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December 7th, 2013
09:16 AM ET

An atheist photographer focuses on faith

Opinion by Mark Schacter, special to CNN

(CNN) - I don’t believe in a divine presence, nor do I subscribe to any organized religion.

And that, perhaps oddly, is why I am drawn to the mystery of faith.

With the wonderment of an outsider, I try to understand the seemingly incomprehensible (to me, at least) pull that faith exerts over so many people's lives.

As a photographer approaching this mystery, I am confronted by what might seem like a contradiction: Photographs capture what can be seen, and yet faith is often invisible.

But even if personal faith can't be seen directly, there are some tangible traces of its existence, and that's where I point my camera.

In particular, I photograph houses of worship, whose bricks and clapboard, stained glass and steel are often the largest and most visible manifestations of religious faith.

I've photographed Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and Baha'i sanctuaries in the United States and Canada.

I've also interviewed Christian ministers, a rabbi, a imam and a Buddhist scholar about the significance of their spiritual homes, pressing them to explain how they reconcile their sometimes opulent houses of worship with the fact that religion is ultimately about transcending worldly things.

Often, they answered that the magnificent building is of little consequence. It serves a valuable purpose only if, through its grandeur, it transports worshipers to a spiritual state of mind.

“The point of the building is to leave people feeling awestruck,” said the Rev. Michael Busch, rector of St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto.

But is it the building itself that gives the space a sacred quality, or is holiness derived from the devotions of worshipers, present and past, who have occupied the space?

I don't pretend to know the answer to that question. But I do know this: Even an ardent atheist can look at a house of worship and see the signs of an invisible human longing that is common to us all, believer and unbeliever alike.

Mark Schacter is a photographer based in Ottawa, Canada. Mark's newest book of photography, Houses of Worship, has just been published. It's available now in Canada and will be released internationally soon. His website is www.luxetveritas.net.

The opinions expressed in this commentary belong to Mark Schacter.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Buddhism • Catholic Church • Christianity • Church • Houses of worship • Islam • Judaism • Mosque • Opinion • Sikh • United States

soundoff (2,235 Responses)
  1. GOOD NEWS

    All the Universe is a House of Worship!
    For the Heavens declare the Glory of GOD!

    http://www.holy-19-harvest.com
    UNIVERSAL MAGNIFICENT MIRACLES

    December 8, 2013 at 4:19 am |
    • Realist

      ------–
      ------–

      ... http://www.GodIsImaginary.com...

      ... and thank goodness because he ...

      ............. emanates from the .............

      ... http://www.EvilBible.com

      ------–
      ------–

      December 8, 2013 at 4:35 am |
      • Chris

        God is imaginary...and he's evil...LOL

        December 8, 2013 at 6:52 am |
        • lilyq

          Well Chris, which is He? If God is imaginary then he cannot be evil.

          December 8, 2013 at 7:20 am |
        • igaftr

          lilyq
          He can be if I imagine an evil god...which is exactly what I imagine when I read the OT...that guy was evil...he created hell and satan. and supposedly drowned every form of life on the planet except for a select few.

          December 8, 2013 at 11:33 am |
        • Fan2C

          The "God" character in The Bible is written to have done quite an array of 'evil' things. I'll bet that you think that Lex Luthor, The Joker, Cruella de Vil, Voldemort and other nasty characters are 'evil', don't you, but you don't believe they are real.

          December 8, 2013 at 11:38 am |
      • sam stone

        lily.....fictional characters are not referred to as good or evil?

        December 8, 2013 at 7:44 am |
  2. Seyedibar

    Christians, look at what you're selling.
    Talking snakes. Winged men. The dead rising. Talking shrubs. Talking donkeys. Men and women made of dirt and ribs. A man living inside a whale. Men who fly. Food magically multiplied. People turning into salt.
    How can you ever expect a scientifically minded modern society to take you seriously? Why is society still tolerant of something so incredibly primitive and harmful?

    December 8, 2013 at 4:13 am |
    • Peaceinsprituality

      I do not mind that you do not believe in a higher power, you have every right to not believe. What concerns me is how you seem to think your belief is the supreme belief and act as if all others should fall in line. Please, explain to me how my faith concerns you or your pursuits? Furthermore, what exactly are you advocating by asking people to not be tolerant of christianity?

      December 8, 2013 at 4:30 am |
      • sderry

        Talking snakes. Seriously?

        December 8, 2013 at 5:13 am |
        • oo oo

          U just proved it.

          December 8, 2013 at 6:10 am |
        • oo oo

          now that is funny. "talking snakes" is a problem to a talking snake!

          December 8, 2013 at 10:10 am |
      • Street Epistemologist In Training

        Your beliefs are important to others because many of your cult's members want to impose their views on others through the legislative process and the more extreme members would like to create a theocracy based on your delusions.

        Asking why something is tolerated is not the same as suggesting that it should not be tolerated. Your cult's persecution complex is getting in the way of your reading for comprehension.

        December 8, 2013 at 6:37 am |
    • devin

      Actually, the commodity we're "selling" is none of those things you listed, it's eternal life. As for your plea to modernity, there are countless numbers of scientifically minded mordern people who adhere to the Christian faith, but of course you already knew that.

      December 8, 2013 at 4:30 am |
      • Realist

        ------–
        ------–

        ... http://www.GodIsImaginary.com...

        ... and thank goodness because he ...

        ............. emanates from the .............

        ... http://www.EvilBible.com

        ------–
        ------–

        December 8, 2013 at 4:36 am |
        • Peaceinsprituality

          What do you hope to accomplish by attacking others beliefs?

