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10 atheist quotes that will make you question religion
From psychology to neuroscience, what we believe is not nearly as relevant as why we do.
- Belief systems arise to address the time and social conditions of each era and culture.
- Your relationship to your community and environment is very influential in what you believe.
- Neuroscience explains many of the questions as to why we believe in the first place.
When I was studying for my degree in religion, I was most fascinated by what people believe. The fact that members of the same species could invent such diverse ideas about the invisible speaks volumes about the human imagination. During that period, I recognized how essential place and time were in the formation of religious ideologies. Regardless of your belief system, we can agree that the creation of Christianity today would look nothing like the historical accounts we rely on.
It was neuroscience that stopped me from focusing on what and begin to investigate why. Why do we believe in anything metaphysical? What function do gods play in our psychology? Why do we resist the fact that we might not be right, sometimes to the point where we'll murder opposing tribes?
Environmental and genetic conditions conspire to create what we feel (or don't) about the ethereal. I get it: Many religious believers think they've got the special sauce, some hidden insight revealed only to their tribe. Yet so many conflicting ideologies cannot be right; there must be something else at play, and that thing is our unique biology.
The first few quotes below are big-picture social questions, while the remaining come from neuroscience and psychology books. They are not all atheistic per se, but they do point to the fact that humans tend to think very highly of themselves and what we believe, and that there are biological explanations for why we feel the way we do. The more we recognize that, the more likely we are to stop thinking there is only one way to discover truth.
"How much vanity must be concealed—not too effectively at that—in order to pretend that one is the personal object of a divine plan?" — Christopher Hitchens, God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
Here comes logic
"Monotheism explains order, but is mystified by evil. Dualism explains evil, but is puzzled by order. There is one logical way of solving the riddle: To argue that there is a single omnipotent God who created the entire universe—and He's evil. But nobody in history has had the stomach for such a belief." — Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
The difference is often language
"In America, belief in the unreal seems to be very fungible. Individuals don't so much abandon religious fantasy in favor of reason as find different fantasies that better suit their particular excitement and credulity quotients." — Kurt Andersen, Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire
A Buddhist approach
"Mindfulness accepts as its focus of inquiry whatever arises in one's field of awareness, no matter how disturbing or painful it might be. One neither seeks nor expects to find some greater truth lurking behind the veil of appearances. What appears and how you respond to it: that alone is what matters." — Stephen Batchelor, Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist
"Comprehension, far from being a Godlike talent from which all design must flow, is an emergent effect of systems of uncomprehending competence: natural selection on the one hand, and mindless computation on the other." — Daniel Dennett, From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds
The physical can be spiritual
"Evolution simply happened—foresightless, by chance, without goal. There is nobody to despise or rebel against—not even ourselves. And this is not some bizarre form of neurophilosophical nihilism but rather a point of intellectual honesty and great spiritual depth." — Thomas Metzinger, The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self
"Supernatural thinking is simply the natural consequence of failing to match our intuitions with the true reality of the world." — Bruce M. Hood, The Science of Superstition: How the Developing Brain Creates Supernatural Beliefs
Out of body is still in the body
"Out-of-body flight "really happens," then—it is a real physical event, but only in the patient's brain and, as a result, in his subjective experience. The out-of-body state is, by and large, an exacerbated form of the dizziness that we all experience when our vision disagrees with our vestibular system, as on a rocking boat." — Stanislas Dehaene, Consciousness and the Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes Our Thoughts
Randomness produces beautiful (or efficient) results
"If you let something tumble long enough, it comes out almost perfect. Such is the power of random collisions and patience, and that constitutes the sum total of nature's intelligence. All the rough edges, the flaws, the things that don't work are systematically dispatched by natural selection. What remains and carries on into the next generation and the next after that and so on are the advantageous aspects, what does work what makes survival easier. And survival is the fuel of natural selection." — Rodolfo R. Llinas, I of the vortex: From Neurons to Self
"Everything happens for a reason"
"A long line of research in cognitive science has documented that people make causal attributions about events as a means of maintaining personal control. It is the feeling that things are spinning out of control that motivates the human brain to find a pattern in events and try to predict what is going to happen next. The left-brain interpreter thus will be activated whenever the individual senses a lack of control. Superstitions and conspiracy theories can be seen as the societal consequences of the interpreter's drive to find a causal explanation for events that are seemingly out of control." — Ronald T. Kellogg, The Making of the Mind: The Nueroscience of Human Nature
Scientists use new methods to discover what's inside drug containers used by ancient Mayan people.
- Archaeologists used new methods to identify contents of Mayan drug containers.
- They were able to discover a non-tobacco plant that was mixed in by the smoking Mayans.
- The approach promises to open up new frontiers in the knowledge of substances ancient people consumed.
PARME staff archaeologists excavating a burial site at the Tamanache site, Mérida, Yucatan.
While not the first such minister, the loneliness epidemic in Japan will make this one the hardest working.
- The Japanese government has appointed a Minister of Loneliness to implement policies designed to fight isolation and lower suicide rates.
