Wednesday, May 17, 2006

How Many People *Really* Believe in God and Heaven?

Most people in the United States say they believe in God and Heaven. If all there is to believing something is being disposed sincerely to claim it, then I suppose they do believe. But what if believing something requires being disposed consistently to think and act in accord with one's belief? Then the matter becomes less clear.

Consider the implicit racist (discussed in an earlier blog entry "Do You Know If You're a Racist?") who says (for example) that "dark-skinned people are as intelligent as light-skinned people" but whose pattern of behavior, apart from her occasional avowals to the contrary, consistently reveals racist expectations -- she's surprised when an African-American says something smart; she expects, with no real basis, LeShaun to do poorly in her class; etc. I don't think we want to say that such a person really believes that dark-skinned people are as intelligent as light-skinned -- at best, she's in a muddled state somewhere between believing it and failing to believe it. (See also here my essay "In-Between Believing".)

I suspect most people who avow belief in God and Heaven are in a muddled, in-betweenish state of this sort. What you wouldn't do with a neighbor watching, you would do with God watching, when eternal bliss and suffering is at stake? One could posit massive irrationality here; but it seems easier and more plausible to me -- once one is comfortable with the idea of in-between beliefs and dissocations between avowals and one's real attitudes -- to suspect that such a person doesn't fully and completely, genuinely believe that God watches every move. Why is Hell less frightening than jail? Because, I suspect, belief in Hell is not fully written into the "believer's" structure of dispositions, reactions, and patterns of thought -- just as belief in the equality of the races is not written into the implicit racist's stucture of dispositions, reactions, and patterns of thought.

"Faith" can mean a lot of things. But perhaps we can think of one type of "faith" as merely sincere profession and hope, and desire to believe, without the fully saturated, implicit, taking-for-granted of the truth of the thing that is the province of full and genuine belief.


Brad C said...


This is an interesting use of your dispositional conception of belief. I have one half-baked line of thought.

Many Christians think that belief in God and Christ's redeeming power cannot be obtained by reasoning or by being confronted by scientifically confirmable empirical evidence. This is one context in which they might say you have to believe these things on faith. Moreover, many would say this faith is itself something God gives you (it is a manifestation of Grace).

This seems to go well with your idea that not all who profess a belief in God actually have the relevant performance elements (as Scanlon calls them) to count as having a robust belief with that content - As the New Test says, not all who say "yes, yes" will enter the kingdom.

But then things start to get tricky. Christians certainly think that God can give you the faith to believe that your sins have been forgiven in Chirst and that is part of the mechanism by means of which you can overcome sinful habits (the details of what that means are not clear to me; I am not a theist).

But I do not see that having that belief requires that you no longer sin or that you have a disposition to act well. Here the common language about a battle between the flesh and spirit - within someone who has been given the grace to believe by faith - would seem indicate a preference among (at least some) professed believers for the "irrationality" interpretation that you reject.

On the one hand then, Christians do seem to make a distinction between mere verbal and intellectual assent and faith-based belief in God and redemption, and this seems to be one thing you can help capture.

On the other hand, I do not think the difference here is well captured if we say that robust belief requires dispositions to act well.

Finally, the issue is complicated by the fact that you appeal to fear of punishment in Hell as a main motive that is missing and which would explain why a fully beleiving theist would not act poorly, while I suspect more Christians would think that what is missing is a belief that God loves you, has forgiven you, etc.

Of course not all Christians, let alone all thiests, will be on the same page here.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Well, I guess I'm less keen than most folk on the idea that one can really believe something and not be much disposed to put that belief into action or to deploy it in reasoning when it's relevant.

If it were really a heart/mind battle, then I think it would probably have to go as it does when people give in to addictions they hate: After the moment of weakness, they torment themselves, tremble at the consequences, loathe themselves. I'm fully ready to accept that there are some "believers" who have this sort of relationship with particular types of sin. But to sin with equanimity instead of fear and trembling, to think more about the neighbor watching than God, not to consider the consequences for one's afterlife on any regular basis? If that's your state, I think you're not much different from the implicit racist who (sincerely) avows the equality of the races.

Anonymous said...

