Religious Misconceptions

I was going to use this for misconceptions about pagans, but it took me a couple of nanoseconds to realize that we’re not the only ones. So everyone, whatever faith or none, feel free to jump in. Roland and I will be AFK (away from keyboard) for most of the weekend, so this seemed like a good low-maintenance topic.

What are some of the common misconceptions you see about your faith? Atheists, IMO you’re included because you have faith that there isn’t a god ;-).

For pagans, we’ve already covered the devil worshiping bit (we don’t on the whole believe in any of the Abrahamic deities, so how can we worship someone we don’t believe in?). Another thing that weirds some folks out about us is that “they all dance nekkid in the woods.”

The fact is, there are some pagans who practice “skyclad” (clad only by the sky, aka naked). It’s a way of not letting anything come between yourself and the divine, an expression of freedom, and a rejection of the guilt that many religions have about the human body. Usually, this in only done in the privacy of one’s own home or in a place that’s secluded enough that there shouldn’t be any random folks walking by (hence, the woods). It’s not “all about sex” any more than it is for most nudists.

I throw the floor open for the rest of you to offer your responses to misconceptions about your belief systems. Play nice!


Just moments ago I was just thinking about (4.00 / 5)

someone I knew who opened a new age book store. While she was Christian, there was another woman in the same town who had a much smaller, similar store that had been in business for many years. She practiced Wicca.

The woman in the newer, bigger store would always insist to me that the woman who practiced Wicca was casting spells on her so she would not have business, and for other nefarious reasons. I was always amazed. Here this woman owned a store who sold books about every faith under the Sun, including Wicca, and ritual items as well. And she did not know the difference between Voodoo and Wicca.

I never said anything to her, I was sure she would not welcome any corrections. And I guess, if a person is determined to be fooled, it is cruel to take away their illusions.

by shakti on Fri Oct 21st, 2005 at 16:19:55 PDT

Christians work hard to validate misconceptions! (4.00 / 6)

The terrible thing about being in a “church” of 1 billion plus people is you have to sit with some real idiots.

Here’s a misconception. Many Protestants think Catholics worship Mary and the saints.

Many Catholics think the Pope is infallible on everything.

Many fundamentalists think Mormons aren’t Christians, and that the God of Muhammad is not the God of Abraham.

Many mainliners think all conservative Christians are conservative about everything — politically.

And I would suggest that we all routinely downgrade one another’s God.

The human brain wants to reduce everything to shorthand … and part of shorthand is to disrespect everything we come across. Therefore everyone else’s religion is goofy or mediocre.

My (likely) misconception of pagans — they’re cultural separatists — divorced from western thought, and happy to be that way.

by Mike Finley on Fri Oct 21st, 2005 at 16:32:37 PDT

I’d like to be divorced from western thought (4.00 / 6)

but the alimony’s too high.

Do good. Be nice. Have fun. [1]

by Anglico on Fri Oct 21st, 2005 at 16:59:19 PDT

That’s interesting (4.00 / 6)

My (likely) misconception of pagans — they’re cultural separatists — divorced from western thought, and happy to be that way.

Considering that most of our traditions come from pre-Christian Europe ;-).

Though I have to admit I’m not sure what exactly you mean by “western thought,” which makes it hard to debate the conception one way or the other.

by Morgan on Fri Oct 21st, 2005 at 23:11:23 PDT

You know … (4.00 / 3)

You walk through the Louvre, and 85% of the paintings are biblcal in subject …

You listen to classical music, and so much of it is (christian) religious …

The money says In God We Trust …

Churches everywhere …

Politicians caring what THEY think, and not giving a shit what YOU think …

The very language being commandeered by that faith …

I hated all this stuff for years and felt outgunned by it …

But pagans strike me (undoubtedly a misconception) as authentic counter-culturists who go against this Judao=Chriostian hegemony …

It strikes me as lonely, the vast majority of people never understanding you … but then, that’s how lots of things strike me…

I’m not saying this to be offensive … I have the same problem, basically … being overwhelmed by the domiannt culture … the difference is I have pitched my counter-cultural tent right in their midst …

by Mike Finley on Sat Oct 22nd, 2005 at 04:37:13 PDT

Um… (4.00 / 4)

I’ve walked through the Louvre.  And the Uffizi.  And any numberof other European museums.

And YES, there are an uncountable number of crucifixion paintings and so on.

But if you look past that, you’ll find that there are a zillion statues of gods and goddesses, of Greek and Roman heroes, river spirits, and so on.  There are huge images of scenes from the Iliad.

