Is there a point when religious beliefs become flat out ridiculous?

How do we decide (regardless if you the reader are religious or not) if a certain belief
is almost pathological/embarrasing?

Many people here can probably find Scientology a bit suspect, and find it hard to take seriously. Mormonism is debatable so is vodoo, so is all religions in my taking.

By what standards do we give validity and time to a certain belief.

In other words how is Christianity, Islam (the monotheism) more credible than say, scientology, paganism, Norse gods. Why would it be silly to pray to Zeus, but not the god of Abraham?

this puzzles me, i guess im looking for a “cut-off” point.

The beliefs of my family and myself are completely credible. The beliefs of my neighbour can be a little questionable. And the beliefs of those frog-faced heathens over there are totally risible.

The OP is certainly not a General Question–I’ll move it to Great Debates.

samclem MOderator, General Questions

That’s pretty much it. There’s no objective reason why souls going to Heaven & Hell, transubstantiation or faith healing is considered less unreasonable than thetans, Zeus or magic via sex. It’s all crazy; but people immersed from birth in craziness often can’t see how crazy it is.

Tradition (and familiarity). If you are used to hearing about it, or it is very similar to something you are used to hearing about, and if you know that it was not invented too recently - that apparently sane and intelligent people have believed it for many generations - then, even if you do not actually believe it yourself, it is not going to seem completely absurd. It also helps if the belief system is not too obviously internally inconsistent.

I have an internal struggle on this subject. On the one hand, I want to be respectful of others’ religious beliefs. And it’s fairly easy to say the folks who believe the Earth is 6000 years old are a bit loopy, and therefore more ridiculous than mainstream religious beliefs.

But when pushed, I have to concede that ANY mystical belief is loopy. A belief in a Christian god is not any less silly than voodoo, witchcraft and snake handling. It’s all silly.

I compromise by just being polite to people whenever possible.

Yeah, but even if you are not totally immersed in it, if it has saturated the culture around you for generations it is not going to seem quite so crazy. I was raised atheist/agnostic, and dropped the agnostic bit in my teens, but my mind is boggled a lot more by how people can possibly believe in Mormonism or Scientology (transparently founded as con tricks),or even modern fundamentalist Xianity (a pretty modern invention), than by mainstream Christianity, or Islam, or Buddhism or whatever.* There is a difference between, on the one hand, crazy, or ludicrously gullible, and accepting blatant contradictions, and, on the other, simply being wrong, and a bit too intellectually lazy or timid to deal with it (or even never really having had any alternative persuasively presented to you).

*I do not know whether or Jesus (or more likely, Paul), or Mohammed, or the Buddha, were really con men, but even if they were, it is all too long ago now for it to matter. The cults they started have evolved out of all recognition by now, and, in any case, it was all too long ago for us to have any hope of ever gaining any insight into their real motivation. We will never actually know.

I think religious beliefs are beyond the pale when they, and not the physical world, drive behavior to the detriment of personal welfare. So when Scientologists (or whoever) refuse medical treatment due to their beliefs in the face of a horrible infection, their beliefs (to me at least) are ridiculous.

It’s purely a case of familiarity.

I was raised Catholic. Catholicism is by any objective standard just as ludicrous as Scientology. But it’s been around for centuries and centuries and is practised by a billion people, while Scientology has been around for less time than many people have been alive and is practised by (according to reliable estimates) less than a quarter of a million people.

In, say, 125 AD, Christianity probably seemed ever bit as nuts as Scientology does today, and for good reason; it WAS as nuts. For all we know, in the year 4000, Scientology will be a well respected worldwide church.

I could mention the beliefs of some recently born cults, and they would look utterly ridiculous.

But, if you look at it objectively, is eating weekly a piece of bread while pretending it’s actually the flesh of a dead god any less silly?

As others have said, unfamiliarity is what makes a religious practice appear ludicrous.

Not just born to it - some of us enter knowingly and willingly as adults. I will admit that our Church may seem a little crazy to some but I find something in that craziness I don’t get from the overwhelming sanity(?) of life around me.

