo effect, it's a very real and very valuable thing. But it's hard to explain. People don't understand it well. So when an atheist comes along and stomps all over it, the feeling isn't what people talk about. Instead, everybody argues about the things that are easy to argue, like "Is there a god?" or "Is there an afterlife?". Those questions are red herrings. They're easy to talk about, but they're not the real issue.
In order to progress past religious people being wrong and atheists being assholes, we need to address the real source of misunderstanding. That means atheists need to make an honest effort to understand the value people find in religion, and we should NOT start with "people are morons". On the other side, if religious people want to make any progress with atheists, they should start with an honest effort to understand their own feelings, and that understanding should involve the real things directly felt.
In my next post, I'm going to take a stab at crossing this communication gap. I'm going to present an entirely nonspiritual theory of what value religion offers. Hopefully it will click with the non-nonbelievers out there.