- They are the second country, after the U.K., to dedicate a cabinet member to the task.
- While Japan is famous for how its loneliness epidemic manifests, it isn't alone in having one.
The Ministry of Loneliness<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/I5FIohjZT8o" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p><a href="https://www.jimin.jp/english/profile/members/114749.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Tetsushi Sakamoto</a>, already in the government as the minister in charge of raising Japan's low birthrate and revitalizing regional economies, was appointed this <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">month</a> to the additional role. He has already announced plans for an emergency national forum to discuss the issue and share the testimony of lonely <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/12/national/loneliness-isolation-minister/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">individuals</a>.</p><p>Given the complexity of the problem, the minister will primarily oversee the coordination of efforts between different <a href="https://www.insider.com/japan-minister-of-loneliness-suicides-rise-pandemic-2021-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ministries</a> that hope to address the issue alongside a task <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">force</a>. He steps into his role not a moment too soon. The loneliness epidemic in Japan is uniquely well known around the world.</p><p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hikikomori" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Hikikomori</em></a><em>,</em> often translated as "acute social withdrawal," is the phenomenon of people completely withdrawing from society for months or years at a time and living as modern-day hermits. While cases exist in many <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00247/full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countries</a>, the problem is better known and more prevalent in Japan. Estimates vary, but some suggest that one million Japanese live like this and that 1.5 million more are at <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/article/japan-hikikomori-isolation-society" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">risk</a> of developing the condition. Individuals practicing this hermitage often express contentment with their isolation at first before encountering severe symptoms of loneliness and <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/01/200110155241.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">distress</a>.</p><p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kodokushi" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Kodokushi</em></a>, the phenomenon of the elderly dying alone and remaining undiscovered for some time due to their isolation, is also a widespread issue in Japan that has attracted national attention for decades.</p><p>These are just the most shocking elements of the loneliness crisis. As we've discussed before, loneliness can cause health issues akin to <a href="https://www.inc.com/amy-morin/americas-loneliness-epidemic-is-more-lethal-than-smoking-heres-what-you-can-do-to-combat-isolation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">smoking</a>. A lack of interaction within a community can cause social <a href="https://bigthink.com/in-their-own-words/how-religious-neighbors-are-better-neighbors" target="_self">problems</a>. It is even associated with changes in the <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/loneliness-brain" target="_self">brain</a>. While there is nothing wrong with wanting a little time to yourself, the inability to get the socialization that many people need is a real problem with real <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/brain-loneliness-hunger" target="_self">consequences</a>.</p>
The virus that broke the camel's back<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Hp-L844-5k8" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> A global loneliness pandemic existed before COVID-19, and the two working in tandem has been catastrophic. </p><p>Japanese society has always placed a value on solitude, often associating it with self-reliance, which makes dealing with the problem of excessive solitude more difficult. Before the pandemic, 16.1 percent of Japanese seniors reported having nobody to turn to in a time of need, the highest rate of any nation <a href="https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/japan-tackles-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">considered</a>. Seventeen percent of Japanese men surveyed in 2005 said that they "rarely or never spend time with friends, colleagues, or others in social groups." This was three times the average rate of other <a href="http://www.oecd.org/sdd/37964677.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countries</a>. </p><p>American individualism also creates a fertile environment for isolation to grow. About a month before the pandemic started, nearly<a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/01/23/798676465/most-americans-are-lonely-and-our-workplace-culture-may-not-be-helping" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> 3 in 5</a> Americans reported being lonely in a <a href="https://www.cigna.com/about-us/newsroom/studies-and-reports/combatting-loneliness/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> issued by Cigna. This is a slight increase over previous studies, which had been pointing in the same direction for years. </p><p>In the United Kingdom, the problem prompted the creation of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness. The commission's <a href="https://www.ageuk.org.uk/globalassets/age-uk/documents/reports-and-publications/reports-and-briefings/active-communities/rb_dec17_jocox_commission_finalreport.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">final report </a>paints a stark picture of the U.K.'s situation in 2017, with millions of people from all parts of British society reporting feeling regular loneliness at a tremendous cost to personal health, society, and the economy.</p><p>The report called for a lead minister to address the problem at the national level, incorporating government action with the insights provided by volunteer organizations, businesses, the NHS, and other organizations on the crisis's front lines. Her Majesty's Government acted on the report and appointed the first Minister for Loneliness in <a href="https://time.com/5248016/tracey-crouch-uk-loneliness-minister/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2018</a>, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tracey_Crouch" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Tracey Crouch</a>, and dedicated millions of pounds to battling the problem. </p><p>The distancing procedures necessitated by the COVID-19 epidemic saved many lives but exacerbated an existing problem of loneliness in many parts of the world. While the issue had received attention before, Japan's steps to address the situation suggest that people are now willing to treat it with the seriousness it deserves.</p><p>--</p><p><em>If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, help is available. The suicide prevention hotline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.</em></p>
MIT professor Azra Akšamija creates works of cultural resilience in the face of social conflict.