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Edric O

Religion - the sequel

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Precisely eleven and a half years ago (to the day), Ordos45 started a thread in the General board that ended up making FED2k history and was one of the two threads which persuaded Gob to create the PRP board. It went on for a long time, building up to a total of 1300 posts before Gob locked it due to widespread flame-warring. The last time I checked (a couple of years ago), it was still one of the top 10 longest threads on the FED2k forums.

The name of this legendary thread?

Religion

Some of the people who posted in that thread, including myself, are still here today. And I suspect many of the posts we made back then will look very embarrassing today, now that we are a decade older and presumably wiser. But it's interesting to look back on them.

Seeing Ordos45 post yesterday in another ultra-long thread (one about music this time) reminded me of the old Religion thread, and of the fact that we haven't had a good religious discussion in PRP in a long time. So I am hereby starting the Religion Thread 2.0! (now with less flaming and more mature conversation! ...I hope)

If you posted in the original Religion thread, come forward to tell us what you believe today and how your beliefs grew or changed in the past 11 years! And if you weren't around back then, no problem, just tell us what you believe now.

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Ok, I will start, since I was one of the people most involved in the original Religion thread.

My basic beliefs have remained the same as they were eleven years ago. I was a Christian then and I continue to be a Christian now. However, the specific kind of Christian that I am has changed somewhat. At the time of the original Religion thread, and for many years afterward, I could be described as a "generic Christian." I subscribed to the essential teachings that define Christianity (the Trinity, the Resurrection of Christ, etc.), but I did not take a stand on any of the issues that separate the various branches of Christianity. I did not belong to any specific church (although I had been baptised Orthodox shortly after birth), and I was only somewhat practicing (I prayed, but did not attend church).

I wanted to find a church and perhaps a denomination to join, but for many years I didn't really know where to begin. My family is not particularly religious and my parents do not regularly attend church. While I was a teenager, I did not feel comfortable simply walking into a church on Sunday and starting up conversations with complete strangers to find out about their beliefs and practices. So I didn't.

Later, when I was at university, I became very interested in a number of Protestant groups and even started attending their church services semi-regularly. But I kept seeing major problems with Protestant theology, and could never really agree with it. How does it make any sense to say that true Christianity was rediscovered in the 16th century? Did Jesus fail in His task to teach humanity about God, and His teachings got buried and forgotten until they were rescued 1500 years later by a German monk? No, that's ridiculous, no God would allow that. And what about the doctrines of sola fides and sola scriptura? The first seems to throw away the entire moral content of the New Testament, and the second doesn't take into account that Christianity already existed for many decades before the New Testament was fully written.

For these reasons, among others, I never became a Protestant. Then, just a few years ago (4 years, to be exact), a friend of mine from Romania re-introduced me to Orthodoxy and made persuasive arguments for why the Orthodox Church is correct. I started looking at it more closely on my own, reading books and websites, and eventually I did the thing I couldn't do as a teenager: I just walked into a church and started talking to a priest, despite not knowing him or anyone else there. This was the final piece of the puzzle, and I was fully persuaded to return to the Orthodox Church.

So, today, I am a practicing Orthodox Christian. That's my story over the past decade.

P.S. Yes, I used this text colour ("Earth blue") in my first post. That was for the sake of historical continuity, and nostalgia. "Earth blue" was the text colour I used in the original Religion thread. But for the purpose of future posts in this new thread, I will revert to my normal green text.

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I was raised a catholic in an orthodox country. I have no recollection if and what I posted in the original thread and frankly I don't want to know. I now believe in the god of sex and wine, Dionysus 8)

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Oy...Edric good sir, I feel old now that the thread was 11.5 years ago!  Then again, I felt old when you pointed out our nations on NS are more than a decade old.  Please give me a moment to go review at least some of my thread posts before I answer your question, as I'm sure a great deal has changed, not only with maturity, but also given the fact I am no longer a Baptist.

 

Edit:  I think I need a drink, after my atrocious typing at the time.  Though I think I've grown a bit less "attack dog" over time.  Also, deeply appreciate Timenn being so level headed.

 

However, I'm amazed at just how prescient I was about where my personal journey was headed.  Much like Edric, I was a "generic" Christian, however I had been raised as a Baptist and basically whenever I had a question, I was told to shut up and "believe this because that's the way our church teaches it".  As a Baptist, no one ever gave me any sort of justification for why I should believe, just that I should.  So yes, I believed in the Resurrection, the Holy Trinity, that Jesus is Lord, etc.  Unlike Edric, I attended church each week, having been the 3rd generation of my family to be baptized in that physical building itself.  

 

I say the first post was prescient, due to the "heretic" bit.  Surely enough, I was labeled that and a few other things...let me tell you, southern Baptists do not tend to take it well when you try to correct points of fact in a "Religions to Beware of" class.  Anyhow, not long after the Religion thread, I went forward to be baptized (most of my peers having done so between the ages of 4-8  ), got all sorts of hugs and congratulations,  but then, however, came the two straws that broke my back.  I was told I wouldn't be baptised.  I remember just staring blanky at the minister in shock before he amended his statement to say "right away.  We want to maximize the number of baptisms we have, so I've decided we're only doing them quarterly now, like Communion."  

 

There is nothing to throw cold water on your relationship with a place that's already called you an anti-Christ and Satanist like being told the sign of your covenant with God, something you read has to be done in Scripture, has to wait because they want to put on a good show.  The second thing was how people kept congratulating me on my decision to finally give my life to Christ and how it was about time I had seen the Light/Truth.  Not just for a day, but for weeks.  Not just from people who didn't know me from someone off the street except for seeing me go forward, but people who actually knew I had believed but just been too timid to go forward.  No matter how many times I explained to people that I had already believed, I was assured that I didn't really, or I'd have gone forward; no one actually waits and tries to make 100% sure of what God wants them to do.
 
My baptism was wonderful, even though the preacher lost his grip and I hit my head on the bottom of the baptistry (explains a lot, eh?).  However he was moving on to a new church shortly after and storm clouds of politics were swiftly gathering in his wake.  There were divisions between the "contemporary" and "traditional" services.  The prayer chapel to the side of the sanctuary, more than once, was filled with drumsets from the contemporary band not wanting to take their toys back downstairs.  Also my mom, who was on duty as a volunteer in the chapel, was thrown out by a group of people during a service one day, "Some of us have important things to do".  It was like a smack in the face that setting up trays of finger foods for after the service, was considered more important than prayer!  Then there was the politics:  Purging membership rolls, shunning people, driving people away, manipulating who was on committees so a certain candidate won, changing the Church Constitution so the candidate could ascend to Senior Pastor, and continued questioning by people of whether I really believed or my going forward was a show didn't cause me to leave my church.  Those were just the toppings on something that had already been decided, a side dish of hypocrisy to the rot I had already found by keeping my word to God.

