Belief vs. Culture

How many true believers are in the world?

It’s true; your geographical location usually decides your religion, but how many people truly believe, and how many just follow along because it’s part of their culture?

I think it’s human nature to question. Don’t you? I think at some point everyone goes through a little “soul searching”, whether they admit it or not. For me, questioning my beliefs just felt like part of growing up. Maybe for some, it strengthens their belief, but questioning led me to abandon faith altogether. I bet a lot of people are in the same boat, again, whether they admit it or not.

I grew up in a Christian culture (coloring Easter eggs, giving Christmas presents, etc. minus going to church) but I’ve never considered myself a Christian. Honestly, it would be so easy to hide and call myself a Christian. No one would ever know the difference, but morally I just can’t do it. I have to stay true to myself. In my personal life, I don’t just offer up my atheist views, but when questioned, I’m honest. 

Is everyone being honest? I kind of doubt it. How many people are just following the motions? I bet the number of true believers is smaller than we think.

Deep down I think everyone must have a little bit of doubt. It would be strange if they didn’t, right? I mean, nothing in life is 100 percent. We learn that pretty early on so why wouldn’t it apply to religion?

So many people at my work are vocal Christians. Do they really truly believe? Is any of that peer pressure? I don’t know. If they ever questioned, would they admit it?

I’m just curious; when you look at the people around you who define themselves as part of a religion, do you think they truly believe? Do you think they secretly have doubts? Do you think they just see religion as part of their culture and nothing more? Are they just following the motions because that’s what they know? Or maybe because they’re afraid not to? 

You never know what’s going on deep inside a person’s head, but I’d like to think I’m not alone in my feelings. Am I really that different from the people around me?

So many questions…


  1. John Morales says

    It’s pretty darn obvious. Plain as could be.

    Go by what people do, not what they say. Makes things obvious.

    Were it really a true belief that dying while in a sinful state led to eternal and utter torment, those believers would not sin, in case they died before being forgiven. But they do sin, quite evidently.


    Another example: how many Christians actually truly “turn the other cheek”?

    Fuck-all, that’s how many.

    As for doubt… well, Mother Teresa is an example.

    “She spent a long period of her life — decades, in fact — struggling with faith, losing the presence of God, and even believing that she didn’t believe in God, as she wrote in many pained, distressed, poignant letters that were only released after her death.”


    Didn’t stop her from making $$$ from dictators and torturers, and spending it on jet planes and vanity projects. Meanwhile, the patients in her clinics were denied painkillers and treatment, because suffering brings people closer to god.

    (She did OK on the medical front, but. Only the best hospitals for her)

    • John Morales says

      Anecdotally, I was an altar-boy (Roman Catholic) for not quite a decade.

      Once, on retreat at a seminary with other altar-boys, I became aware that a lot of them also were going through the motions. No point pissing off their families and their schools and their future, right?

      Basically, Live Action Role Playing.

      Besides, if one has to fucking go to Mass in any case, might as well participate, right?

      My particular skill was the thurible, oh yeah.
      I’d light the charcoal briquettes as usual, but before coming out I’d give it a darn good whirl, so they “whoosh”ed into incandescent heat.

      So, when I walked out with it and handed it to the priest, he’d know he’d only have to sprinkle the lightest amount and it would *poof!* into vigorous smoke.

      (So nostalgic for me, the scent of liturgical incense!)

  2. Bruce says

    I think in every culture, most people are not likely to be thinking deeply about theology. For example, in our culture, I think most people think that being Christian is the same thing as being good. So if someone asks them about religion, they will say: yes, I try to be a good person, but it comes out as: I am a faithful Christian, and they don’t see any difference. So for most people, such discussions are pointless, because they think you are asking: is it good to be good? This would seem to be a silly question to us too, if we heard it as they hear it. To them, suggesting atheism sounds like saying that you want to be good by being bad.
    Sure, there are always some people who are ready for a more nuanced discussion. But you are talking to a wall if you try to discuss ethics with someone who isn’t ready for these distinctions.
    When a typical person asks about religion, a more clear answer for them is to say that you want to be a good person, and you are doing it independently.
    If someone signals that they’re ready for a deeper conversation, that’s different. But otherwise, I think don’t waste your time confusing people who aren’t yet ready. Just a thought.

  3. Katydid says

    Wow, I think Bruce @2 has got it. I’ve been reading a lot lately about in-groups and out-groups as it pertains to politics, and I think what I’m reading pertains to religion and sports, too. In the mists of our distant pasts, being part of the tribe meant staying alive and I think a lot of people never outgrow it.

    More trivially, have you ever wondered about the lengths people are willing to go to for their team. How easily enraged the are if there’s perceived disrespect toward their team? I had a laugh-out-loud moment not long after I moved to a certain place for work. It’s a dense metropolitan area and there are two football teams close enough that people could choose either as their local team. When I joined one particular company, the first order of business for my new coworkers was what team I rooted for. This was a serious demand; they had to know! When I said, “I don’t really care about football”, that was the end of any possible camaraderie in the company. HERETIC! BLASPHEMER! You’d think this would be a joke, but no, totally serious.

    I think a lot of people also think that way about religion. And since Christianity is the most common religion in the USA, that’s what people try to prove their bona fides with the same fanatical obsession they do with their local football team.

  4. vucodlak says

    I grew up with parents who were obsessed with the Left Behind books. They talked about the Antichrist and the Rapture constantly, as though they believed it. As they’d also taught me that their love was conditional on perfect obedience to them and their beliefs, I grew up believing that there was no point in planning for the future. The end of the world was going to begin any minute now, if it hadn’t already, so all that mattered was “getting right with God.”

    It was only after I rejected Christianity in my early 20s that I realized that they didn’t act like they believed. Nor did any of the other Rapture-obsessed Christians around me. They all lived their lives like they expected to live to a ripe old age and die of natural causes.

    Even when I embraced Christianity, I had doubts. I tried not to, because I was taught that questioning God was an unforgivable sin. And I did sin, constantly, even though I believed as I’d been taught that dying without repenting was another path to certain damnation. There were just so many sins, sins of word, sins of deed, sins of commission and sins of omission, sins of faithlessness, and sins of thought… I tried to be good, but no one could avoid all the things I’d been taught were a sin.

    I kept a running dialogue in my head, confessing all the sins I knew I had committed and all the sins I wasn’t sure about, plus the ones I didn’t know if I’d committed or not, groveling and begging for forgiveness from God all the while. I did this for years, all the while pleading for some sign that I could be forgiven. I never got one.

    I confess that sometimes I deliberately committed sins, then hurt myself afterwards, and I can’t even say for sure why. I was, I think, testing God- another thing I’d been taught I must never do if I wanted to have a hope of escaping an eternity of torture in Hell- hoping to spur him into sending me some kind of sign that I was noticed, that any of it mattered, or even that he existed. I could never bring myself to consciously pose the question, but it was there.

    All of which is to say that every believer doubts, even when they try very hard not to. I follow a very different faith now and, yes, I have doubts. I still believe, but I no longer fear punishment for failing to be unquestioningly faithful, and I will always question.

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