Venus is everywhere–and the statuary is often Renaissance, not classical, though there’s plenty of that.

The classical gods, and those who either adhered to them–or admired them enough that they filled their homes and gardens with them, while they adulated the philosophies and biographies of great classical figures–are all over Europe.

Now, look at the US.

What’s the Capitol modeled after?  The Lincoln Memorial?  The Washington Monument?  What about the images of the Founders–and particular of Washington?  They’re depicted in Classical garb….  Washington is literally depicted in an apotheosis–carried into the heavens by celestial beings.

What’s the form of government?  It’s not modeled on anything Biblical.  It’s rooted in three things: Athenian democracy (slightly… and only slightly…), the Roman Republic, and the Iroquois Confederation.  Judeo-Christian roots?  

The ideal of Cincinnatus remains with us–even when most people couldn’t tell you who he was, or what was so laudable about him.

I’m not denying that Christianity permeates the culture.  It does.

But the bones and sinews of Modern Western Culture are, and remain, firmly non-Christian.  No divine kings.  No religious Judges.  

by ogre on Sat Oct 22nd, 2005 at 11:02:47 PDT

But you’re right, too … (4.00 / 3)

The other deep tradition, besides Judao-Christian, is the pastorale …

The leafy paradise of long ago, of nature, panpipes and satyrs and sauvages nobles …

It is less self-conscious, and less neurotic, and way more erotic …

And the Louvre has lots of that stuff too …

I’m pretty sure that’s the pagan root of things …

(Whch could also be a misconception)

by Mike Finley on Sat Oct 22nd, 2005 at 07:54:51 PDT

No, you’re right. (4.00 / 3)

You can literally spend all day in the Louvre, and look at NOTHING but classical statuary and architectural material which depicts the ancient myths, heroes, and deities.

Winged Victory of…

Heck… look at the statuary in the USA.

Liberty Enlightening the World (the Statue of Liberty).  Um…

Then there’s the Parthenon in Nashville, replicating the original.  Ummm…

And if you wander the country looking at the statuary and inscriptions…

by ogre on Sat Oct 22nd, 2005 at 11:06:17 PDT

When I was young (4.00 / 5)

I thought that all Christians were pacifists, and all Christian kids went to confirmation classes where they told you which books got left out of the bible and why.  I even knew my aunt was a big fan of that scary Focus on the Family magazine, but it was just too weird and hateful for my brain to process in the same thought with the church I attended, or the one where my grandfather preached.

“As scientific knowledge advances, it does not mean that religious knowledge retreats.”
– horse69 on the bnet recon C&C board

by lonespark on Fri Oct 21st, 2005 at 18:54:03 PDT

misconceptions (3.85 / 7)

Islam promotes violence.

Islam promotes the oppression of women.

Islam “hates” other religions and calls for their adherents to be killed.

Muslims worship a different god than Jews and Christians.

Muslims are terrorists.

I could go on for a long time here….

“Riches does not mean having a great amount of property, but riches is self-contentment.” (Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him)

by lauramp on Fri Oct 21st, 2005 at 18:56:29 PDT

my responses to these (4.00 / 3)

I’ve been dealing with all of these issues for a long time at my blog [2], so I invite people to read what I’ve written there and I’m happy to answer questions.

“Riches does not mean having a great amount of property, but riches is self-contentment.” (Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him)

by lauramp on Fri Oct 21st, 2005 at 22:16:29 PDT

Questions (4.00 / 4)

Is it true that Islam promotes science and scholarship?

I heard that the Koran supports the idea that Islam is one among many religions that Deity gave to people. Is that true?

Is it true that Muhammad prefered to be around women more than men and proclaimed it publicly?

What is the differences between Sunni, Shitte, and Sufi Muslims?

What is the general view of religions that don’t originate in the Middle East held by most Muslims (assuming anyone figured it out)?

Why aren’t non-Muslims not allowed to touch the Koran (assuming that is true)?

Is there hope that fundie Muslims like Bin Laden will lose power and Middle East can have peace?

by tux on Sat Oct 22nd, 2005 at 01:12:45 PDT

Islamic culture used to promote science hard core (4.00 / 3)

But in the eleventh century, the Islamic philosopher al-Ghazali put forth an argument that the law of causation was incompatible with an omnipotent God. By and large, most schools of Islam eventually accepted his arguments and the consequences of that can still be seen today is most forms of Islam.