          December 8, 2013 at 4:38 am |
        • oo oo

          try this one dodo, i mean peace, let's analyze acts starting with, "The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach" ready?

          December 8, 2013 at 10:15 am |
        • oo oo

          try this one dodo, i mean peace, let's analyze acts starting with, "The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach" ready?

          no? scripture scarey 4 u?

          December 8, 2013 at 10:34 am |
      • sderry

        You are trying to acquire more suckers. Nothing more. A business constantly needs to expand and find more customers.

        December 8, 2013 at 5:14 am |
    • Chuck

      Supposedly by the claims of science we are "star dust" so yes we are made of dirt.

      December 8, 2013 at 5:22 am |
      • igaftr

        A severe oversimplification....more the product of dying stars. (Star stuff as Sagan said)

        December 8, 2013 at 11:24 am |
  3. adrifter

    I'm also an atheist, and I read many books about religion. I'm not trying to find religion, because I am convinced there is no god or gods. (Of course, it is impossible to prove something doesn't exist, i.e. God, Santa Claus or Bigfoot.) I am really trying to understand why so many people believe something that is blatantly false. I especially am trying to understand why some Christians believe things that can be proven to be false, such as the Earth is 9,000 years old and that the Bible should be taken literally when there are obvious contradictions. How can otherwise intelligent people believe nonsense and obvious myths. That to me is the real mystery of religion.

    December 8, 2013 at 4:04 am |
    • Peaceinsprituality

      Just out of my own curiosity, which i'm sure i'll regret, how can you say without reservation that all the things subscribed to are false? You can't. Some of your comments such as christians believing the Bible should be taken literally or the age of earth...show how truly ignorant you are of christians and the christian faith. My advice to you, if you really want to understand, don't read books, spend real time with real people in a church and discuss your questions

      December 8, 2013 at 4:36 am |
      • Realist

        ------–
        ------–

        ... http://www.GodIsImaginary.com...

        ... and thank goodness because he ...

        ............. emanates from the .............

        ... http://www.EvilBible.com

        ------–
        ------–

        December 8, 2013 at 4:50 am |
        • oo oo

          oo oo

          god, my god and father

          DAD!

          DADDY!

          HELP ME! WHERE ARE YOU? WHY HAVE YOU LEFT? WHERE ARE YOU!!!

          sounds like unbelief expressed by the one who came and died a criminal's death
          December 8, 2013 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
          lilyq

          December 8, 2013 at 10:35 am |
      • Nick Riccssamo

        Paradoxically the more atheists I come into contact with the more strength I find in my belief that they, for lack of a better term, lack a certain gene(yes, I get the irony). Some of my friends don't like women, ie they are gay. Some of my friends don't like racing cars, or healthy food.

        Similarly, some people do not understand how imagination works. Which is one of the truly divine things.

        Additionally, the notion that atheism is new is flawed. For as long as there have been religions, there have been people who hated religion. It's nothing new. Nor is paganism, or 'worshiping the earth' or 'spiritual but not religious'.

        Not everyone is going to believe in God. It makes me sad for them, how boring their lives must be to put all of their faith(as ironic as my gene comment) in science. Don't get me wrong, I love air travel, computers, and all the amazing things science and technology can do for us. I hope that some day we can transcend our physical bodies, travel at the speed of light, and do way more than we can today.

        But speaking to evolution technologically, biologically and intellectually – I hate to say it but monkeys are atheists. The ability to reason abstractly and believe in a higher power requires abilities monkeys do not have. The imagination of that is the exact same kind of imagination that allows us to create new technologies and believe anything is possible.

        I for one am not a monkey, nor am I a Neanderthal pagan. I believe there is far more than the simplistic dirt and concrete that atheists 'believe' in. These constructs we have built up around ourselves seem drab and boring philosophically to me. Even scientifically, atheism just seems to strike an early blow to anything fantasic at all about the universe.

        A set of laws? We shall see.

        December 8, 2013 at 5:27 am |
        • Youtube - Neil deGrasse Tsyon - The Perimeter of Ignorance

          "Even scientifically, atheism just seems to strike an early blow to anything fantasic at all about the universe."

          To the contrary, it is more fantastic than we can imagine – hundreds of billions (trillions) of galaxies with hundreds of billions (trillions) of stars, nearly all of which have planets, some right for life; planets so hot that they rain glass; stars made of diamonds; the lineage of animals from singled celled organisms to the incredible variety that exists today with their unique adaptations. The list goes on.

          Or, we could just close our eyes and say, "God did it," which for many of the greatest scientists that ever lived is a statement marking the end of their work on a science topic, or the end of a particular civilization's great period of discovery.

          December 8, 2013 at 5:47 am |
        • Mythcantor

          So, you're saying that something has to be wrong with someone for them not to believe in your God? Does that mean that there is some genetic fault in you that keeps you from believing in Vishnu?

          December 8, 2013 at 8:47 am |
        • oo oo

          i don't believe anyone will be able to knock that 147mph fastball out of the park. yo kid, splendid splinter, thumper, teddy the ballgame, where u is?

          December 8, 2013 at 10:44 am |
    • Chuck

      The Bible never says the earth is 6 or 9000 years old. Matter of fact, the Bible names God as the "ancient of days" He has no beginning or end for by him and through him all things exist.

      December 8, 2013 at 5:18 am |
      • igaftr

        yes Chuck...we know...Nogomain created all things, and even created himself out of nothing.

