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If most people were atheist and knew it

 
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Boss Cat
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PostPosted: Tue May 07, 2013 7:06 pm    Post subject: If most people were atheist and knew it  Reply with quote

There iss a campaign to dissuade people from automatically ticking the CofE box on forms, and unless I've misunderstood this is something that irritates Shaker too.  Hhe wishes people wouldn't do it.

Actually as a practising member of the Church of England I get a bit fed up with it too, it actually means something when I tick that box.   I feel like putting 'proper CofE I go to church and everything' in brackets next to my tick

But - as I understand it - the campaign wants religious belief not to be falsely over-represented.  And perhaps campaigners want to be part of a growing, even unstoppable, movement.  

To be honest, whatever my own feelings about looking vapid and unthinking I  think people can identify how they want to.  Many of us are sometimes believers, sometimes not, some bits of us might be more than others.  I tick CofE in because that's how I want to be identified even  when I think it's all a load of rubbish.

Now I'm sure that Shaker won't mind me doing this, as I understand him it's the unthinking knee jerk tickers who seem to annoy him.  And I think  people are increasingly comfortable with ticking 'no religion'.  Atheist still seems a bit strong for some reason.  Having worked with offenders those who tick any religion at all are in a tiny, tiny minority, and normally they shake their heads and say 'no religion' and I tick that box.  Once when a guy vehemently stated 'I don't believe in any of that crap, it's all shit' I ticked atheist and someone senior to me changed that to 'no religion' for some reason.

But my question is this, and it's to atheists: what do you think would happen to atheism if it did become the unthinking tick box answer, instead of CofE?

I think it would make atheism less attractive for some.  It would become less associated with rebellion and free thought, and could suggest unthinking laziness sometimes.

Let me explain; much is made seemed to be more on the old BBC boards to be fair) about how atheists are more rational, more scientifically literate, even more intelligent than non believers.  Studies in the US among college students are often cited and (obviously if you think about it) the more intelligent the less religious.

And yet - now I think atheism is becoming the default option here and now.  Some research a couple of years ago showed that in Britain atheism was gaining numbers but belief was gaining quality.  Those converting to a religious faith tended to be better educated and of a higher social class than those converting to atheism.

If we automatically ticked atheist would religious discourse be for the more interesting and original thinkers?  

NB, I'm not even mentioning whether religion would die out because people would still have religious experiences, and they would still change people.
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cyberman
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PostPosted: Wed May 08, 2013 11:27 am    Post subject: Re: If most people were atheist and knew it Reply with quote

Boss Cat wrote:
 Having worked with offenders those who tick any religion at all are in a tiny, tiny minority, and normally they shake their heads and say 'no religion' and I tick that box.


That's interesting. Have studies been done about the proportion of offenders who have no religion?

And if citing a religion became the 'rebellious' option, as you posit, I wonder whether that would change?
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Boss Cat
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PostPosted: Wed May 08, 2013 11:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yes, there are Home Office figures but I remember they didn't bear out my own observations!  For me it was unusual to have someone tick a religion box, a few (generally older) C of E, the odd Catholic, one or two Buddhists, a few Muslims and a Jehovah's Witness once I remember.

The last figures I looked at are a few years old now, but they showed slightly more offenders tick no religion than among the general population:  that was at the time about 66% with religion 33% without (very roughly).  Among offenders there was a higher proportion of no religions although these again were in a minority.

In my own observation there is a difference between having been in prison or being in prison and not.  Prisoners seemed more likely to say they are more religious, partly because it gets you benefits or brownie points but also - and I have seen this -  it is often genuine.  Christian (and other) groups work in prison and this might be the first real contact some people have. The Sycamore Course I think was certainly originally Christian and possibly still is.  Also, when in prison you might be more reflective.

There was a difference between offences and denomination.  As an Anglican mine was associated with sex offences (only the best!) while - you're Roman Catholic, aren't you? - yours was more associated with theft and burglary with Muslims and Jews scoring high on fraud.