Mind you, I’m not arguing that Islam doesn’t encourage the sciences. Rather I’m pointing out that there was a golden age where Islam was almost fanatical about delving into science as a means of getting to know God better through learning about God’s creation.( If creation is an act of God, the more we study that act, the more we know about God.) This age came to an end largely because of al-Ghazali’s way of thinking that convinced most Muslim clerics.

by Lee Malatesta on Sat Oct 22nd, 2005 at 07:30:22 PDT

Hmmm… (none / 0)

…delving into science as a means of getting to know God better through learning about God’s creation

Johann Kepler, a Lutheran minister and astronomer/mathematician said almost the very same thing. And it certainly makes sense to me.

One thing that bugs me about the debate over ID—and faith in general—is the idea that faith and science/reason are mutually exclusive. It’s just ain’t that way.

by hamletta on Sun Oct 23rd, 2005 at 11:48:45 PDT

some answers (none / 0)

Sorry for the delay in answering here; I accidentally missed this reply until now.

The Quran often calls on people to study the natural world and its workings, and describes this as a kind of worship. Historically, many Muslims have taken this as a strong encouragement of science, and many Muslims do so today. I am not aware of any Islamic teachings that would discourage science or scholarship.

In terms of how Islam compares to other religions, I posted some information about this here; please let me know if you have any questions about it.

About the Prophet (pbuh) and women, there is a well known saying from him that one of the three things he loved best was women. He was friends with women as well as men and encouraged women to be actively involved in the community and in learning the religion. I can provide some references, if you wish.

If you’d like to learn more about different branches of Islam, Wikipedia is a good place to start: Sunni Islam, Shia Islam. This can be compared to having different denominations in Christianity or different branches in Judaism. Sufism is the mystical tradition and may be practiced by either Sunnis or Shi’ites.

For the question about religions that don’t originate in the Middle East please see here again. I am not aware of any particular focus on the Middle East except that the other two major recognized monotheistic religions (Judaism, and Christianity) happened to originate there. These religions are honored above others. However, this has to do with the monotheism rather than the region of origin.

The traditional view on the Quran is that only those who have ritually purified themselves should touch the Quran. This includes Muslims as well as non-Muslims. Those non-Muslims who wish to ritually purify themselves as Muslims do are welcome to touch and read the Quran.

About Bin Laden, I really can’t speak to that. I do know that people of conscience and good will from around the world should work together for peace and against those who bring war and discord.

I hope this helps answer your questions and again I apologize for missing your reply until now.

“Riches does not mean having a great amount of property, but riches is self-contentment.” (Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him)

by lauramp on Mon Oct 24th, 2005 at 17:46:12 PDT

Unitarian Universalists (4.00 / 6)

Unitarian Universalism means you can believe anything you want and everything is considered equally correct. There’s a two-in-one misconception for you. Or “anyone can be a Unitarian Universalist.”

In a nutshell, there are certainly a list of things UUs believe and things that you can’t believe if you’re a UU and vice versa (things that, if you believe them, you can’t be a UU) but in general purely theological questions are considered things that people have to work out for themselves. (Which does not mean that everything is equally correct!)

I’m afraid that most of the other stereotypes are true, though. We really do consider Coffee Hour to be a sacrament. 😉

Also, most people think that universalism (small U) means the beliefs that all religions are correct. It’s actually the belief that God is too good to send anyone to Hell (IOW, universal salvation). (If anyone’s interested, “unitarianism” with a small U is the believe in One God, the Father, and that neither the Holy Spirit nor Jesus are actually God per se. IOW, unitarianism as opposed to trinitarianism.)

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” ~Galileo Galilei

by Sister Quarterstaff of Undeclared Grace on Fri Oct 21st, 2005 at 20:46:16 PDT

I would like to add (4.00 / 3)

Unitarian Universalists (UUs) do have diverse beliefs about things but there are limits to what is tolerated.

In general, positive beliefs are best. Progressive beliefs that help, not hurt, society and people are wanted while negative beliefs (Left Behind series for example) are not welcome. Belief that one group is inferior is bad while a belief that people are generally equal is allowed.

In short, inclusive rather than exclusive beliefs are supported by UUs even though most UUs can’t agree on what coffee brand to have after service.

by tux on Fri Oct 21st, 2005 at 22:07:43 PDT

Uh… (4.00 / 2)

though most will accept that it must be fair trade and shade grown.  Even if it offends the stern frugality that may be the only thing (other than congregational polity) from our Puritan roots.

The fact that UUism rises out of Puritanism is, for me, a proof of the UU belief that everyone will be saved….  Talk about your implausible evolution.  Why, UUism coming from Puritanism?  Nonsense.  There had to be intelligent design involved…


by ogre on Sat Oct 22nd, 2005 at 11:12:15 PDT

Coffe hour isn’t a sacrament? (4.00 / 4)

I’ve never been to a church where it wasn’t.