        December 8, 2013 at 11:20 am |
    • Rio Lee

      It takes Faith to believe.

      December 8, 2013 at 5:23 am |
      • Youtube - Neil deGrasse Tsyon - The Perimeter of Ignorance

        "It takes Faith to believe."

        And from what I've seen here from some of the religious posters, a willful ignorance of science in order for that faith to survive. That's incredibly dishonest.

        December 8, 2013 at 5:51 am |
        • Chris

          So Christians willfully ignore science? Hmmmm...ok, lets ask Francis Collins and John Polkinghorne about the way they ignore science 'in order for that faith to survive"

          December 8, 2013 at 6:51 am |
        • Youtube - Neil deGrasse Tsyon - The Perimeter of Ignorance

          Rather, let's ask the 93% of the country's leading scientists why they don't believe. As for Francis Collins, you are referring to the person who was walking in the woods and saw three frozen waterfalls, decided it was a "sign," and then accepted Jesus as his savior?

          December 8, 2013 at 7:00 am |
        • oo oo

          o, i no. u mean the American physician-geneticist noted for his discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the Human Genome Project

          December 8, 2013 at 11:11 am |
        • oo oo

          i trust the scholarship and clear thinking of dm murdock over dr. collins. i mean, heck, she's sold at least 3 copies of all the comic books she illustrated, true?

          December 8, 2013 at 11:14 am |
  4. BigBankTheory

    Big buildings have only one purpose – intimidation. Jut like the banks, the churches are intended to intimidate people o that they don't think, and actually believe the nonsense being espoused.

    December 8, 2013 at 4:01 am |
    • P.U. Camelteau

      You're scared of churches and banks? HAHAHAHAHAHA

      December 8, 2013 at 6:50 am |
  5. worldcares

    How ironic but not surprising.

    December 8, 2013 at 3:38 am |
  6. Dog

    Aethism is just another POINT OF VIEW

    December 8, 2013 at 3:26 am |
    • Noel

      You couldn't be more wrong. It's no point of view......well, I'll clarify that. I think most atheists would admit they consider themselves what is more commonly being known as agnostic atheists. Essentially, I don't believe in a god, but I don't disbelieve in one either, I'm just humble enough to admit that I don't have enough information to make a decision whether there is a god or not (in any capacity). Where I draw the line though is organized religion. I think anyone who claims to know for certain there is a god is completely delusional, because we just don't know. So that being said, if I think someone is delusional for their certainty in god, how do you think I feel when that same individual says "and not only that, but I have this list of 10 things he doesn't want me to do, and I know what happens when I die, and I know jesus took away our sins, and I know Mary was a virgin but got pregnant anyway, and I know he turned water into wine......." and on and on ad nauseum. To be THAT maniacally egotistical to even BEGIN to presume you "know for certain" even the first little thing. So, well, there's you're answer. I'm intelligent and humble enough to know that as of this very moment, I have no inclination to believe there is a god of any type, let alone the one spelled out in the Bible, because there is no evidence to suggest so, while, if anyone were honest with themselves (go ahead, breath, I'm not going to ask any theists to do anything as crazy as be honest with themselves. That would just be ludicrous), as time goes on, there seems to be more and more evidence coming up that there isn't a god, especially YOUR kind of god at least, as the Bible just seems to be getting destroyed with actual facts.

      In summary, not sure if it's a difference of opinion per say....at least not yet. I don't have an opinion yet. But, I think I may someday. We'll see.

      December 8, 2013 at 3:57 am |
      • devin

        " as time goes on, there seems to be more and more evidence coming up that there isn't a god." I realize that on some level you believed that statement would bolster your posiition, it's just that, well, it's simply non factual and disingenuous

        December 8, 2013 at 4:14 am |
        • Noel

          I truly, in my heart of hearts, don't believe it is, and I can give you at least on example why, although there are many, I really need to get some sleep. At the cusp of sounding boastful, and you can choose to believe this statement when I say it or not, it's up to you, but base it on anything you've seen from me so far, whether it be grammar, the way I speak, the way I communicate thoughts, whatever, but, I have an IQ of 143, a bulk of which is geared towards mathematics, deduction, and problem solving. The more I've engaged others in intelligent conversation on the matter, and as facts come to light that I believe to be true facts based on evidence (empirical data), and attempts at being dis-proven over and over to no avail, I'm finding more and more inaccuracies in the Bible (along with many contradictions, but I'll touch on those another time). Since numbers is my strong suit, and based on the very best translations of timelines from YOUR scholars who spend not only their lives, but generations interpreting the information, it is agreed upon in most major Christian based religions that The Great Flood happened, at most, 4,000 years ago (many claim sooner, like 3,500 – 3,700 years ago), but for arguments sake giving you the benefit of the doubt in this example, we'll use 4,000 years ago. Using a formula heavy database, incorporating everything from male to female ratios the past 4,000 years, the average mortality rates of infants, the average life span of woman as it progressed through the ages, anything and everything you could think of, I came up with a very shocking discovery. As it turns out, with the worlds population being what it is today, and with god essentially hitting the reset button 4,000 years ago at most, that means that every woman who survived child birth to reach the very earliest age they could be begin to reproduce, EVERY SINGLE WOMAN over the past 4,000 years would have had to have, at minimum, 43 children each for the worlds population to be what it is today.

