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Religious self-ignorance

Brian63

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Embarrassing admission here---as long as I have been an atheist, even an atheist activist, even as someone raised nominally as a Catholic (but privately an atheist)---I know extremely little about Christianity. Read the bible in full at least once (twice if memory serves), but it was nothing like anticipated. Given its great reputation and influence throughout history, I had gone in with very high expectations, thinking it would be a book of profound wisdom and inspiration. Then I read it and thought it was stupid disgusting shit. I never believed in any deity to any significant measure, I also never really cared about the minute details of Christian history, theology, biblical studies. If there is no god, then those are in large part human exercises in error. I was more interested in studying what was actually true about the world, not what humans keep getting wrong about it.

Similarly, I have no knowledge of Islam or other world religions. Could not tell you what the difference is between a Sunni and Shiite Muslim. Have no plans to ever read the Koran. No interest in other world religions.


So I have some related questions, in case I or others ever want to start learning some basics of these religions---

What are some good introductory books or videos or articles on the topic of historical religions?


For those of you that are knowledgeable about the theologies and histories and texts of various religions, how did you become that way? Is it just because you were raised in a religion and the knowledge remains with you? As a nonbeliever are you interested in studying the details of wrong beliefs to that great of an extent, and so you want to learn more about religions even though you think they are wrong? I can understand wanting to understand the accurate psychology and science of why humans form wrong beliefs, for the sake of correcting that trend, but I have trouble understanding why people care about the detailed theological nonsense of religions. What other, if any, specific false beliefs in the present day are you similarly interested in studying the finer points on?


How is it that people can so easily memorize and recite particular chapters/verses of the bible? At my peak I could only for a few of the most famous, but I was never much religious. Some people, atheists even, seem to have the bible memorized really well. Not just the stories, but knew the book and chapter and verses too by heart too.


Interested in hearing your thoughts on this.

Thanks.
 

rousseau

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In 2016 I picked up Paul Johnson's A History of Christianity primarily because I was interested in the history of Christianity. Not so much the development of it's theology, but the social phenomenon across time. I'd add a disclaimer that this book is hard, and dense, not a simple introduction.

Reading that ended up acting as a gateway to a broader study of religion as a human phenomenon. I had no interest in atheist-militancy, or learning specific theology with the aim of undermining religion, I just wanted to learn more about this aspect of our nature.

So from there I read about the religion of the North American Indigenous, the African Indigenous, most Eastern traditions including Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism, and whatever else I could get my hands on. I also started dabbling in sociology to get a better perspective there. Through it all my basic goal was to know and understand more about our world.
 

Angry Floof

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Most churches I've ever known anything about have encouraged memorization starting in childhood. Still to this day, I remember a few verses verbatim from the KJV, the most important one being John 3:16. I remember Sunday school lessons and activities that helped us to memorize John 3:16. I had a little slide puzzle with a word from John 3:16 on each tile so you had to put them in order. Later in life, there were still numerous times that adults were encouraged to memorize scriptures as well, and "Chinese school" memorizations, where everyone in the room recites a scripture out loud together, for adults as well as kids are common.

I was only active in church activities for about five or six years of my childhood. After that, it took about 30 years before I decided to get serious about "my faith," which I did, and doing so led me straight out of belief forever, even though I went in wanting to confirm it, not find out it's bullshit. So it was a long and uncomfortable process. But even during that brief "second life" of belief, I read and read and memorized scripture.
 

Bronzeage

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Most church members, without regard for the denomination, know little about the theology of their church other than what they learned as a child. Scriptures are most often quoted to prevent some action, rather than to determine what action should be taken.

If you are interested in learning more about the religions of the world and the history behind them, I suggest a YouTube channel named Religion For Breakfast. I find it very informative.
 

southernhybrid

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You might enjoy reading Joseph Campbell's "Power of Myth". It is a book based on the original mini series that was broadcast on PBS many years ago. I have the mini series on DVD and I think I've had a copy of the book, but never finished reading it. What I enjoyed about this series is that it explains how and why various forms of mythology, aka religion, have become so important throughout civilization and how that may be changing, as new myths develop. Campbell was a very interesting writer, and his views gave me a lot to think about.


https://www.amazon.com/Power-Myth-Joseph-Campbell/dp/0385418868

After I left Christianity, first the evangelical variety and soon after the more liberal variety, I tried to read the Koran and several other religious holy books, but I became very bored. I spent several years reading Baha'i books as I was once married to a follower of that religion. Some of their books are much nicer than the Bible, also highly idealistic. Of course, they still contain elements of the supernatural so to me, it was just another myth, even if it was a far kinder, gentler one compared to the one I had been taught to believe as a child.
 

