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Chapter Four: Why people believe

Section 3: Community and identity

Many of us define ourselves through our community, and define our community through religion.

pic: BBC

Think back to your childhood. What did religion mean to you? Finding yourself in a church or synagogue singing loudly or deeply bored? Family prayers and a sense of togetherness or hypocrisy? Feasts and fun? A strange language? A sense of peace? A friendly or abusive stranger?

And what does religion mean to you now - particularly if you live in a country where it is not the predominant faith? Whether or not you still believe, do you still feel an attachment to the rituals? When you see the robes and symbols of childhood beliefs do you feel somehow reassured?

Even if we have rejected faith, many of us fond memories of our childhood religion. Even if as little children we yawned through long sermons, week after week we felt secure, surrounded by our families and familiar sights and sounds.

4.3a Community and religion

Many adults continue to find that sense of familiarity and security in their place of worship. For them, religion is less about God or scripture or morality or everlasting life than the sense of community it offers. "This is a place where I am welcome; it has meaning for me."

From this beginning - "I belong to this church because it offers me a sense of community" - it is easy to slip into faith. We tell ourselves "because this community has this belief, then this belief and these values are also mine." Put differently: "i respect these people; if they have these beliefs, then the beliefs must be true".

Of course not every adult comes to faith in this way, but this subconscious argument influences many believers, particularly those who do not think much about their faith.

While a sense of community leads some people to believe in God, others abandon God without rejecting their religion. They go to the mosque or church not because they believe, but because if they walk

The deep roots of belief

Despite reason and evidence indicating that God does not and cannot exist, billions of people across the world continue to worship him in one of his many forms.

Belief in God draws its strength from a wide range of sources and provides a sense of security and wellbeing for many. Transforming that belief into an understanding and respect for rationality takes time and much effort.

4.1: The origins of religion
Where did faith come from?

4.2: In the genes?
Are we programmed to believe?

4.3: Community and identity
Defining ourselves through faith

4.4: Peer pressure
Faith as fashion

4.5: Death and despair
There must be a better world

4.6: A sense of justice
Evildoers must be punished

4.7: God and meaning
Religion gives us a purpose

4.8: The power and the glory
They reflect on us too

4.9: Against the tide
Converts and natural-born rebels

4.10: Nature calling
A glimpse of God?

4.11: Pick 'n' mix
What are your reasons?

4.12: Summary

Finished this chapter? Move on to

Chapter 5
Faith in action

People create God in their own image. What happens when they not only believe in God but put their faith into action?

The results are predictable: good people do good things in the name of religion and bad people do bad things. They act in God's name but God is irrelevant.

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away, they will be rejected by their community, family and friends. Those who bow their head at prayer may have lost their faith many years ago.

4.3b Identity and religion

Community and personal identity are closely
linked. We define ourselves through our relationships with others. "I am a woman, a wife, a mother, daughter, an American, a New Yorker by birth and a Californian by adoption, a veterinarian, a Democrat, a pianist, a driver" and so on and so on.

For many people, religion is an essential part of their identity. By calling yourself a Christian / Muslim / Jew / whatever, you consciously or subconsciously call upon the strength of your religion and the strength of your God. You do not even have to start with belief, although you may end up there. "I am Jew. This is what Jews believe. Therefore I believe it too."

Not everyone who defines themself by religion is a believer. Many Jews and Muslims are atheist but still define themselves by their religious background, particularly in communities where they are in the minority. Many Europeans call themselves Christians, not because they have faith in God, but because that is the culture in which they grew up.

4.3c No clear distinction

The intertwining of religion, community and identity means that for many believers there is no clear distinction between their faith and identity. To question their belief is to question their sense of self. It is much easier for them to accept the many inconsistencies and hypocrisies that underlie their religion.

This issue was also covered in the opinion column Parsley and salt water.

Chapter Four: Section 4 Peer pressure

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If God existed, he would...

admire the beauty of a universe that he did not create

recognize that eternity is meaningless

deny both heaven and hell

disown all men and women who speak in his name

denounce the harm caused by religious "morality"

help the human race to thrive without him

If God existed, he would be an atheist.

What is the difference between science and faith?

science is certain of nothing and requires proof of everything

faith is certain of everything and requires proof of nothing

Which do you trust?

"I know there is no God"
"I believe there is no God"

Check the answer

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