          Now, in the name of trying to have an intelligent, open, and honest conversation, please don't respond back with the standard, "well, god works in mysterious way", or needing to "have faith". You called me out as being disingenuous when I said "that as time goes on however, I'm finding things that are helping to disprove things previously held as fact among Christians", so I have provided you an example that not only wasn't it a disingenuous statement, but that I've done my homework, on both sides of the argument, and came up with something that no one has been able to give me a response with even either the slightest chance of being possible, or falling back to the old status qua of "mysterious ways" and "having faith". Now, one person did say something that got me thinking, and that there's a chance that the Great Flood was localized to the greater mosopotamian area, and not a world wide flood after all. Well, I re-ran the data, and although the number of children needed per woman went down by around 10-12 (I'd have to look back to get the exact number), it was still not physically possible given the time allowed. This was due to the fact the even if it was just greater Mesopotamia, it was still a massive area, and at the time, an estimated 60-80% of the worlds population lived (and subsequently perished), in that region at the time....and now that I'm thinking back, that's why the number decreased by between 10 and 12 children per woman, in relation to whether it was 60 or 80%. Lastly, roughly 90% of Christians and Christian based religions believe it was truly a world wide flood, that actually happened as is to be taken literally, and happened, at the very furthest back, 4,000 years ago.

          So, there's one for you. Got anything that maybe I haven't heard before in response to that? My email is iwf cyb@ gmail (no spaces, just trying to avoid getting flagged). Have a good night, and I look forward to continuing our discussion.

          December 8, 2013 at 5:02 am |
        • devin

          Noel

          I'd like to continue the conversation, I'll email you when I get a chance.

          December 8, 2013 at 5:11 am |
    • In Reason I Trust

      No it's not. You don't have a point of view that Santa Claus isn't real-you know it. Same with god(s), they are all clearly made up.

      December 8, 2013 at 3:59 am |
  7. elec_eel

    when you feel uncomfortable about your life and how the world is built around you and thinking you're too small to make a change, you feel the need to transcend; this need is filled by god/spirituality.
    when you strive for perfection and you find everything around you less than perfect you construct something that is capable of being perfect and that is god.
    when you see death around you and you feel terrorized, you say to yourself "this cannot be the end", so you come up with heaven.

    if you're not feeling all that you read Epicurus and you become an atheist.

    December 8, 2013 at 3:17 am |
    • devin

      That was very nice. I would applaud you if not for the fact that your conclusions are comletely nonsensical.

      December 8, 2013 at 3:27 am |
      • elec_eel

        your point being that....

        December 8, 2013 at 3:32 am |
        • devin

          Point being that "your conclusions are completely nonsensical." It seemed fairly straight forward.

          December 8, 2013 at 3:34 am |
        • Noel

          See, devin, this is when things get tough to keep it civilized, because I honestly want to say, either you're pretending to not see the comparison just to be difficult, even though you do, or, you're just flat out not smart enough to understand it.... In which case, you probably shouldn't draw attention to yourself by replying at all, because honestly, it's not a head scratcher.

          Here's to hoping it's neither of those two, and you simply got some words jumbled up and read it wrong, because that's really the only other possibility there is.

          December 8, 2013 at 3:39 am |
        • Noel

          Maybe you should read my other reply to his comment. It has actual examples to hold your hand through the thought process he was communicating. His was more succinct (that means brief but efficient) where as my post expounded on (that means added to) his, using comparisons and the quite understandable reason for the human brain to seek out this form of security blanket. Let me know if you have any questions.

          December 8, 2013 at 3:44 am |
        • devin

          Noel

          I appreciate your attempt, albeit feeble, to come to the defense of the OP. You probably would make a good friend.

          Unfortunately, you misconstrued "comparison" with what was actually stated, a cause and effect relationship. Perhaps you could read the original post again, this time with comprehension.

          December 8, 2013 at 3:49 am |
    • Noel

      You got it elec. Probably the best example there is of mans ability to use his brain as a coping mechanism. To "create" a solution out of pure thin air that can take away his fear of death, can be something to aspire to be like in an imperfect world, can provide a promise of better days to come no matter how hard things are today, even if that time is only after you've died. If you can just "have faith", and hang on, you will be rewarded. It's almost as literal an incarnation of a mental "knee jerk reaction" to thoughts and feelings no other living creature on this planet has. It's a way to justify what you don't yet understand, rather than acknowledging that it's just understandable at the moment, and it's acceptance amongst those who think like they do, it's the creation of a definable "evil" to fight against (satan, atheists, other religions, basically everyone except their small group of like minders....even other denominations that are nearly identical quibble). It's a friend, a lover, a partner, where as in their actual life, they may have none of those things. It's anything you need it to be, anytime you need it, 24hours a day, boundless only by ones imagination, as the bible can be interpreted in so many different ways. In summary, it's the grown up version of your invisible friend when you were a child.

      December 8, 2013 at 3:30 am |
      • Linus

        They are certainly free to cling to their security blankets for comfort, but just don't try to smother everyone else with the dang drool-soaked things.