ideologyhunter

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I think atheists as a group know more about religion than the faith community. A few years ago there was an on-line test you could take to determine your level of religious literacy. (I forget what it was called and don't know how to find it now.) If I remember correctly, it consisted of 32 questions and the average score for Christians was 18 correct. I took it and got 31 correct. The one I missed concerned Catholic doctrine about faith/works. It was a simplistic test, and perhaps doesn't prove much. But how many times have any atheists here quoted some strange or barbaric or just plain silly Bible passage and found that your believer friends didn't know it was really in their scripture?
 

Jarhyn

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I think atheists as a group know more about religion than the faith community. A few years ago there was an on-line test you could take to determine your level of religious literacy. (I forget what it was called and don't know how to find it now.) If I remember correctly, it consisted of 32 questions and the average score for Christians was 18 correct. I took it and got 31 correct. The one I missed concerned Catholic doctrine about faith/works. It was a simplistic test, and perhaps doesn't prove much. But how many times have any atheists here quoted some strange or barbaric or just plain silly Bible passage and found that your believer friends didn't know it was really in their scripture?

I remember that quiz. Or one like it. It's kind of ridiculous that the atheists tend to have a more complete understanding of religious concepts and subject matter.
 

Lion IRC

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I think atheists as a group know more about religion than the faith community.

I don't think that's true of atheists in general. Your average, garden variety non-theist finds religion boring, irrelevant, quaint, incoherent... Non-stamp collectors typically don't know much about philately.

But it's certainly true that counter-apologists, presuppositional atheists, atheism proselytisers, New Atheists, etc do, on average, have a better overall understanding of comparative religion than the average 'religious person'.

A few years ago there was an on-line test you could take to determine your level of religious literacy. (I forget what it was called and don't know how to find it now.)

Pew Forum?

....how many times have any atheists here quoted some strange or barbaric or just plain silly Bible passage and found that your believer friends didn't know it was really in their scripture?

Citations please.
Disputing the meaning of a verse is not the same as ignorance of the existence of that verse.
 

ideologyhunter

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I don't think that's true of atheists in general. Your average, garden variety non-theist finds religion boring, irrelevant, quaint, incoherent...

You left out comical. Humor is the tonic chord of atheism. Read Ingersoll, Mencken, Hitchens, Twain, Voltaire -- you'll find a rich vein of humor there. Those writers never get old.
 

Politesse

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That's rather a lot of questions in one post!

I have something of an accidental specialty in religious studies, in that it was never really my goal to accumulate a vast sum of knowledge on the subject, but teaching religion has become a major part of my job for a host of reasons, and I do my best to keep up with this expansive and ever-changing field where it intersects with my primary discipline of cultural anthropology. While I was indeed raised in a religious household, I'm not sure that necessary lends itself to producing an adult well-versed in religion, especially traditions other than their own. Certainly, my knowledge of Christianity as a whole has a lot more to do with my collegiate studies and the brief time I spent at seminary than it does with anything I learned in "Sunday School". Being an expert on religious traditions due to having been raised in one is about like being an expert on history because you studied it in grade school; I mean yes, you probably recognize some major events and concepts, but there are going to be giant holes in your understanding, some of them suspiciously shaped like emabrassing or controversial issues that your tutors did not wish or weren't allowed to address. And as with history, it will take formal studies to really make you "well-informed", but that doesn't mean you can't push your dial closer by reading some books, watching documentaries, and so forth. Religious Studies are a much more obscure and uncommon specialty than most people seem to assume, but there are plenty of excellent books, articles, and films within the grand ouvre of the subject.

If you're looking for a perfunctory but well-informed introduction to the various major faith traditions, I appreciate the Oxford Very Short Introductions series for its brief but careful exploration of most of the major faiths. All are as relatively succinct as their titles suggest, and though there are several dozen entries in the series, a handful will suffice to give you a decent picture of where you want to look next; they also all include helpful recommendations for future reading.

If you have a local library, you might ask whether they offer access to either Oxford or Merriam-Websters Encyclopedias of Religion, both of which are decent reference texts for general information on the subject. If looking for something more readable but still academically-informed, Karen Armstrongs "A History of God" is a nice approachable starting point for exploring the major theistic traditions. Kurtz' "Gods in the Global Village" is also a good, even-handed read from a sociologist's perspective. I second Bronzeage's recommendation of the "Religion for Breakfast" series on Youtube, as it has a very well-informed and even-handed presenter.