I am a deist [I think that everybody is right, more or less - I just don’t believe in one specific diety] although I will state that scientology is not a religion, it is a psychological process. And I think that some forms of ritual ‘satanism’ is pretty much just contrary christianity [sort of like a rebellious kid breaking household rules to be contrary…Ill turn the cross upside down and reverse the ceremonies and call on the enemy to prove that you dont have power over me. I hope I am explaining how I feel it is well enough to get my point across?] and are therefore not a separate religion but an acting out.

I may think that dancing around and spraying alcohol out of your mouth is a bit silly, but Ill do my best to be respectful, and Ill sit quietly during mass, and chime in on any hymns that I know. [I used to baffle the nuns at my goddaughters school in Norfolk VA at the weekly mass, I knew a fair number of the hymns in latin and would sing them in latin instead of english =)]

Maybe there’s a functional distinction. If your religious beliefs help you to function better by societal standards than they serve an arguably valid purpose. If your religious beliefs estrange you from society than they are arguably ridiculous.

There is such a point, but often the goalposts can be moved. If a religion posits that God lives on top of a mountain, then when people go up and don’t find him, the religion can simply move him to sitting on top of the clouds. When we fly up above the clouds, he’s in outer space. When we get into outer space, he’s in another dimension.

If something is written in scripture that becomes laughable, it can always be said that you’re supposed to take it figuratively not literally. If something isn’t written in scripture but was commonly believed at one time, well, that was them misunderstanding the scripture.

Humanity is very good at self-deceit and creative interpretations, where they’d rather not have to confront the truth. And when you consider that many believers (of any religion) are otherwise very intelligent people, you can get some very strong sounding arguments about how those interpretations are fully justifiable.

It’s all literally ridiculous in the sense that it’s worthy of pointing at and laughing, but I think we can take a cue from psychology and say that when your religious beliefs interfere with your ability to lead a normal life then it is a problem. If you pray before bed and go to church so you can drink coffee and eat cake that’s one thing, if you decide that it’s OK to deny your kids medical treatment it’s another. It should go without saying that it’s gone to far if you decide to strap on a bomb and kill innocent civilians.

That’s Christian Scientists. Scientology is like Amway but even more evil.

When confronted with some exotic religious belief that strikes me as nonsensical, I can’t always tell, at least not without spending a lot of time and effort trying to understand, whether it’s the belief itself that’s wacky, or whether the weirdness is in the language or metaphors or symbols that are being used to try to express those beliefs.

If I were transported back in time a couple centuries or a couple millennia, or to another planet, I’m not sure I could describe the world I come from—its scientific and political and philosophical beliefs, its gadgets, its culture, its way of life—without sounding flat-out ridiculous to those people.

Please expand on this if you will.

“Everybody is right more or less” you argue ( I assume you are referring to different religions), Please enlighten me, how could different religions, making totally different claims ,and often completely incompatible. How could they “all be right”?

Maybe im missing some nuance or something

It’s a tricky question. Most of the time I’m tempted to give the “it’s all silly, some just seems familiar” answer that everyone else has, but I suppose there can be degrees of silliness.

For example, beliefs that don’t directly contradict reality are probably less silly than those that do. For example, saying “I believe in evolution but I think godly subtly guided the process and it was his wish” is less ridiculous a view than “Jesus rode dinosaurs” or “God created stars with the light already in transit and put the fossils down to test us” or simply “all animals suddenly popped into existance at once”.

I think, also, that views with a long history tend to get a deference, although I’m not saying this is reasonable. But psychologically somehow it seems more solid to say “this religion has had this belief and practice for X hundreds of years” compared to “that guy over there established a cult 30 years ago”. Even if the beliefs are equally silly, somehow it seems more reasonable to believe the ones that have been around for a long time.

A Sufi I knew compared it to words for water. Every language has a different word for it, but they’re all referencing the same thing.

I don’t buy it.

There’s just no way, I think, that the religion of Constantine, the religion of Buddha, the religion of L. Ron Hubbard, the religion of Julius Caesar, and the religion of Mother Teresa are all referencing the same thing.