        December 8, 2013 at 3:52 am |
      • Noel

        "You probably would make a good friend"

        Yup, I get that a lot. And at the risk of sounding arrogant (who am I kidding, that risk went out the windows 15 posts ago, lol), and yes, your assumption is correct, I make a great friend..........however, if we're sticking to the topic at hand, which I intend to, flattery, sir, will get you nowhere. 🙂

        I did as you requested, re-read the very first post, and it makes perfect sense to me. No different than my rambling post agreeing with him and providing even more real life human scenarios that can evoke strong emotions, that can easily cause someone to either A: Seek out religion, even if it's only for some semblance of accepttion and/or explanation of the unknown, or B: If they already have a religion, re-embracing it with new enthusiasm. I'm not understanding how you can see where I was coming from based on the first comment in the thread. It's a logical response from someone who understands the concept, agrees with the concept, and wanted to elaborate and expound on it a little. It really is amazing how many reasons you could see someone do either A or B above, for no other reason than the event, situation, or whatever other outside factor is causing a strong emotional reaction. You don't think there's a correlation with the fact that people who are going through tough times tend to attend church twice as often, and if catholic, are 3 times as likely to give confession than they would be if something wasn't bothering them. I'm sure it's not for the small talk, I truly believe it's a way to help cope, at the very least in a small way, with whatever challenge it is they're facing that has evoked either a negative reaction, or a reaction they're not used to. By letting god in on their issues, feelings, whatever, now they feel like they're not alone in whatever "it" is anymore (of course, I think nothings changed at all, accept their perception of the world around them).

        That's my two cents, but I'm always willing to listen to, talk about, debate with, even occasionally agree to anyone taking the other side of the coin on this topic, but they have to be willing to be honest and open about the discussion, and can't just bury their head in the sand should a valid point be made that hurts their argument, and I just have a hard time buying that you don't understand the original post. You seem like a smart enough guy. If I were a betting man, I'd say people who know you may occasionally call you stubborn. Am I right? lol. Because I think you do get at least the gist of what he was saying. I just explained it again in yet another way in this post. Finally, to make it perfectly clear, what he was getting at is that he (as well as I) believe people don't always turn to religion for the right.....or maybe not for the traditionally intended reasons, or if they were already "kind of" religious, they strengthen that religion for the wrong reasons. But, to argue my theory more adequetly, I guess I would need to know if you believe that the god you believe in can, will, and does punish someone directly while they're alive? Like, lets say cause bad things to happen to them? Knowing that would be helpful........

        December 8, 2013 at 4:25 am |
        • devin

          Noel

          First, to the topic at hand:This isn't rocket science, the OP made clear cause and effect statements as to why Chrisitans believe what they do. I clearly disagreed with his conclusions and found them lacking. Don't paint this any other way it's not that complicated.

          I appreciate your apparent openess to discussion and the ability to recognize a superior literary intellect:) I also consider myself to be open to divergent thought and conversation, and would like to think I'm capable of change when my views are in error. We have a saying in my house: "Truth at all cost". and by this we mean truth no matter what the consequences, no matter how it efffects are time honered beliefs or traditions. I realize this will come off as altruistic, but my main philosophical goal in this life is to know what is true, what path that takes me down is secondary.

          Clarify your need for understanding my thoughts on God's retribution and maybe I can help you out.

          December 8, 2013 at 5:00 am |
        • Noel

          Devin, it's a pretty straight forward question, and I'd like a "control" type of answer, so that your response isn't tainted by why I'm asking, or.....and I'm sorry to lump you in, because maybe you're not the type (although asking me why is usually a tell tale sign, sorry), but all to often, when someone can see where I'm going with a line of questioning, I'll an answer, but with an "out" left to them. I will clarify though to try and make it easier to answer, because may be wondering if I'm asking will god punish someone for jaywalking? Or Adultry? Murder? So let's make it very simple. While someone is still alive, do you believe god can and/or would punish somebody, regardless of what they did? Lets say he takes over the worlds nuclear weapons and gets off a handful of them killing a billion people. Does your belief in god allow him to take any action while the person is still alive? Or would that go against free will? Since I'm clarifying, let me ask another....potentially depending on your response. If your answer is "Yes, you do believe God can, will, and does punish people while they are still of the mortal plain, how severely? Death? And in the same vein, at what point does god step in. For arguments sake, we'll say this guy was just a bad seed right from the start. Stealing cars at 13, in and out of jail in his teens, killed his first person when he was 17 and got away with it, used and sold drugs to kids, killed an entire family just for fun, and then we'll say that was the last thing before he headed off to his ultimate plan. If you think god punishes the living, for what, and how severely?

          Of course, this is a much easier question to reply to if your answer is "No, because it conflicts with free will".

          So, what do you believe? Send this to my email if you can. Thanks,

          December 8, 2013 at 5:24 am |
    • Wie Khiong

      @elec_eel, has it ever occurred to you that your thoughts expressed in what you’ve written as well as your conclusion have been derived in the same manner, based on your feeling or experience similar to that which you’ve just described, and thereby generating your current belief that likewise resembles a chameleon? Can you really believe what you believe?

      December 8, 2013 at 3:55 am |
      • elec_eel

        precisely. it is the best we can do as this is not extact science. the best way to approach life is to speculate (along with the highest level of information available) and try for the best. but i think there is space for everyone atheists and deists. of course i'm of the opinion that without religions and god the human race would be a better species but i'm not very adamant about that 😀

        December 8, 2013 at 4:04 am |
        • Wie Khiong

          Just curious, on what basis can you be sure about your conclusion, as you seem to be quite sure with it?

          December 8, 2013 at 4:07 am |
      • elec_eel

        well this is a dynamic process. i have my inner peace with that worldview and i communicate this worldview with other people (preferably deists). so i see where i stand in relation to the "opposite side". but all this process is under constant revision and it went some deep structural changes over the years. and if i may construe your objection correctl you're thinkning for some external variable to act as a free variable.

        December 8, 2013 at 4:16 am |
        • Wie Khiong

          Appreciate your further explanation, but I’m not aware if any question that I posed conveys any objection other seeks your explanation for what you believe. I’m just curious how you can be sure with something that keeps changing.