I have been on a number of blogs saying about the same thing. Now with a lot of frustration. This time I am going to take whole different aproach to what I have been writing. This time I have some questions for you to think about.
First, Would God talk to someone that is now living? Second, Lets say God told this person a number of things that could change the world as we know it. Would you want to know what God said? Third, If God told this person the date of Judgment. Would you want to know when that was? Fourth, If God told him/her they are on his Left side, Who would that be?( I really don’t know the answer to that question either.) Fifth, If Jesus said that someone changed the words in the bible would you believe that?
Sixth, If Jesus said his parents are Joseph and Mary, and that his parents are just like everyone else’s is that believeable? Seven, If God talked to someone that is living right now and he told that person the meaning of Revelation. And that Revelation is really going to come true, would you believe that? Eight, If this person could prove that God talked to them, would you be interested in seeing the proof? Nine, If God talked to you would anyone believe you? Posted by: Melanie Stephan (Answers to 1 to 8 are all true)

Anonymous said...

I wonder if anyone read what I wrote above? No reply. I am begining to think that the person that God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost talked to will not be believed. It will be just like when Jesus was here. No one believed Jesus. I believe in Jesus cause he talked to me. Jesus talked to me. He didn't talk to the Pope or anyone else in the Church. He picked someone that does not go to Church. I'll tell you that I didn't read the bible before his visit either. Know what else, Jesus talked to me. I think that means that Jesus was who he said he was, Lord. Melanie Stephan

Anonymous said...

You can read more of what God had to say during the month of Aug. 2007, on this website
rel="nofollow"> Non-Prophet, Are you going to Hell?
Melanie also gives PROOF that God
made contact on this site. The proof is in the story of 3 famous people Mike Douglas, Merv
Griffin and Nancy Reagan. I hope you get it. God went to a lot of trouble to get his message
out. He is also worried about all of his creations. That means he thinks about you too. Melanie Stephan

Anonymous said...

Why is it that God can do all these wonderful things, but can so frequently find followers who aren't illiterate?

Melanie, these comments are not really relevant to what is being discussed here. The arguments presented all have quite simple refutations.

Sarcasm aside, I think you would benefit very much from taking a class on critical thinking, and to learning what full sentences and apostrophes are.

Good luck.

Genius said...

I guess any philosophy runs into a similar problem. For example how many actual utilitarian are there out there? I expect almost no one lives up to their own standards unless their standards are defined as what they do or are so loose as to barely count as standards at all.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

I'm with Genius on this one.

It's nice to see people visiting this old post again, by the way. I'll do a better job keeping up with comments on old posts now that I have a sidebar element that draws from a comments feed.

33/6 JoelGaddis 14 said...

most people group God and heaven in with all relgion/spirituality, and simple believe there is A devine being and an afterlife, and they might as well call it buddha. you can say you believe it all you want, if you dont STUDY it vastly and incorporate it into your life, you dont truly believe it.

amy said...

(after having read your article on 'in-between believing'. i agree with your conclusion in the article, i'll address that in my conclusion.)

in response to your blog: is there a distinction between a person believing he believes something and him actively believing in it? can someone say, "i am not a racist." and truly be convinced that it is true about himself? (i think so.) but if he is not actively believing it or living it (for example, your student), that would only negate his claim, not his personal belief that he isn't a racist, right? he can go right on believing it even with evidence to the contrary. is his denial any less belief? it's absurd, but still a belief. (this makes me think of moore's paradox. i'm not claiming i 'get' it, i just know that this person is still a 'believer' despite evidence to the contrary.)

in response to people having in-between faith (using the example of one of my favorite passages in the bible-from mark 9): in which a man approaches jesus about a healing. the man says "if you can heal...". jesus replies with, "'if you can'?? everything is possible to him who believes." the man replies, "i do believe, help me overcome my unbelief!" the man acknowledges his belief, but also his desire to overcome his doubts. jesus doesn’t reply by calling him a unbeliever. you can fully believe in something while still coming into a stronger faith in it. it is not an 'either/or'. doubt is an essential element of faith. having faith is beyond a claim- but not dependent on having overcome all doubt. is the person who is in that stage of 'in-between' belief any less a believer? need we make a distinction? is anyone not an 'in-between believer'? yes, in-between belief exists, but it is no less 'belief', and in some cases- especially in spiritual matters- i think all belief is 'in-between'.

