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Years ago I was approached by someone concerned to know if I had been "saved". I let her know that I was brought up Catholic, and attended Catholic school through 8th grade. Having attended Catholic mass at least 2 times per week for 12 years, probably averaged closer to 3x with holy days, I let her know that I was as “saved” as I was ever going to be.

Of course I wasn’t “saved” for her purposes and she wanted me to listen to her faith. I remember her saying she’d pray for me as I quickly walked away. This exchange maybe lasted a minute but decades later still seems fresh to me. Perhaps she prayed and I was indeed “saved”. Or not. But the need to convert others is a powerful part of being "saved".


So it is a very bad mistake to take the world of humans and divvy them up into two piles—those with religion and those without it. I'm sorry to tell you that they've all got religion, be it secular or the ordinary type in line with our common preconceptions (with Gods, holy books, etc.)

This is something I am slowly coming to terms with.

Ken Barrows

Or, as Jimbo Jones said on the Simpsons, "I don't believe in nothing, I am going to law school!" But we all do believe vehemently in something; if we didn't there would not be many arguments.

6,7,8,5,9,10,11: I miss George Carlin.


I've gone all old-school and gone back to nature religion. It's not hip but it fits me. I had a realization that we're just as transient as the fish I see in the ocean, and ultimately our lives are just as inconsequential (or consequential, from our perspective - to the fish, its existence matters a lot). Our "worth" is ultimately not more or less in the grand scheme of things, the scheme of things in which human existence is just one brief episode.

It's almost funny to see militant atheists fighting against religious people over evolution. Ultimately, an understanding of biology destroys both the religious dogma and the "religion of progress" dogma (that also tends to see humans as the fulfillment of history). In reality, we're just another species, a blip in time. Evolution is not a process with us as the endpoint.

Of course (going on yesterday's theme), my realization is partly a rationalization of someone that's on the bottom of the status ladder... If I was rich, I might believe in progress too.


This is something I've come to believe, that faith is an inescapable element of the human condition. Each individual is so ludicrously limited in knowledge and perception, and in deeper ways than even many astute thinkers are loathe to consider, as you wrote on your post yesterday.

Faith, in essence, is a defense mechanism. It allows the mind to rest from constant questioning, and it brings peace to uneasiness and worry. All people have some form of it, and it takes many forms. There is extreme faith (the faith with little to no proof) and minor faith (faith in something with a high probability of being true). There is even faith in something that is essentially true, although the individual mind cannot grasp its correctness in full. It's still faith.

Or, one could decide there is nothing true and say, "There, see, I have no faith", because little to nothing can be grasped in full. But this is also faith, and I would say it edges towards extreme faith - as we can understand certain elements that lend high and low probabilities. Faith in nothing goes against those probabilities.

Certain types of faith become established and very important elements in societies and cultures. Thought patterns and individuals that diverge from these faith types become very real threats, because they risk upsetting the order based on faith.

Evangelism, likewise, isn't limited to Christians. One can see it everywhere in many forms if one starts to look. It's hard to argue that the most implacable faith today in the West is the faith in Progress. It has many preachers of many different stripes, and threatening the faith in Progress is a sure way to become an outcast.


error correction my comment: "today in the West isn't the faith in Progress"



Curious to see if you've read this critique of Gray's work: http://rationalist.org.uk/1423/through-the-looking-glass


Hmm ... religion [hums and hahs about whether to say anything, oh well, here goes]

My question to those who firmly believe in an omnipotent god is: "Don't you think it's time to tell your god that he/she/it is fired?"

My question to those who worship progress and deify Homo sapiens is: "Don't you think it's time to fire ourselves?"

There is no place for faith in gods or humans when all the evidence points to a monumental cock-up from time immemorial. JFC - even survival of the fittest is a cruel joke.

Bar painting a picture, writing some music, tending a garden or helping someone in need, nothing much matters at the end of any day. Denying this is the door to the fictional promised land.

[previews comment ... hovers over the delete key... fuck it, post]

Dave Cohen


I looked that over. Gray does have his excesses. For example, Meliorism (trying to incrementally improve things) is not the same as striving for utopian perfection, as the writer points out.

