Religion is Different

That’s an unspoken assumption of many people who look at religious issues, especially skeptics. In philosophy, you have determinists and free-willists, monists and dualists, and so on. They all believe they are right, they believe they are justified in that belief, and they believe that their opponents are mistaken, even though their opponents have looked at all the same evidence and information they have. Nevertheless, they don’t stop being determinists, dualists, or what have you. In politics, you have liberals and conservatives, and a member of either side would have to acknowledge, if honest, that there are educated, intelligent, and well-meaning people who disagree with them about just about everything. Nevertheless, people understanding this remain conservatives or liberals.
But of religion, it is often claimed, is ‘different’. That people have differing views on it is a sign of something profound- everybody is right, or everybody is wrong, or ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ don’t apply, or that people shouldn’t have strong opinions. Is religion different? If so, why? If not, why the perception?

because of god?

Because people don’t want to apply relative terms to the highest stakes of faith? (in their opinion?)

You can look at the same information and not absorb it the same way, due in large part to beliefs. If you believe that you are right, and everyone else is wrong… it doesn’t matter what the other person presents. They are wrong.

It’s better to approach a situation as neutrally as possible. This of course is impossible due to human nature.

So are you saying that religion is different, or not? I’m not clear on that. Would you say that people engaged in politics, philosophy, and even the sciences, can fall prey to this problem just as easily?
In other words, religious pluralism is supposed to mean something. The fact that other people have radically different religious views should be striking, even daunting, to the devout follower of one particular creed. Or so I am told. Well, what about poltical pluralism? Should the mere fact that there are such things as capitalists be humbling and daunting to the communist?

The concept that either all political views are equally correct or none of them are valid is profound to someone who would otherwise believe that one is correct and the others are wrong.

 If you're a relativist/pluralist, what happens then?

 What if your philosophical predisposition is to recognize the ultimate uncertainty of truth of every possible human viewpoint?
   A relativist with regards to what? Politics? I confess I've never met one. At least, not one that would meet the kind of standards I'm talking about here. Oh, you might meet someone who claims to be a relativist, of a sort, who goes on to use that relativism to explain why they feel some law should be enacted or struck down. At the end of the day, they are still advocating their relativism as the correct position which non-relativists would adopt if they had all the right facts and insights. 
 A true relativist in the sense that I'm talking about here would have to be claiming that there is[i] no way to determine[/i] if a disputed law is just, indeed if relativism is true or false, by virtue of the very fact that 'many intelligent people disagree'. A better term for it would be the [i]political skeptic[/i], I suppose.

I’m saying that anyone can get caught behind their own views.

well vice versa, should the very fact that there are still socialistic and communistic countries feel daunting to the absolute capitalist?

I think there are universalists in religion, I’ve never met one regarding politics though. maybe in that respect it is different?

Like, many here that espouse a “universal truth” from all religions, would they espouse a universal truth from communism and capitalism, liberal and conservative?

Politics and religion are two different beasts that are sometimes joined in that we like to act in public how we feel in private. Some are able to maintain a dichotomy of sorts and act in private differently than they act in public.


That’s one POV, another is that there is no certainty of untruth among every possible Human viewpoint.

I’ve come to realize that relatively speaking, any position of relativeness, is a dangerous slope to stand on permanently. It’s not that we are incapable of determining things using our common sense… it’s that it’s not politically correct to tell someone that they are following a false ideal.

Of course being human, you better be ABSOLUTELY sure that the mountain you are on is a stable creation and not built upon sand.

The real trick is humility. Knowing to admit when you are wrong.

Can you define ‘universalist’ for me in this sense? And to your question above, yes, I would ask that too. In general, what impact should the fact that smart people disagree with you have on your political beliefs? Or, scientific, philosophical, historical beliefs as well.

Oh, nevermind, I get it. :slight_smile: I don’t know that they could- I think it’s obvious to most that there are true opposites in politics, that a ‘universal truth’ that was claimed to have been gleaned from both communism and capitalism would probably end up just being a third path that both communists and capitalists would disagree with.


