Tag Archives: God

Why are religious societies more cohesive?

Reported by the Economist (and discussed on Overcoming Bias), religion brings social cooperation. Attempts to synthesise secular solidarity out of god-free rituals tend to fail. So why is this?

A hypothesis:

Social cohesion is a result of citizens sharing a desire to believe something they all have a tiny private inkling might seem less true if they thought about it too much. They subconsciously know belief is easier when ubiquitously reinforced in social surroundings, and also that their beliefs are more enjoyable than the alternative. Thus they have a strong interest in religious behaviour in others and in their own feeling of unshakable commitment to those who practice it. So they encourage it with enthusiastic participation and try to ensconce themselves as much as necessary to feel safe from reality. If we found conclusive evidence of a god, everyone would be safe, and could get back to non-cohesion; it’s the possibility that the sky is chockers with nothingness that gives everyone the incentive for solidarity.

To test hypothesis, compare cohesion across other groups with beliefs (religious or otherwise) of varying tenuousness and of varying importance to their believers.

Some half-serious, half-formed thoughts on existing and so on

So I’ve been banging my head against a wall (metaphorically, almost not) for about a week and a half (or years on and off) about the apparent meaninglessness of anything and the difficulty of finding anything to do that is mildly satisfying next to the absurdity of existing. This is what I’ve come to:

On lack of inherant meaning in anything:

– Whether there is value inherent in the universe or not (by the way there’s not) doesn’t matter (nothing does! lol. But that’s not my point). Value that you choose to place on something is as legitimate as that which ‘God’ or anything else does. It would be impossible for a God or anything else to allocate value to things in any more legitimate a way. If they did, and you disagreed with them, why would their values have precedence? To give them precedence would be a value judgement. There is no better possibility than what we’ve got (similar to how there is no better version of free will than determinism).

– Really it’s not that bad. You have the freedom (yay) to value what you think should be valued. If there were some fundamental ones one had to stick by, I’d probably whinge heaps more about that (and anyway, if not comfy with it you can probably find some place to live where some government will be willing to choose values for you – such as Australia it seems)

– It is objectively better to value things, and to value things that other people’s values aren’t mutually exclusive with. ‘Better’ is defined in terms of the value placed on stuff (yours and others’) – if you value things more, there will be more value. So it will be better. If you value killing people etc. you will impinge on their (probably less messed up) experience of value quite considerably, so it will very likely not be better. In the end the goodness of anything is a practical question of whether the values of the individuals involved are fulfilled. Potential for this depends on them having values, and them not being contradictory.

Note: there is a difference between indifference and not valuing things. You can just indifferently value whatever comes along, without caring what it is (though there are still other people’s fixed values to watch out for). This can kind of work.

– You probably get on alright having your own values – knowingly chosen/based on biological and environmental effects – for things like wallpaper and lunch. Just do it for everything else (I don’t like AIDS because it doesn’t go with my sofa).

On how to behave when the absurdity of existing at all is just so crazy that anything else seems incredibly unsatisfying in comparison:

– Violence? Tried it this arvo for a bit. Distracting, yes. Fun, hell yes. Incredibly satisfying? Not really. A viable source of income? Possibly, but would have to find richer people to mug :)

– If you really feel like hurting yourself just to feel something, physical violence is probably not the best bet. Before it hurts enough you will damage yourself, which isn’t useful. Try psychological torment ;D Some good bits of emotion can be had from just thinking about this kind of thing…satisfaction from the horror of dissatisfaction…mmm it’s even pleasingly recursive (I like recursion and I don’t care if God does). I had some other ideas, but I edited them out, as I feel bad about depressing people, ironically enough.

-Seek satisfaction from the absurdity of existing, without doing anything about it? Just think about it and see how amazed you can be. I suspect not enough to seem appropriate, but what’s appropriate?

