Coffee House

Sorry atheists, organised religion works

2 January 2013

4:13 PM

2 January 2013

4:13 PM

‘I’m spiritual, not religious’ is something people say to make themselves sound interesting. It doesn’t work. What is intriguing, though, is that, according to this new survey, those who see themselves as spiritual but don’t follow conventional religion are far more likely to be mentally ill.

Now, before you trolly atheists out there in webland start typing ‘What a lot of crap. … anyone who believes in God is nuts. LMFAO!!’, read me out. Yes, we might have a case of chicken-and-egg here — the chicken being mental illness and the egg being the thirst for existential understanding. Or vice-versa.  But the survey might also go to prove the value of that least trendy thing: organised religion. It is a very strenuous thing for the psyche to accept the idea of transcendental power (or whatever you want to call it) without some structure and external guidance. In grappling the eternal questions with little religious routine, the spirtual-but-not-religious are putting too much strain on their subconscious. Organised religion, for all its flaws, does offer support to believers, even if it is all feel-goodery and fairytales.

Richard Dawkins, bless him, said before Christmas that raising children as Roman Catholics is worse than child abuse. It may be that telling children to explore the spiritual realm without guidance is a greater cruelty still.

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Show comments
  • SC Skillman

    You make a very interesting point. And of course St Paul himself warned of a condition which has sometimes been translated as “spiritual seasickness”. I do believe this exists. Nevertheless, as a person who myself for many years identified myself as “spiritual but not religious”, until I committed myself to the Christian faith, I believe human beings are so complex we cannot make hard-and-fast general statements about the relationship between spirituality and faith. I worked in a local mental health community team for years, and spoke with many mental health clients, some of whom did have “religious mania”, but I didn’t find any particular connection either with vague spirituality, or with organised religion. SC Skillman, Author, Mystical Circles (romantic suspense)

  • kwestion.all

    “It may be that telling children to explore the spiritual realm without guidance is a greater cruelty still.” –
    er no, bringing up children properly with guidance is all that’s required (with or without spiritual realm)

  • Q46

    So Churches are de facto psychiatric day wards for fruit and nut cases, with pseudo psychiatrists who are as mad as balloons themselves just marginally less so than their patients.

    I can go along with that.

    In Nomine Domine
    A T Heist

  • CheddarMelt

    Wow, way to misinterpret a study! IIRC, what the survey actually found was that those who EITHER had a firm belief in a god OR a firm belief in NO god were the healthiest and happiest, but those who were somewhere in the middle were more likely to suffer. Also, this survey was widely criticized for its cultural biases–certain confounding variables have NOT been cleared up. For example, in the US, churches provide the primary source for community involvement and social support, but that is not the case in all countries. Repeating this research in a primarily non-theistic culture with a similar per-capita income may show similar or different results.

    Journalism fail.

  • Mark Stewart

    Mental illness is created from the lack of organized fairy tales? Try to take someone serious that truly believes in Zues? I do think that consciousness raises an overwhelming amount of possibilities and the naive mind is not typically able to handle the realities of uncertainty that are introduced and exist. When I was young, the challenging for me, was figuring out the hypocrisy of the golden rule in religion.

  • noname63

    What a bunch of nonsense! I have what I call ‘maverick spirituality’. It’s a fact and I’m not saying it just to appear more interesting. Just don’t lump me in with the fundies.

  • Greyson Swan

    Atheism and Christianity are both religions. A staunch Christian fundamentalist is no different than a pig-headed arrogant materialist “scientist”. The Source of all is bigger than any religion and is bigger than any of your puny ideologies, dogmas or “scientific” presuppositions. We are the Universe experiencing itself, this is just how it is.

  • Bunnie

    In your rush to tar & feather atheists, agnostics and everyone outside a judeo-christian background you forgot that ‘spiritual but not religious’ also applies to Christians +
    who have had enough of the hate, hate, and oh, hate that masquerades as ‘organized religion’.

  • Becca

    Maybe the people who are ‘spiritual’ are also more open with the admittance to actually having mental illness.

  • Jim Hamell

    This is stupid…atheist aren’t spiritual…athists don’t beleive in the metaphysical at all

    • Jim Hamell

      I think the guy is actually talking about those hippie dippie New Agers…I concur…they are nuts lol

      • Finney McBolter

        In other words, he doesn’t know his subject material very well. Not enough research..

  • Will

    These comments are too caught up in labels, factoids, and name calling to say anything meaningful. Including this comment.

  • Greg Baker

    I will pay any
    “religious nut” the sum of $2,000,000 if that “religious nut” can prove God
    exists. If that “religious nut” does prove beyond a reasonable doubt through empirical evidence that god does exist I will also pay that “religious
    nut” the sum of $1,000,000 to prove beyond a reasonable doubt through empirical
    evidence that God is not gay.

    • Greyson Swan

      you are God

  • Using Reason

    So exactly where is this survey you are referencing, Mr. Gray? Your source is two sentences on another website that says there is a survey and what the results of the survey are, but you do not provide us with a link to the actual survey. Did you even check? Or did you just read something you want to be true and exclaim, ‘Ah-ha!!’?

    Let me post a quote from the actual study:

    “Moreover, we were surprised to find that many people expressed, some in very strong terms, that church counselling may be unhelpful, even detrimental to the individual.”

    Perhaps this study is not what you have been told it is?

  • Roxee

    Seriously? In 2012 we are still listening to people claim their god/s exist based on a book that has so many flaws the very idea it was “devinely” inspired is laughable. The book has dubious authorship; was cobbled together by a bunch of men hundreds of years after the fact; had bits left out the men didn’t like; depicts stories about a vicious vindictive “father” god, who the authors say did some things that are now evidentially not true thanks to science; depicts stories about a “son” god and “spirit” god that the authors of the chapters don’t even agree on. The believers in this book, and all those other religious books, have been living with an impending apocolyse cloud hanging over them for over a thousand years now. If these books were written today they’d be in the $1 bin within a week. I’d love to know, how long is long enough? Will you tell your children that if your messiah doesn’t return in your lifetime they should stop believing on your death? Or should they tell their children, or those children tell theirs…..and on it goes. How long will be long enough? Another hundred years, a thousand, 10 thousand. When will we be rid of all this nonsense?

