How much theism is a bad thing?

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Tom Haynes's picture
How much theism is a bad thing?

Today I propose a question to my fellow atheists out there..... HOW MUCH THEISM IS A BAD THING?

This question is one that has been incessantly playing on my mind the last couple of weeks and it may be something that you may have asked yourself before, or that someone else has asked you in the past? Either way it is surely something that as rational minds we need to consider when fighting for our cause.

Controversial and provocative, no?

Now, I know, most of you who read this first time will instantly from your subconscious generate the response of 'any theism is a bad thing', however by doing so you have led yourself in to the trap of many of our theist adversaries by allowing a cognitive bias, a confirmation bias to be exact. Haven't heard of this, well wiki can help to some extent.

This is because we are predisposed from the fundamental attitudes about the concept of an atheist to automatically tailor our response to any from of opposing view in turn coinciding with our core views.

However, arguably, for the most rationalised people that we are supposed to be, this mental failure is polar opposite and is by far an irrationalised choice. This is because we haven't considered the many layers of theism and the influence it has in different social and organisational levels or contexts.

Therefore our generalised response must need further thought.

We need to consider these levels in terms of

Individual vs social theism
personal vs organisational theism
secular vs political theism

Each of these levels of theism will challenge our tolerance and our own form of self-indoctrination to dismiss it on all levels. If we assess them individually we can become more comprehensive as a community and overall give depth of rationalism that is fundamental to atheism and so what we strive for.

Each has positives and negatives to weigh up and so tolerance of theism must be just as complex meaning a single answer is not always the most rational choice.

So think about it, come to your conclusion and post your thoughts on:


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AU_Tyler_AU's picture
I don't have a problem if

I don't have a problem if your religious but once you start to get the thought that your better or you can cast judgment on others that have different views then you you have gone to far. Religion does help some people no question about it but religion gets taken to the point of persecuting others for not sharing in your beliefs which isn't right. If religious people didn't try to force their beliefs on others (children included) then I wouldn't have a problem with it but that just isn't the case. If their beliefs are right then everyone should feel the presence of the higher power without having to say anything about it. All in all religion cannot exist without radicals which cause more harm than good in the name of their god(s).

Tom Haynes's picture
Yes I understand the

Yes I understand the frustration of the negatives caused by religion but we have to consider that the negatives of extremism are of the minority.

Does the positives out way the negatives? or is there no one answer as there are many levels of theism to consider as was stated.

Your closing comment is hypocritical to your initial tolerance as you assume religious harmony in society cannot coexist with extremism and so all theism is inferred to be unworkable.

You and most atheists need to determine the tolerance of theism not on a polar continuum with the positives of individual level faith being at one end against the might of the negatives of extremism at the other.

The spectrum is huge and your decision on theism should not be on a single scale. Many scales need to be considered and a choice on whether theism is overall acceptable can be yes and no depending on the context.

Consider its wider social implication, organised religion implications and political influence.

When is theism to much with respect to these factors rather than a sweeping statement about it in its entirety?

CyberLN's picture
Any amount of theism is, IMO,

Any amount of theism is, IMO, unhealthy and detrimental. And, yes, I have indeed considered the many layers of theism and its influence.

SammyShazaam's picture
I'm going to agree with you,

I'm going to agree with you, however I'm not going to say that it's unhealthy and detrimental... at least not quite.

I prefer to refer to it as maladaptive. The theistic mindset does not evolve to accommodate new thinking at the rate that social situations grow more complicated, and will seek to maintain the status quo rather than build on the past. In slower times (things are gaining momentum, which in retrospect, we can see they naturally would) this mindset was not nearly so awkward as it shows itself to be now.

Tom Haynes's picture
Take personal theism. If a

Take personal theism. If a criminal no longer commits crime through theism is this not beneficial to him and society?
If a suicidal man chooses to live through faith is this not beneficial to him and his family?
If faith drives a person to be more altruistic is this not beneficial for society?

