“Herd” Believers

When it comes to faith and religion, I agree mainly with Kierkegaard (as was stated in my previous post) but I also agree with Nietzsche as well.  The way I see it, there are three different types of people when it comes to faith and religion:

  1. Practicing believers: these people genuinely believe and they consider serving God as the basis of their lives.  Indeed, God is the meaning in their life.
  2. Non-practicing, non-believers: these people hold on to a religion but for cultural or traditional purposes.  A good example of this are the Jews.  I myself have relatives that were part of the pioneers with the Mormons, and so I find myself within that heritage, but I myself don’t believe in the Mormon Doctrine but I don’t condemn them either.  Also, these people may do religious things not because they believe, but because it’s part of their culture.  For example, my relatives come from Vietnam and they’ll do “Buddhist” rituals, but no one understands Buddhism.  They just do it because it’s part of their tradition.
  3. Non-practicing believers: People who genuinely believe but do not practice.  This is just a guess, but I would imagine this is the majority of religious people (at least in the US).  So they believe in the doctrines of the religion (which includes sins and religious duties), yet they fail to perform this duty.  However, they don’t consider themselves to be sinners, they don’t repent, nor do they find anything that they did wrong even though their religion says it is wrong.

So here’s what I don’t get: I honestly don’t understand how people in number three can do this. How is it possible to believe in something, like God, yet continue to act and think as if there is no God, for example?

About shaunmiller

I have just completed a visiting position as an assistant professor at Dalhousie University. My ideas are not associated with my employer; they are expressions of my own thoughts and ideas. Some of them are just musings while others could be serious discussions that could turn into a bigger project. Besides philosophy, I enjoy martial arts (Kuk Sool Won), playing my violin, enjoying coffee around town, and experimenting with new food.
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6 Responses to “Herd” Believers

  1. Killer J says:

    You ask: “So here’s what I don’t get: I honestly don’t understand how people in number three can do this. How is it possible to believe in something, like God, yet continue to act and think as if there is no God?”

    Easy. I believe in God, but also believe many of the rules dictated by religion are man made and not necessarily divine. I thought I answered this!

    I believe in a creator. I believe this creator also created morality (thus my belief in absolute truth for morality). I also know many rules created by religions are not inspired by God. For LDS religion, I think the word of wisdom, polygamy (and its reversal), not allowing black people in priesthood (and its reversal), not allowing women in priesthood, etc. are all social constructs.

    This reason is the reason I believe in God, but justify breaking the word of wisdom on a weekly basis.

  2. Jory Francis says:


    Thank you for insightful remark. You point out that many rules created by religions are not inspired by God, and have changed over time.

    Do you believe that God can make rules? And if he can, is he allowed to change his mind? Or make new rules?

    I’m not trying to challenge your views, just explore them more deeply.

    Just for full disclosure, I’m an active participant in the LDS religion, but enjoy these discussions immensely!


    My take on your point is that humans posses beliefs, but also posses various degrees of convictions in those beliefs.

    For example, I would imagine that nearly everyone believes that orphans in a third world country should be helped, and that to do so is very noble. Nevertheless, how many help?

    Some do! More don’t. I see religious convictions falling along the same lines.

    I’m a novice here (as you know), so go easy on me if my comments are striking either of you as naive!

  3. Victor says:

    I think it’s simpler than that. People die of heart disease and eat McDonald’s and don’t work out. People die of lung cancer and smoke. People go into foreclosure and drive lifted F350s. People get skin cancer and tan. People overpopulate the world while millions starve. It’s all about foresight or the lack of. People are afraid of Hell but don’t practice.

  4. Killer J says:

    Hey Jory!

    I believe God is the ultimate creator, so sure, he can change rules if he chooses too. Since God’s probably perfect though, his first take on what the rules should be probably will go unchanged, i.e. it’s always wrong to indiscriminately kill people and it’s always good to help starving orphans.

    Vic, explain more. I’m not sure what you mean by ‘lack of foresight’ as a simpler explanation for Shaun’s question.