  You'd be a rare find. Universal skepticism has a hard time holding itself together, I should think. The first question that would be really hard for the person in that position is "[i]Why[/i] recognize this uncertainty?" 
  More to my point though, is this. The kind of arguments I'm talking about are [i]so very often [/i]made against religion, and not so often against the other sorts of beliefs. That religious pluralism is supposedly a big problem for religious believers has come up again and again in my discussions and readings. On the other hand, I have never seen "many people are communists" raised as any kind of argument against capitalism- or if it is, it is rased to endorse communism, not to endore not having a position. I've never run into political agnosticism.  In the case of politics or other fields, people are content to examine specific claims, weight evidence, and so on.

Hello F(r)iends,

People who believe in Free Will might as well believe in Santa Claus or in Unicorns… After all, we have no tangible, empirical evidence for free will.



Hi Uccisore,

Are you saying that in philosophy, nobody changes their stance? Is nobody able to learn in philosophy?

In politics, I could understand people changing their party after finding that the policies they find important have been shelved by the one party but are being promoted by another. Of course that is difficult (but not impossible) in the polarised situation of many countries, where only two choices remain. All the same, a political party is there to transport policies and interests. I could also change my interests and find one party better suited to my original party.

So, what’s so different about Religion? Right religion may be a question of being right for a certain cultural area or mentality. It may be a question of interpretation, tradition or reaction. There are many reasons why religion can be right for me and wrong for the next. I can feel strongly about what I believe, but why must I force my opinion on another? Surely the best way to live what I believe would be to find others who want to live that way and build it from there.

What you are in reality trying to do is present a physical reality which has certain traits and attributes, certain habits and perspectives and say, “this is religion (Christianity). Anything that doesn’t have these traits and attributes, habits or perspectives cannot be religion (Christianity).” I think the so called “humane disciplines” can’t be treated like that.

My Father, for example, suffered a catastrophic loss as a young man. When he was approached by the pastors who tried to console him, their answers to his questions were very bland. In the end, one pastor actually said in public that my father “didn’t want to believe”. My Father said, “I just don’t believe him!” Isn’t it very evident that it is dependent upon trust and not upon being right?


Awesome, Bob, I was hoping you’d drop by in this one. :slight_smile:

 What I'm saying is that every philosopher has certain strong stands on certain subjects, like the ones I listed.  They know full well that other philosophers who understand the relevant facts just as well (if not better) disagree with them, and yet they maintain their stances. They may be convinced to [i]change [/i]their mind, but only by actual evidence and argument.  The raw fact that 'other philosophers disagree' doesn't move them.  Whether or not they sometimes change stances is besides the point- plenty of philosophers will disagree with their new position as well. What I'm pointing out here is that philosophers feel confident in their stances, indeed confident enough to right books endorsing them, despite professional disagreement. 
 I have never heard the term 'philosophical pluralism', and I have never seen it leveled at a philosopher as a reason why they ought to withhold judgement from the things they believe. 
 Exactly. You would change parties because policies important to you have been shelved or more strongly supported by someone else.  What you would not do (I assume), is take a poll, discover that the other party (or parties) are [i]so very large[/i], and abandon ship for that reason. I would speculate that this wouldn't change if there were 2 parties, or 1000.  But this is expected of religious believers- the fact alone that there are [i]so many[/i] people who believe other things is supposed to provoke agnosticism. 
 Is there a special reason why all of the above cannot be said about politics and philosophy? I comprehend the stance above, what I'm pointing out is that I see no reason why it is only limited to religion by it's endorsers. Also, for now I am not talking about forcing views. I am talking about maintaining one's own. More than issues of proselytization it is said that a lone Christian should become an agnostic (or at least, very doubful of their faith) on the basis that other people believe differently. In other words, even if I already agree with your prescription above for the best way to live, I [i]should doubt.[/i] Again, or so I am told.