Of course there are many detrimental negatives of religion of which is one reason why I am a very passionate atheist, however I consider the impact on theism on all levels and are tolerant of this as long as the political, activist and organisational levels are restricted.

Your definitive answer has proven that you have not overcome your own confirmation bias and are plagued by cognitive dissonance which is in basic terms means you think an 'a' short of theists.

A medical analogy to help you understand can relate to the placebo effect. As a healthcare professional I encounter this all the time.

If I provide a treatment which reduces pain but of which has no evidence base for generating any physical change then by your thinking it should not be used as its not proven physically. But if it relieves the symptoms and this is proven then is it not a treatment regardless? This is because physicality is one dimension to human pain and multiple psychosocial drivers all contribute and thus many layers to benefit exist over physical/existence.

As such, at the minor levels, God is a placebo and thus it is not detrimental as although is not physically present, the concept is psychologically of benefit to some. You are therefore incorrect in your rushed decision to neglect all theism.

This lack of irony deficiency of rationalism and lack of understanding of theism from atheists such as your self needs further qualitative research and is a problem.

How can we make informed decisions about the thing we are opposed to if we do not understand completely the impact of what we are opposing or to what extent it is rational to oppose for the benefit of wider society?

Thanks for you interest however.

CyberLN's picture
Tom, you asked a question and

Tom, you asked a question and I answered.
You then went on to pronounce, and indeed say that I have proved, that I am plagued by cognitive dissonance. You also intimated that I am similar to theists. You say I have not overcome my own confirmation bias. You go on to provide an analogy to "help" me understand. Apparently because, since I don't agree with you, I *must* be wrong. You also say I have a lack of understanding of theism, that my decision was rushed, and that I need to do more research. And then you graciously thank me for my interest. My interest?
You are incorrect on every count.
To say all of those things based on my answer of a few words is simply inappropriate. Because of it, it appears that you did not, in fact, want others' answers, you wanted, instead, to push your own, calling everyone who disagrees wrong.

Tom Haynes's picture
My apologies, sorry you felt

My apologies, sorry you felt this way, perhaps if you gave more depth to the reasons behind your response I might have taken a less rigid stance to insinuating about you

CyberLN's picture
Your question didn't ask for

Your question didn't ask for depth. You made assumptions in your response. Consider taking a less rigid stance. Consider accepting responses as delivered instead of according to any previously developed opinion.
Those of us who are atheist have all too often experienced attacks for who we are and what we think. We don't need to do it to each other.
Let's allow each other the freedom to say and think what we do think. To do otherwise is way too akin to what the fundies and apologists do.
I appreciate the risk we all make in going out on the limb of declaring our atheism. It is tough. It means people who disagree will go on the attack.
If we do nothing other than support each other in that, we have made the world a better place.

SammyShazaam's picture
I'm still going to go ahead

I'm still going to go ahead and say that theism is not necessary in any of the situations you outlined, and that a better way should be found.

If a sociopath does not commit a crime because of a religious fear of doing so, fine. But we have a legal system in place which is supposed to cultivate it's own kind of fear to keep those types of people in line.

If a suicidal man decides not to kill himself because of faith, fine. However, a knowledge of his responsibility to his community and his ability to transform his situation should have done that. That's like praising the inadequate height of a building for "saving the life" of a jumper. It's just chance and poor judgement.

If a person gives because of faith, fine. However, not only is altruism a fundamentally pleasurable experience (I speak of it in chemical terms - from the neurotransmitter release, it looks about as pleasurable as receiving a smile from a friend), the high profile philanthropy campaigns and tax advantages are no less virtuous, and often more effective (therefore even more virtuous by your criteria).

Tom Haynes's picture
Consider the moto of Atheist

Consider the moto of Atheist Republic.

'We are not just atheists, we are atheists who care.'

Part of this humanist approach is to encompass benefit to the individuals in our society which means tolerance and even promotion of faith as long as it does not interfere at the higher levels if it is of benefit to individuals or communities at a lower level.

Otherwise removal of faith is detrimental despite it being illogical. Sometimes being right is not the right thing for society.