  5. shaunmiller says:

    Wow. There’s a lot of responses here.

    Killer J:

    Yes, I know we’ve discussed this before but I wanted to go into more detail for this particular post. So let me start:

    Killer J says:

    I believe in God, but also believe many of the rules dictated by religion are man made and not necessarily divine.

    He also says:

    I believe in a creator. I believe this creator also created morality (thus my belief in absolute truth for morality). I also know many rules created by religions are not inspired by God.

    You also give examples within the LDS religion saying that those rules are social constructs. So here’s my question: how do you know which rules are God-given rules and which rules are social constructs? I would assume most Western religions would say that not killing is a God-given rule whereas something like polygamy is a social construct. But according to the LDS religion, God said that polygamy was no longer permitted. Doesn’t that suggest that it was a God-given rule instead of a social construct?

    So I’m assuming that you’re justified to break religious rules as long as they are social constructs. Am I reading this right?

    It’s interesting that in your later post that God can change the rules and you also state that he’s “probably perfect.”

    Jory: good questions. Keep them coming. That’s one way to learn and gain wisdom: asking questions. As for beliefs are along the lines of having convictions, I see what you mean. But what about this? I believe that I’m sitting on a chair. It seems kind of strange to say that my belief is 100% certain, whereas another person might say that when he believes the chair exists, he’s 60% certain. Can belief in chairs have some conviction similarly to beliefs about religion?

    Victor: I also agree with Killer J’s comments about “lack of foresight.” I do have a guess though as to what you mean but let me see if I can see how religious views have been portrayed in the past, which I’ll explain below.

    This post is asking how can people believe in one thing but act in another way? I think there have been four responses:

    1. Kierkegaardian answer: those people are hypocrites. For Kierkegaard, one must either be a practicing believer or one must be a doubter. It’s either/or. You can’t be sort-of-in-between in the same way you can’t be sort-of-married. He was a Christian and he thought that many people were being hypocrites because they didn’t take the religion seriously enough.

    2. Nietzscheian answer: religion has lost it’s metaphysical force. God is dead but people don’t seem to realize it yet. The reason why “God is dead” is because other things like science, art, and philosophy have replaced it. In a way, I agree with both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche but not to those extremes. I think religion has lost its metaphysical force but has been replaced with epistemology.

    3. Killer J’s answer: religions are man-made and so the belief in God is different then the actions that pertain to it. But as long as you follow God-given morality, you’re fine. Is this right, J?

    4. Vic’s/Jory’s answer: here’s a guess. People do things but act differently. Is he agreeing with Kierkegaard? Possibly, but I think what Vic is getting at is that people have cognitive dissonance. A good example is a smoker who fully acknowledges that smoking is bad and causes cancer, but continues to smoke anyway. Also, beliefs must have some sort of conviction. The stronger the conviction, the stronger those beliefs are. People have these beliefs but act in another way not because they’re hypocrites, but because they find themselves the exception. So with the smoker example, I’m sure there are many smokers who realize that smoking’s bad but they have the mentality of “it’s not going to happen to me” sort of thing. The same could be said of tanning, eating fatty foods, etc. Is that what it comes down to?

  6. Killer J says:

    Shaun, I get the feeling you understand my position now. Thank GOD! (see what I did there? j/k ha ha) Your question about ‘how do I know what’s God given and what are social constructs’ is tough to answer. In fact, I don’t really have a good answer. I only have my own judgment and historical info. as a source for determining my opinion on objective morality, which sucks as a source.

    Murder, for example, is very likely a God given rule. He probably doesn’t want us killing what he creates on a whim. The thing is, this moral law obviously has value as a social construct as well as it is in our best interests as a society to create such a law.

    As far as my polygamy example goes, I thought it was pretty well established that back then pairing up like that had social value whereas it no longer does. You make the assertion that LDS religion says God made the rule against polygamy. This is true the LDS religion says this, I just am a skeptic that God spoke to a prophet about it rather than the faith beginning to take some heat from Big Brother and modern society.

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