The Sunni-Shi'a split is a complicated issue, as always when politics and religion collide, but there are many excellent books on that specific subject if you look around. I wish people in general took a bit more interest in Islamic studies, if your country is going to fight a fucking religious crusade against a supposedly foreign faith you should at least do it the courtesy of learning its most basic of ideas...

As for why one should be interested in religion generally, I do not think you can understand the cultural or political world at all without a background in the foundational assumptions that led to our present state of affairs, and will continue to inform how most people in the world respond to the events of the day. Worldwide, religious participation is increasing over time, and whether or not you agree with all of said people - most people don't agree with most other people on matters of faith - I do not think you can consider yourself a well-informed global citizen without at least some understanding of the major religious denominations.

There's no special trick to memorizing bible verses - memorization of anything is a cognitive skill that improves with practice. People are more likely to have religious texts memorized than anything else, simply because childhood religious instruction tends to emphasize it, at least where Christianity and Islam are concerned. It helps that the Bible and the Qur'an have a lyrical, poetic quality that make certain sections easier to memorize than they would otherwise be.
 

Politesse

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I took a practice version of the Religions GSCE not too long ago, having heard that they were proud of a new "broadened" version thereof. I was pretty dismayed by what apparently counts as a university-ready level knowledge about world religions, especially where traditions other than Christianity (or non-Anglican versions of the same) were concerned. But as I said, actually a much more obscure domain of knowledge than most people figure it would be given the popularity of religion as practice.
 

rousseau

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As for why one should be interested in religion generally, I do not think you can understand the cultural or political world at all without a background in the foundational assumptions that led to our present state of affairs, and will continue to inform how most people in the world respond to the events of the day. Worldwide, religious participation is increasing over time, and whether or not you agree with all of said people - most people don't agree with most other people on matters of faith - I do not think you can consider yourself a well-informed global citizen without at least some understanding of the major religious denominations.

This and I'd add that it's helpful (or at least more productive) to go into it with an open mind, rather than with the intent of learning about the 'irrationality' of religion. After the years I've spent studying religion I've come away with much more respect for those who hold onto such beliefs, or at least more respect for why they hold onto such beliefs.

To the scientific-minded person such beliefs can look illogical, but when you put them into the context of a cruel, indifferent, and harsh world they make a lot of sense. For most, religion is a coping mechanism.
 

funinspace

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What are some good introductory books or videos or articles on the topic of historical religions?

Paul Johnson's book referenced below is a really good book on the details of the formation and history of Christianity, but probably would bore most people.
In 2016 I picked up Paul Johnson's A History of Christianity primarily because I was interested in the history of Christianity. Not so much the development of it's theology, but the social phenomenon across time. I'd add a disclaimer that this book is hard, and dense, not a simple introduction.

Isaac Asimov's 'Guide to the Bible' does a good job walking a person thru comprehending the Bible w/o the Christian evangelizing, and is a much easier read.


For those of you that are knowledgeable about the theologies and histories and texts of various religions, how did you become that way? Is it just because you were raised in a religion and the knowledge remains with you?
I was born and raised mainstream Protestant with my mother active in the church, and I followed along. As an adult I spent a dozen years in Evangelical/Bible centered churches, before the cracks emerged in my faith. I spent about 3 years of reading theology, archeology, history, and apologetics before finally (and painfully at times) becoming comfortable in not believing in the Christian God or any other. So I learned much more in the end... As to the other faiths, I never felt the need to explore them deeply when I deconverted.

As a nonbeliever are you interested in studying the details of wrong beliefs to that great of an extent, and so you want to learn more about religions even though you think they are wrong? I can understand wanting to understand the accurate psychology and science of why humans form wrong beliefs, for the sake of correcting that trend, but I have trouble understanding why people care about the detailed theological nonsense of religions. What other, if any, specific false beliefs in the present day are you similarly interested in studying the finer points on?
(My interest is NOT about false beliefs) The only thing that I now find particularly interesting about people's Christian belief is how the ones that don't buy into YEC, fit their faith together within a 'God breathed Bible', but don't necessarily find stories like the Deluge and Joshua's Day that the earth stood still to be factual/historical, but still find their holy book to be generally rock solid in its narrative. If a believer doesn't want a forthright conversation, then I now tend to choose to kick off the dust of my shoes and walk away; but sometimes I will get snarky if I feel they are being an ass. C.S. Lewis thought the Deluge was a fable, and said something like (but not quoting): "The history of King David's court within the Bible is probably about as accurate a 14th century King of England. But by the times of Jesus, the Bible is rock solid". I never understood the why's of how he thought that way.