A unitarian universalists comes closest… a church that literally teaches from all holy books… The joke prayer for the church is “Dear god, if there is a god, forgive me for my sins, if sinning is possible…”

Think relativism applied liberally.

I think most religions are like that as well, if you were to believe each literally it would create quite an interesting trichotomoy (if not a quadchotomy.)

I think the same thing happens with religion, and is why today we have so many different sects of christianity, Islam and buddhism. Judaism even has those orthodox believers who want to rebuild the temple to continue sin sacrfices, and those who are non-orthodox who are happy without sin sacrifice.

Look at Jainism, which is an offshoot of Buddhism… Offshoots happen, becuase of disagreements, with the policies at hand. The only difference that I think we’ve gleamed is that a relativist will claim universal truth from religions but never from politics…

I have to agree with Uccisore, You are a great contribution to this site Bob.

Uccisore, In response to bob,

I think it’s possible for people to step down from there soapbox, but it’s human nature to stay on your soapbox and think that you are right. Even the most skeptic skeptic, is stubborn on being too skeptical.

Don’t you think this goes back to what we talked about before the “capitalist who has to deal with the existence of communism”… isn’t the very existence of other “god inspired” religions a bit … at the very least troubling? The religious (generalizations ahead.) are taught that they are believing the “truth”… following the truth. Then you have these other beliefs… even within the same faith, like lutherans versus catholics versus evangelicals… or Shiites versus sunnis… What makes one so certain that they are even following the right version of their faith?

With politics, the comparison would be to “degrees” of liberal or degrees of conservativism… think of it as a “compass” where at 0 deg is the ultimate relativist, and at 180 deg is the hardliner liberal and 360 deg is the hardliner conservative. The people closer to 0 tend to be able to absorb different ideas and people better than the polar opposites.

The polar people are dangerous, (whether liberal or conservative) and usually incite outright hatred of the other side.

does such a thing as “degrees” of faith exist in religion? Probably.

well, the closer you are to 0 on my scale, the more likely you are to doubt everything even your own belief. I think there is some degree of moderation in order, where it’s undesirable to constantly change what you believe because “something more attractive” comes along.

At the same time, it’s important to retain some skepticism of what you believe. If I were to prostelyze skepticism, I would say that in the very least you should be aware of what your faith is, and how it started. If you still “decide” to be in faith… that’s better than just “being” in faith.

I’m sure I’m missing the point, but it seems to me that the reason religious conviction is ‘different’ may be that the stakes are a bit higher. We’re talking about eternal life in heaven or sitting in the frying pan, are we not?

Our political and philosophical positions change, albeit slowly, in response to evolving socio-political conditions, but to doubt our religious convictions could cost us heaven. I suspect that for most people, religious conviction remains static more out of fear than conviction.


Tentative, you’re missing the point somewhat, but in the right way. I’m not talking about why the religious are ‘so much more devout’, I’m talking about why they are expected not to be.

 Have you ever heard the term 'philosophical pluralism'? Have you ever seen the concept that 'many different philosophers have many different opinions' used as leverage to insist that someone should be an agnostic torwards, say, free will or capitalism? 
 Or, a personal example. Suppose I read a lot of Thomas Reid, and I come to the conclusion that we do, in fact, percieve reality directly as opposed to percieving it filtered through ideas. I have read counter-arguments, I see holes in them. Reid's claim seems to have solid backing, intuitive appeal, and utilitarian purpose in my overall view of the world, philosophically.  Given all of that, should the bare fact that most philosophers disagree with Reid be enough to make me reject this position myself?  I would say 'of course not'. 
 But, why then, should the bare fact that 'there's all those other religions out there' serve to make an agnostic of me, if I am similarly convinced of the truth of a particular religious creed? No other field of study operates that way, so far as I know. It is taken for granted by people who advocate these consequences of 'plurality' that religion is different from science or philosophy in this regard. I don't think the difference has been analyzed very much. 