    • WillyTheFish

      “…. a book that has so many flaws the very idea it was “divinely” inspired is laughable.”

      And what commentaries on scripture – its meaning, its interpretation, its genre, its authorship etc. did you consult?

      Or is your opinion merely superficial prejudice based on lack of knowledge?

    • Daniel Maris

      I note that disagreement over interpretation between the various authors of the Bible invalidates the propositions of the authors. Do you apply the same strict criteria to the validity of competing and contradictory scientific theories I wonder? Let us know.

  • zendodeb

    “Organized religion works” to do what? Encourage the Taliban? Divide Northern Ireland? Produce the Inquisition? The Pogroms? Srebrenica?

    And the fact that some people think organized religion “works” doesn’t make it true. The fact that so many organized religions work, seems to imply that they can’t all be true.

    And so what if they work. Even if they work for a lot of people. If 75% of the people on the planet think the earth is flat, are they right, just because they are in a majority and their belief “works” for them on a daily basis?

  • Patrick James Bayham

    define “spiritual”…..they we can have a discussion…

  • Timothy Owens

    any organization “works”. try to be a general, disorganized racist without a hate group to belong to. Don’t get much accomplished, do ya? The problem lies in the constructs these groups are based on. It’s not like this organization mines minerals, makes furniture, or even does something slightly vague like selling futures. This shit is way vague. Like super vague. Abstracted to the point of absurdity. When you don’t belong to a group based on similar abstractions, well of COURSE you’ll flounder and likely be deemed insane. Do your crazy in a group and you gain some credibility.

  • Joel Fornal

    Article says “according to this survey” with a link to a tiny reference to the survey in a news source. Is that how one attempts to quote sources? If this was a survey somewhere.. why not link to the actual survey? Sloppy. Undermines any credibility. I won’t even touch the rest of the rediculous post.

  • limoncello

    Youcat, the catholic catechism for young people is a great and cheering intro to structured faith,

  • Pavane

    Good point, well made. Thanks. It takes a lot of faith to maintain a belief in Atheism and whether you’re atheist, i.e. claim there is no God, or Agnostic, i.e. claim not to know if there is one or not, you are left with the same problem: having to define you’re own moral certainties without a previously thought-out structure to assist you. That’s enough of a problem for career philosophers and religious thinkers let alone ordinary mortals. I understand Richard Dawkins is the current pontiff of Atheism and much as all Archbishops must in dark times, it’s jolly well up to him to take a greater lead in these matters!

    • Matt Rieman

      Morality existed long before organized religion. Human society has always defined morality. All species have a certain level of cooperation that allows them to thrive. If all humans went around murdering, raping, stealing, etc, the species would soon die out.

    • Chris2027

      A lack of faith takes faith? O_o

      Atheism is the lack of belief in a deity, not a belief…

      I define my own morality the same you do, even if you don’t think so, via human reason, despite the Bible saying not to trust your own sense, which is funny, because that’s how they’ve been able to con so many people for centuries, to make people question their own reasoning, had that not happened, the past might be a little less bloody due to religious related genocides, and so on… however, back to morality… how do you know which parts of the Bible or whatever holy book you follow is acceptable or not… or do you go around killing people for the “sins” they’ve committed in your deities eyes? Make sure that wife is a virgin on her wedding day, if not, take her to her fathers house and stone her to death… is that right in your eyes? If not, would you still do it if a god said so? If so, you need to reevaluate your morals…

    • Roxee

      Look at the results of social, cognitive studies being condicted on small children from 6 months to 3 years. They reveal innate alturism, and empathy. Look at the animal studies, especially those on our closest cousins Chimps and Bonobos, who also have these traits. That’s where we get our morality from. It’s a shame these theistic gods didn’t make “don’t rape” one of their rules. An awful lot of children and women would have been saved from having to endure an awful lit of suffering. You’re living inside a religious bubble. You need to get out more.

      • WillyTheFish

        ‘They reveal innate altruism, and empathy’ this is a point made by Dawkins in the God Delusion. It is also made, far more economically, by John in his gospel. Chapter 1 v 9 is the key text.

        • Using Reason

          “by John in his gospel.” Sorry, John did not write a gospel. just because it has had his name placed on it does not mean he wrote it. We do not know who wrote it.

          • Daniel Maris

            Some scholars believe in the “priority of John” not least because it is quite different from the other gospels.

    • Bryan Richards

      Same misunderstandings. Atheism has never been an assertion of no gods, it is the lack of belief in any gods. There is a huge difference, not that I expect you to see that.

  • Brandon Arkell

    What a load of hooey.

  • CraigStrachan

    I wouldn’t tell a child of mine to explore “the spiritual realm” without guidance. I wouldn’t tell them to explore the spiritual realm at all. I simply suggest that they make their own decisions on how or whether to undertake such exploration when they come of age.

    That said, I wouldn’t allow a minor child of mine anywhere near a Catholic priest.

  • Harvey Grund

    I see your point and it’s a valid one. Organized religion exists — not much can be done about that — and as long as it does, those who subscribe to it need the organized brainwashing that goes with it just to keep their sanity. It’s like believing in the great Pumpkin.Charlie Brown — you gotta be in the pumpkin patch for inspiration.

  • Daniel Maris

    It’s long been observed that the suicide rate goes down during a war. That’s not much of an argument for war, and it’s not much of an argument for organised religion either.

  • The Fog Horn

    The ancient Hebrews worshipped volcanoes, Mount Sinai being one of them. Google ‘Oh My Volcano’ and you might find some material you can use to write a decent article.

