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Swimmer963 comments on Welcome to Less Wrong! (2010-2011) - Less Wrong

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Comment author: Swimmer963 12 January 2012 04:27:24PM *  4 points [-]

Welcome, Stabilizer!

So I tried. I tried to convince myself that religion has a very important social function and saves people from anomie and depression. I tried to convince myself that one could be religious and yet not believe in god. I tried to go through all the motions of my religion. Result? Massive burnout. My brain was going to explode in a mass of self-contradiction.

Interesting that you say this...I haven't had the same experience at all. I was raised basically agnostic/atheist, by parents who weren't so much disapproving of religion as indifferent. I started going to church basically because I made friends with a girl who I had incredibly fun times hanging out with and who was also a passionate born-again Christian. I knew that most of the concepts expressed in her evangelical Christian sect were fallacious, but I met a lot of people whose belief had allowed them to overcome difficult situations and live much happier lives. Even if true belief wasn't an option for me, I could see the positive effect that my friend's church had, in general, in the community it served. And I was a happier, more positive, and more generous person while I attended the group. There was a price to pay: either I would profess my belief to the others and feel like I was lying to a part of myself, or I wouldn't, and feel like ever-so-slightly an outsider. But maybe because of my particular brain architecture, the pain of cognitive dissonance was far outweighed by the pleasure of having a ready-made community of kind, generous (if not scientific-minded) people eager to show me how welcoming and generous they could be. I have yet to find something that is as good for my mental health and emotional stability as attending church.

That being said, a year of not attending church and reading LessWrong regularly has honed my thinking to the point that I don't think I could sit back and enjoy those church services anymore. So that avenue is closed to me now, too.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 12 January 2012 05:28:04PM 3 points [-]

For what it's worth, it depends a lot on the church service: I know quite a few very sharp thinkers whose church membership is an important and valuable part of their lives in the way you describe. But they are uniformly members of churches that don't demand that members profess beliefs.

One gentleman in particular gave a lay sermon to his church on Darwin's birthday one year about how much more worthy of admiration a God who arranges the fundamental rules of the universe in such a way that intelligent life can emerge naturally out of their interaction, than is a God who instead must clumsily go in and manually construct intelligent life, and consequently how much more truly worshipful a view of life is the evolutionary biologist's than the creationist's, which was received reasonably positively.

So you might find that you can get what you want by just adding constraints to the kind of church service you're looking for.

Comment author: Swimmer963 15 January 2012 02:37:59PM 4 points [-]

I know quite a few very sharp thinkers whose church membership is an important and valuable part of their lives in the way you describe. But they are uniformly members of churches that don't demand that members profess beliefs.

Sounds like the Unitarian church that my parents took us to for a few years...I'm not sure why they took us, but I think it might have had more to do with "not depriving the children of a still-pretty-typical childhood experience like going to Sunday school" than with a wish to have church an important part of their lives.

I would probably enjoy the Unitarian community if I joined for long enough to really get to know them... I'm sure the adults were all very kind, welcoming people. Still, the two churches that I've attended the most are High Anglican and Pentecostal. The Anglican cathedral is where I sang in the choir for more than five years, and the music is what really drew me; although the Anglican church is very involved in community projects and volunteering, almost the whole congregation is above the age of fifty, and the young people who do attend are often cautious, conservative, and not especially curious about the world, which reduces the amount of fun I can have with them.

Surprisingly enough, in the Pentecostal church where the actual beliefs professed are much more extreme, most of the congregation are young and passionate about life and even intellectually curious. They are fun to hang out with...in fact, I frequently had more fun spending a Friday night at a Pentecostal event than at a party. They took their beliefs seriously and really lived according to how they saw the Bible, even though I have no doubt their actions would have been considered weird in a lot of contexts and by many of their friends. I think a lot of the apparent mental health benefit of this church came from the community's decision to stop caring about social stigmas and just live. This is, I think, what I most respected about them...but for a lot of the same reasons, I now find their ideas and beliefs a lot more jarring than those of the Anglican church.

I have no doubt that there are churches on all sides of the continuum: "traditional" communities, like the Anglican church, which are socially liberal and also composed of fun young people...and also fundamentalist evangelical churches which have ossified into organizations with strict rules and a lot more old people than young people. Maybe somewhere out there is a church that has all the aspects I like (singing, rituals, fun young people who do outrageous things together and bond over it) and is also bearable non-evangelical, non-fundamentalist, and socially liberal, but I haven't found it yet.

Comment author: Stabilizer 13 January 2012 02:51:55AM 0 points [-]

But maybe because of my particular brain architecture, the pain of cognitive dissonance was far outweighed by the pleasure of having a ready-made community.

I used to have that kind of brain architecture for quite some time, and I kind of miss it. But as I started studying more and more physics, it just became harder and harder. So, I guess the trade-off got really skewed at some point of time.

I have to mention that my religiosity kind of went through cycles. There was a time when I was an internally-militant (not very outspoken) atheist, followed by a period of considerable appreciation for religion, and again followed by a (currently) pretty comfortable atheism. If I think back to my first episode of atheism (religion was my default state as I was born in a pretty religious family), I guess I was pretty uncomfortable with it, in the sense that I felt that a lot more needed to be explained. In the intervening episode of religiosity, I appreciated the exact things that you mention about religion, but I just didn't like all the baggage, i.e. the time and money spent in rituals. My religion was Hinduism, which is highly ritualistic, but enjoys some nice philosophies. I still like some of the philosophy but I dislike most of the ritual.