 

Recently I read an excellent piece by The Atlantic about a Christian nonprofit that did a series of interviews with Atheist college students, and what struck me was how much their stories mirrored my own right around this point.  The decision to leave the Christian faith they had been raised in was an emotional one, it usually happened between 14-17 years old, and often it was the result of being exposed to a shallow and superficial Christianity where questioning things was denounced and ministers with no knowledge of the Bible were in charge.  

 

I wandered a few years.  I went to some non-denominational churches and some Pentecostal ones; always the same thing, just with different flavoring.  Social justice, Jesus is Lord, You need to Believe, You need to be Saved!, but never anyone with knowledge to explain beyond the buzzwords.  Yeah, all those things are nice, and yes, true, but like the Atlantic piece on young atheists pointed out, what good is truth if it can't be backed up?  What good are Christians who don't act like Christians?  Why espouse Sola Scriptura when that ISN'T SCRIPTURAL?  I never found what I was looking for, though sometimes the odd thing would pop up and point at Catholicism, but I tried to ignore those things; every Catholic I knew while growing up was exactly the opposite of what I felt a Christian was called to be.  Why would I want to be a part of another hypocritical place where people bragged in school about lying to their priest in Confession?  Why would I want to be a part of a place where no one I knew could explain why they believed the things they did?  The old man across the street from me, when I was young, was a Deacon at the local Catholic Church and the most angry human being I had ever met.
 

In the end though, I convinced myself, with the help of friends and my recently engaged ex that dumped me while engagement ring shopping (still in the Church, told everyone I wasn't converting for a woman), that I should give RCIA a try.  That's the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, run by the Catholic Church for those who might be interested in converting, or just getting to know more about Catholicism.  A side note on RCIA, it tends to come in two flavors and rarely in between; happy clappy superficial or "Dear Lord I am taking an upper level university course on Catholicism that meets once per week for three hours at a time for almost a year".  I was lucky to have the second, run by a priest who was also a convert.  

 

The sisters baked cookies for each class.  We covered a vast range of topics.  One night as we entered our fifth hour, I raised my hand and asked, "Father, may I leave?".  We had been talking about divorce, annulments, and remarriage and the topic wasn't pertinent to me, especially with work the next day and entering our fifth hour of a three hour session.  It was pertinent to most of the folks there though.  He told me to go right ahead, that he wished he could too. 

 

One of the most interesting things to me, about those classes, had to be how different it was from how I was raised.  I don't mean the nitty gritty of the beliefs, different doctrines, etc.  Most of those I had already come to accept by delving deep into religious readings.  Instead, what was so different, was that we were all encouraged to question.  The priest wanted us to ask hard questions and even wanted questions he didn't know the answer to, so we could all look them up and learn more.  Two real take away lines of his actually caring about us understanding where things came from and why are still with me today.  The first was, "If you've not considered, at least once, that there is possibly no God, then you're blessed.  However, I think asking oneself about the merits of Atheism is a good way to examine just how much you believe and why."  The second had to be, "God gave us a brain for a reason.  Even if the answer eventually comes down to blind faith, at least we can document why we believe it until we hit that!"

 

Mom, meanwhile, also left our Baptist church due to the politics primarily.  She realized one day that her entire purpose on a search committee was to be the lone dissenter among a group of Yes Men.  She became a Methodist and had to watch a video on John Wesley, their founder, and did a one page multiple choice worksheet on it.  She said she got the easier conversion education wise.

 

Anyhow, I happily entered the Roman Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil of 2009, though it was at a cost.   I sent a 14 page resignation letter to my old Baptist church and asked to be removed from the membership rolls; I was told it was shredded after the first paragraph in which I thanked them for helping me along my spiritual journey and first helping me to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  I was de-friended on Facebook by a number of my Baptist friends, people I had grown up alongside from preschool through undergrad and part of my Masters.  I stopped getting wedding invitations from my Baptists I'd grown up with and actually got a dis-invitation from a wedding.   A man who had been in the waiting room when I was born, a family friend, will no longer speak to me.  One of my professional references told me to stop using him as one.  Until grandma died, my mother and I had gone to mom's Methodist church, my midnight Mass, and grandma's Baptist church where I grew up, every Christmas Eve; few people would speak to me, except to make snide remarks.  

 

Things like that have hurt and still hurt four years later.  Now though, I'm at a university parish in the town where I'm working on my Ph.D. in Criminology.  I help with the sorting of books multiple times a year for the annual book sale (which unlike my old Baptist church's book sale, will accept anti-Christian literature happily.  I bought The God Delusion from my church).  I'm involved in a prison Mass ministry where I learn much more about corrections from the inmates than I do from journal articles; the prison chaplain and I sit down to chat once a month about policy issues relating to our criminal justice system because he loves having a volunteer who he can express his frustrations to and I love getting to hear about things from a practitioner perspective.  I also sometimes visit the Byzantine Catholic parish of a volunteer couple at our prison Mass.

 

Hmm...apologies, that seemed to be  a tad longer than I thought.   So quick run down of some major shifts in my theology:

  • Saints.  Praying with them isn't idolatrous.
  • Purgatory, it makes sense and is hinted at in the Bible.
  • Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide aren't in the Bible.  Luther violated the first blatantly when he took and added in the Bible, the latter is an innovation of Luther's meddling with the Bible to insert "alone" after "faith" in James.
  • The Eucharist, the Real Presence.  Reading John 6 in its entirety, and then what the Early Church taught was eye opening.  I can't imagine "Communion once per quarter" any longer.
  • Confession, it's important.  Even from a more secular viewpoint, just being able to have someone hold you accountable instead of going "lol, I told God, it's okay" as I used to, makes me a better person.
  • Less a shift in theology than something I like, but it's nice to be in a church that stresses "knowing why" something may be thought of as wrong as compared to telling me "shut up and believe it, that's why".

 

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Coming from the same country as Edric I think we had the same starting point as non-practicand Christian Orthodox. Unlike Edric my religion-ness got worse, haha, meaning I call myself a Christian Orthodox now just as a matter of tradition and identity. I have grown to dislike the idea of an organised religion, and keeping the whole thing on a supernatural level. I like to see each religion as life philosophy.

 

Basically I think people should be accountable to their own conscience. If they need to call it God, so be it.

 

I cannot say I dismiss the idea of "God", but I simply cannot see it as an old man with a long white beard sitting on a cloud and watching all of us at once. It seems to me someone really misread the Buddhist paintings and ideas. Or Hindu. Anyway, I admit there is an order of things, and, again, if you want to call it "God", so be it.

 

I do not see the good in praying as it is in christianity. Again I think someone misunderstood the concept of meditation. But still. Why would I ask forgivness to God and not to the person I have mistreated? Why would I ask God for help instead of working harder for what I want? The only two things left for praying would be health and protection from natural disasters (including war). Which still doesn't convince me.

 

So basically all Abrahamic religions are flawed if you ask me. As for other religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism or folk religions, I didn't have time to study exactly what they say.

