Trend Watch: Religion

Happy Friday and welcome to the first day of Autumn for the top half of the globe. I was wondering why this word search happened.

Every 30 seconds of everyday, Merriam-Webster dot com tells us the top ten most popular words being looked up in their online dictionary. Based upon news and world events, it usually makes sense.

This is what they say about this feature, “Trend Watch is a data-driven report on words people are looking up at much higher search rates than normal. While most trends can be traced back to the news or popular culture, our focus is on the lookup data rather than the events themselves.”

The other day number ten was the word religion.  Why now? Do the people doing the search not know the definition of religion? And why might they care?

Just to be sure, I often look up words that I know how to spell, pronounce, and how to define. I do not constitute a trend. I’m not sure how many it takes to merit the trend list. I have looked up the meaning of religion before. In this case, I wanted the exact dictionary definition.

The three definitions of religion listed are:

  1. 1. A personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.
  2. (a/1): the service and worship of God(s) or the supernatural, or (a/2) the commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance.
  3. (b): It is the state of a religious (like a nun in her 20th year).
  4. A cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.”

I have no argument with these definitions. I knew them. But why were so many people looking it up? What’s the cause or big deal?

For days, if not weeks, fascism has been in the top three. It was gone when I last checked. It’s been in the top ten for years. I get that.

Do you think someone is thinking, oh now, if it means that, then this is not a religion? They update the list about every 30 seconds, but still—religion? I find it oddly interesting.

A curious synonym for religion from the M-W online thesaurus is cult. I also agree with that connection. I was originally taken aback when I first read all religions are cults. Now I get it. Yes, they are.

You could say “so what?” or be insulted by that synonym. But one must remember, conversely, virtually all cults have a remarkable resemblance to a religion.



Evidence for God: None Detected

Because I’ve been lurking around medical clinics and hospitals for the past few weeks, their protocol required I be tested twice for Coronavirus. Both times the results emailed to me said, None Detected. Then they cautioned me with, “A negative test does not exclude an active SARS-CoV-2 infection…. Documentation of infection may be possible by retesting or testing of other specimen sources.” In other words, there is no proof that I am not infected. They just have no evidence that I am. Only a positive finding is proof.

A couple years ago, virtually everyone (doctors, family, me, and at least one surgeon) identified a lump on my forearm as a cyst. There was no discomfort or symptoms to indicate otherwise. I had it removed for the sake of my vanity. The operating surgeon removed the tissue, showed it to me, and said, see, it is just a cyst.

Later, pathology determined the specimen was cancerous. Following months of treatment, I’m now periodically monitored by medical science for recurrence. So far so good. While some may say that I am cancer free, I don’t use that term. I, and other cancer patients, prefer use of the initialism, NED, which means no evidence of disease. Medical science, without evidence to the contrary, was unable to claim that I positively had cancer at the time of the test. I’ll take it. Unless they prove otherwise, it isn’t there.

When I confessed atheism to a friend, she asked me if I could prove there is no god. I told her that while I couldn’t, I didn’t have to prove it. The requirement, at least for me, is that if I am to accept or believe the existence of something (COVID, cancer, or a god), there must be sufficient convincing evidence of existence. I don’t know what that evidence or proof might be, especially regarding something like a god, a black hole in space, or an exploding star.

It gets complicated. Which god am I to have evidence for? Do you claim only one?

How do I know that such evidence supports that specific god and not some other?

If there is “something” out there because someone (not me) can just feel it to be so, or because all this exists, or because there are stars in the sky, what does any of that prove? We perceive and experience many things, like bizarre nightmares, emotional trauma, or mental euphoria. It rains, plants grow, life continues, and there is a Universe.

If someone asks me why I do not believe in any god, especially theirs, I simply say I know of no proof that such an entity exists at all, much less one that is of a supreme being or god status. I may ask why that person chooses to believe in a god. They are usually much more committed and convinced of existence than I am in doubt. However…

In every case I can think of, the discussion about belief ends with what is called faith. Faith is seldom defined in the same way by believers and skeptics. Simply put, some folks prefer to believe a god exits than to admit ultimate agnosticism. No one knows if there is a god. In that case, NED is for no evidence of deity.

When I sneeze or blow my nose, my wife asks if I am catching a cold. Or, it could be the flu. Or it could be allergies. Or it could be nothing, just dust particles in the air or pepper in my nose. I never know. Only by testing to prove a positive can any hypothesis be supported.

I strongly doubt the existence of what most people claim as god. I make no serious claim that some sort of intelligence or deity absolutely does not exist, although I have said as much to counter the claim that there is a god.

It is possible that I have COVID-19, cancer, a cold, or that I am insane, but I’m simply unaware because no positive evidence indicates otherwise (although the latter diagnosis has been offered).

For me, religion is another matter. Religion exists, immaterial of a god’s existence. Either there is a god or there’s not, regardless of anyone’s beliefs. I try to write about the existence of god and the efficacy of religion separately, even though they should be closely related.


They Believed in the Hog Apocalypse


In religion, faith is trust in some belief. Believers often think faith is confidence with a perceived degree of warrant. I would have said for a reason.

I think faith is belief without evidence. If it’s not, as many believers want to claim, show me the evidence for what you believe.

My question is why do we believe what we do? Regarding religion or belief in a god, the answer is often faith. There are other answers, but as reasons change, beliefs likewise morph and twist. With most people it seems more complex, but eventually the answer appears to be either a choice or faith.

Since choice seems rational and based on some form of evidence (scripture, existence, what else could it be?), faith is usually the last argument standing, if you can call it that. It is not long before logic has been cast into the flames of the argument.

I’ve read several claims that faith is something other than belief without evidence, none of which seemed very good unless you happen to be a person of faith. Belief based on faith (or feelings or what one wants) seems rational to the believer.

I used to hike and trail-run at a wilderness area called Government Canyon, near San Antonio in the Texas Hill Country. I’ve been there often and have seen the evidence of wildlife: a coyote or two, the occasional snake, scat of all kinds, and turned soil caused by hogs. I never saw a hog or heard one. I’ve only witnessed their mess. The biggest danger for me was the mountain bikers, some of whom thought I had rearward looking radar.

I’ve read no accounts of hikers being mauled by hogs, but I’m sure it’s happened, especially in the state of Arkansas. Click here to see some dipshits hunting hogs, and being charged.

Then, I read this account of two hikers at my old stomping grounds. They heard hogs attacking, climbed a tree for safety, and called park rangers or 911 to rescue them. They waited safe and sound up the tree until the officer arrived. As they were talking, the two hikers heard the sound of the charging hogs and told the ranger they were under attack.

When he finally stopped laughing, he invited them down from the tree. The kind ranger explained that what they heard was a car driving over rumble strips on a nearby road. To be fair to the two (who maybe ought not be out alone), there are hogs there. They do get pissed if people bother them (like hunters), and paranoia strikes deep, like in the old Buffalo Springfield tune For What It’s Worth:

It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the men come and take you away

At least it wasn’t the devil they were worried about. Yet, neither did they have enough evidence for such paranoid faith as to believe in the attack of the feral hogs. They transferred their faith to the police officer who had to hike in and rescue them from their own imaginary fears.

Yet, people believe much more crazy shit with far less evidence or any real likelihood. Then they expect others to believe it too, and they are mortified when one of us says, it’s really not what you think it is.



If you’re really into the why people (we) believe what we do, Godless in Dixie has a great piece about it. Click here to see it.