Ciara said...

People's faith contradicts what they see around them, but people believe anyway. Compartmentalizing their faith helps to keep it from being torn apart by the same rational processes that they use for other areas in their lives. It's not a tortured existence either. Someone like Kierkegaard you could respect with his crises, but that's not the norm. Instead it looks a lot like the banality of everyday faith becomes blurred into the banality of everyday life.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the comment, Ciara! I worry about the "compartmentalizing" metaphor. Does that mean that in one part of a person's brain she really does believe in God and in another part she doesn't? How would we literalize that? Or...?

My inclination is to say that if your dispositions are all over the map regarding some proposition, we should resist the impulse to say you either believe or fail to believe that fact -- rather, you're in an in-between state. And if you mostly act as though the proposition is false, even if you explicitly avow the proposition when asked, in certain contexts it would be completely appropriate to say you believe the proposition to be false.

Ciara said...

I think many people are all over the map when it comes to their religious beliefs. In everyday life, this is seen in how people go to places of worship out of habit, but generally have doubts about their faith if you asked them questions about it. Then, there are the people that have a lot of faith, and try to apply it more to their day to day lives. Since there is no proof of God or heaven, people have their doubts, but in a church or temple or mosque, a community of believers can never know to what degree a person in the next pew believes or disbelieves, but the fact that they are there means that they are either conflicted or they believe and probably say that they do. For people who have great faith, they do not ask these questions from guilt or strong convictions no matter what the context is. I'm not sure about what people would say about behaviors that show they don't believe in different contexts if they are called on it, but I guess a person in most situations would simply consider it a sin, and try to avoid it if they believe that God is watching them all of the time. An omnipotent God would have known beforehand the person would do it, so God's watching if God watches must not be the same as human watching where you wonder what the person will do next. Most watching is kind of idle curiosity, but maybe God is curious, but more serious somehow. Maybe it is something else, where God is looking at you from some framework that is you in totality in all space and time and has some kind of expectation of you that would ultimately be your choice to fulfill. If you don't, you sin and then you are required to get back on God's path. Maybe people's thinking is closer to God when a person feels guilt and is distressed that what he does is not what he thinks he should do. Maybe when you are thinking about what to do and you decide, but then you wonder if you should that is God! Then God is a supernatural being who is involved with your thoughts and actions to the extent that they are aligned to what God is watching and expecting. That is why religious people are generally guilty, whereas nonreligious people have relaxed that. As for myself, I do believe in God most of the time because it is the most satisfying answer to human suffering and death and gives me peace, but also have a lot of doubts which I don't think would be resolved in any satisfying way by not believing in God or Jesus. I think the question is what are the thought processes of a person who doubts. The Bible shows us Doubting Thomas, but he is in a completely different time and he actually saw Jesus Christ, but people today are in a much more complicated world and rely on hearsay, which compounds the doubt.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

I agree, Clara, that there are lots of different ways of being religious. I'm not as sure that religious people tend to feel guiltier than non-religious people. I haven't seen -- and psychological studies haven't revealed -- much difference in moral behavior between those who profess a deep commitment to religion and those who don't. And unless it shows consistently in your behavior, I'm not sure I want to say you fully believe it.

I'm sure some people do genuinely believe in God and Heaven and live every day accordingly; but as far as I can tell it's a small minority.

Melanie Stefine said...

After two years of God talking to me things are much clearer now.

In the Spring of 2006 God sent a message. The message is about the meaning of First is Last and Last is First. The message is this:

In the morning I go to Heaven. In the afternoon I live my life. In the evening I die, death.

What does this mean? It means that Birth is Last and Last is Birth. God also gives an example so that you can understand this better. Example: Mike Douglas died on his birthday. (Note: Mike Douglas and Michael Douglas are two different people.)

Mel Steffor said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Let's keep it polite, Mel!

(You're welcome to rework your comment and repost.)

Ciara said...