 

So I don't think I'm much different than I was 10 years ago. Just I have the things a bit more clear now :)

 

@Edric - how does communism go with religion? As far as I remember all religions were considered magical nonsense under the communist regimes.

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Wow, there is a lot to reply to, so I'll have to do it piece by piece.

So, first of all, it's great to have you back, Ordos45! I know what it's like to be a grad student - sometimes I have to disappear for months - but I hope you will stick around, at least for this thread. Remember, these days it's perfectly okay to reply only once a week or so. :)

I am sorry to hear about your experiences with the Southern Baptist church, although given what I've heard about that denomination, I can't say I'm surprised. They have a reputation for being ultra-conservative and fundamentalist (in the sense of "stop asking questions and do as you're told", not in the sense of being well-grounded in the fundamentals of the faith). Ironically enough, from what I gather, this conservatism and general uptight-ness is combined with playing fast and loose with doctrine and worship. It's funny that they would call you a heretic when they are the heretics (yes, I've said it; after all, we can't follow the spirit of the old Religion thread without being at least a little inflammatory).

My fiancée was also raised Baptist, although in her case it was the American Baptist denomination (i.e. Northern Baptist). She left that church as a teenager, not individually or suddenly, but as part of a large number of people that were gradually drifting away from it at the time. It seems they had recently acquired a particularly conservative pastor who was very fond of delivering fire-and-brimstone, repent-you-sinners-for-the-end-is-nigh types of sermons. She says it made her feel as though God did not love her. So she stopped going to church. Her parents also stopped going around the same time. It's not clear to me why, but it had something to do with parish politics (like the things you described in your old parish, pretty much).

Much later, a couple of years ago, when I started attending Orthodox services regularly, she began to come with me to see what it's like. Eventually she started talking to the priest and deacon, and asking them (and me) questions about the Orthodox Church. A few months ago she decided to become a catechumen (a person officially preparing to be baptized - or, in her case, chrismated - into the Church). She has helped me to discover things about Orthodoxy that I never really paid attention to, or simply took for granted. For example, the Orthodox Church maintains a keen awareness of its own history, and you get a sense of having a living connection with Christians who lived ten, fifteen or more centuries ago. Every practice or custom is explained with reference to history: "we've been doing this since the year X, for reason Y". And, of course, "year X" is often some time in the 5th or 6th century.

Being active in the Church also taught me the importance of many practices - and even some Sacraments - that I always considered somewhat pointless or even wrong before I started actually doing them. Confession is the chief example. I never saw the point of it from a purely intellectual perspective. After all, why can't I confess my sins directly to God? Then I started going to Confession, and I soon found myself thinking, just before I was about to commit some small sin, "wait, if I do this, I'll have to confess it to the priest later. That would be embarassing. I'd better not do it." So I discovered that Confession helps to strengthen your resolve against sin. There was a point to it after all.

I'll have to stop here for now, though I have a lot more to say. That will have to wait until I have more time to type it out...

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Precisely eleven and a half years ago (to the day), Ordos45 started a thread in the General board that ended up making FED2k history and was one of the two threads which persuaded Gob to create the PRP board. It went on for a long time, building up to a total of 1300 posts before Gob locked it due to widespread flame-warring. The last time I checked (a couple of years ago), it was still one of the top 10 longest threads on the FED2k forums.

 

Ha, it's been a really long time since then :)

 

During these 13 years, I remained loyal to the Mother Church, despite the limited access to the Eucharist and criticism of its local cryptofascist clergy. Analyzing medieval Muslim theology in my MA thesis and nationalism (the dominant global religion nowadays) in the PhD, I can say I remained bound to a general monotheistic religion in both private and professional life. But still this can't contradict any sense of communion I experience when burning Morena effigies, Midsummer bonfires or listening to Amon Amarth. Why does religion have to be ethnographically categorized into "Christian", "Muslim", "Pagan" practices? Isn't it just an attempt to assert similarity between individuals of a specific group, an imagined community, a race? I think that the symbols, practices and narratives of specific, historical traditions, are seen as more important than the religious sense, the will to dedicate, to connect the eternal and the vain, which can be observed almost universally. Instead of developing this sense, we focus on the contradictions in the actual traditions. Speaking of religions in plural denotes different human spiritualities, while actually their similarity in the relation towards the God (or however they call it) is what the most holy scriptures teach. This boundary maintenance is basically what I perceived as the fuel for the flame in the previous thread.

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I think it's all about how people see religion. If it's an intimate, private thing, well, then peace will prevail. If religion is viewed as a public thing then everyone will try to impose his on others. And this is the core of Christianity and Islam, the belief that they are the only holders of truth AND that is their duty to spread it around the world. By whatever means necessary.

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It seems to me that every religion has both the psychological (spirituality, the "sense") and communal (cult, communion) aspects. The need to spread the belief, to do Jihad or show everyone how big Christian I am can also be traced to psychological roots. What seems to me as well, however, is that it isn't caused by the urge to commune with the eternity, but rather to compensate one's deficiencies in the mundane sphere.

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I flicked through the old thread in the hope of discovering some horrifying past-held opinions that I could refute, but it appears I didn't take part. That or my search function is kaput.

 

(Yes, hello, insert zombie joke here)

 

It would be fair to say that my lack of religion has remained unchanged by the passage of time, save for the occasional flirt with Discordianism. I've grown better at expressing it, but I can't think of any major spiritual upheavals that I might have experienced. I'm still an atheist who likes to live and let live as far as individuals' beliefs are concerned and feels deep contempt for those who use their religion as an excuse to curtail the freedom, happiness or actions of others. My current boyfriend is Jewish, though not practising, and I've attended passover with his family and his cousin's wedding in Israel. While both events left me feeling as though I'd compromised my beliefs, logically I have to admit that they didn't, even if I was wearing a special hat at the time. One doesn't catch faith merely by being in a religious building or attending a (quasi-)religious ceremony, and while I'm still not entirely comfortable with taking part in said ceremonies (and my feelings on Israel itself would require a whole other thread), I don't need to be comfortable in order to be respectful. I don't partake in faith, but I observe it, respectfully. From a spiritual distance if not always a physical one.

 

Since I appear to be in the minority here, I might as well throw some chum into the water and state for the record that, while I have nothing against decent religious folks, I sincerely hope that religions themselves die out in the next few generations. Maybe become a topic of academic study, the way people treat Zeus these days. It's a forlorn hope, I know, but I do think the world would be a better place. Not because everyone becomes too sciency-smart to care, but because people simply no longer need it. I want humans to no longer feel that they require a prehistoric societal apparatus in order to find enrichment and meaning in their lives and the universe around them. That'd be nice.

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Welcome back Dante :)

 

while I have nothing against decent religious folks, I sincerely hope that religions themselves die out in the next few generations. Maybe become a topic of academic study, the way people treat Zeus these days. It's a forlorn hope, I know, but I do think the world would be a better place. Not because everyone becomes too sciency-smart to care, but because people simply no longer need it. I want humans to no longer feel that they require a prehistoric societal apparatus in order to find enrichment and meaning in their lives and the universe around them. That'd be nice.