  • John

    I’m a spiritual atheist. And I can tell you that I don’t care. I won’t give up my freedom of thought for some dogmatic organization that has the audacity to tell me what to believe and how. And way to misquote Dawkins. He cited the massochistic relationship with God that Christianity (and by stem Catholics) are encouraged to have.

    • Daniel Maris

      But Dawkins now says he is an agnostic not an atheist.

      • Brian Westley

        No, he quite clearly says he’s an agnostic AND an atheist. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

        • Daniel Maris

          Explain how the two concepts overlap then.

          Dawkins has a seven point scale in his God delusion going from complete certainty in God’s existence to complete certainty he does not exist. He puts himself at point 6. But that begs the question – at what point does agnosticism overlap with atheist. Is a Christian with doubts an atheist? Why not, on your analysis.

          It seems to me agnosticism has a clear meaning – a set of opinions indicating that there is evidence both FOR and AGAINST the existence of a deity of some type (not necessarily theism). I have never heard Dawkins describe any evidence FOR there being a deity.

          This is a typical trick of atheists – in reality extreme disbelievers in the possibility of a deity – to muddy the waters by trying to take over territory occupied by agnostics.

          • Chris2027

            An atheist is one who lacks belief in a deity… agnostic is one who says we can’t/don’t know if a deity exists… I’m an ignostic atheist, used to be an agnostic atheist… ignostic being that before we can have a meaningful conversation about “God,” we have to adequately define “God.”

            An atheist can be a strong or weak atheist… a strong atheist says there is no god… a weak atheist is simply an atheist who rejects the claim or belief that there is a god, thus they lack belief in a god.

            The recent usage of agnostic is new, this middle ground stance of sorts, that one doesn’t believe, but also doesn’t not believe that a god exists…

            However, I’ve yet to see any evidence for the existence of a god…

            • Daniel Maris

              Well that’s amazing…though scientists can’t tell you what the origin of the Big Bang was, what the nature of subjective consciousness is, what is the fundamental nature of energy and matter, and what the cause of the laws of nature are…you can’t see any possibility of evidence for the existence of a deity. Truly a believer in the “atheism of the (ever-growing) gaps”!

              • Chris2027

                Just because scientists can’t explain something doesn’t automatically prove a god exists… and actually, the Big Bang is something of a misnomer… there was no bang, since there is no sound in a vacuum, and it wasn’t really big as it wasn’t an explosion in space… it was the expansion of space itself. The Big Bang is the beginning of our universe, there was no universe prior to the Big Bang and the discovery of the Higgs boson, which completes the Standard Model in particle physics allows us to go back before the Big Bang and does offer a scientifically valid explanation for the “cause” of the Big Bang.

                What do you mean the nature of subjective consciousness? Subjective consciousness refers to a state of consciousness, in which a person is constantly aware of his or her self as well as outside factors. Well, when you die that goes away, because your self-awareness is a product of your properly functioning brain… same with someone who is brain dead, they are not self-aware… someone who has brain death is clinically dead. Heck, even if you’re asleep you no longer have subjective consciousness… because when you’re asleep you’re no longer aware of yourself nor outside factors… until something brings you back into consciousness… because when you’re asleep you’re unconscious, as it’s a form of controlled unconsciousness.

                What do you mean fundamental nature of energy and matter?

                As for the “cause” of the laws of nature, they’re simply how the universe formed, there was no cause, as in consciousness.

                I will certainly weigh evidence should it arise, but using certain unanswered questions as your evidence for the existence of a deity is not logical.

                “Truly a believer in the “atheism of the (ever-growing) gaps”

                Whatever that means…

                • Daniel Maris


                  Your standard of argumentation is very poor.

                  1. I never claimed there was proof of God. I am arguing the true agnostic position: that there is some evidence at least for a supernatural force (call it a deity if you like).

                  2. You think I really thought there was a Big Bang? LOL What there was, was an unexplained singularity. It’s not for me to explain why scientific obvservation is built everywhere on the foundation of causality except in this one regard – it’s for scientists and atheists. Actually though, although you say confidently “there was nothing before the Big Bang” a number of theorists have recently begun to theorise about causation of the Big Bang…but that just underlines how slippery science and atheism is. Having mocked God-believers for so many decades for being so naive as to demand a cause of the Big Bang, they have now come round to thinking there might be one after all!

                  3. You’re claims about consciousness are v. primitive in terms of understanding. Firstly, an analogy – what you are saying is (possibly – since only an idiot would claim to be sure on this subject) the equivalent of saying that because you kick the radio, which has been merrily sounding out the Archers, across the room so it breaks and dies, Radio 4 no longer exists. The same analogy could apply to sleeping. Turning off the radio doesn’t mean Radio 4 has ceased to exist either.

                  Of course a primitive who has never heard of radio channels and broadcasting might think they have silenced whatever was making the noise by kicking it or twirling a knob.

                  4. You haven’t got even close to an understanding of the subjective (emphasis: subjective) consciousness. You inhabit consciousness, you are the “I”. It is the most real thing you know – everything else is mediated by sensory experience. But where can that “I” be seen, observed, experimented on? To put it another way – how do you observe subjectivity objectively without it becoming a non-subjective account or the account of a different subjectivity. In plain language: how could I ever know the reality of your joys and sorrows, without being you? – and if I am you, then I am not me. Of course, I might know you well, enough to give an account of how I (emphasis of

                  on I) feel you might feel. But that is not the reality of your subjectivity. Subjectivity is different in this regard from an atom or molecule which we can manipulate and experiment on.

                  5. It is the scientists, not me, who claim they can get to the fundamentals of energy and matter – when they started out with atomic theory all seemed to be going well and things were getting clearer and clearer but for the last 70 years or so I would say there has been growing incoherence, confusion and complexity. What we see, as with cosmology, is numerous competing theories that are not being resolved into a scientific consensus. I say this is evidence for there being a supernatural realm or dimension in addition to the “four dimensional” world because it is just what one would expect to happen.

