Classifying Religious Belief Among Citizens

Belief Follows the Bell Curve

While I have no interest in (and am not qualified to do) discussing particular religious teachings or beliefs in and of themselves, I would like to offer a way to divide people into generalized groups, based on a belief in some kind of “God,” whatever that might be. Regardless of which direction I do with this, I'll be accused of favoring one over the other, so I've flipped a coin, which has me starting with the far left of my curve.

Those to the left extreme in terms of “religious belief,” I put the atheists. These are the people who don't believe that there was or is a “supreme being.” For them, there is no evidence, no proof whatsoever, that there was a deity who is responsible for the creation of the universe, life itself, consciousness, etc. There's nothing much to say about this group, other than that they comprise some percentage of the population, both in the United States and the world as a whole. Some are wonderful leaders, famous entertainers/actors/athletes/etc. Some are in prison because they have no faith in anything and don't believe that there's a heaven or a hell; for them life is what they make it; they live for now without a thought for the future; this is it for them! The vast majority of them are just average citizens who have families and love being alive and all that entails. For them there is no expectation of anything after death; death is just the end. They are self-fulfilled by their work, their families, their friends, and all that they experience while they are alive. For the most part, atheists think that all the others just waste their time and money on “mysteries and snake-oil salesmen” by buying into what the religious institutions offer in terms of supposed “salvation,” and the promise of life after death.

Just to the right of the atheists are the agnostics. According to http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/agnostic, an agnostic is “a person who holds that the existence of the ultimate cause, as God, and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable, or that human knowledge is limited to experience.” These people comprise some percentage of the population, both in the United States and the world as a whole. Some are wonderful leaders, famous entertainers/actors/athletes/etc. Some are in prison because they have doubts about the existence or heaven or hell; for them life is what they make it; they live for now with little thought for the future; and life just is what it is! The vast majority of them are just average citizens who have families and love being alive and all that entails. For them life is experience. Death is just a mystery that will only be explained when one dies. They are self-fulfilled by their work, their families, their friends, and all that they experience while they are alive.

The middle of this standard curve (in my opinion) are the sheep, the largest group by far. They aren't certain of anything, but they hedge their bets by belonging to some “church” or religious organization. They aren't positive about heaven/hell, but they buy into the promise/fear that they might exist. If that's the case, these people just want to at least give the appearance of being believers, hoping that it helps if they ever do stand up on “judgment day” and have to answer for their actions during this lifetime. These people comprise the greatest percentage of the population, both in the United States and the world as a whole. Some are wonderful leaders, famous entertainers/actors/athletes/etc. Some are in prison because they made mistakes and got caught; for them life is what they make it; they live for now with much thought for the future, mostly their retirement; life is confusing and hard work but better than the alternative, at least that's what they think! The vast majority of them are just average citizens who have families and love being alive and all that entails. For them life is experience. There might be a reward after death, but the worst part is that there might be a punishment. They are self-fulfilled by their work, their families, their friends, and all that they experience while they are alive.

Just to the right of the sheep are the fanatics! This group is convinced that there is a “God,” and that anyone who doesn't believe that is doomed, a lost soul for eternity. These people comprise some percentage of the population, both in the United States and the world as a whole. Some are wonderful leaders, famous entertainers/actors/athletes/etc. Some are in prison because they made mistakes and got caught but are truly repentant; they live with much thought about the afterlife; and life for now is filled with struggles and disappoints as they worry about those who don't believe. The vast majority of them are just average citizens who have families and love being alive and all that entails. For them life is a gift from a God. They believe that there will be a reward after death, but the worst part is that there might be a punishment. They are self-fulfilled by their work, their families, their friends, and all that they experience while they are alive.

The far right group, radicals takes belief to the extreme. They believe that they have the only answer, and that answer is that God must be believed and obeyed, according to the specific tenets of their beliefs, whatever they might be. There is no compromise, no other way to look at the world or life. These people comprise a small percentage of the population, both in the United States and the world as a whole. Some are leaders, famous entertainers/actors/athletes/etc. Some are in prison because their actions on behalf what they see as the laws of God has conflicted with the laws of the vast majority of people, but they will never repent or admit the possibility that they might be wrong; they live looking to the afterlife; and life for now is filled with struggles and disappoints as they work to ensure that their beliefs are imposed on others. Very few of them are just average citizens who have families and love being alive and all that entails. For them life is obedience to a God, regardless of the consequences. There know that they will be rewarded after death for their struggle and sacrifice for their God, but even stronger is their fear of punishment if they fail to give everything for their faith, regardless of who it hurts. They are self-fulfilled only by their work, their families, their friends, and what they believe are their sacrifices and achievements for their God in this lifetime.

All this being said, there are shades within each of these groups too. There are “good” and “bad” within any grouping, but that doesn't make them “evil.” It simply means that a “good atheist” is one who firmly doesn't believe but is not pushing that belief on others in an outward manner, only within his own mind. The “bad atheist” is one who attempts by whatever means necessary to ridicule and confound those who belong to any other group. The same thing can be said of the “good radicals.” They know that they have the answers but recognize that others might not, so they push within certain parameters, won't openly cross certain lines, even though deep in their hearts, they know that there is only one truth, theirs. The “bad radicals” have no limits, will do anything, even kill, to force their beliefs on others.

My point is that there are contradictions and hypocritical actions within any grouping system for humans. Where the greatest problem comes is when the extremes of either group refuse to recognize that there is another way to see things, refuse to live and let live so long as another's belief system doesn't interfere with their right to believe as they do. We're all struggling with faith in some ways and on some points. Looking back at history, the same groupings can be used when considering most any subject, whether it's politics, economics, etc. Humans are evolving, slowly, very slowly. Perhaps someday off in the future there will be definitive answers to every question. Maybe we will know it all...but I doubt it!

5 comments

Oztinato profile image

Oztinato 12 months ago from Australia

You are creating stereotypes which is unethical.

I can only agree with your opening statement that you are "not qualified" to discuss religion.


GEORGE ROBERT profile image

GEORGE ROBERT 12 months ago from Currently reside in NE Arkansas Author

Just trying to separate types, not creating stereotypes. No one is qualified to make any judgments, but there's nothing unethical about my characterizations of people.


Oztinato profile image

Oztinato 12 months ago from Australia

Seperating "types" is called stereotyping. It can lead to bigotry and dehumanisation.


Paladin_ profile image

Paladin_ 12 months ago from Michigan, USA

George, you are, of course, NOT "creating stereotypes" here. To stereotype is to unfairly attribute to a group certain characteristics that are not inherent to that group. For example, saying that all blacks eat fried chicken and play basketball is a stereotype.

What you are doing, on the other hand, is identifying groups by the characteristics that actually DEFINE them -- at least within the context of your analysis. Identifying someone by the nature of their belief is NOT a stereotype if it is that very belief which defines them within the context of the discussion. For example, to say atheists don't believe in God isn't "stereotyping" them. It's simply identifying them by their belief (or lack thereof).

That aside, I would contest the aspect of your analysis that pertains to agnostics. Agnosticism actually doesn't fit within the spectrum you describe because, unlike your other categories, it doesn't actually deal with BELIEF.

Agnosticism is a statement with regard to KNOWLEDGE, and can thus apply to ANY of the other groups you identify. A person can be both an atheist AND an agnostic (which is how I happen to describe myself), or can even be a believer and an agnostic (but much less likely to admit it).

Many people make this mistake, but that's why we write hubs -- so we can all learn from each other!


Oztinato profile image

Oztinato 12 months ago from Australia

Paladin

that's just a very convoluted verbose rationalisation for what is plain old stereotyping.

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