Yes, this true. I must not being expressing myself clearly. My point is that in fields outside of religion, the above is not considered a problem. A professor of philosophy is not expected to change his views on the role of the State in a democracy just because his views are a minority. He should be open-minded, sure, but open-minded to new facts and arguments.

It's supposed to be, but [i]why[/i]? It's troubling in the sense that I feel a little bad for all those people who are wrong, just like the Communist feels bad for all those Capitalists who are wrong. It's troubling in the sense that if I'm a good philosopher, I should analyze the arguments and evidence that those other religions present, just like a Communist philosopher should analyze the points in favor of capitalism.  But no, the mere fact that those other faiths are 'out there' isn't troubling at all, and to suggest that it [i]should[/i] trouble me just sounds like an argument ad populum. Every field that's at all interesting has a bunch of people that disagree with you, no matter what stance you take. Religion is the only field in which this is put forward as a reason to avoid taking stances.


Yes, I know the arguments and positions and I was deliberately ignoring them in order to get to what I saw as the core issue. Skepticism is perfectly correct and functional in any realm not of the metaphysical. But once we step into the area of metaphysical beliefs, skepticism is poison. Religious doubt is a killer because there is no referent for the doubter to fall back upon. This in part explains why most, if not all, religious texts warn against those who would raise doubt among the followers.

If there is a difference in expectations, I would pin it squarely on the inability of religion to answer the metaphysical questions…


Hello F(r)iends,

Uccisore, you make valid points. A determinist doesn’t have to acquiesce his strong stance because there is a lot of significant rebuttal arguments. One does not need to abandon their stance just because other stances exist.

There are plenty of strong arguments for communism, none that convince me that capitalism is the most fair, the most just, and the only system that can work.


Tentative, can you explain what you mean when you say skepticism is ‘functional’ in most fields? I’ve always seen it as exactly the opposite.

Hi Uccisore,

Pleased to oblige …

I assume you think that people like myself “chop and change” at will, just because other people disagree? The example I gave you about my Father was intended to show you that subjective opinion isn’t excluded from Religion, not like in a system of logic or physics or some other science. It is a question of trust that transports religious stances, not fact. This makes the whole issue a little spongy. Statements of faith can not be “proven” but have to be believed. To be believed they have to appear trustworthy. To appear trustworthy, they have to be experienced – or at least, they shouldn’t be shown to be not trustworthy.

An additional problem we have is the “dark ages” during which it is very clear that the Roman Church has manipulated sources and lost its Semitic roots. It was in fact the joint effort of Christian and Jewish scholars, who studied Scripture from a historical viewpoint, that helped us purge Christianity of a lot of hatred and prejudice, superstition and discrimination, as well as helping understand some of the finer points that were made by Jesus or Paul.

The fact that the course of Christianity has been all but straight, despite having the Old Testament as a guideline for what can go wrong, leads me to ask whether sources are reliable and whether we are in actual fact understanding those sources as they were meant. The fact that the sources may be inerrant doesn’t necessarily mean that the scholars doing exegesis are inerrant. Too many voices within Christianity have been silenced, too many examples that there were varying strands of teaching has been artificially pulled together to pretend it was one from the start.

Religious revelation is imparted by human beings. There are no “proofs” of Christianity that are not “witness statements” of believers. Therefore, although the argument of a philosopher can be inspected at the desk or on a blackboard, religious statements can not. It is still, despite the fact that churches are institutionalised, necessary to give reasons to trust the particular brand of truth you are proposing.

I think that you are underrating those people who change their religious stance. In my experience, the critics have been far better informed than the believers, which in fact is often the biggest dilemma of believers. It also isn’t a question of numbers, but a question of trusting a teaching and a line of behaviour to promote the common good. It is rarely an existential question for the majority of people to choose a philosophy, but it is existential to put my faith in a man who people say came down from heaven.

A lone Christian isn’t required to doubt his faith, which would be a contradiction, but isn’t it a normal course of life to confirm that our perception of what life is about is in keeping with our personal experience of life? Would it be normal to simply accept that my faith says that the sky is pink, if my daily experience shows that it is rarely pink, but in fact blue?