          December 8, 2013 at 4:26 am |
        • Noel

          Wie, if I can chime in on Elecs beliefs, since I feel mind are very similar, you asked him if he could really believe what he believes, and I think it's safe to say he gave you a very honest answer. Would you be willing to answer with the same honesty if one was asked of you? You seemed almost beside yourself that someone can believe that.......but, let me ask you this: Do you truly believe that no man or woman, since the very beginnings of organized religions, has either ever A. Sought out religion as a way to explain something they didn't understand, or, B. Do you truly believe that no man or woman, since the very beginnings of organized religions, who considered themselves a religious person, has never strengthened their beliefs because of something they couldn't understand, or were incredibly frightened, or scared, or even because they coveted something? Not ONE PERSON in history has ever done that?

          December 8, 2013 at 4:33 am |
        • Wie Khiong

          Calm down, Noel. I’m just fascinated with the belief both of you adhere. If any question I made seems to judge your motive, I apologize. I’m just curious how you can be sure with what you believe when it keeps changing. That’s all.

          December 8, 2013 at 4:48 am |
        • Noel

          Wie, I apologize if you took that post the wrong way, but I couldn't have been any calmer. With the lack of Bold, Underline, or Italic fonts in this particular format, I'm relegated to typing words I'm trying to emphasize in all caps. Sorry if that came off as shouting.

          December 8, 2013 at 5:39 am |
        • Noel

          Actually, if you tell any atheist, especially an agnostic atheist that "I can't understand how you can change" or anything to that effect, that is probably the single greatest compliment one could receive, so thank you very much for that, even though I'm sure you didn't know it held that much meaning. The summarized version of the agnostic prefix is "One who admits he doesn't have information to reach a reasonable decision either way". So yes, change is what I'm always striving for. For every little change I make, it means that I've found something new that I wholeheartedly believe to be true, and I adjust my outlook on the world around me and beyond accordingly.

          But one thing I don't think will ever change, but again, I absolutely believe that at least one person at sometime over another, chose to either be religious, or go from typical belief status to fanatical for the wrong reason(s). Not for the glory of god, but because of something selfish, or because they knew the church would be one group of people who wouldn't turn her down after being turned down her whole life. Heck, I'd even make a safe bet that there are hundreds...thousands of Christians, right here in the US, attend Church every Sunday, etc, and don't believe in god, heaven or hell. They're there simply for the feeling of being part of something after a lifetime of loneliness.

          Not so speak for my link minded buddy, but I believe that was one aspect of his analogies, I'll use the first and last as examples. Do you believe that no one has ever joined a religion, went to church regularly, said the words, took the sacrement, but didn't do it to develop a relationship with dn? Didn't do it to find inner peace? Didn't do it for whatever reason you feel is the "right" reason, but instead, was looking to ensure that someday, even if it took until their death, they could change who they were.....be something....idk, more than what they were. Maybe they had an undiagnosed mental illness like depression, and actually look forward to that die (of course knowing suicide would be out).

          Or his last one, being afraid to die. Humans are the only known living creatures that are aware of their own mortality. No one experiences and thinks about death like an atheist, and it can be a scary concept for a lot of people. So could you honestly say that you don't think anyone has ever become religious, especially much later on in life as the end isn't far off (and even statistics that common sense would tell you should trend the opposite way, ie, someone who's gone 70, 75 years not believing in god or heaven, decides then to become a devote Christian? Obviously, a decent percentage of those are banking on the "better to be safe, just in case". Is this a proper reason for becoming religious?

          I believe those were the points he was trying to make, and if you've read through even just 1 page on this forum, you're bound to find a theist who openly advertises the fact that that is one of, if not the sole factor in his belief system. The age old "better safe than sorry".

          So all that being said, if you can agree that if even one person changed their belief system for either of those reasons, his post has been validated as accurate. Personally, I think you'd be very surprised the number of people who turn to religion for what I would consider the "wrong" reasons. But, if you feel there is never a wrong reason for becoming a christian, even if an individual does it for no other reason than playing it safe, never believed in god, will go their whole never never truly bielving, does the minimum (paying lip service), and to really point a cherry on top, doesn't live anything close to a "christian lifestyle outside of the few hours on Sundays (just a rotten to the core person, thief, liar, cheater....rappist, murderer....) Is there STILL no wrong reason for becoming religeous?

          I want you to know none of this was sarcastic, I'm very curious as to your toughts on this particular matter, because maybe, being as against the original post of this thread as you were, YOU could be the one making a slight shift in your perspective when all's said and done. And as long as it's done in good faith and for the right reasons, I don't think that's anything to be afraid of or to try and avoid. None of us are perfect, and it's what we do with what we learn every day that gets us just that much closer, that much better than we were yesterday. I look forward to your thoughts on this.

          December 8, 2013 at 6:13 am |
        • Wie Khiong

          Hi, Noel. Thank you so much for taking the time to elaborate what you believe. Sorry that I couldn’t reply immediately, as it’s nighttime here and I just returned from dinner. Trust me, I’m truly grateful for your cordial explanation, and you have my greatest respect for what you believe, even if it’s for your own personal reason for having done so. Most of all, even if we couldn’t agree in what we believe, I shall have better at least a better understanding through this amicable exchange.

          If I may phrase it more plainly, what I was question is the very foundation of your belief, not the process by which you acquire this belief; in that, if the foundation itself is uncertain, you still need ascertain yourself, but you can’t go back to something uncertain. In other words, how can you avoid circular reasoning by drawing something that you are uncertain to begin with? In fact, how will you avoid your own solipsism or able to differentiate it if your foundation is uncertain?