I agree that it doesn't matter if you're religious or not to do the right thing. Many situations are ambiguous and the right thing is mostly what society says and the level of your compliance. Most people are mixed bags. Religious people put Jesus in the bag along with the confusions and Catch-22's that are part of human culture. As for the mystical esoteric nature of these other comments, Jesus has a way of doing what he will once he enters the mind of a person. Hopefully they'll be nice. In any case, I think that religion would have two effects on people. One would be a person who wants to help people and becomes more interested in reaching out to people and converting and then there would be the people who sort of retreat into themselves. Maybe religion is popular because it can be channeled in different ways. In any case, religion has always confused me because it doesn't explain life that well, but I went to Catholic school and used to like reading about Jesus because he was always so nice to everyone when the snotty brat nose kids around me were acting like Satan. As for believing in heaven, I don't get it all too well. I wonder about how Jesus tells people that they're not going to heaven when they die since he's such a nice guy. So if I can't believe in it, I can't imagine Jesus would really believe in me. Oh well, I guess it's just how it is because I'm not a person who can lie to myself.

If you can see anything from this rambling, you can be sure that there is something more or less going on in the thoughts of people, but for the very pious, they would not want two ideas to coexist in their minds.

Melanie Stefine said...

Correction: To the meaning of First is Last and Last is First. It means that Birth is Last and Birth is First. Sorry for the error. God talks in symbols and opposites at times so it takes time to figure out what he is saying. Some of his messages are clearer than others, plus they have multiple meanings.

To Ciara,
God and Jesus will have to make a difficult decision in WHO will go to Heaven (Judgment). Some will also be punished. Some will vanish. God is forgiving. It will be a hard decision for him, he wants you to succeed. Yet when God leaves his House (Body) to his Children he can't leave evil Gods behind in his House.

Melanie Stefine said...

Here is one small piece of proof.

Like I said earlier, the Holy Spirit talked to me, besides his message about First is Last and Last is First, he had something to say about “Who Killed JFK”. Christ tells me that the man who shot JFK is a policeman. He also tells me the name of the shooter, but it is in a jumbled word. The word is “Fritters” . I see the name F. Ritter right off so I think that is the name of the killer. Now God has lots of other messages for me to figure out, so I put “who Killed JFK” on the back burner for over a year. A year or more later , just recently, I have more time to look for F. Ritter. I can’t find a policeman with that name who lived in Dallas, Texas in 1963. So I am searching for information about who killed JFK and there is a picture of a policeman by the name of JD Tippit. Now Tippit kind of looks like Ritter . Now I un-jumble the letters of Ritter to TIRRET. Now TIRRET looks more like TIPPIT. Now I make the R’s stand at attention, I get TIPPET. One problem is that the I and the E are not the same. So I do some research on the family name TIPPIT. Turns out that in the late 1800’s JD Tippit’s grandfather changed their name from Tippett to Tippit. So the next step, I change the E to I. So Tippet is now Tippit. Now I have FS Tippit and JD Tippit. The first two initials are not the same. Next I go to Wikipedia there I find; "Some thought that J. D. stood for Jefferson Davis. However J D does not stand for anything. That means his name is just J D. So the initials F S, do not stand for anything. I just have two initials that do not stand for anything. Are you following me?

Next what does FRITTERS mean. If your following my thinking here, God is going to tell you what happened to JD Tippit after he was shot. Fritters are a dough that is deep fried. Bread also means body, like in the last super Christ takes the bread and says this is my body. Look in the dictionary, PIT means HELL. TIP means money paid, gratuity. There are other meanings to.

JD Tippits body (dough) is placed in the deep fryer (lake of fire). Now I think this clue (Fritters) was ingenius. After all God came up with it. I think he does have a sense of humor too. Kids now have a new game to play. They can play God. Pilsbury dough boy fry’s in the lake of fire. You get HELL! fry baby fry!

If you think this is just crazy. Remember I am just the messenger. Jesus is the one that had to talk about JFK. So he had a reason for doing that. Chirst is telling you who killed the president so that you will believe that his messages are from God. Remember only God knows who killed JFK. He told me and I am telling you. I had forgotten about the case years ago. This is a cold case now, it been 45 year since the shooting. Nov. 22 is the anniversary.

I also read the part about giving false prophesy. God says false prophets go to Hell or something like that. I only repeat what God told me. Now what I wrote above is from God. He told me who killed JFK in 2006. The above is not a lie or a joke and I am going to HEAVEN without fear.