While I have never bothered to investigate this issue (there have to be some unbiased studies on the subject out there) I think that there might be some deep-seated psychological need for a religion that is part of human nature. If that really is the case, then your wish may not come true that easily.

As for your arguments why you think humanity will be better off without religion: you say that religion is a "prehistoric societal apparatus", but technically all existent religions of this day are of the historical era, while prehistoric beliefs are only practised in (minority) societies that haven't bothered to switch to agriculture in the past millennia.

There is no doubt that many aspects of mankind's social existence have undergone drastic changes since 5000 BC, however human nature at the core has remained more or less the same. In the field of religions, if you want you can easily find parallels between the cults of different deities that were practised in cities across the "cradle of civilization" and the cults of local saints in Europe. Even if that were considered superficial (theologians will probably argue that there's a fundamental difference between polytheism and monotheism that must not be disregarded), the psychological need I have mentioned above seems to remain all the same.

Another thing of course is that religion is part of our culture and history. Even if you personally don't see any "use" in religion, there are plenty of other phenomena in human cultures that only exist due to tradition with no real practical use at all, and no one seems really eager to just get rid of all that once and for all.

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I've certainly heard it said that humanity has a deep-seated psychological, even biological need for faith in something spiritual, even if not a deity. The very broadest interpretation of the argument also covers belief in any untested phenomenon, such as ghosts or portals from Mars to Atlantis (yes, this is a thing).

 

I referred to this idea back when eracist was still stinking up these boards, in none too flattering terms. The unfortunate truth is that, while I respect the faithful, I don't think much of faith. I called it “a fuzzy pink comfort blanket for the soul” and my opinion hasn't changed. Faith comforts, soothes, protects against harsh reality. Lose a loved one? They're not dead, but living forever. This life sucks in every possible conceivable way? Well, there's always the next one because it's totally going to be awesome kickass. In other words, faith is believing things that cannot be proven true, which to me equates with wilful self deception.

 

If an object cannot be observed or tested then what possible reason is there in reacting to it? I find belief in the unknown (for that is what faith is) as nonsensical as fear of the unknown or anger at the unknown. Extrapolation from available evidence led thinkers to evolution, the periodic table and the Higgs Boson. I'm not talking about extrapolated truths, I'm talking about the truly unknown. An undetectable 'other place,' the abode of a universal creator and legions of dead. What testable evidence exists for this? The only sensible reaction to the lack of it is to treat the concept as unproven, unprovable and therefore of no use to anyone.

 

 

I didn't actually make any arguments for humanity being better off without religion, I just stated that I think we would be. And while it's true that extant large religions all postdate the first writing (and doesn't that give you pause for thought?), I didn't say that modern religions were prehistoric, I said that religion was. An old, old method by which to explain the unknown and maintain tribe cohesion.

But just as we no longer feel the need to make blood sacrifices or take drugs to commune with disembodied voices (as a society, anyway, I make no claims about how individuals get their jollies), I'd like to think that we can leave behind the idea that morality is somehow external or that there's an invisible Orwellian presence that sees not only everything we do but everything we think and has no discernible reaction to either.

 

 

I might argue that there is no other facet of human culture quite so devoid of practical application as religion, but I don't actually believe that. I believe that right now, religion is very useful. For some people. It gives a sense of purpose, it encourages things like generosity and consideration, it often provides charity and a sense of community. It protects many from the realisation that there is a vast, uncontrollable universe out there that doesn't even slightly care about them. So yes, religion has a use. But it is a tool, a means to an end. And I think that community, charity and meaning are not only possible without religion but actively improved by its absence.

 

Finally, the point was made that there are traditions, behaviours and general phenomena of human society that exist with less consideration for practical application, and that nobody is clamouring for these to be binned. This is true. But I would also argue that none of them are as actively harmful as religion.

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Finally, the point was made that there are traditions, behaviours and general phenomena of human society that exist with less consideration for practical application, and that nobody is clamouring for these to be binned. This is true. But I would also argue that none of them are as actively harmful as religion.

Well, I actually believe this is a quite debatable point.

In a bit of backtracking, what I realized didn't occur to me to be mentioned in my previous post is that apart from the psychological aspects and considerations of historical legacy and traditions, there's yet another thing that makes religion - I'd like to differentiate between religion and faith, and I'm addressing here the issues of religion in the first place, as the topic title suggests it should be - unlikely to become "outdated" and finally disappear. And that is the fact that most if not all world religions are very prominent, powerful social and political entities. This means both material wealth and power over the people, as well as close ties to secular governments in many cases. Major monotheistic religions have proven to be especially effective in this respect, and have outlasted many non-religious political bodies, at least when Europe is concerned.

Also, have you considered the fact that in the previous century alone, several new religions rose to prominence (Scientology being probably the prime example)?

Back to your point that nothing of the traditional and cultural phenomena that do not have a real practical application is as harmful as religion. I assume that by this you mean that religion fosters bigotry and allows to support anti-scientific sentiments (if not please correct me!).

Well, I actually do doubt that this is an entirely valid counter-example, but personally I'm concerned about the fashion/glamour industry being quite harmful. In fact, I'm horrified at how much money and other resources (paper for printing glam magazines for example), as well as human effort is wasted just to nurture the vanity of the upper classes (globally speaking). I'm pretty certain those resources could be better spent elsewhere, to address much more critical issues.

Similarly, the advances in technology apparently go primarily into entertainment industry, with the overproduction of tons of iPhones and other popular gadgets, whereas the developments in the field of human reconstruction for example seem to have a lot less priority.

However, these are just my personal opinions. I'd like to get back to your idea of religion becoming obsolete though. Do you have any explicit criteria against which a social structure could be judged to be either effective and worth preserving or not? In the early 20th century for example, similar ideas were expressed that such a social institution as the traditional family is also outdated and should be abolished. Do you think that sociologists should carry out some studies to determine whether a social organization is effective or not? Or is this to be decided based on some other kind of considerations?

As for your argument that there is no reason to believe in something that cannot be asserted by the application of the scientific method. Well, this is an old debate of course, and my personal opinion here is that the rational mind which operates with the scientific method is not the only type of mind/intellect that an individual uses in their life (hey, I actually wanted to type "in her life" to use what is considered a "neutral" pronoun - while in fact it isn't - but then I thought that I'll stick with the singular they). I don't know what you think about the notion of the emotional intellect for example (which seems to be rather popular with certain psychologists these days), but a more simple reasoning here is that faith/belief and rational scientific knowledge are certainly two mutually exclusive things. There's no need to believe in something that you know for sure is true (or false). You're right that in the earlier periods of human history supernatural beliefs were used to provide a more or less working explanation for natural phenomena that got fully explained (and in many cases harnessed by humanity) when science stepped in. However, it seems to me that with religion of today, this is largely not the case.