          I’m not demanding an answer, if time doesn’t permit you to do so or if you don’t feel like answering. As I’ve said, I’m always curious to know more what people believe and why they believe it so that I can learn to understand and respect them better. Thanks again for your kindness.

          December 8, 2013 at 7:16 am |
  8. topi

    Its not church that makes you holy, its Jesus!

    Turn from sin, and believe Jesus died for your sins on thr cross, was buried and resurrected 3 days later and you will be saved!

    December 8, 2013 at 3:10 am |
    • Fan2c

      topi,

      Only if you BELIEVE. If you don't believe, then he didn't die for your sins?

      - Having someone else be punished for your wrongdoings is cowardly and immoral.
      - What wrongdoing have you done that merits the death penalty?
      - What kind of deity demands blood and death as the only means of satisfying his displeasure?

      December 8, 2013 at 3:28 am |
      • Rio Lee

        If you don't believe, you will not be saved.

        December 8, 2013 at 5:33 am |
    • Fan2c

      p.s. For a purportedly almighty and all-knowing deity, this Jesus sure left cr@ppy evidence that any of that stuff actually happened anyway.

      December 8, 2013 at 3:31 am |
  9. GoldenGirl

    Beautiful pictures!

    December 8, 2013 at 3:07 am |
  10. James

    http://www.christianstoday.org is the best website for christian news.

    December 8, 2013 at 3:06 am |
    • Realist

      ------–
      ------–

      ... http://www.GodIsImaginary.com...

      ... and thank goodness because he ...

      ............. emanates from the .............

      ... http://www.EvilBible.com

      ------–
      ------–

      December 8, 2013 at 4:52 am |
  11. bryanbeus

    Beautiful article! Loved it. So glad to read an account from another person who loves exploring other beliefs and faiths.

    As a member of the LDS faith (Mormon) I believe in Christ.

    And I love to learn about Buddha and Lao Tzu, just for fun and to see things from their perspective. So many wise sources of knowledge in the world, so little time!

    December 8, 2013 at 3:04 am |
  12. Locke liberal founder type

    You are asking the right question: Why do people find religion is so compelling.

    How do you define god? Is god the personification of the "collective consciousness'" goals and beliefs? I think so.

    That God exists, and that God is an emergent property of groups of minds.

    You can pray to that God, and get results.

    You can live on in the minds and hearts of the people still alive.

    You can be reincarnated when someone models themselves on you.

    The God that created the universe is meaningless to me. To say God created the universe provides no additional information and shuts off further research.

    December 8, 2013 at 3:03 am |
  13. David

    An invisible human longing...what a crack of Shiite.

    December 8, 2013 at 2:47 am |
  14. Safe!

    I am very surprised by the atheists on this board and many others I've seen. They have this terrible uncivil need to lash out and throw daggers at things they obviously do not even understand. Yet they feel compelled to try and undermine religion as if threatened by it. I won't say too much here, as I'm sure I will be viciously attacked for supporting my faith but, I must say that, when we all die, If you're all right and there is no God, then we are all just dead. But If I'm right and God truly does exist, then you're just dead or worse and I have everlasting life. So I hope for your sakes that you have redeeming qualities at least such as humility and.... ooops.. nevermind.

    December 8, 2013 at 2:45 am |
    • David

      Ah, assuming your god is the correct god, you'll be ok. But what if you believe in the wrong god? Oops! When you die you're in trouble! Pascal's Wager. Old crap.

      December 8, 2013 at 2:51 am |
    • Noel

      I like how in you're very first sentence, you yourself lash out at a group of people who's perspective you don't understand, without defending your religion at all, then in the very next sentence say you'll "stop here for fear of retaliation for defending your religion". Are you coming or going? Both at the same time? I've seen hypocrites, but usually they wait to contradict themselves until a later post......but rarely do you see stupidity so glaring that you're able to essentially be calling yourself a total tool by way of example in a sentence or two without even realizing it. Ha. Priceless.

      Oh, and I didn't even lash out at your religion. Just you personally as a stupid, stupid individual.

      December 8, 2013 at 2:52 am |
    • Noel

      Well Safe, you need not worry about me. I wouldn't want any place near a god or his heaven that would send someone like me to hell for all eternity. A moral, contributing member of the community, a great husband and father who truly loves his wife and children more than anything in the world, including himself, coaches little league, and when possible, has even been known to volunteer. I do all of this by my own volition. Not because I'm trying to earn brownie points or for fear of punishment, but because overall, I want to be, and I AM a good person. Frankly, any god who would send me to hell, while exhibiting all the qualities I just mentioned, simply because I used the free will that he gave me? No thanks. It's better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven anyway, I figure I can be one of Satans top Demons in just a few years, maybe his second in command in 10. Maybe, just maybe, if I can swing that, I can talk him into bringing the party up to you guys. 🙂

      December 8, 2013 at 2:59 am |
    • What IF

      Safe! (?)
      " If you're all right and there is no God, then we are all just dead. But If I'm right and God truly does exist, then you're just dead or worse and I have everlasting life."

      This is another tired repeti.tion of Pascal's Wager - thoroughly refuted since the 17th century (where have you been?)

      - What if the real "God" is Allah, or Vishnu, or Zeus, or Quetzalcoatl, or any of the other of thousands which have been dreamed up over the centuries? Some of them are very jealous and vengeful and will relegate you to nasty places for not worshiping them. You'd better cover your butt by believing in ALL of them and fulfill their wishes and demands.