How is it that people can so easily memorize and recite particular chapters/verses of the bible? At my peak I could only for a few of the most famous, but I was never much religious. Some people, atheists even, seem to have the bible memorized really well. Not just the stories, but knew the book and chapter and verses too by heart too.
How does a person know so many lines of Shakespeare? Or how does someone know so many movie quotes? Or how does someone know so many poems or songs by heart? I don't think it is about being 'easy' as much as being just that into it.
 

Jarhyn

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As for why one should be interested in religion generally, I do not think you can understand the cultural or political world at all without a background in the foundational assumptions that led to our present state of affairs, and will continue to inform how most people in the world respond to the events of the day. Worldwide, religious participation is increasing over time, and whether or not you agree with all of said people - most people don't agree with most other people on matters of faith - I do not think you can consider yourself a well-informed global citizen without at least some understanding of the major religious denominations.

This and I'd add that it's helpful (or at least more productive) to go into it with an open mind, rather than with the intent of learning about the 'irrationality' of religion. After the years I've spent studying religion I've come away with much more respect for those who hold onto such beliefs, or at least more respect for why they hold onto such beliefs.

To the scientific-minded person such beliefs can look illogical, but when you put them into the context of a cruel, indifferent, and harsh world they make a lot of sense. For most, religion is a coping mechanism.

I have found it comes down to a set of questions few seem to ask, at least within the peer groups I've participated in. Mostly, it comes down to "in what context is what has been said true or in what context does it contain useful truth?"

While very little of it is "true" it contains a surprising amount of truth particularly among the work of John.

I want the usefulness that the religious get from their religions. Who wouldn't? But I also want to mitigate the pitfalls and hazards through shining a bright light and scrutiny on all of it.
 

Ruth Harris

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I think the 32 question quiz I referenced was the Pew Research Religious Knowledge Quiz. It's still up.
I just went and took the quiz, and didn't find it particularly challenging. Didn't even have to think about more than one or two of them. I got all 15 correct in the quiz that exists.

Ruth
 

4321lynx

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I don't think that's true of atheists in general. Your average, garden variety non-theist finds religion boring, irrelevant, quaint, incoherent...

You left out comical. Humor is the tonic chord of atheism. Read Ingersoll, Mencken, Hitchens, Twain, Voltaire -- you'll find a rich vein of humor there. Those writers never get old.

Never heard of Ingersoll the man, or of Hitchens. Read some Voltaire and Twain in the past. And for the first time in my life, just now, read Mencken, just these quotes from Wiki;-

On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.
Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.
Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

Like these .
 

Cheerful Charlie

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In 2016 I picked up Paul Johnson's A History of Christianity primarily because I was interested in the history of Christianity. Not so much the development of it's theology, but the social phenomenon across time. I'd add a disclaimer that this book is hard, and dense, not a simple introduction.

Reading that ended up acting as a gateway to a broader study of religion as a human phenomenon. I had no interest in atheist-militancy, or learning specific theology with the aim of undermining religion, I just wanted to learn more about this aspect of our nature.

So from there I read about the religion of the North American Indigenous, the African Indigenous, most Eastern traditions including Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism, and whatever else I could get my hands on. I also started dabbling in sociology to get a better perspective there. Through it all my basic goal was to know and understand more about our world.

For Bible verses et al, I usually start with google "kjv, whatever" which usually takes me to Biblegate, which is good for quick and dirty searches, by verse, by chapter, or by subject. Say kjv, predestination, which might allow one to look at what the Bible says about predestination. For example, Paul's theology, election, grace, predestination, great potter et al. Why does God make some elect and not others is a problematic question for theist. Once you get the swing of it, you can explore things. It all depends on what you want to explore.
This can lead one into a million different directions depending on what your interests are. Whether certain aspects of theology, or history of Christianity, or specific theological systems like early Catholicism, or Socinians. etc. I have been doing this sort of stuff so long, I have forgotten which books I have read about the early Christiaan history. Some online sources might be CCEL, or Gutenberg project.

https://ccel.org/home3/search?text=history+of+Christianity&genreID=&booksOnly=on&orderBy=Relevance

Good luck.
 
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