Problem between Religion and Atheism: Defining God
Watching the extended interview between Dawkins and John Stewart a few days ago made me think about one of the major reasons for a rift between religious believers and the atheist community. People seem to enjoy claiming to either believe or not to believe in a God, however what this God refers to is so unclear that we don't really know what we're debating in the first place. Sure, we don't believe in God, but I also don't believe in a flying spaghetti monster orbiting the sun.
It seems any sane religious person nowadays has done away with the concept of a "man in the sky" directly impacting our observable universe, yet they hold onto the concept of a belief in a non-defined God. We know the reasons for holding on to a belief in God. It's quite clear, how the human brain in its infancy is extremely malleable and childhood indoctrination into religion will shape the way one's brain thinks for the rest of their lives. This nebulous concept is used to easily make people feel better or worse, but it's still just that: a nebulous concept. However, people also generally try to be rational, the problem is getting them to question where their cognitive dissonances are.
As an exercise, I asked three religious individuals what they meant by God when they said they believed in it. Two of them got offended, and the third tried rationalizing how we couldn't know what God is, which seems like a pretty terrible point of view to take if you want to rationalize a belief in something.
So, in exchange, I told them my POV stems from defining God from a naturalist point of view, therefore God for me just represents the natural forces in the world, but it is in no way linked to any classically religious definition of God. Interestingly, once I brought this up, they really seemed to open up their mind as to what their belief system means for them.
That said, a spiritual safety blanket is important to many people in life, because life is scary. It seems that the atheist community could positively advance the world's spiritual safety blanket by trying to come up with useful alternatives to religious concepts that have been extremely important to humans for thousands of generations. The root of all that is the belief in God, which was used as a catch-all for things we didn't know before. Defining God with naturalist definition actually keeps that in place, while actually being compatible with the scientific method.
Saying we don't believe in God doesn't really help anyone, as all it does is make us seem like we think we are superior. My plea is that atheists switch their focus into driving a 21st century spirituality, based on the observable world around us.
Praying? Yeah, it shows up on MRI scans. But let's call it what it is... self-reflection and self-motivation. It's not talking to someone upstairs, it's your neurons interacting with each other.
Death? Yep. It happens, and we do go back to the world. Our individual molecules will re-enter the life cycle, and that's a beautiful story. We won't be conscious of it, but the star stuff we are made from will go on to form more life, and eventually maybe go back to its original star form. If someone doesn't find that beautiful, odds are they don't understand it.
What are your thoughts on the definition of God from a scientific/naturalist point of view? Am I being disingenuous by doing this?
Is trying to redefine God a bad way to approach religious dogma, or can atheists gain something by trying to get people to dig into what they actually believe? From my personal experience, this self-reflection really hit people hard because they didn't have the opportunity to put earmuffs on before shutting out the possibility their belief system is broken.
Does it even matter what people mean by God, because the problem is the fact they believe something without evidence and are happy with that?