Questions of morality for example are addressed by philosophy, not science, and to the best of my knowledge they cannot be formulated into testable hypotheses without simplifying them into subjects of sociological or psychological research, which can only show how people behave according to certain beliefs they hold, but not what these beliefs really are or why they exist. The scientific method has its uses and its limitations, it's not a universal tool that can provide an ultimate explanation for everything (says me in Captain Obvious mode). Platitudes aside, the practical consequence of this is that the scientific method cannot be applied to all fields of human life, and my opinion is that it does not need to. There is no evidence to believe that at some point in the future, sociology or psychology will become so advanced that they will replace philosophy to explain questions of morality to conclude the example above.

I've also noticed that when talking about religion you mostly allude to the belief in afterlife in its various forms. There are a lot more other, rather important questions of particular religious doctrines (e.g. the Holy Trinity as one of the key concepts in Christianity), and one thing that is apparently relevant to the present discussion is that many religions (at least, monotheistic religions) openly state that the nature of God is beyond human understanding.

Now I believe that the question of the limits of human cognitive abilities is certainly an issue of science, not only philosophy. What is your opinion on that? Do you think that there are intrinsic limits to human cognition and the ability to understand reality?

And finally, on a vastly unrelated note, have you read anything by Victor Pelevin?

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I didn't say that the quiet death of religion was likely, I said that it is desirable. Given the massive power collectively wielded by the Abrahamic religions alone, and the growth of religious belief in newly-emancipated China and Russia, the picture doesn't look hopeful.

 

Now, about harm. I think firstly I'd suggest that the recipients of the most advanced technology are probably the world's militaries. But yes, the entertainment industry sucks up natural resources and work hours, it's messages are often problematic and rarely sustainable. That said, it rarely beheads people. Or stones them to death. Or prompts state-sanctioned discrimination against them. Or decides it knows who someone is better than they do. Or tries to remove children from their parents. Or burns people alive. Or deliberately and flagrantly spreads ignorance and untruths.

Or allows children to die from easily preventable diseases, or encourages parents to beat, starve or murder their offspring, or declares 50% of the planet's population worth less than the other half, or flies aeroplanes into skyscrapers. And lets not forget the child rape. Oh so much rape.

 

Here, have a thing:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqso3Luv7zs

 

Hey, have another thing:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gl-q8dARtDQ

 

I've got more of this. Pages and pages of it.

 

Now I'm not going to argue, as some of my less discerning friends have done, that religion is the cause of all the world's woes. Wars are caused by pride and greed as much as hatred of the unbeliever. Beheadings happen for reasons other than offence against the murderer's religious sensibilities. That said, I cannot but conclude that religions, all religions taken collectively, occupy a special place in the stakes of harm done. In terms of legislation to oppress others, in terms of psychological damage to the survivors of crimes committed thanks to religious strictures (in which category I include celibacy), in terms of physical damage done to those who, either directly or through religious-inspired laws, are assaulted, jailed, tortured and killed. In terms of, frankly, insanity.

 

And yes, I mentioned earlier that religion does a lot of good as well. But I don't think this could ever be a case of “you have to take the bad with the good.” Not only that, but I suspect that people would still be charitable if there were no religion. But the number of girls beheaded by their fathers would probably drop a bit.

 

 

"Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction."

 

- Blaise Pascal.

 

That's what I'm talking about. Religion is not necessarily a negative force, but when it is, it is foul. And the world over, that's seen as normal and right. In the western world, especially the USA, churches and “faith bodies” think they should be exempt from every law they don't like and scream discrimination whenever they are denied. It's very distressing.

 

 

Moving on.

 

I wouldn't suggest abolishing any societal structures wherein the abolition would cause more harm than the structure itself. Rome tried to stamp out Christianity and look what happened there. Like I said, I don't think trying to force an end to religion is either practical or desirable. The world isn't ready to be stripped of its comfort blanket just yet. No, far better that faith simply fade away, like belief in oracles and vampires. Sociologists might study its decline, but who has the right to say whether it would be “worth preserving” or not? Some might try, some might not, the only test of worthiness to survive is survival. We haven't needed oracles or vampires in some time.

 

 

Just to clarify: I didn't say there is no reason to believe in something that cannot be known. There are plenty of reasons, most of which boil down to desperation. Desperation to be loved, desperation to live, desperation to be significant, desperation to be right, desperation to avoid being alone, sheer terror at the thought of having all the cosmic significance of a termite. I just don't think those are good reasons. I said that I find belief in the unknown nonsensical, and that's because I find it somewhat ridiculous that the desperate would rather believe something that most acknowledge may not be true (and those who don't cannot prove otherwise) and draw comfort from that half-truth than deal with the source of their desperation.

God loves me.” Who needs love?

Through God I will live forever.” What's so terrible about perma-death?

God cares about me.” Learn to care about yourself.

 

If I wanted unconditional love I'd get a puppy.

 

 

I agree that the scientific method cannot be applied to all spheres of human thought. The scientific method only applies to things that are observable and testable, anything that cannot be detected or tested is outside the remit of science. It's the best compromise I've ever adopted, actually. Back when I was living with three religious folks (protestant, lapsed catholic and muslim), we agreed to disagree on the basis that science couldn't intrude into the arena of faith by declaring that god certainly couldn't exist, for example, and that faith in turn had no business making claims about abiogenesis or astronomy.

 

And it's true, the scientific position must perforce be one of agnosticism, as we can neither observe nor test claims of faith (such as the existence of a deity, any actions of that deity, the existence of an afterlife, that eating certain foods or performing certain actions will anger said deity, etc).

 

That said, I do not group philosophy with religion. Philosophy is not a belief system, it does not require faith. It provides answers, but these answers are never universally certain. Morality was a good example actually, as like philosophy it is extremely fluid, adapting to new situations as requirements and attitudes shift. Morality is not concrete, one can adopt a certain perspective and profess alignment to it, but to treat it as a universal truth is to give it more credit than it deserves.

So yes, I agree that the scientific method is not the only means by which to consider a given issue. But it is the only way to know anything verifiably true.

 

 

Moving on again, the afterlife is just a convenient example. If I were feeling bitter I'd probably choose faith healing or the concept of the adversary instead, they're much less neutral.

As for the nature of god being beyond human understanding, to me that's just a cop out. It's a hipster being asked to talk about the song he likes and saying “it's pretty deep, you probably wouldn't understand.”

 

Yes, there are limits on human cognition. There must be, as we are not infinite creatures. But this does not mean that we have already reached these limits, or that the limits are immovable. Evolution brought us this much brainpower, I see no reason to stop now. Heck, we have the technology to expand brainpower right now. We're not using it yet, but in a few decades... the future's bright.

 

Edit: Oh, and no, I haven't read anything by that guy.