      - What if the real "God" prefers those who use logic and reason and punishes you as a silly sycophant?

      - What if the real "God" detests those who believe something just to cover their butts in eternity?

      December 8, 2013 at 3:04 am |
    • devin

      Oh, don't be taken aback by the atheists "uncivil need to lash out and throw daggers" on this forum, it's pretty much standard fare

      December 8, 2013 at 3:20 am |
      • tallulah13

        What I find most annoying is the habit that so many christians on this blog have - lying through their teeth about people who don't believe exactly what they do. It's like they think their god is too stupid to notice that they are breaking that commandment about not bearing false witness.

        December 8, 2013 at 3:45 am |
        • devin

          Please feel free to list some examples.

          December 8, 2013 at 3:59 am |
    • P.U. Camelteau

      As an atheist myself, I have to agree with you. Many atheists are as mean-spirited as they come. Scary, really. To attack someone's deeply held religious beliefs with vicious glee is not something to be proud of. The worst is when science is brought into the discussion by these types, smearing science by association and attempting to leave the impression that you must choose one or the other. You do not.

      December 8, 2013 at 3:46 am |
    • Realist

      ... Just the facts... No daggers...

      ------–
      ------–

      ... http://www.GodIsImaginary.com...

      ... and thank goodness because he ...

      ............. emanates from the .............

      ... http://www.EvilBible.com

      ------–
      ------–

      December 8, 2013 at 4:55 am |
  15. devent

    GOD is not faith SELECTIVE but PERFORMANCE appreciative.

    December 8, 2013 at 2:37 am |
    • David

      Your god (whichever one you believe in) sounds like a motor oil.

      December 8, 2013 at 2:53 am |
      • devent

        Yes David it sounds like something very a ordinary duty,but contribution to the betterment of humanity is far more accomplishment than self centered assumption of our salvation.in the past and even now ,individualism is still the center of most christians existence,thats what the pope is trying to correct .the capitalists greed for self satisfaction which can never be attained and the threshold of material freedom no matter how rich they are because of self centeredness,salvation for their souls and therefore their wealth is their only meaning of succes and goodness.

        December 8, 2013 at 11:02 am |
        • Pete

          "the pope is trying to correct .the capitalists greed for self satisfaction which can never be attained and the threshold of material freedom no matter how rich they are because of self centeredness,salvation for their souls and therefore their wealth is their only meaning of succes and goodness."

          The poor logic of Christians is hysterical. The problem with your analogy his how rich the Catholic church has become because of it's greed.

          December 8, 2013 at 11:09 am |
  16. jay

    those photos have captions that are more interesting than the images themselves... booooriiiing

    December 8, 2013 at 2:35 am |
  17. oo oo

    notice "christians" posting here never, ever, N E V E R discuss jesus christ, himself.
    they can't. "they" r imposters. dodo posts arguments to her-selves in the guise of sincere christians wanting to debate. she always has one good christian defending her faith over any given time in ways which dodo has scripted arguments designed to refute the poor girl.

    u will never c her off script. she will delete such threats. b4 she does, often she explodes in a hissy first, then she deletes obvious her fall from grace, too.

    December 8, 2013 at 2:24 am |
  18. The Bottom Line

    It's a shame that religious people don't get that moment of clarity when they die that they were wrong and wasted their lives on utter stupidity.

    December 8, 2013 at 2:12 am |
    • HZD

      What's really the point of spending it some other way? From your perspective, when you're dead you're dead. Who cares?

      December 8, 2013 at 2:19 am |
      • The Bottom Line

        It's so sad to see religious people admit that they can find nothing to do with their lives without a god, that they cannot imagine why people would be decent or try to achieve interesting things, or to fill their lives with beauty and exitential meaning.

        December 8, 2013 at 2:29 am |
        • Laurence Charles Ringo

          I'm going to go out on a limb here"Bottom Line",and assume for the sake of argument that you've never been dead.How else can the readers of this blog ascertain how asinine your comment is if you haven't?

          December 8, 2013 at 2:47 am |
        • Wie Khiong

          Do you think what you're saying has got any meaning at all? What is the standard by which you produce your meaning if it's not something you beg, steal, or borrow? What is the basis of your own belief, my friend?

          December 8, 2013 at 2:48 am |
      • David

        I prefer to live my life based on what is true, not in a fantasy. That makes a difference to me, just as not living my life on drugs or under the influence of some other delusions.

        December 8, 2013 at 2:32 am |
    • lol??

      Ahhh, the miracle of live birth and survivin' the bottom line in Socieland.

      December 8, 2013 at 2:23 am |
    • IDK

      @The Bottom Line,

      That's pretty harsh. It's as bad as the religious folks' fantasizing about non-believers facing "judgement day" and burning in hell for eternity.

      December 8, 2013 at 2:33 am |
      • Colin

        No it isn't. It isn't harsh at all really. It's just true. It's not even comparable at all. Having your soul damned is way more flagrantly harsh than being told by an atheist that it's a shame you are going to die and never realize that you were wrong and didn't have to judge yourself and others. The atheist message is about hope and progress. Stop making it out to be hostile and negative. The religious who say that everyone is a bunch of sinners are the hostile depressing ones.

        December 8, 2013 at 2:47 am |
        • IDK

          Colin,

          Your phrasing is better. I'm all for truth and facts, but I think that the OP's wording - wishing someone a painful death (psychologically) - is harsh.

          December 8, 2013 at 3:19 am |
  19. oo oo

    I wrote about all that Jesus began to do

    December 8, 2013 at 2:03 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.