You need to think at this level if you want to be a better atheist and to encourage the development of the next generation of rationalised atheists

AU_Tyler_AU's picture
Religion and being altruistic

Religion and being altruistic cant go together from what I can see, because religious people do good because the bible says that they need to be good in order to go to heaven so by them doing "good" acts they are actually thinking about themselves and the reward to go to heaven so the act cannot be truly altruistic because they are expecting some type of reward in the end. I'm not saying they are ONLY thinking of themselves just to be clear.

Parker Mont Blanc's picture
I think it would depend on

I think it would depend on the religion or religious group. The Christians I get along with belong to a denomination that is not too critical of people with different beliefs.

Tom Haynes's picture
Thanks for you comments,

Thanks for you comments,

Yes AU_Tyler_AU, an error on my part, I agree that stating religious as altruistic is probably a misconception yet its difficult to determine despite the selfish motive whether the act of kindness is of benefit to society on smaller scale in communities in which theism plays a role in day to day life?.

On the one hand If everyone is helping others for the same reason and so all religious in the community I imagine such as in some parts of Utah, then the system will work because each has a fundamental belief and so nobody will have conflict with the motives. Thus when answering my original question, in the context of 'religiously saturated community theism' it is not a bad thing. In fact the belief of God may be fundamental to the function of the community and so our motive to remove god as atheists might be debilitating rather than helpful in the PRESENT generation. Thus as atheists we should not interfere with this community and should attempt to impart an influence on the NEXT generation before God is adopted as a system to provide motive in life.

what becomes an issue in present gernations is community theism when the population comprises of a mixture of faiths, agnostics and atheists. Thus when help is religiously motivated by a sub-group this generates conflict and so 'religiously diverse community theism' is sometimes not good on the most part. In this instance as atheists we should attempt to change this within these communities with the present generation when the diversity already shows fractures in religious foundation

Do you agree?

Tom Haynes's picture
Parker Mont Blanc,

Parker Mont Blanc,

On a tangent you have made a decision on the scale of organised vs personal theism as opposed to the discussion points above which relate to individual, community and social theism.

As an atheist do you think reserved organised theism, such as this denomination is a bad thing? or do you find it acceptable and why?

AU_Tyler_AU's picture
Religion definitely has good

Religion definitely has good people but then their are people like Jameswatts who thinks they can judge others based off their religious view without giving them a chance or anything and sadly that's the majority of Christians that speak out. Few good ones actually voice their opinions which makes Christianity seem bad because only the crazy ones make themselves known. If the good Christian people were to rise up and speak out against these almost radical Christians then we would have more peace and understanding of one another.

Tom Haynes's picture
Exactly what the point of

Exactly what the point of this discussion is about :)

If we use rational thinking to make decisions on theism, then we can consider the different levels of it rather than giving a single view to the whole topic.

You have demonstrated this very well and I think its a good point to raise

As atheists we should not promote religion but neither should we target to deny religion from those who have faith and are completely passive to wider society and impart no religious influences but may use this as a foundation to help others. In fact trying to remove faith in this instance is antagonistic and debilitating.

Yet at the same time we need to target the sub-groups which are antagonistic to society and influence an ideal secular society outside of there own personal belief such as Jameswatts.

The question is, how can we influence people to become more personal in belief and to not influence others. I feel this and all the negatives of theism that stem from it start to come from organised theism.

I feel that instead of targeting individuals or community/social theism that organised theism and the levels above it should be targeted for if faith is personal or social it doesn't effect the advances of a secular society but preserves there own well-being derived from the belief they have.

But how can we help to do this, what's the best way to make religion less organised and more personal

AU_Tyler_AU's picture
Its not so much organized

Its not so much organized religion that is the problem. People should be able to meet up with others that share their belief and not only praise who they want but mix in debate like what atheists do. We question and debate each other which allows us to eventually reach consensus and agree on all outcomes we come to. Religions cant be whole because the holy scriptures are believed by some to be taken as a metaphor while others take it as literal and they aren't allowed to question the word of god so they cant debate everything they don't see eye to eye on which results in separation between them such as denominations.