                  6. I mean at the macro and micro level, the gap in knowledge has been increasing not diminishing. When we look at a science such as geology we can see that it has steadily been closing gaps and now they are mostly all closed. But when we look at physics and cosmology the reverse is true. It’s for atheist to account for and live with those growing gaps in knowledge.

                  7. Re the laws of nature. “Simply how the universe formed, there was no cause…” I don’t see how you can be so confident of that statement when theorists are already now exploring what lay behind the Big Bang (which we were also told was beyond explanation only a few years ago).

          • Roxee

            Agnosticism/Gnosticism are knowledge claims. Atheism/Theism are belief claims. An Agnostic doesn’t know. A Gnostic knows. An Atheist lacks belief. A Theist believes. A Deist then would be an Agnostic Theist. A Gnostic Theist are people who believe in the gods as dictated by whatever religion they belong to (keeping in mind they can’t all be right). It’s amazing how we always have to educate people about these terms while listening to them tell us what we are, how we got that way, and why we won’t change. A lot of us were once you. Many of us actually read the books. Then we studied how the books came into being – and voila, atheist.

            • Daniel Maris

              That’s poor philosophy. There is no knowledge without belief.

              Most scientists believe in the non-supernatural causation or origin of the laws of nature even though they have in most cases no knowledge at all about their causation or origin (e.g. no one knows really why the speed of light is at it is). Similarly they reject divine explanations of the Big Bang even though it is a more extraordinary claim that the Big Bang came out of nothing than it was divinely caused.

          • Sara Sharick

            Atheism is a lack of belief in gods based on a lack of evidence. Agnosticism is the intellectual honesty to realize that something cannot logically be proven to NOT exist, and therefore we can say nothing definitive about it without positive evidence. I can understand intellectually that no gods (Christian or otherwise) can be proven to not exist, but I can leave open the possibility that some kind of quality evidence may be available in the future. However, given the dearth of such evidence now, and the significant opportunities for collection and presentation of such evidence but which has not produced any, it is a waste of my time to believe that such gods exist. Both agnostic and atheist.

            • Daniel Maris

              Sara – That’s nonsense on a number of levels:

              1. Do you apply the same approach to the orbit of the Sun around the Earth? Do you say that logically it cannot be proven to NOT exist and that therefore some “quality evidence” may be available in the future to show that it does exist and that every single astronomical observation since the Middle Ages was actually false? If you do (a) I’d be surprised and (b) I’d very much doubt that had any effect on the practical side of things i.e. your every thought and action would still suggest that you do not accept that the Sun orbits the Earth.

              2. The typically slippery atheist attempt to claim there is a difference between belief and knowledge is nonsense. On the scientific-atheist side, there are plenty of things people believe in without having any proof e.g. the non-divine or even non-causal nature of the Big Bang; multiverses; multiple dimensions; the natural origin of the laws of nature. To say that doesn’t count as belief because scientists are prepared to revise their opinions if other evidence comes their way is not unique to science. There are plenty of examples of religious believers in gods changing their views because of what they think is new evidence e.g. Philip the Eunuch in the Gospels, St. Paul himself etc There are some things on the scientific side that are really just articles of faith e.g. the physical nature of the subjective experience of consciousness, for which there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever.

              3. IN reality, when you hear scientists talk, just as the rest of us do they switch between “we believe” and “we know” with as much ease as the rest of us. All we are talking about here is a continuum of evidence and people’s perceptions of that continuum. I don’t accept there is a single scientist on the planet who doesn’t think there is in our cosmos a phenomenon we can call electromagnetic radiation. They have a belief that is the case which is as firm as any faith and I don’t believe they sincerely think any future evidence could change that belief. Where religions and science differ I would say is that religious people’s ideas of certainty tend to be wayward. A typical example is “signs of the end time”. It’s not that religious people don’t accept the idea of evidence and proof, they just have very disorganised and crude attempts at collecting evidence and deciding when they have sufficient evidence to call it proof. Science on the other hand is very organised and has strong systems for evidence gathering and reviewing evidence.

  • The Fog Horn

    Where did my comment go? The ancient Hebrews worshipped volcanoes, Mount Sinai being one of them. I’ll keep posting this statement even if you keep deleting it. Google ‘Oh My Volcano’.

  • The Fog Horn

    Where did my comment go? The ancient Hebrews worshipped volcanoes, Mount Sinai being one of them. I’ll keep posting this statement even if you keep deleting it. Google ‘Oh My Volcano’ and you might find some material you can use to write a decent article.

    • Evolution is an obvious Hoax

      you m;ust be one of those spiritual persons, mentally at your wits, end, “Im going to post this even if you keep deleting it.” wow. there is meds for that.

  • Wilhelm

    I was reading a book the other day ” Race Against Time, Racial Heresies of the 21st Century.” One essay was written by Father James Thornton a Greek Orthodox priest. He said the Christian Churches have been infiltrated by do gooding liberals, social workers, marxists and charlatans.

    And this Brazilian priest Fr Paulo Azeveldo give a very good critique on Cultural Marxism.

  • William Blakes Ghost

    Now, before you trolly atheists out there in webland start typing ‘What a
    lot of crap. … anyone who believes in God is nuts. LMFAO!!’, read me

    Hardly a lot of crap. I think it is very informative as to the mindset of someone who has been indoctrinated into organised religion.

    Does it feel good to know that you are not as ‘nuts’ as other spiritualists ‘Freddy’?

    Organised religion, for all its flaws, does offer support to believers, even if it is all feel-goodery and fairytales.

    I imagine in its way that could be said of National Socialism for some people as well. Doesn’t make it anything to shout about. Organised Religion today is a mess of contradiction, hypocrisy, politics and social engineering (and probably always was) and with certain religions a whole lot of cruelty as well. That is hardly a basis to recommend it particularly as the politicians tend to have cornered that market over the last century or so and tainted that market place for the forseeable future.