“People like yourself”? I’m not trying to be accusatory. If I’m accusatory, it’s towards a popular sentiment among atheists and agnostics, that says that a person’s belief in the claims of a religion should be shaken just because of religious pluralism- that there are many other religious beliefs out there. This does not happen in other fields. That’s all.

  The methodology of 'proving' something religious may be different. But, can statements of political persusion be 'proven'? Statements of metaphysics and epistemology? You could argue that statistics and logic provide an air of 'proof' to politics and philosophy unavailable to religion, and I would retort that if this 'proof' exists, it certainly hasn't been demonstrated to lead to concensus, not even among experts.  The same division exists as exists in religion. 
  But you've clearly put yourself in the 'Difference' camp, and I think you're right that if the difference exists, it must be in the way that people come to their religious beliefs. Can you explain how the way people come to religious belief is dramatically different than political or philosophical belief, while accounting for the fact that political and philosophical belief has plenty of division as well? 
  This is true. Different sorts of evidence are admissible in religion than in philosophy, though I would argue many religious claims can be exmained in just the way you describe.  Still, despite the opportunity for inspection, philosophy is[i] at least as [/i] diverse and contrary as religious claims.  If you told a philosopher that he should be skeptical on his own stance because most experts disagreed with him, he'd tell you that was an argument from authority and disregard it completely. 

Certainly if your experience shows you that the sky is blue, that’s what you should believe. If you read a book that says most people in India, or most people of a certain ethinicity, or most people of a certain education find it to be pink, you should still believe that it’s blue.*

*I realize, that due to colorblindness, the analogy breaks down. :slight_smile:

Uccisore asks:

Good question. You’re right. In many instances, unchecked skepticism easily becomes disfunctional. What I was suggesting was that skepticism, in most areas of inquiry based on reason (almost anything not of metaphysical origin), is a positive force. In practical terms, it is the mode of ‘checking’ our assumptions, our logical constructs, and the efficacy in describing our reality as closely as possible… To put it another way, skepticism helps us make sure that our questions match up with our answers - or the other way around. Given that our perceptions can be fooled, or that we can fool ourselves, a healthy dose of skepticism can be a good thing. I don’t know about you, but I have never had the wrong answer, I just occasionally fail to ask the right question. :unamused: It doesn’t hurt to carry a little skepticism in our pocket.

The uniqueness of religious questioning is that religious belief does not yield to logic. To be sure, the tenets and dogma of a religion may make sense logically - some of it would have to, but the core belief and trust (thanks, Bob) relies on our ability to intuitively accept the “truth” of our religious convictions despite any doubts we may have. We can doubt the whats and hows of any religion, but not the whys. Religious beliefs are not to be explained, just experienced. The apologists fail to see the real issue. When asked why? they attempt to explain, when their only honest answer is “because”.

To answer your original question, I don’t think there is any concise declared answer. What you see is a loose and vague understanding of the difference between the objective and subjective universe. If there is any confusion, it is when the attempt is made to claim objectivism in those areas of life that are subjective. (not that anyone would do that!) Isn’t it interesting that, even in the chaos of language, cultural differences, and environment, people still know the difference?



 I see what you mean now. Let me point out that there's two kinds of skepticism. The first sort is aimed at a [i]position[/i]- To the position that capitalism is the best possible economic policy, a person could be [i]skeptical[/i]. The second type of skepticism is to an [i]entire[/i] field- a person could be skeptical of all religion, and say that nobody can ever discern any truth from religious claims. It is this second kind of skepticism I'm wondering about. Firstly, because you don't find it in other fields, even extremely devisive fields like politics, and second because in the case of religion, it isn't supported very well- diversity of opinion alone is said to be adequate support for the second sort of skepticism. 

Bob mentioned this to me as well. I am going to suspend my comments until the diversity and conflict in more logical fields like politics is accounted for.