Basically religion cannot be 100% agreed upon in all aspects by everyone that believes in it because of the holy book(s). In my opinion its the holy book(s) that is the problem with religion not so much the actual religion. Haha I'm not sure if that makes any sense.

Tom Haynes's picture
Yes people meeting up with

Yes people meeting up with others to worship is a form of social theism which I am not opposed to as long as no influence is made on wider society outside of there group. Denominations I see as dysfunctional bands of organised religion and as such are more disorganised and so pose less of a threat as they lean more towards this social religion aspect. Organised religion that is not a denomination but on mass is a problem however as its the form which is usually the most literal to the books which like you say is the problem.

So I still feel mass organised religion is the level which needs intervention.

Hopefully organised religion may dilute itself down without us even having to try. If with continued cultural, scientific and social change denominations continue to appear through disagreements about the traditional values of the books then like applying entropy to the universe organised religion becomes more dysfunctional and should eventually just become socially based., then individual and finally would stop.

On the other hand, Christianity for example has been going for thousands of years and although it may be declining, for this to happen it will take probably another thousand after that haha

AU_Tyler_AU's picture
Its up to us as logical

Its up to us as logical freethinkers to, in my opinion, get the passive majority to speak up because I don't see religion going away because of what people outside their belief say such as Atheists. It might be something than can only get fixed internally.

Tom Haynes's picture
I agree but maybe its out job

I agree but maybe its out job on the external to influence the internal changes :)

AU_Tyler_AU's picture
My point exactly!

My point exactly!

@CyberLN Part of being Atheist is questioning one another, yes you are free to have your own opinion but it is healthy to challenge ones opinions by asking questions from multiple view points in order to get a better perspective on the overall subject. I can see how you would get offended by what Tom said but he wasn't trying to be rude about it he was just sharing his opinion on why he thought your opinion was incorrect. Instead of turning the debate into an argument give a more in depth opinion because it is appreciated, I personally would like to hear it.

We cant turn criticism into an argument and still call ourselves skeptical freethinkers because questioning one another is what makes us all Atheists.

CyberLN's picture
Hey Tyler, I absolutely agree

Hey Tyler, I absolutely agree that questioning one another is healthy. What I heard was not that. What I heard Tom say is that I am wrong. He flat said I was incorrect. I never said he was rude. He never asked me why I hold my opinion.
You however, have asked why I hold that opinion. So I will answer you.
I think that even religious moderates invite the opportunity for the extremists. That respect for for any faith invites it. That scares the heck out of me! Faith of any kind requires no questions, no justification, no delimiters.
There are many, many other ways to heal, to support, to extend the message that each of us is valuable and wonderful. Each of these ways is possible without god(s)...without a fairy tale.
IMO, all these ways of determining our value and place in this life has far more efficacy than theism.
I know that the meaning of life is living. It is not any imagined life after this one I have. I adore being alive! With all the joys and struggles it brings. I adore watching my children do the same! I adore being able to see my grandchildren grow and thrive. They do so without god(s).
Theism brings a false promise to this life. It takes away the beauty of life itself because it replaces it with an afterlife that just doesn't exist. It robs people from being able to fully embrace the *now* ....
Right now I am facing the possibility that my husband will soon die. (This is SO tough for me). But as much as I do not want that to much as I want to spend many, many more years with him, I absolutely celebrate the time I have had with him. I am forever changed, for the better, in knowing him.
This is why I do not think theism is a positive thing. It takes away, by making folks think that there will be more, the beauty and wonder of what is and has been.

AU_Tyler_AU's picture
I'm very sorry to hear that

I'm very sorry to hear that about your husband. If you don't mind me asking what is he dying from?