    As for the chicken and egg observations is my experience is that the search for spiritual enlightenment usually comes after an individual has suffered tragedy, trauma or loss in life that makes them question their very existence to that point. Now often such trauma will also drive people to drink and drugs (which equally could be a cause of the trauma) so its of little surprise that those not indoctrinated into organised religion might suffer from mental issues. Of course they steer clear of organised religion becuase of the holier than thou judgementalism and sanctimony that even pervades this article (‘huzzah spiritualists are nuts!’) People with problems hardly seem to be something to gather comfort from in the way Freddy seems to be trying to do.

    The more one thinks about this article the more it is clear how crass, superficial, callous and rather self serving the author is being. How very unchristian of the author. Rather than sneer at and berate these people many of whom would seem to need help perhaps ‘Freddy’ (how very upper class such a name is) should show some initiative, imagination, feeling and most of all some christian ‘spirit’ instead.

    Then perhaps we atheists and agnostics may not view such articles or organised religion in general with such contempt. This article is not nuts, its just cruel in the usual organised ‘religious’ way. After all what would organised religion be without all those ‘evil sinners’ (in this case aka mentally ill spiritualists)?

    PS And if Freddy was a parent he would know you don’t let children explore anything without guidance!

    • Wilhelm

      Hmm, thanks for your input Mr Foghorn

      Peter Hitchens said the psychology of atheists is ” I don’t believe in God and I hate Him ! ”

      • William Balkes Ghost

        I’ve never met god so I have no real opinion of him/her/it (it’s so hard classifying these ultimate deities) at all. Although I must say organised (Western predominantly) religion doesn’t give him a very good press.

        PS Mr Foghorn? Was that supposed to insult? I had to ask because I wasn’t sure. I don’t feel very insulted so perhaps it wasn’t. Anyway I wouldn’t quote either Hitchens brother if I were you. Freddy might think you are nuts too and take some comfort in that!

        • Wilhelm

          William Blakes Ghost

          I think there was a glitch in the Spectator computer system, your comment was labeled under ” The Fog Horn.”

        • TomTom

          “I’ve never met god so I have no real opinion of him/”………….I have never met you ergo you do not exist

      • Fergus Pickering

        Peter Hitchens said a heaping mouthful.

    • TomTom

      “I imagine in its way that could be said of National Socialism for some
      people as well.” …………..Well looking at National Socialism at its core value system, can you say what aspects have been DISPROVEN since 1946

  • The Fog Horn

    The ancient Hebrews worshipped volcanoes. Google ‘Oh My Volcano’.

  • Kevin

    It is probably better to let the professionals write about mental illness.

  • Matt Rieman

    The title of your column is very misleading. Atheists, by definition, are not “spiritual”. Atheism is simply the rejection of the claim that gods exist, based on a lack of evidence. You’re thinking of a segment of the “nones” (currently 20% of the population) who claim to be “spiritual” but not affiliated with organized religion. Nice try, but I’ll stick with reality thanks.

    • The Fog Horn

      Do comments on here need to be approved before they become visible? My comments keep getting deleted.

    • Fergus Pickering

      Wrong. What you are describing is agnosticism. Atheism is the firm belief that God does not exist. A firm belief cannot be based on lack of evidence, nor is it. An atheist is one who hates religion.

      • studio1972

        Nope: “Atheist: a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods” Oxford English Dictionary

        • TomTom

          The real question is whether a Disbelief in God in reciprocated and with what ultimate effect

          • Brian Westley

            That isn’t even coherent enough to be nonsense.

        • Fergus Pickering

          That is not what the OED says. Shame on you. The core meaning is DENIAL of God and consequent moral wickedness. As with Dawkins, a very wicked man. But with a bit of luck God will plague him with boils.

          • studio1972
          • Sara Sharick

            The “a” in atheist just means “not” in the same way that the “a” in atypical means not typical or the “a” in apolitical means without regard to politics. It doesn’t mean anarchist. Atheist just means a lack if belief in any gods, not an affirmative denial of existence. If you’d like to provide some physical, independently verifiable evidence that will hold up to the usual standards of intellectual rigor, I’ll be more than happy to believe you. I still wouldn’t join you at church though.

            • Daniel Maris

              A poor analogy. Much better would be “amoral”. That means literally “without morals” but it is understood that in life that means you oppose the claims of morality.

              • CheddarMelt

                Actually that would be “immoral.” “Amoral” simply means that it is neither moral nor immoral. A hurricane, for example, is amoral. It isn’t moral, and it isn’t immoral; it simply exists.

                • Daniel Maris

                  No, that’s not right. You can accept the claims of morality and still be immoral – you can knowingly do wrong.

          • Pastor Voltaire

            It has nothing to do with moral wickedness. Haven’t you ever heard of Humanist Philosophy or Epistemology? The thing you’re thinking of is by no means Atheism.

            I think are you trying to explain ANTItheism, which the rejection of religion. Or Satanism, the rejection of God.

            Atheism, on the other hand, only means the ‘lack’ of religion. They have chosen not to make up their minds because there’s no data available that could persuade them to believe. And who can blame them? It is a matter of faith rather than knowledge. And they base their opinions on knowledge instead of faith, so it can’t be a belief. Don’t you think that’s at least acceptable? Especially given how they still follow the ‘teachings’ of Christ in that they do not kill and steal?

            And why are you wishing boils onto another man? I thought you were Christian. Aren’t you Christian? It pains me to see that you let evil into your heart in such a measure that you wish suffering onto another man. Know that the teachings of Christ want you to forgive Mr. Dawkins, and all other humans, for being who they are. Yet here you are, making judgements as if you are god himself. I wil pray for your when the devil comes to claim your soul, my friend. For you are no Christian, merely a fan of Christ.