That said, rationalist.org is a humanist publication.

What would we expect them to say in response to criticism of the humanist project?

-- Dave

Ray Blaak

While equating the irrational faith in an optimistic outcome as a religion sounds compelling, I think that calling Humanism a religion is overstating it.

That humans are fundamentally irrational seems clear. Believing in optimistic outcomes when reality indicates otherwise clearly is a character flaw.

But have you actually hung out with religious people? Believing in a deity that demands subservience, that ditactes how we are to carry out even our most basic interpersonal relationships is a whole other ballgame.

It's a long way down.

Irrational thinking does not equate to religion as such. My readings of Dawkins and the like make me think they are focusing on dismantling the evils of religion, as opposed to espousing the gloriousness of science as a success strategy. Although I do admit Dawkins could very well have other writings where he is doing that. My point is that it all depends on the particular atheist as to their level of optimistic irrationality.

You can be humanistic and still be realistic. E.g. you can know we are pretty much fucked, but you still try, can still have the appropriate goals, what else can you do but plug away, spread the word on blogs, argue with people, invest appropriately, build things, help out anyway you can?

Mike Roberts

I'm trying to figure out if I have any beliefs now. I was a Christian (inevitable as my parents were Christians, one devoutly so) but lost that belief decades ago. I'm technically agnostic though think of myself as atheist. I don't believe humans hold some special position in nature. I don't believe in progress or human ingenuity. Ditto technology. I don't believe in some mysterious life force that pervades all of nature though I do think the various pieces that make up whatever ecosystem we live in work together (unconsciously, of course) to ensure a stable ecosystem, which benefits all members (at least they used to).

The only beliefs I can think of are the basic ones - the sun will rise tomorrow, each step falls on solid ground, and so on.

I wonder what sparked this religious trait in humans. I guess it evolved slowly as humans started to try to make sense of the world around them. I also wonder if humans could ever get back to the state prior to that.


I was at a farming meeting where surprisingly the topic of Cadmium buildup in soil as a result of phosphate fertiliser was mentioned. The results of studies is clear, the amount of Cadmium in the soil rises proportionatly to the amount of phosphate fertiliser added. Which begs the question how long at current rates do we have before we hit the limit. The answer was a long time which I calculated to be less then 20 years. The obvious conclusion is to stop applying phosphate fertiliser, but since this lowers production, it was not even mentioned.
Thanks to your posts I was able to identify the underlying causes of human nature, and the reasons phosphate fertilisers will continue to be applied until it becomes uneconomic to do so. The facts that it causes cancer, other illness and is virtually impossible to remove is just an unwanted outcome of increasing production. Nobody at the meeting was seriously considering stopping the application of phosphate fertiliser, which summed it all up for me. We will continue to fuck up our habitat until we are no longer able to do so. Around here we call that shitting in your own nest. Same could be said of pretty much most of your posts, Homo economicus shits in his own nest.


Faith, in whatever guise, is a consequence of consciousness. It is the balm to soothe the existential angst caused by the realisation that we will die: The required optimism that allows us to function day to day.

In that respect it is ubiquitous in humans and is going nowhere.

Science or no science. Progress or no progress. As you point out, it's all the same.

Adam Noel

The relationship between consciousness and the unconscious is interesting. I agree with Clyde that faith (or rather, belief systems) is a consequence of consciousness. All belief systems are religious as they require introduction of teleological components into nature. We cannot live with implying purpose.

Imagine if a man cheated on his wife and his answer was just that he did. To most people this man would be considered insane... there has to be a reason why he did it and this reason must be knowable. Some framework must exist to interpret why things happen otherwise we are stuck with shit happens and shit happens in unpalatable to us.

As a result, as Dave describes, belief systems will inevitably emerge and will inevitably crystallize as otherwise humans find themselves filled with existential angst. In some regard a person who does not have a belief system is already dead. The relationship between beliefs and identity is so similar that a person who has no belief system must try to be a person without being a person.

Mike Roberts

Adam Noel,

Thanks. That explains it. I must already be dead.

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