Your right but I think that if the religious moderates stand up and vocalize themselves to the extremists then they could potentially gain control over their religion and basically get rid of the extremists. I think we should try to push for this to happen because the worst outcome is it doesn't work and the best (in my opinion) is that the religion as a whole gets separated eventually leading to solely personal belief without trying to "spread" the word of their god(s). Yes I think that as a whole the world would be better without religion at all but some people do prefer a beautiful lie over a harsh truth and as humans we don't have the right to make them change, but we can influence change through logic, facts, proof, and so on.

I think its great that you have allowed your children and grandchildren to grow without religion.

Spewer's picture
Political theism is

Political theism is definitely where I draw the line. Personal theism is no threat, but when people feel the need to display their theism in the public square, it is not only a sign of insecurity, it also effectively promotes divisiveness.

kezz@ozviews's picture
I will support a theist's

I will support a theist's right to believe in whatever supernatural creature they like. .. but..when they start with the anti science. ...murder in the name of their sky daddy... wants me to drop to my knees and let the Holy Spirit take me over. .only spirit takes me over is Scotch on the rocks. ..
Or they come to an atheist site to vomit their world views. ..but religion is just childish in the end ...

Anurraagg Kumar's picture
Theism is belief in existence

Theism is belief in existence of god(s). This belief has never had any evidence to back it and will likely never have. Most of us accept that the best, most accurate and dependable tool for understanding reality is science and science only. Science demands evidence. Theism then is unscientific and irrational and while loving your personal god is acceptable it is not very different from madness which is a disconnect from reality. Its funny when they tell me I shouldn't eat anything before a bath and a prayer and music corrupts the mind but burying kids alive is the result of that same irrational mind with almost nothing added to it. Any theism eventually leads to... very, very bad things.

Anurraagg Kumar's picture
"however by doing so you have

"however by doing so you have led yourself in to the trap of many of our theist adversaries by allowing a cognitive bias, a confirmation bias to be exact"
Its possible some would jump to the conclusion without a second thought and thus would be guilty of confirmation bias but would they be wrong? I don't recall but isn't there a bias in assuming that a certain extreme/unpleasant conclusion etc. has to be the result of a bias? Also, shouldn't our goal be to be less and less wrong as much as possible? Isn't theism a little wrong all the time? The atheist buddhist monks are more right than the ones that worship buddha. Buddha himself would agree. Where am I wrong?

Ellie Harris's picture
Theism is an untruth that

Theism is an untruth that doesn't work because of that reason. It may make may a person feel good or function better for a time in certain situations but this affect could be achieved with bottles of whiskey. In terms of actually being a benefit to the human race seeing the universe as it is and not as we wish it to be is of much more use to us. (notice that I'm addressing the question and ignoring the presuppositions that you laid out after your question)

Travis Paskiewicz's picture
I'd think that, as evidence

I'd think that, as evidence for naturalistic explanations of the universe increase, theism really is a personal choice. Theism and following theistic rules on top of societies' laws is not really a bad thing. It's kind of like comparing morays (excepted laws like not killing and asualting others) and folkway (like as a culture we shake hands upon introduction, but it's not required). However, if any religion tries to force it's folkways through legislative means into morays, such as sheriah laws, I definetely draw the line there. Then it is not a personal freedom to be followed, but law that everyone follows. And it is my belief that as we become more interactive as a world, an emphasis should be placed on freedom and minimalist laws (like not killing, stealing, or assualt) with people free to follow a stricter but totally personal disciplines of their own accord.

Erich Zann III's picture
Well, on one hand, if you

Well, on one hand, if you look at just about half the major events in history, any theism is a bad thing.

However, just as religion has split societies, so too has it brought people together since the beginning of time. You don't have to believe in a god to understand the sociological significance of religion. Humans, since the beginning of time, have always wanted to believe in something higher than themselves. The idea that we are not ultimately responsible for our fate is comforting.

However, the desire to spread one's own belief system has led to some of the worst things in history: The Inquisition, the Crusades, the Salem witch trials... Vlad Tepes' attempts to wipe out the Muslims.

It's ironic, is it not, that historically, religious people, who preach peace and acceptance, have been more violent and intolerant than atheists?


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