          • Bryan Richards

            Assert the wrong ideas all you want. Atheism is merely the lack of belief. Not asserting that god doesn’t exist. I often see this confusion of very simple words among religious and spiritual types alike.

            • Daniel Maris

              Bryan, strange as it may seem most of us go on evidence. And the evidence, so abundant you can call it proof it you like, is that people who call themselves atheists are invariably vehement in their belief that no deity exists. The clever ones dress it up as an absence of theistic belief (without ever acknowledging that theism is not the only type of belief in a deity) while the stupid ones let it all hang out and don’t care.

              • Bryan Richards

                That is not the definition of atheism. Deistic belief is probably as far as I could possibly go given current knowledge, but I do not make that claim until proof is presented to me. Thus I stick with the null hypothesis, atheism. I have no belief without evidence.

                For example, could you choose to believe in thor when you know what causes lightning? This is pretty much why I can’t believe in theism anymore. I know the cause and see no evidence of thor.

      • Matt Rieman

        Sorry, but I’ve been an atheist all my life, and have known many. None of them proclaim to have an absolute belief that gods don’t exist. Again, we just don’t accept the claim, based on a lack of evidence. Show us some evidence and we’ll consider it. Absolute knowledge is a claim only theists make. I don’t hate religion, just the damage people have done, and continue to do to society in it’s name.

        • Daniel Maris

          Speaking as an agnostic, I think Matt you are using the typically slippery argument of the atheist community.

          1. Are you saying that it is perfectly rational to believe in a deity of some type on the available evidence? If not, it seems to me you are the one indulging in an irrational, a kind of anti-faith.

          2. Theism is not the only type of deity-belief that is possible. But the atheist community like to pretend it is. One can believe in other types of deity e.g. the non-personal deity of Deism (which seems not a bad interpretation to me), or the kind of universal substance that one finds in Eastern religions. Are you saying you can be a Deist and an Atheist or a Taoist and an Atheist at the same time? Why not, according to your defintion?

          3. There is plenty of evidence for a deity of some type (as in an organising supernatural entity responsible for the creation of the cosmos) e.g. the Big Bang (which is poorly or not at all explained by science), the increasing confusion one finds in teh scientific community as they attempt to burrow down into matter and the absence of scientific explanation for the laws of nature, plus the apparent fine-tuning of those laws. No doubt you will state that science has solved difficult puzzles before and will do so again. I call that faith not borne out by experience – physics has just been getting more complex and bizarre as the years have gone by.

          4. The complete inability of science to explain the nature of subjective consciousness.

          5. Perhaps you can tell us what evidence in principle you would accept as persuasive of the existence of a deity and we can see how absurd your response is.

          • Matt Rieman

            You are correct on number 1. You could describe me as “anti-faith”. The definition of faith being “belief that is not based on proof”. I need observable, measurable, provable, and falsifiable evidence before I will accept something as true. The gods of the major religions possess none of these qualities. I’m not concerned with the spiritual characters of the Eastern religions, as they have not done nearly the harm of the abrahamic varieties. As far as evidence, I would need to see some type of large scale miracle (the physical laws of nature suspended for some benefit) observable by all, so that there could be no individual interpretation of the act. Until then, my default stance on any miraculous claim will continue to be null.

            • Dr Cox

              It is by no means clear to me that Matt Riemann exists. As far as evidence, I would need to see some appearance observable by all, so that there could be no individual interpretation.
              Happy new year!

              • Matt Rieman

                Fair enough. But the difference is that you have seen a picture of me, and are reading writings directly from me, in real time. Not some ancient book of mythology written decades after the characters in them were reported to have existed, by primitive humans with limited technology that could help them in understanding the world around them.

                • Daniel Maris

                  Well some would say we have a “picture” of the deity in our consciousness and that we see his work written in the cosmos. No doubt, you think that’s absurd. But why don’t you try to prove it’s absurd, since you love proof so much, by first explaining to us what exactly consciousness is…

              • Vincent Kiist

                Dr. Cox, first off I’d like to say that I highly doubt you actually have a PHD as your name would suggest. But that is neither here nor there.
                I must say that you writing that “It is by no means clear to me that Matt Riemann exists…” is the first intelligent thing you’ve said. I feel you meant that jokingly but that is the rational thing to think. For example, you don’t know me. You don’t know who I am or where I’m from. Now I use my real name and its not very common, using social networks you could find out the general area I live and then do some simple detective work to find out that I am indeed a person. But till either you do that or someone else does that and has it peer reviewed the best you can do is say “he probably exists” or “he’s probably a troll account”.

            • Daniel Maris

              That just shows how childish your arguments are. Plenty of theists, deists and followers of Eastern religions do not believe in the suspension of the laws of nature. In fact some of the Eastern religions are very strong on asserting the immutability of cosmic laws. Deists certainly don’t believe in miracles. Why try to pretend in such an infantile fashion that they do?

              You have no “observable, measurable, provable, and falsifiable evidence” of what causes the laws of nature and yet you believe – have an irrational faith – that such causes exist.

              I note that, in true atheist style, you dodge my point about theism not being the only form of belief in a deity: deism is a clear alternative.

              As for “The definition of faith being “belief that is not based on proof”. ” – do you apply this to all aspects of your life? Do you refuse to have faith in your partner’s fidelity because there is no proof? I think you need to dig a bit deeper into what you consider faith to be… There is no proof that when I walk along the pavement in the twilight some particularly talented prankster hasn’t put in a false paving stone over a hole and that I won’t fall into said hole. But I don’t act as though that is the case. And that example could be multiplied a billion-fold. We walk through life in faith – unless we don’t in which case we are labelled “phobic” (thinking every paving stone disguises a hole we could fall into).

              It just seems to me to be absurd to be so frightened of the word “faith” when we use it everyday in a million ways. It is really a complete red herring in the debate about whether there is a deity.