Comment author: Swimmer963 15 January 2012 02:42:25PM 0 points [-]

I appreciated the exact things that you mention about religion, but I just didn't like all the baggage, i.e. the time and money spent in rituals.

Funny. That's probably a brain architecture thing, too, but I really enjoy a lot of the High Anglican rituals at the church where I used to sing in choir. The traditional carols that all of us know by heart, every single word... The ministers and the bishop in their beautiful robes leading the choir in a procession around the cathedral while we sing in insane harmony... Stuff like the ritual of turning out all the lights and everyone leaving in the dark on Maundy Thursday (day before Easter Friday) to symbolize Jesus' death. It's all very theatrical, and very moving, and usually makes me cry.

I have a feeling that you might be talking about a different kind of ritual, though, if you're frustrated by the amount of time and money spent on them.

Comment author: [deleted] 16 January 2012 07:22:46PM 2 points [-]

Building and running a church, paying for a bishops education and the time he works there, training children to sing, and all of the time people spend there is not a small investment. Multiply that by all the churches in the world, and add the cost of various missions and church plants to spread religion, or the charities which do their work sub-optimally because they take religion more seriously then saving lives and I imagine that the figure would become inappropriately ludicrous. Not that just eliminating religion would make us all much more efficient, humans are very gifted at wasting time and money.

Comment author: Swimmer963 16 January 2012 09:19:12PM *  2 points [-]

I've heard that argument before, and it does have a lot of weight. In this case, though, are we talking about religion or about costly ritual? Both are cultural phenomena, and they're frequently found together, but there are religions that aren't into ritual at all, like Quakers, who are best known for their simple, silent style of prayer and worship, and don't go around building fancy cathedrals). And there are costly "rituals" which are not related to religion at all: football, for example, or theatre.

Agreed that churches which run charities may run their sub-optimally from an atheist's point of view, since a lot of the time one of the unstated aims of their charity is to convert people. (This used to make me furious when I attended the Pentecostal church mentioned in one of the parent comments.) But we were talking about ritual, and I was specifically talking about deeply moving, meaningful rituals. It just so happens that the ones that have meaning to me are religious in nature. I know a lot of people find arts and theatre meaningful, and likely there are people who find watching sports meaningful, in a similar way. There's some kind of human instinct to gravitate towards activities that are communal, repetitive, and have a sense of tradition that imbues them with meaning. There's also a human instinct to think superstitiously, which I don't share much, and which makes it hard for me to really enjoy those meaningful moments in church.

Nitpick: yes, paying for a bishop's work and teaching children to sing is something that happens "under religion's umbrella." That doesn't make it bad! I learned to sing better through the church choir (for which I was paid a monthly stipend for the community service of singing during Sunday worship!) than I would have in the $400-per-month children's choir, which I probably wouldn't have been allowed into...most people thought I was tone deaf until I proved them wrong. Bishops who organize community events and charities are doing something good for the community, whether or not it's sub-optimal, and face it...are any human activities run optimally? Yes, it's possible to have a better community-runner than a church, but the amount of money that goes into churches right now does produce something of value!

Comment author: Swimmer963 16 January 2012 09:18:22PM 0 points [-]

I've heard that argument before, and it does have a lot of weight. In this case, though, are we talking about religion or about costly ritual? Both are cultural phenomena, and they're frequently found together, but there are religions that aren't into ritual at all (like <Quakers>(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quakers), who are best known for their simple, silent style of prayer and worship, and don't go around building fancy cathedrals). And there are costly "rituals" which are not related to religion at all: football, for example, or theatre.

Agreed that churches which run charities may run their sub-optimally from an atheist's point of view, since a lot of the time one of the unstated aims of their charity is to convert people. (This used to make me furious when I attended the Pentecostal church mentioned in one of the parent comments.) But we were talking about ritual, and I was specifically talking about deeply moving, meaningful rituals. It just so happens that the ones that have meaning to me are religious in nature. I know a lot of people find arts and theatre meaningful, and likely there are people who find watching sports meaningful, in a similar way. There's some kind of human instinct to gravitate towards activities that are communal, repetitive, and have a sense of tradition that imbues them with meaning. There's also a human instinct to think superstitiously, which I don't share much, and which makes it hard for me to really enjoy those meaningful moments in church.

Nitpick: yes, paying for a bishop's work and teaching children to sing is something that happens "under religion's umbrella." That doesn't make it bad! I learned to sing better through the church choir (for which I was paid a monthly stipend for the community service of singing during Sunday worship!) than I would have in the $400-per-month children's choir, which I probably wouldn't have been allowed into...most people thought I was tone deaf until I proved them wrong. Bishops who organize community events and charities are doing something good for the community, whether or not it's sub-optimal, and face it...are any human activities run optimally? Yes, it's possible to have a better community-runner than a church, but the amount of money that goes into churches right now does produce something of value!