“As scientific knowledge advances, it does not mean that religious knowledge retreats.”
– horse69 on the bnet recon C&C board

by lonespark on Fri Oct 21st, 2005 at 23:06:20 PDT

So, if I don’t like coffee, (3.80 / 5)

Does that make me a heretic? 😉

Wouldn’t be the first time…

by Morgan on Fri Oct 21st, 2005 at 23:12:38 PDT

Not really (4.00 / 3)

If you prefer organic tea, it can be overlooked.

by tux on Sat Oct 22nd, 2005 at 02:46:21 PDT

Camellia-Sinensians, unite ! (4.00 / 3)

Camellia sinensis is the botanical name for the tea plant …

by Propheticus Lycanthroponica on Sat Oct 22nd, 2005 at 03:42:02 PDT

No. (4.00 / 2)

Coffee hour is a sacrament.  You must observe the coffee hour.  With or without coffee.  Decaf or regular.  Or Tea.  Or Lemonade…

(It’s the communal character of the event that’s sacral.  Coffee is just the vehicle by which the sacrament is (most frequently) administered.  And of course, it is somewhat addictive, so… heh.)

by ogre on Sat Oct 22nd, 2005 at 11:14:30 PDT

You’ve skipped over (4.00 / 2)

“Debate” (or “Argument”), another sacrament which must be properly administered only in the context of the beloved community and framed within an affirmation of a belief in good will and dood intentions.

Then you can administer coffee.

by ogre on Sat Oct 22nd, 2005 at 11:09:45 PDT

Well, there are a ton of “sacraments” (4.00 / 2)

and other UU stereotypes that are true. I just pulled one out of thin air.

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” ~Galileo Galilei

by Sister Quarterstaff of Undeclared Grace on Sat Oct 22nd, 2005 at 12:28:21 PDT

Gross misconceptions… (4.00 / 4)

Every Baptist:

…is a Republican
…is a Conservative
…subscribes to Focus on the Family
…wants the 10 Commandments posted on every street corner
…supports the Shrub
…supports Robertson, Falwell and their ilk
…supports prayer in school
…wants Roe v. Wade overturned
…hates homosexuals
…hates mormons
…hates pagans
…eh…hates non-baptists (and especially hates those baptist wannabes)
…drinks the koolaid
…thinks they have all the answers

by The American Prophet on Sat Oct 22nd, 2005 at 01:13:56 PDT

Weird question (4.00 / 3)

But what do Baptists stand for then? I all I ever hear from them is exactly in your list.

by tux on Sat Oct 22nd, 2005 at 02:47:12 PDT

Well… (4.00 / 2)

there are things that even “those” Baptists have in common with UUs.

There’s a Baptist church down the street from our fellowship which not only adheres to the most appalling theology, but also indulges in famously offensive acts–handing out horrific tracts (about religion, abortion, etc) to high schoolers, loitering on the sidewalks just outside the schools, and so on.

Our new minister dropped by to talk to their pastor, in the course of our seeking approval for new construction from the city.  The pastor and church were happy to support us (no doubt, they hope for support from us when…), observing that while we essentially disagree on most matters, we do share a common concern for the good of the community.  And they’re congregational in organization as well (proof positive that function does NOT follow form…).

by ogre on Sat Oct 22nd, 2005 at 11:19:50 PDT

Baptists you might recognize… (4.00 / 3)

Jimmy Carter (left the SBC, but I believe he’s still a Baptist).

Bill Clinton

Harry S Truman

Al Gore

Jesse Jackson

Hugo Black… and… Clarence Thomas.

Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin, Chuck Berry, Queen Latifah, Whitney Houston, Otis Redding, Kris Kristofferson, Glen Campbell…

Of course, the list of those who are lapsed Baptists is at least as interesting.

by ogre on Sat Oct 22nd, 2005 at 11:26:16 PDT

This (4.00 / 5)

American Baptist is:

.is a hardcore Democrate (Worked with Sen. Wellstone)
…is a flaming liberal
…subscribes to Focus on the Family (to see what i’m up against)
…doesn’t care for public decalouges
…loathes teh Shrub
…alternates between fighting and laughing at Robertson, Falwell and their ilk
…supports prayer in school (that’s led by individuals and not state actors)
…thinks Roe v Wade is best left alone
…is queer
…doesn’t really get Mormons, but has some friends that are
…looks for fellowship and support from all manner of other denominational affiiliated persons
 … lead and participates in interfaith work
…drinks koolaid (cherry is my favorite)
…seeking all the answers

Baptist life is most notably marked by a few set of distinctives…but i’ll diary a polity paper:

We are being saved for hope.