              To put it another way, if someone believes there is something called “oxygen” and it has something to do with our “breathing” – though they know nothing of biology, chemistry, of the periodic table, of physics, of atomic theory, string theory or of anything else pertaining to atoms – what should we say of their “belief”. It is not grounded in proof. They have simply picked up the idea and now strongly believe in it, have faith in it and – of course – it happens to be true. Here, surely, is an example of faith which is completely justified despite a lack of proof.

              • Bryan Richards

                1. Buddhists believe in reincarnation without evidence to match.
                2. We understand that nature and its constants exist, the origins of those are still under investigation. There is no “faith” as to the origins, only your insinuation that there is.
                3.Deism is not necessarily worthy of belief. Your god only started things and hasn’t been involved since.
                4.I have evidence of fidelity from my partners actions. Pranksters that do that are rare (evidence based reality). Sorry but you walk through life just as evidence based as we do in most ways except when it comes to god. This is called a tu quo que fallacy.
                5.Faith is a term that should be abandoned by reasonable people.
                6.oxygen is backed by evidence whether or not a person is aware of it. the evidence is searchable and testable.

          • Patrick James Bayham

            how funny are you? …:)

            • Daniel Maris

              Doubleplusfunny… 🙂

          • Bryan Richards

            1. Many atheists would not rationally believe based on current evidence, for we are also agnostic like you.

            2. Deism doesn’t mesh with reality either. It could be possible, but such an impersonal deity would leave no evidence or reason to infer its existence anyways. This point of view is irrational and not based on reality. You don’t base beliefs on lack of evidence (argument from ignorance).

            3. There is no evidence for a deity, you merely present not knowing an answer as proof ( argument from ignorance). There is evidence that god is a mental construct however.

            4. Science has a model for consciousness and brain emulation already, those questions, and your god of the gaps are being answered and your deity is shrinking every time one is filled.

            5. Extraordinary evidence for an extraordinary claim, something subject to testing and provability.

            • Daniel Maris

              1. No, you’re not agnostic because you don’t believe there is any evidence whatsoever for a deity.Agnostics always believe there is some evidence for the deity. They just don’t think it is overwhelming evidence.

              2. That’s about the weakest argument for anything I’ve come across on this thread. You are putting forward the “foghorn” theory of the cosmos i.e. unless a deity actually communicates at 130 decibels that it exists, it can’t exist. That is irrational, illogical and unproven. Er – yes you do base beliefs on lack of evidence. The real chances of you being alive tomorrow are unknown. You could be hit by lightning, run over by a bus or suffer a heart attack – to name just three of the millions of potential scenarios. Despite complete lack of evidence, you continue to believe you will be around tomorrow to have that game of tennis with Bob, take your daughter to her birthday party or make that important presentation at work.

              3. No, it’s not argument from ignorance. That is an argument against the atheist’s “argument of advancement” i.e. because unknowns of yesterday eventually became known, all unknowns of today will also eventually become known”. If you are trying to imply that atheists never use scientific advancement as an argument in favour of their position, then feel free to lie.

              4. No, they have no model of where subjective consciousness exists in the four plus dimensional world. Or are you saying that subjective consciousness doesn’t Let’s not forget scientific materialist philosophers used to claim absurdly that consciousness was “just” bits of matters colliding together until materialism was completely discredited as a philosophy and had to be replaced by “physicalism” and/or “functionalism”. What you are talking about are just more sophisticated versions of the same. These are just fairy stories atheists tell each other to stop themselves getting scared of a nightime. The God of the gaps argument is particularly pathetic. If you assume there is a deity, then of course there are going to a milliard gaps in human knowledge that can be plugged before humanity realises some gaps are unpluggable. There is no doubt that atheists in the early 20th century thought that as physics uncovered more knowledge about the cosmos, things would become simpler and more comprehensible. But there is no doubt now that this has not happened. The Theory of Gap-closing has been exposed as the gaps have become gaping holes.

              5. Well that just shows how absurd your response is. How could a claim be “extraordinary” if it is true? Surely if there is a God, then the claim that there is a God is about the most pedestrian and unexciting claim you could make. It could only ever appear “extraordinary” to someone determined never to believe it in the first place. What you have failed to prove is that the claim that “it is highly possible that there is a some kind of deity” is an extraordinary claim. What is your evidence for saying it is an extraordinary claim? It seems to be far more extraordinary to claim that the cosmos popped into existence out of literally nothing or that there are an infinity of cosmoses all co-existing and that we can pop in and out of them – those are claims of science. Why don’t you call yourself an ascientist? – I mean you can’t surely be happy about those extraordinary claims being made without extraordinary proof.

              • Bryan Richards

                1. You fail at understanding the term, not new.

                2.Unless something so powerful demonstrates its power, then I will not believe that it is that powerful. Evidence MUST match the claim. You don’t go believing horses have mystical powers without demonstration do you?

                3. I made no such claim, what I said was that science is not needed to back an atheist. All that is needed is the lack of evidence to justify holding to the null hypothesis

                4. Materialism has evidence for it. Mind brain duality has been destroyed by science. I have footing, theism/souls/you do not.

                5. You are merely asserting that I could not understand what extraordinary evidence would be. I fail to see this as a remotely convincing proposition.

                Evidence for what is an extraordinary claim? You seem to misunderstand words and their usage again. An extraordinary claim would be a theistic judeo christian god, for it has many abilities and attributes that are unwitnessed. Evidence would need to be equally outstanding for such a claim to stand.

                You also seem to lack understanding of string theory and what possibilities it might allow. I’m glad you think these remote theories could make your god possible. I merely stated that possibility does not equal existence.

                String theory is an extraordinary claim currently unbacked by evidence other than mathematics. I will not include it in my understanding of reality until it has been confirmed, that is the very core of the scientific method. It is not surprising that you fail to understand this too. It is part of why you are still a believer, you lack the logical constructions of your thoughts to adequately evaluate evidence or the reality around you. This is why education at all levels is so important, because people like you fall behind.

