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Is it the supernatural claims of religion that make them so divisive?

Salon.com has an excerpt from a book by Jared Diamond (The World Until Yesterday) that looks at the supernatural claims of religion and the purpose they may serve.

Virtually all religions hold some supernatural beliefs specific to that religion. That is, a religion’s adherents firmly hold beliefs that conflict with and cannot be confirmed by our experience of the natural world, and that appear implausible to people other than the adherents of that particular religion. For example, Hindus believe there is a monkey god who travels thousands of kilometers at a single somersault. Catholics believe a woman who had not yet been fertilized by a man became pregnant and gave birth to a baby boy, whose body eventually after his death was carried up to a place called heaven, often represented as being located in the sky. The Jewish faith believes that a supernatural being gave a chunk of desert in the Middle East to the being’s favorite people, as their home forever.

No other feature of religion creates a bigger divide between religious believers and modern secular people, to whom it staggers the imagination that anyone could entertain such beliefs. No other feature creates a bigger divide between believers in two different religions, each of whom firmly believes its own beliefs but considers it absurd that the other religion’s believers believe those other beliefs. Why, nevertheless, are supernatural beliefs such universal features of religions?

He goes on to point out that people are willing to believe, and even invest in, non-religious supernatural claims, like in Europe where many people still fear crossing the path of a black cat, or of people in New Guinea who believe that hearing the song of a particular bird portends death of a villager.

Additionally, he notices that the gods of most religions resemble things known in the natural world - animals or humans - with the same characteristics, but with supernatural powers added.  No one would worship a common man born through natural means, for example, but one that can shoot thunderbolts from his hands?

Nevertheless, it’s not the case that there are no limits to what can be accepted as a religious supernatural belief. Scott Atran and Pascal Boyer have independently pointed out that actual religious superstitions over the whole world constitute a narrow subset of all the arbitrary random superstitions that one could theoretically invent. To quote Pascal Boyer, there is no religion proclaiming anything like the following tenet: “There is only one God! He is omnipotent. But he exists only on Wednesdays.” Instead, the religious supernatural beings in which we believe are surprisingly similar to humans, animals, or other natural objects, except for having superior powers. They are more far-sighted, longer-lived, and stronger, travel faster, can predict the future, can change shape, can pass through walls, and so on. In other respects, gods and ghosts behave like people. The god of the Old Testament got angry, while Greek gods and goddesses became jealous, ate, drank, and had sex. Their powers surpassing human powers are projections of our own personal power fantasies; they can do what we wish we could do ourselves. I do have fantasies of hurling thunderbolts that destroy evil people, and probably many other people share those fantasies of mine, but I have never fantasized about existing only on Wednesdays. Hence it doesn’t surprise me that gods in many religions are pictured as smiting evil-doers, but that no religion holds out the dream of existing just on Wednesdays. Thus, religious supernatural beliefs are irrational, but emotionally plausible and satisfying. That’s why they’re so believable, despite at the same time being rationally implausible.

*The text in italics is from the article, the bold is mine.  As usual, I encourage you to read the entire article for more depth and explanation.

If you are religious, do you find the claims of other religions to be irrational, while those of your religion are logical and rational?

Answer Question
 
jsbenkert

Asked by jsbenkert at 4:08 PM on Jan. 17, 2013 in Religious Debate

Level 37 (89,331 Credits)
Answers (7)
  • What makes religion divisive is human beings wanting to be elite. They want to be part of something that doesn't allow others in so they can feel special and powerful.....Good religion doesn't teach this...it's people's nature that adds it to the religion.
    Anna92464

    Answer by Anna92464 at 12:08 AM on Jan. 28, 2013

  • there is plenty of that, sure. i cant count the number of times i've heard a Christian say "well no body worships Zeus anymore! that stuff's silly!" and yes, it is difficult to believe some of the stuff religions come up with.

    but i think the true divisive nature of religions comes from the ppl themselves, not the doctrine. we can easily live together if we'd stop trying to convert and convince ppl that our belief is the only right one for everyone. but then thats Christian doctrine so...
    okmanders

    Answer by okmanders at 6:10 PM on Jan. 18, 2013

  • We all search for truth and many arrive at a conclusion of what that truth is. It becomes logical then, that those beliefs that clash with that accepted truth are by definition false.
    momto2boys973

    Answer by momto2boys973 at 7:07 PM on Jan. 17, 2013

  • So we're not talking about whether or not we are tolerant of other beliefs, but whether or not we can believe that they are true - that the gods of other faiths actually exist, and exist in the manner believed by the followers of those faiths.


    For me, if I'm to accept the claims of any religion, I'd have to accept the claims of all, simply because none is more rational or more likely than the other.


     

    jsbenkert

    Comment by jsbenkert (original poster) at 5:59 PM on Jan. 17, 2013

  • It seems like you have asked two questions here: 1. Is it the supernatural claims of religions that make them so divisive? And 2. Do I find the claims of other religions to be irrational while mine is rational? My answers are: I think the biggest issue that makes religions divisive is that it's an intensely personal matter to most people, and if you insult my belief system in some way, you have insulted the very essence of me. I think people are hypersensitive to matters dealing with their faith. And 2. I agree that most religious beliefs are irrational, including my own belief in God. I freely admit it's an act of faith, not science, and that's what I like about it. I dont want to believe in a God who is easily explained, or rationalized... anyone could be one of those...
    Nimue930

    Answer by Nimue930 at 5:56 PM on Jan. 17, 2013

  • Irrational in this sense is that the beliefs defy all we know about the natural world.  For example, it would be irrational to expect my book to levitate and fly across the room and into my hands.  We know it's irrational because books don't fly, and are incapable of moving without the aid of outside forces.  Most religions, though, believe in beings that have powers that defy what we know about the physical world:  Gods who can read minds, see through buildings, create weather events, etc.  While many claim (in an effort to be or appear to be understanding and tolerant, I suppose) will say that they respect other beliefs, they are unable to accept the claims made by other religions.  Those who are non-Mormon, for example, will not accept the possibility that God lives on a distant star, and would find that claim to be ridiculous and irrational.

    jsbenkert

    Comment by jsbenkert (original poster) at 5:45 PM on Jan. 17, 2013

  • I don't think I find their beliefs irrational. I tend to be of the idea that I can believe what I want, and you can believe what you want, and as long as we respect each other - everything's cool. I'm Pagan/Wiccan, and the only real problem I have is when Christians (not all, but the ones who do) try to convert me. I have issues with the Christian faith because of the whole idea that God, in their thinking, is against things that, to me, are normal and natural and should be respected. I don't think I'd say that their beliefs are irrational - just that I disagree strongly with them.
    wendythewriter

    Answer by wendythewriter at 5:35 PM on Jan. 17, 2013

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