– Try to be nice and save the world and stuff? As mentioned earlier, I think this is the inevitable conclusion I must come to, regardless of the source of it’s preferability. However I’m slightly inclined not to. On further introspection, I think this is merely because I just don’t want to follow all the people who are lefties or righties or whatever because they haven’t thought about any of this and are just engaging in smugness about their smugness about what they blindly assume is right. It’s just kind of lonely – I feel like a hipocrite and an outsider to their sentiments, which makes me angry, which makes me more right wing. This is a bad reason, and anything is going to be lonely, with or without other people to misunderstand me. So this one isn’t written off – in fact I think it is still going to be the inevitable conclusion.

– Something that hasn’t been done before? Hard to find and once you’ve done it, it’s been done. Also, it is unlikely to be terribly satisfying. Things that are particularly satisfying have probably been done. The best candidate for ‘something that hasn’t been done and might be satisfying’ is something horrendously idealistic and difficult, like saving the world (from whatever, it’s irrelevant here). Which solves the problem in the last point, because when smug people with the same end goal as me talk to me I can at least say I want to save the world because it would be ‘kind of post-modern’. This will at least make it clear to them if we probably can’t relate to each other, and they will go away.

– Hang around and think more about it? I am probably stupid enough to be wrong about how I’m even looking at these problems. Almost cerainly in fact – to my knowledge, nobody exists who isn’t impressively stupid. This is one of the more interesting things to read/think about anyway.

– Wait until one day I give up caring about whether things matter inherently or not, and be back to square one…until I stop caring about that…fuck…

– Be relieved that as a the kind of complicated biological and social thing you are, you have a good few pre-programmed preferences for things. You could chuck them all out the window, on the basis that they are arbitrary upshots of evolution. However so are you, and they are the arbitrary upshots you like, and you probably won’t find much satisfaction in not having them particularly. Also it’s hard to do properly and you probably can’t keep it up for that long (‘…it is inevitable to be drawn back into human drama…’).

So there. I think I’ll go for a combination while I look for other things to think.

God is irrelevant

Philosophically that is. Psychologically he fulfils an important role – to distance us from philosophy.

In no way would the existence of a God alter the important properties of the universe. Most of the problems a God supposedly solves are merely shifted to the other side of him – a step further away from humans, where we can comfortably ignore them.

Some solutions God doesn’t really provide (presumably all thought of before by various philosophers, but I don’t know which ones, and it’s irrelevant, so please excuse the plagiarism) :

Creator of the universe: An obvious one. Where did God come from then? If he’s existed forever then so could a universe. If you think something as complex as a universe couldn’t come from nothing, how complex would God have to be to be able to make universes?

Source of morality: Where does God get his moral principles from? If he invents them himself they are just as arbitrary a set of restrictions on behaviour as any other (such as an atheist’s morals are feared to be by the religious). Why follow them? If they are inherent in the universe, related to other people, or a matter of choice then God isn’t needed.

Morality is a set of value judgements. If God and I both have a set of value judgements (a moral code), to say that God’s takes precedence is a value judgement in itself. Who judges? God? Why?

Provider of free will: For reasons discussed in the previous post, Free will isn’t a concept (unless you mean determinism), God can’t have – or give humans – free will which isn’t deterministic. The absence of God’s ‘free will’ is even more apparent if he must be good all the time (unless he invents his own changeable moral code as he goes, but is that the kind of morality God should subscribe to? Well yes, if he does! But there’s still the old problem of free will not existing – he can’t escape).

If he’s all powerful as well, then he just ends up as another natural law – one that makes good things always happen. Anyone who’s been alive can tell you there’s fairly solid empirical evidence against such a law existing, but my point isn’t to draw attention to the problem of evil so much as to point out that natural laws are nothing new.

The final picture? A God who may well exist*. But who cares? Yeah, if he’s all powerful perhaps you should follow his moral laws just to stop him smiting you, but that’s politics, not metaphysics.

*except perhaps for the whole problem of evil bit – but goodness is hard to define, so let’s give him a break on that one for a moment