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Just to clarify: I didn't say there is no reason to believe in something that cannot be known. There are plenty of reasons, most of which boil down to desperation. Desperation to be loved, desperation to live, desperation to be significant, desperation to be right, desperation to avoid being alone, sheer terror at the thought of having all the cosmic significance of a termite.

Well, the statement you make here (underlined) is at least theoretically testable. I'm sure that there are plenty other reasons for professing faith, and desperation isn't the primary one.

That however is not the issue, my point was that belief is necessarily something one applies to things that cannot be verified. If you can verify something, then it's not a matter of belief, but of knowledge. Basically, my idea is that when one knows something one cannot believe in it at the same time.

 

That said, I do not group philosophy with religion. Philosophy is not a belief system, it does not require faith. It provides answers, but these answers are never universally certain. Morality was a good example actually, as like philosophy it is extremely fluid, adapting to new situations as requirements and attitudes shift. Morality is not concrete, one can adopt a certain perspective and profess alignment to it, but to treat it as a universal truth is to give it more credit than it deserves.

It was not my intention to equal religion and philosophy, it's just that many of the matters addressed by religious teachings belong to the realm of philosophy and not scientific knowledge, so it seemed appropriate fro me to take the general field of thought (philosophy) rather than narrow it down to religion, especially since religion also covers other issues that are not a subject of philosophy.

 

Moving on again, the afterlife is just a convenient example. If I were feeling bitter I'd probably choose faith healing or the concept of the adversary instead, they're much less neutral.

As for the nature of god being beyond human understanding, to me that's just a cop out. It's a hipster being asked to talk about the song he likes and saying “it's pretty deep, you probably wouldn't understand.”

 

Yes, there are limits on human cognition. There must be, as we are not infinite creatures. But this does not mean that we have already reached these limits, or that the limits are immovable. Evolution brought us this much brainpower, I see no reason to stop now. Heck, we have the technology to expand brainpower right now. We're not using it yet, but in a few decades... the future's bright.

I did not imply that we have reached those limits, it's just that I doubt they will ever allow to prove - in the scientific sense - religious doctrines, or parts thereof, wrong. (I don't want to sound apologetic, but it seems like a logical conclusion of differentiating science and religion).

As for the atrocities that you have provided examples of, there seems to be one more aspect of the problem we are discussing, and that is the difference between religious doctrines and practices, and the behaviour of people who think that what they are are doing is in line with the teachings of their religion.

I should probably say here that I am not a religious person, but to me, being religious means a) understanding and believing the doctrine of the religion a person belongs to and b) observing the ceremonies and rituals of that religion. Also, a religious person presumably takes a moral obligation to follow the doctrine of their religion in everyday life as well. And apparently, because no doctrine can realistically provide guidelines for any and all life situations, the decision of whether a person's act is in accord with their beliefs or not is either made by that person on their own or delegated to a religious authority. So basically it ultimately comes to decisions made by people, not religion itself.

What I mean to say here, is how much is a harmful act committed by a person on religious grounds different from the general tendency displayed by the Milgram experiment?

Or, how much is pseudo-science that attempts to incorporate religious beliefs into the scientific worldview different from any other kind of pseudo-science? Would you say that it is more harmful than, say, pseudo-scientific theories which proclaim some race, nation or language to be superior to others/more "ancient" (whatever that means)/the ancestors of all human beings in the world or such, with a view to promote nationalist/racist ideas? I don't think so.

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I have a lot to say, but for now I just want to jump in and make a single point:

"Religion" is an extremely broad category and a phenomenon that has been part of the human experience since... well, at least as far back as we have any records to tell us what people thought.

To talk about the effects of religion on human society, and try to judge whether they are mostly good or mostly bad, is like talking about the effects of such broad concepts as literature or music. Is it good that we have music? Is it good that we have literature? These questions are absurd. We can't even imagine what the world would be like without literature or music, let alone judge whether it would be better or worse than now. The same goes for religion. It's an integral part of the human experience. Trying to judge it as good or bad is ridiculous.

Even specific religions, like Christianity, can't possibly be evaluated as having good or bad effects on society. This is because all major religions have been around for such a long time, and have had so many effects on so many people, that trying to somehow tally up all those effects is insane. It's like asking whether Alexander the Great had a positive or negative impact on human history. There's no way to guess what the world would have looked like without him. Likewise, there is no way to guess what a world without Christianity or Islam or whatever would be like.

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To talk about the effects of religion on human society, and try to judge whether they are mostly good or mostly bad, is like talking about the effects of such broad concepts as literature or music. Is it good that we have music? Is it good that we have literature? These questions are absurd. We can't even imagine what the world would be like without literature or music, let alone judge whether it would be better or worse than now. The same goes for religion. It's an integral part of the human experience. Trying to judge it as good or bad is ridiculous.

You're right of course, but it doesn't seem unreasonable at least to try single out something that all known religions have in common, and observe what impact on societies these features can make.

Basically, a good starting point in this would be to define the features that are specific to religion(s) and make them different from everything else in human life (e.g. from philosophy, social organizations, other belief systems etc. etc.).

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In absolute cases, Edric has a point. Can we measure the effect of centuries of religiously inspired charity against the accompanying harm? Of course not, and not just because we lack enough primary sources. However, I would argue that the number of people burned, beheaded, stoned, raped and otherwise abused on account of music or literature is probably quite small. It's true that we can't begin to guess at the "what if" of a world where religion had never existed. But I'm prepared to bet that if everyone on the planet turned atheist tomorrow, the number of instances like this or practices like this would decline dramatically.

 

Here's a metaphor that might explain my position better. Lets say that "religion," that vastly broad umbrella term covering millions of cults, schisms, practices and philosophies, is a cup of delicious coffee. With shards of glass in it. Now, the coffee is really good, and the glass shards are really bad. And when you look into the cup, you can't really tell how much is coffee and how much is glass. Now you can try to filter the coffee, but some bits of glass always get through. So really, if you want to enjoy that coffee, you have to put up with the occasional internal laceration.

 

Or you could just not drink coffee. Forswearing the beneficial also cuts off the deleterious.

 

That's my point of view. Faith inspires people to great acts of good. But the accompanying cost is too high a price for me, regardless of the exact breakdown of good vs bad.

 

 

Now I suppose one could attempt to compare sectarian crimes with non-sectarian ones, see how many beheadings were political rather than heretical, but I'm not sure that would be a useful line of enquiry. Can we define how much of a stoning was for a sin, and how much because someone wanted the victim's land? Nope. And after all, all crimes, regardless of motive, are committed by people. Are atheists inherently less criminal than anyone else? I don't have any statistics, but I doubt it. Humans will still be greedy, angry, stupid and all the rest, no matter what their belief system or lack of same.

However: while people may still be shot for their spare change, or denied promotion on the basis of gender, or killed and eaten just for fun, they will at least no longer have any reason to burn others as witches. Or mutilate baby genitals. Or starve people to death.