Before I forget. Gods messeges usually have more than one meaning. F S could also stand for “Fence Shooter”.

Who are the co-conspirators? Turns out that there are two policemen named Tippit, and one other Tippett working in the Dallas police Department that same year(1963). Back to the clue word Fritters. That is plural, you know about plural. We have two fritters. The co-conspirators name is Gayle M. Tippit.

Now the Dallas Police Department obviously covered up and framed Oswald. He was the Patsy. They did it cause it is very possible that one of the other police officers rushing to the scene saw Tippet fleeing the scene carrying a rifle. They covered it up because of the embarrassment of one of their own was the man that killed JFK? And the Warren commission must have also figured that out so they stuck with the Dallas Dept. story saying that it was Oswald. Otherwise it could have been a National embarrassment. Now if you look at the evidence like I did. It is easy to see that the Dallas Police Dept tampered with the evidence over and over again. And they did a very bad job of it too.

Now this is my opinion, not Gods. I think God is behind the creation of the Internet. I could never have been able to figure out a lot of his messages without the use of the Internet. People on the Net have been a big help to me. God talks to other people too, they just don’t know it. God let me know it was him.

This is proof because it is impossible for any one to do what I did with the clue word FRITTERS. I made it look easy. I can do that over and over again in all of God's messages. It is impossible for anyone to do what I do.

Gods messenger, Melanie Stefine

Anonymous said...

That was nonsense.

Melanie Stephan said...

The clue "Fritters" is a work of genius. If you think that is nonsense, you just don't get it. Let's see if you can come up with a clue that good. You can't come up with anything at all.

Don't Cops just love donuts. I was in the Mall the other day and I saw a Cop standing in the Dunkin Donuts. Fritters are just bad cops, deep fried.

I personaly think that is funny. Just deserts.

me;amoe said...

It's not nonsense. Read Howard Hunts confession. He names LBJ behind the conspiracy

Anonymous said...

It is strange to Most of us Jews about the christian concept of original sin and G-D will become human, the very nature of this goes against the very concept of G-D. Our writings never say there is a heaven or Hell. Just the Haba Olam (World to come) and Gehinnom (Outcast), in Jewish law from five books of moses it is more of a social justice to correct ones behavior and observe the commandments laid out by moses from the Almighty and not for a after life but the world in witch you live and interact for mutual survival and common sense relations in the world provided. We study to understand ourselves and each other as well the laws given to be better people and always respectful of what G-D has provided in our lives. Christian belief in afterlife is appearing to run away from the here and now and not take up the resposibility of the here and now and go through life baliming the devil and superstiton. Does it not occur to you to study the history and orrigins of the church and how it came to be. I don't mean reading your bible, I mean the actual history of emperor Constantine and the council nacia, letters of paul 300 years after the Jesus was to live and never knew. If it were true from jewish history, the very nature of jewish life in those days would preclude in temple life and study of Torah. Our history is documented 5766 years from Sinai till now. (JUST A THOUGHT)

Melanie Stephan said...

God says that life is like a "Black Box" . Now I didn't understand what this meant so I had to google "Black Box". It means that the box works for the owner but the owner does not know how the contents of the box works. That left me wondering if God knows how his Box works?

Black Box also has another meaning. When you are on a journey, (flying) the box records all of the events on the trip.

Now I don't see the Box as an object. The Box is a container. The Box holds the objects in your life. Some of the objects have spilled out on the ground and they are revealed to you. What remains in the box is a mystery.

Melanie Stephan

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Let's keep it civil, Anon!

Anonymous said...

It's been said that 92% of Americans believe in God. I think many people are sincere but very few worship God in away that he excepts. It simply does not make seances that all forms of worship are exceptable. Sincerity alone is not enough. Saul (who later became known as the apostle Paul) was certainly sincere (acts 8:1-3,9:1,2) but like most people today his zeal was not according to accurate knoledge (rom 10:2). For a persone to worship God in a way that he excepts they would only teach others what the bible realy says (Matt 15:3-9). God through the bible does not speek out of both sides of high mouth. There is only one true faith (eph 4:5). All miractulase gifts ended with the apostles (1cor 13:8). And yes the Bible can answer all your questions (1 Tim 3:16,17).