Romans 8:24a

by martinguerre on Sat Oct 22nd, 2005 at 12:29:05 PDT

Bill Moyers is a Baptist… (4.00 / 2)

and it’s clear what he stands for. He’s a great hero of mine, and fights against what is being represented as Christian policy.

Faith is not believing something which our intelligence denies. Faith is the resolve to place the highest meaning on the facts which we observe.

by mondaymedia on Sun Oct 23rd, 2005 at 08:27:13 PDT

Faith and Atheism do not go together. (4.00 / 4)

Atheism, to me, is just an intellectual position that a middle eastern deity, or any other kind,  probably doesn’t run the show. Could I be wrong? Of course. I just think the odds, based on science, history, archeology and any other measuring tool, are against it. So, I live my life based on those odds. What does that have to do with faith?

The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason.

by Jthursday on Sat Oct 22nd, 2005 at 05:58:15 PDT

But that is based on a misconception of faith (4.00 / 6)

If I say I have faith in my wife, it isn’t because I’ve thrown reason out the door. It is because I know my wife on a personal level. I’ve experienced who she is and that experience give me reason to have faith in the types of things she will or won’t do in the future.

Similarly, if I’m accused of negotiating in bad faith, it doesn’t mean that I’ve thrown reason out the door.

The hijacking of faith to refer to those things believed devoid of reason is, IMO, one of the most profound and dangerous effects of the Enlightenment. Specifically, when certain groups of Christians bought into that sort of Cartesian philosophy, the result was a new form of Christianity that prided itself on intellectual ignorance.

by Lee Malatesta on Sat Oct 22nd, 2005 at 07:23:27 PDT

I agree with you about the misconception of faith, (4.00 / 4)

which was what I was saying about the diarist comment that atheism was a faith in no god. I never understood the logic behind that statement; I always felt it was a way to marginalize those who don’t believe.

The media especially has turned the word Faith into more of a noun than anyone else. When you hear them say “man or woman of faith” the first thing you should think of is “Faith in what?” That isn’t, of course, what anyone thinks. They think of religion immediately. The word has been hijacked by fundamentalist christians and the media has gone along. I personally have faith in things, but only if those things have given me reason to. That, to me and you, is faith. That isn’t a noun.

The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason.

by Jthursday on Sat Oct 22nd, 2005 at 10:02:14 PDT

Do you have proof, (4.00 / 5)

reasonable proof (such as we have for any number of scientific “theories”) that there is not a god? If not, then you are operating on a belief that you have reached through some sort of process or another (reason, whatever).

“Faith” comes from the Latin fides “trust, belief,” from the root fidere “to trust.” I found something interesting while looking up this etymology:

Belief used to mean “trust in God,” while faith meant “loyalty to a person based on promise or duty” (a sense preserved in keep one’s faith, in good (or bad) faith and in common usage of faithful, faithless, which contain no notion of divinity). But faith, as cognate of L. fides, took on the religious sense beginning in 14c. translations, and belief had by 16c. become limited to “mental acceptance of something as true,” from the religious use in the sense of “things held to be true as a matter of religious doctrine” (c.1225).

This is why we can get into semantic debates with such examples as having faith in a person (like a spouse) compared to having faith in a god.

Count me among those trying to reclaim the word from those who are trying to hijack it to mean “faith in their version of monotheism.” 🙂

Meanwhile, I’ve had experiences that Occam’s Razor would leave me with no other choice than to attribute to divine intervention or other “para-natural” causes. Sure, almost anything can happen by blind chance, and if our perceptions could not be fooled then MC Escher’s art wouldn’t be nearly so fascinating. But I would argue that to belive that there is no god takes a certain amount of faith, if only in that reason and personal perception hasn’t led one astray.

YMMV and all that. My comment about faith wasn’t meant to be an attack or slam, since I respect the rights of atheists (such as my firstborn) to believe in no god the same as I respect the rights of monotheists to believe in one god. If anything, I find it a useful definition so that atheists are protected under the same “freedom of religion” rules as the rest of we believers :-). As I’ve said before, freedom of religion should include freedom from religion, no matter what Lieberman says.

by Morgan on Sat Oct 22nd, 2005 at 19:42:21 PDT

[1] Link went to
[2] Full link was

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