One might make the retort: "Well, without religious morals there would be nothing to stop us from murdering, pillaging, raping and generally causing a hullabaloo!"

To which I would respond: the fact that atheists don't go around murdering people we don't like, marrying our siblings and dancing merry jigs upon memorials is indicative that religion is not necessary to live a crime-free life. Also, "hullaballo?"

In any case, my point is that while an argument can be made that sectarian crimes are worse than non-sectarian ones, I skip over it because think the point is moot. If you see a bunch of people murdering for money and a bunch of people murdering on the word of a nonentity then the victims are still effin' dead, and the fewer reasons people (all people) have to make others effin' dead, the better, no?

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Here's a metaphor that might explain my position better. Lets say that "religion," that vastly broad umbrella term covering millions of cults, schisms, practices and philosophies, is a cup of delicious coffee. With shards of glass in it. Now, the coffee is really good, and the glass shards are really bad. And when you look into the cup, you can't really tell how much is coffee and how much is glass. Now you can try to filter the coffee, but some bits of glass always get through. So really, if you want to enjoy that coffee, you have to put up with the occasional internal laceration.

 

Or you could just not drink coffee. Forswearing the beneficial also cuts off the deleterious.

Dante, I understand your arguments, however it seems to me that in your metaphor the word "religion" can be quite easily replaced with "ideology". And without a proper definition of religion it's very difficult if not impossible to make a distinction between these two notions. Which kind of undermines your argument in the first place.

However, I would argue that the number of people burned, beheaded, stoned, raped and otherwise abused on account of music or literature is probably quite small.

I cannot recall any atrocities committed in the name of music or architecture either (literature is another matter as it can be a carrier of a certain ideology). However, in our not-so-distant past, some of the most horrifying, unthinkable crimes against humanity have been committed, and certainly not in the name of any organized religion (I'd hate to bring up Godwin's law but actually you can easily find other examples in the 20th century as well). You say that religious fanatics commit their crimes in the name of a nonentity, but what about those who said they were doing it "for the greater good" etc.?

Unless you present evidence that any religion is different from any secular social ideology in such a way that while the former is able to foster harmful behaviour in its adherents the latter is not, I'm afraid there isn't much value in your argument except you have repeated your idea that, according to your personal belief, all religions are harmful and atheism is much better in this respect.

I shall repeat another thing I said earlier. No religious doctrine (at least, none of the major world religions) instructs its followers to harm human beings. In all cases that you bring up, it's not religion but ignorance or malicious intent that is harmful. Similarly, even the most peaceful ideology that paints a bright future it will lead humanity into can be twisted into a cause for the most hideous atrocities one can think of. Again, I'm not willing to provide examples here, you can look them up on your own.

Also I again am not happy about it and I think I've mentioned it earlier in this thread but: the Milgram experiment. And the Stanford prison experiment for that matter. That could be a starting point for a more constructive discussion that just blaming religion or ideology or whatever.

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No religious doctrine espouses harm of humans? Dear me, where have you been?

 

Whoever strikes his father or mother shall be put to death. (Exodus 21:15)

 

"Suppose a man has a stubborn, rebellious son who will not obey his father or mother, even though they discipline him. In such cases, the father and mother must take the son before the leaders of the town. They must declare: 'This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious and refuses to obey. He is a worthless drunkard.' Then all the men of the town must stone him to death. In this way, you will cleanse this evil from among you, and all Israel will hear about it and be afraid." (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)

 

Slaves, obey your human masters in everything, not only when being watched, as currying favor, but in simplicity of heart, fearing the Lord. (Colossians 3:22)

 

And that's just what five seconds of googling found me. And yes, one can quite easily say "hey, nobody actually believes that anymore." Or better yet, as was said once to me, "the whole point of Jesus was that his covenant replaced that of the old testament, freeing us from all of those old rules" a point that was immediately refuted by someone else in the room, who mentioned the sermon on the mount, but i digress.

 

My point was that there are all kinds of passages on stoning people to death, burning people to death, starving people to death, for all sorts of "sins." You cannot blame shoddy interpretation for the harm done in the name of religion, not when modern religious practices still routinely (and all according to scripture) mutilate children and torture adults. Fred Phelps and Vladimir Putin didn't just pull their idiocies out of a hat, those biases came pre-formed from somewhere else.

 

And yes, it's true that crimes are committed by people, not institutions. Any religious doctrine must be interpreted by the believer, who may introduce all manner of biases and ugly hatreds into the mix which the original message was never meant to contain. And that was your counterpoint, but it's just another face of the same problem to me. Because here's something that I think religions do have in common: they command obediance. Teach someone to obey laws "just because" and that's the kind of attitude they'll adopt. Whether it's the parents, the priest, the guru, the pope, the medicine man, always obey the RULES. Obediance is to the law is more important than the content of the law, or even consideration of the law. And under that kind of doctrine, anything goes. What does the content of the law matter when adherence to it is the most important consideration? It might be a sin to screw little boys, but it's a GREATER sin to have consensual sex with an adult woman, right? Because that would be breaking the rules.

 

The result is a system whereby the individual person's biases and ugliness are not banished by their spirituality, but reinforced, given strength and spread to others. Religion gives bad people justification and excuse, even if it was never intended.

Which brings me neatly on to my next point. As I said before (in the hope of avoiding the Godwin situation), "Are atheists inherently less criminal than anyone else? I don't have any statistics, but I doubt it." Non-sectarian crimes (which I am here defining as crimes committed without a descernable religious excuse, regardless of the supposed religious beliefs of the perpetrators) are, as we know, no less infamous than sectarian ones. There's no need to stretch as far as the various genocides of the 20th century, people are murdered all the time for banal old money.

 

I have two counterpoints to this, one of which I actually made already, but it bears repeating.
1. Religion does it deliberately. By which I mean, when someone drinks, dries and kills a kid on the road, they weren't trying to put the child in harm's way. When someone is performing an exorcism and
stabs a couple of kids to death, that is very much putting them in harm's way. When a man rapes a woman in the street it's because he's a violent, egocentric douchebag. When he does it in the marital bed it's because it's his wife's duty to obey.
What I'm saying is that while non-sectarian crimes happen, a religious environment CAUSES crimes to happen. See also: celibacy/kiddie-fiddling, witches/societal scapegoats,
circumcision/death.

2. It doesn't matter. I'm under no illusions that ALL the harm in the world comes from religion. Regardless, I think that net suffering in the world in the world would go down if religion just went away. Comparing it to non-sectarian suffering is a pointless exercise as it's not a matter of which is worse.

You said I should find "evidence that any religion is different from any secular social ideology." Thing is, whether religion is the same or different is irrelevent, it's still harmful. You're essentially saying that I shouldn't be upset about people being stabbed in the eye because something else might stab them in the foot. Ideally I'd prefer that neither of these things happened, but failing that, I'll pick my battles.