        • Bryan Richards

          I’ve talked with one or two gnostic atheists in my time. But they appear just as bullheaded as the religious people to me.

  • Wilhelm

    Bird brain Liberals like Madonna who practice all this new age crap, across between native American, tree worship, mumbo jumbo and feng shui, always say ” I’m a very spiritual person but I’m not religious.”

    I’m the exact opposite, I’m very religious, but I haven’t got a spiritual bone in my body !

    • Daniel Maris

      Are you a Wotanist Wilhelm? I don’t really have you down as a Methodist or Jehovah’s Witness.

    • Finney McBolter

      Ya don’t know what you’re missing, then. But really, you HAVE got spiritual bones. And blood. And skin. Spirituality really means to be aware of the essence of the self, of any and every thing that exists. But not necessarily through definitive science (unless we speak of sciences of self-knowledge/self understanding), though that does help to quantify what it is one is experiencing, especially when science reaches the depths of existence (which it has not, but is slowly heading that way)

  • CraigF

    What a ridiculous “article”.

    I’m spiritual, not religious, am a trained scientist and yes, I do believe there is a God Creator. I’ve no problem balancing that against scientific methodology. Quite the reverse. It doesn’t put any “strain” on my emotions or intellect.

    • Archimedes

      You have a bright future ahead of you, kiddo…well, a special jacket and a soft carpeted room, anyway…hopefully in white…yes – white would be nice.

      • CraigF

        Science without morality or a deeper reflection on our own inadequacy is no sort of science at all. Modesty and humility are the two greatest tools any scientist can have. That and a full appreciation that all human observation is flawed and incomplete.

        A spiritual sensibility goes a long way towards making these things manageable.

        It wasn’t me who down-voted your comment either.

      • TomTom

        You must be longing to return to the USSR and the days when you could incarcerate dissidents

    • WillyTheFish

      That’s similar in approach to that outlined by rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his: ‘The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning’ -worth a read for anyone who isn’t familiar with it.

  • StanB

    In short: don’t strain yourself, choose the easy way. You’re too simple to find your own path anyway.

  • oliver penney

    chicken-and-egg? the egg was first, fairly simple once you understand evolution really

  • Archimedes

    Surely this isn’t a surprise. Have you encountered these sandal-tooting crazies before, desperately looking for a new kind of metaphysical “real”, man? They strain themselves in their pursuit of it and, like constipation, it leaves them with little but a haemorrhoid, which is bloody real – pun unintended.

  • Austin Barry

    “Organised religion, for all its flaws, does offer support to believers, even if it is all feel-goodery and fairytales.’

    Er, no it doesn’t – read your colleague Douglas Murray’s blog post of this morning.

    • Archimedes

      Of course it does, because it provides strictures and boundaries. Spiritualisation within a religion is the pursuit of the understanding, or justification, of a given answer, rather than the exploration of an abyss of infinite unknowns set to multiply the more you come to “understand”.

      • Austin Barry

        I made the same point to ABC Rowan Williams at last night’s Salat-al-Witr.

  • Adrian Drummond

    I’ve noticed recently that the religiously minded (particularly the likes of Cristina Odone) are becoming highly defensive – not to mention a tad testy, bless them.


      I’ve not noticed that. I have noticed that the forces of the left are doing all they can to destroy our Christian heritage, and with it the greatest civilisation the world has known.

      A new dark age encroaches at the hands of atheistic and marxist barbarians.

      • Piobairean

        A new dark age … the forces of the left … marxist barbarians . My first really good laugh of 2013; thanks!

      • John

        The dark age was due to Religion. We’re not entering one, we’re emerging from one.

        • solly

          The first dark age was due to the eastern invasions which ransacked Rome and then everywhere else; religion preserved the intellectual treasures of Rome and Greece. Never ask an atheist for research.

          • Roxee

            You’ve been watching the History Channel haven’t you? A favourite place for American Christians who call themselves historians to air their version of history to the masses. Read a bloody book for goodness sake.

        • AffanGul

          The Dark Age was due to Religion? Yes Paganism and the Animist and Ancestor Worship of the Barbarian Hordes and Vikings that terrorized the Roman Territories and all of Europe. We are entering a NEW Dark Ages due to the jack-booted bigotry of Atheist Marxist Multi-Culti west-haters. John.

          • AffanGul

            Oh, and by the way, I am still looking around to find all of those Atheist Soup Kitchens, Homeless Shelters, Women’s Shelters, Missions, Hospitals, Universities etc. Oh and Unicorns.

            • Matt Rieman

              There are many charities that are not associated with religion, they just don’t have a need to label themselves “atheist”. The Red Cross, Good Will, Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International, etc. Do your homework and you’ll find plenty more. Your argument is stale.

          • TomTom

            Marx himself was a Jew in rebellion against his father’s Jewish cultural behaviour…….The Jewish Century is an excellent tome by Yuri Slezkine

      • Silverghost

        No, people are choosing not to be religious of their own volition, despite the state demanding worship in schools. Nothing to do with politics. Presumably freedom of thought, information and expression should be clamped down on to keep everyone frightened and god-fearing?

      • MichtyMe

        The great christian civilisation that took 1500 years to return the roads of this land to the condition left by their pagan predecessors.
        The Abrahamic religions, totalitarian faiths, hostile to all philosophies or knowledge which contradicts their biblical truth.

        • Piobairean

          Yes, and the Romans bathed too!

      • studio1972

        Atheism isn’t either right or left wing.

      • Bryan Richards

        Your heritage, teachings, structures, and books are not in danger from atheists. Your beliefs are. The great thing about beliefs is that they can change to adapt to reality, truth, or whatever myth was handed down to you by people you truth.

        Christianity is dying in many places due to education. If you want a real example of a dark age we already have one. Death, famine, war, slaughter, and torture without any kind of progress for a thousand years due to poor bronze age ideas. It is the age of reason, and it is time for mythology to step aside.