But this is on memory, the MoJ website would have new research.  And I don't think I would read too much into the correlation between offending and the no religion box.  Often I came across people who had had rotten lives and there wasn't much space for them to spend much time on spiritual matterl.
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cyberman
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PostPosted: Wed May 08, 2013 12:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Boss Cat wrote:

There was a difference between offences and denomination.  As an Anglican mine was associated with sex offences (only the best!) while - you're Roman Catholic, aren't you? - yours was more associated with theft and burglary with Muslims and Jews scoring high on fraud.


The fact that RC (yes I am RC :) ) is not the one primarily associated with sex offenders will come as a surprise to many I'm sure.

If we are committing thefts, I hope at least they are the cool Hollywood kind of thefts...? You know, master criminals and ingenius plans? No? Damn.
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Shaker
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PostPosted: Wed May 08, 2013 12:46 pm    Post subject: Re: If most people were atheist and knew it Reply with quote

Boss Cat wrote:
There iss a campaign to dissuade people from automatically ticking the CofE box on forms, and unless I've misunderstood this is something that irritates Shaker too.  Hhe wishes people wouldn't do it.

Actually as a practising member of the Church of England I get a bit fed up with it too, it actually means something when I tick that box.   I feel like putting 'proper CofE I go to church and everything' in brackets next to my tick

But - as I understand it - the campaign wants religious belief not to be falsely over-represented.  And perhaps campaigners want to be part of a growing, even unstoppable, movement.  

To be honest, whatever my own feelings about looking vapid and unthinking I  think people can identify how they want to.  Many of us are sometimes believers, sometimes not, some bits of us might be more than others.  I tick CofE in because that's how I want to be identified even  when I think it's all a load of rubbish.

Now I'm sure that Shaker won't mind me doing this, as I understand him it's the unthinking knee jerk tickers who seem to annoy him.  And I think  people are increasingly comfortable with ticking 'no religion'.  Atheist still seems a bit strong for some reason.


Exactly so.

I've almost certainly mentioned this somewhere before but I'll quickly run through it again because it pertains to the issue. Two brief remarks about the last two censuses, in 2001 and 2011. In the earlier one, I was away from home overnight on the day that the census was supposed to be filled - technically a census is supposed to list everybody within a given dwelling on one specific night, the exception being that if you usually live there and just happen to be away for a short period, if you're on holiday for example and the form can be filled in by another member of the household, then you can be counted. As it so happened I was away for a couple of days at the time so the census form, which would normally have been filled in by me, was actually completed by my mum who, in the box for my religion, put down 'C of E' (or Christian, or however it was phrased). This was done merely out of habit and out of the belief that because I was christened (also for absolutely no good reason) that made me 'C of E'. So in the 2001 census at least one individual was wrongly enshrined in the statistics as belonging to a religion.

Fast forward ten years, to the next census in 2011. While I listed myself (correctly this time) as having no religion, my elderly (mid-80s) aunt put herself down as C of E/Christian. Intrigued (and not a little nettled) by this, I asked her why since I knew and know for a fact that she hasn't graced the inside of a place of worship since a wedding thirty-some years ago and has no idea of what Christian belief at its simplest is all about. She looked absolutely blank, as though I'd asked her why she had written down her name. I asked her a few very, very simple questions about the absolute nub of the Christian worldview, the sort of real Janet-and-John bullet points that you might have found in a Ladybird book (of blessed memory from my childhood in the 70s). Again, mute incomprehension. No idea at all. I left it at that.

It's clear that for a great many people, especially of the older generation, regarding yourself as having or belonging to a religion and feeling free to use a religious label to apply to yourself for cultural reasons, even when no knowledge or belief enters the picture, is still very much the done thing. There's a well-known phrase, 'believing without belonging,' which refers to that great swathe of the population who might regard themselves as having religious or vaguely spiritual beliefs (which they might not care to define or examine particularly closely) but who don't belong to any formal religious denomination; but here, in cultural Christianity as it were, we see the exact opposite - belonging (i.e. taking oneself to be a member of a denomination like the C of E) without believing.