 

 

Moving on.
'Ideology,' eh? If you like. I distrust the notion of unbreakable rules, no matter what label they wear. I could replace every instance of the word 'religion' in this post with 'religious ideology' if you prefer. It would probably be a more precise term (and I'm aware that 'religion' is a clumsy catch-all), but I'm not sure what good it would do given that the discussion was always about religion as opposed to, say, nationalist or racial ideology.

You insist that humans are capable of great harm, and that religious ideology shouldn't be blamed for humans corrupting it. I counter that all religions are inherently corrupt and that corruption begets corruption. I don't find the prospect of going over Milgram and Stanford particularly interesting or useful, and I'm not overly concerned with 'constructive' debate here. I don't mean that in the sense that I'm just here to troll, I mean in a very exact sense that my argument is deliberately destructive. I'm arguing for the abolition of organised religion. That's not exactly common ground to build on.

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No religious doctrine espouses harm of humans? Dear me, where have you been?

I was referring to a statement in one of my previous posts that no religion, to the best of my knowledge, teaches that harming other people is necessary to attain salvation (which is usually the ultimate goal of practising a religion).

 

Whoever strikes his father or mother shall be put to death. (Exodus 21:15)

 

"Suppose a man has a stubborn, rebellious son who will not obey his father or mother, even though they discipline him. In such cases, the father and mother must take the son before the leaders of the town. They must declare: 'This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious and refuses to obey. He is a worthless drunkard.' Then all the men of the town must stone him to death. In this way, you will cleanse this evil from among you, and all Israel will hear about it and be afraid." (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)

Very obviously the passages that you quote are laws that regulate social behaviour. They are incorporated into the Judaic religious tradition because in that particular time and society, religion was the ultimate social institution, so it covered the legal system as well. Other cultures of the time had similar codices, and not all were directly tied into religious texts. Compare Hittite laws (translated excerpts) that are secular in nature (and also apparently a lot less enthusiastic about the death penalty thing).

 

And that's just what five seconds of googling found me. And yes, one can quite easily say "hey, nobody actually believes that anymore." Or better yet, as was said once to me, "the whole point of Jesus was that his covenant replaced that of the old testament, freeing us from all of those old rules" a point that was immediately refuted by someone else in the room, who mentioned the sermon on the mount, but i digress.

The notion of a complete replacement of the Old Testament with the New Testament is actually a serious theological debate in Christianity, and I dare not touch this subject because I know very little about it. It's also not very important for the current discussion. The fact is that although some of the books of Judaic tradition having been incorporated into the canon of Christianity, the prescriptions and traditions addressed within them are not observed by all Christians (this and this are relevant articles).

 

And yes, it's true that crimes are committed by people, not institutions. Any religious doctrine must be interpreted by the believer, who may introduce all manner of biases and ugly hatreds into the mix which the original message was never meant to contain. And that was your counterpoint, but it's just another face of the same problem to me. Because here's something that I think religions do have in common: they command obediance. Teach someone to obey laws "just because" and that's the kind of attitude they'll adopt. Whether it's the parents, the priest, the guru, the pope, the medicine man, always obey the RULES. Obediance is to the law is more important than the content of the law, or even consideration of the law. And under that kind of doctrine, anything goes. What does the content of the law matter when adherence to it is the most important consideration? It might be a sin to screw little boys, but it's a GREATER sin to have consensual sex with an adult woman, right? Because that would be breaking the rules.

 

The result is a system whereby the individual person's biases and ugliness are not banished by their spirituality, but reinforced, given strength and spread to others. Religion gives bad people justification and excuse, even if it was never intended.

I wouldn't argue with that, but again, what you describe pretty much happened in totalitarian societies that were very explicitly anti-religious in their ideology.

And on the other hand, one could say that not every religious community is a totalitarian sect and not every priest only demands unquestioning obedience from the parish.

 

1. Religion does it deliberately. By which I mean, when someone drinks, dries and kills a kid on the road, they weren't trying to put the child in harm's way. When someone is performing an exorcism and stabs a couple of kids to death, that is very much putting them in harm's way.

I doubt that the church (it doesn't clearly follow from the article what religious denomination that person belongs to) would allow laymen to perform exorcism. I think that not every Catholic priest is allowed to do that actually. It is true that unfortunately, religions inspire quite dangerous superstitions, but at least no organized religion generally promotes superstition.

 

Well yeah, that was kind of a massive fail.

 

2. It doesn't matter. I'm under no illusions that ALL the harm in the world comes from religion. Regardless, I think that net suffering in the world in the world would go down if religion just went away. Comparing it to non-sectarian suffering is a pointless exercise as it's not a matter of which is worse.

You said I should find "evidence that any religion is different from any secular social ideology." Thing is, whether religion is the same or different is irrelevent, it's still harmful. You're essentially saying that I shouldn't be upset about people being stabbed in the eye because something else might stab them in the foot. Ideally I'd prefer that neither of these things happened, but failing that, I'll pick my battles.

 

 

Moving on.

'Ideology,' eh? If you like. I distrust the notion of unbreakable rules, no matter what label they wear. I could replace every instance of the word 'religion' in this post with 'religious ideology' if you prefer. It would probably be a more precise term (and I'm aware that 'religion' is a clumsy catch-all), but I'm not sure what good it would do given that the discussion was always about religion as opposed to, say, nationalist or racial ideology.

You insist that humans are capable of great harm, and that religious ideology shouldn't be blamed for humans corrupting it. I counter that all religions are inherently corrupt and that corruption begets corruption.

My point is that even though religious institutions and practices may invite harmful behaviour, they in and of themselves are not the root of the problem. I brought up all the parallels with secular ideologies etc. only because I believe that any kind of ideology or organized social structure, religious or not, is capable of creating an environment that can bring out the worst in people. So if you are a proponent of something like Rousseau's Natural Human (I'm not, and I assume that you aren't either), then it would be logical to argue for the abolition of every social institution, not only religion. And if you're not, then removing religion would actually amount to nothing. To give a twist to your coffee metaphor, it would be as if, upon discovering shards of glass in the coffee, one poured it into another cup and threw the first cup away.

Out of your examples, I will never argue against the ones about rituals that are thousands of years old and present a potential danger to health. These are part of corresponding religions, and the tradition demands these rituals be observed.

As for witch hunts, exorcism etc. Undoubtedly some of the most atrocious crimes are committed in this area, however if we take the modern world and not the times of the Inquisition, these crimes are committed by laymen, without any approval from the church, without any basis in religious scriptures, and are often a result of massive ignorance, malice or outright criminal intent.

The argument that religion demands obedience: I think ordos45's post is very telling in this respect. The atmosphere in a religious community very much depends on the people - both on the priest and on the parish. On the other hand, various non-religious social structures may also demand unquestioning obedience (army service for example) and may also foster all sorts of harmful behaviour in humans.

To sum up, I'm afraid your argumentation that

all religions are inherently corrupt

doesn't seem very convincing. At least, one could say that it's "inherently corrupt" no more than other types of organized social behaviour.

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