It's absolutely the case that everybody is free to label themselves with whatever they please, of course. Nobody's trying to stop anybody doing that ... only there must come a point when labelling yourself simply becomes a total joke. I think it's pretty well known that I dislike and take absolutely no interest in sport at all. Don't watch it, not bothered, not interested, moan about the amount of it on TV, the usual sort of thing. Now, I'm perfectly free to regard myself, to call myself and to say that I'm a dedicated Newcastle United fan (for example), but given that I don't like football and don't know the first thing about it, what would the exercise of that freedom actually represent? What would it mean, really, for me to pretend to be a NUFC supporter when I have zero knowledge and have absolutely no interest in anything that pertains to it? It's like Stan in Monty Python's Life of Brian, fighting for his right to have babies. Being male he can't; it's just the right to that he wants.

As Boss Cat points out, perhaps it's just me but when somebody covers themselves with a religious label I expect it to mean something - I don't expect it to be pressed into service out of lazy habit. I still have this quaintly old-fashioned notion that when somebody regards themselves as a Christian (or whatever: other religious affiliations are available), they know about at least the fundamentals of Christian belief and believe in its truth. (It's not just about knowledge, of course: you can know plenty about a religion without acually believing any of it to be true). If that's not the case, and a label can be applied to anyone irrespective of their level of knowledge and belief, then the label becomes void of any substantive meaning. It's Humpty-Dumptyism of the worst kind, where a word can be slapped all over the place and its meaning rendered vacuous, essentially. As so rightly pointed out, religious faith can apparently be an insubstantial and temperamental thing. I'm told that it can wax and wane, weaken and strengthen over time, coming and going like Channel 5 reception. Sometimes, if the accounts I've read are on the mark, it can disappear completely; sometimes it comes back, sometimes stronger than ever or sometimes permanently weakened. Sometimes it vanishes for ever. Anything that intrinsically human is never going to be an easy thing to fit into a series of tick boxes and multiple choice answers, so BC's excellent points are well taken. Nobody, least of all I, insists that to call yourself a Christian today you have to share the mindset of a 15th century Pope. For a variety of reasons, though - linguistic ones among them, but they're not the only ones - I do think that for the most part words have more or less distinct meanings - fuzzy round the edges, doubtless, but still concrete things that you can grasp - and that if you give up on that, language has lost its raison d'etre.
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Ketty
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PostPosted: Wed May 08, 2013 2:57 pm    Post subject: Re: If most people were atheist and knew it Reply with quote

Shaker wrote:

As Boss Cat points out, perhaps it's just me but when somebody covers themselves with a religious label I expect it to mean something . . .


It's not just you.

Btw Shaker, your elderly aunt was probably raised to believe one never talks about politics or religion?  

Just a little anecdote that came to mind when reading this thread:  I can recall being very new to senior school, and one of my classmates asking me what religion I was - I'd never even thought of such a thing before but after thinking about this difficult question for some time I came up with the answer 'I don't know, but I think I'm christian'.   She replied 'No, no, what religion are you?'  I looked at her, with a puzzled expression and she explained 'I am Catholic: what religion are you?'  I couldn't answer that one.  I'd never even heard of 'catholic'.  
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Boss Cat
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PostPosted: Wed May 08, 2013 7:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Cor I can't complain no-one takes me seriously what with that answer!  Thanks!

What do you think would happen, though, if 'no religion' became the unthinking tick box?  There seems to me to be a certain cachet - among six formers particularly - about being an atheist, and the Ricky Gervais type of comedy is quite overt about putting him, and by extension, his audience as more rational, questioning and scientific than believers, ie, most other people in the world.

Now if people just think of themselves as having no religion it would not mean that the default position would be that people stopped believing.  It is often said that atheist just means that you don't believe in God or gods, but about a quarter of atheists believe in a soul, a third (I think) of those who say 'no religion' believe in some kind of higher power or supreme being, some atheists believe that they are immortal (and why shouldn't they?  It's not logically inconsistent).

I have been to one non religious funeral, which included a hymn and a prayer and a poem that were overtly about the next life.  My friend went to a 'complete atheist's' funeral two weeks ago and was surprised that they had hymns and prayers.

So if not religious became the norm it would not, I think, be a question of people stopping believing in things.  But they might be quite unthinking, religion lite things.  So if C of E starting meaning something would no religion become an unthinking religion of the non religious?

I'd not mind, I'd quite like to be a rebel, in fact, I already feel like one!
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Shaker
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PostPosted: Wed May 08, 2013 7:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Boss Cat wrote:
Cor I can't complain no-one takes me seriously what with that answer!  Thanks!

What do you think would happen, though, if 'no religion' became the unthinking tick box?  There seems to me to be a certain cachet - among six formers particularly - about being an atheist, and the Ricky Gervais type of comedy is quite overt about putting him, and by extension, his audience as more rational, questioning and scientific than believers, ie, most other people in the world.

Now if people just think of themselves as having no religion it would not mean that the default position would be that people stopped believing.

Up to a point this is exactly what we're now seeing and have been seeing for the past few years in the USA. More and more people are declaring themselves to be religiously unaffiliated - the 'nones.' This doesn't make them avowed atheists, far from it - rates of religious belief are far higher in the USA than any other comparable secular liberal Western democracy. That's a separate discussion: the point is that believing without belonging is increasingly how American people are coming to define themselves. It has been projected that if the current rates of religious fall-away hold as they are now, a majority of Americans will regard themselves as non-Christian or even non-religious by 2035 - only another twenty-two years.

I say 'up to a point' because the numbers of those explicitly avowing atheism are also rising though not at the same rate, arguably because atheist is still considered a dirty word in many parts and in many social circles in the USA. To quote Phil Zuckerman who has been mentioned over on a separate thread:

Quote:
"... the designation 'atheist' is stigmatized in many societies; even when people directly claim to not believe in God, they still eschew the self-designation of 'atheist.' Greeley (2003) found that 41 per cent of Norwegians, 48 per cent of the French, and 54 per cent of Czechs claimed not to believe in God, but only 10 per cent, 19 per cent and 20 per cent of those respondents self-identified as 'atheist,' respectively."


Quote:
It is often said that atheist just means that you don't believe in God or gods, but about a quarter of atheists believe in a soul, a third (I think) of those who say 'no religion' believe in some kind of higher power or supreme being, some atheists believe that they are immortal (and why shouldn't they?  It's not logically inconsistent).


Bang on the button. Not inconsistent at all. Unusual, I think it's fair to say, but in no way inconsistent.

Quote:
So if not religious became the norm it would not, I think, be a question of people stopping believing in things. But they might be quite unthinking, religion lite things. So if C of E starting meaning something would no religion become an unthinking religion of the non religious?

It could be argued that we're already there in fact! The majority of the population (in the UK) are not religious. That doesn't mean they're all explicit atheists with posters of Richard Dawkins on their bedroom walls: the default, I should say, is rather one of what has been termed apatheism - not only the don't knows but the simply don't cares. When, several years ago, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, said that in modern Britain "a tacit atheism prevails," he was only somewhat right: he would have been nearer the mark if he'd said a tacit apathy in religious matters prevails.
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Boss Cat
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PostPosted: Thu May 09, 2013 3:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Oh Shaker, I can't have this!  It could look as though we agree with each other and that's far too cosy!

Have a look on that other thread so we can go back to arguing!

A colleague once said to me (I posted this on either this board or the BBC on, oh those good old days) that he couldn't believe that I, of all people, went to church.  He said I was far too questioning and cynical to be religious.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, I am far too questioning and cynical NOT to be religious.  Right here and now, that is.

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