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Does religion make this world a better place?


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Overall, does the belief in religion make this world a better place?

 

What does everyone think?

Well, the most religious countries are the ones with the most societal health issues, if that helps.

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Like with every system, the religions of the world started out as a very simple concept. Just a couple of basic rules ("you shall not kill", etc), which were probably indeed told by a popular person - i.e. a messiah of some kind.

 

And that is fine.

 

And then people in charge start adding more rules. And it becomes more expensive. And a more complex bureaucracy/government/college. And religion changes from being some simple rules in life to be a political entity in which people just don't ask difficult questions. And living a good life isn't good enough anymore. You now must actively support the religion, rather than those simple rules.

 

And that is not fine.

 

But this form of group-stupidity is not exclusively found in religions. Free democractic countries suffer from the same dilusions. The organisation is idolized to such an extent that people forget what the core-ideology actually stood for. ("Love your neighbors" suddenly no longer applies if the neighbors are of a different religion, or freedom is not important anymore if the country itself is claimed to be under attack from people who dislike freedom).

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Overall, does the belief in religion make this world a better place?

 

What does everyone think?

 

Religion is harmful from the perspectives of knowledge, of morality, and of unity. It robs people of the initiative to search for answers, by suggesting that they should turn toward their religious authority for them. From a scientific perspective, it means less people are trying to find out how things like weather, biological growth, the origin of life, medicine, etc. happened because they already "know" the answer is that God is in charge of that. This leads to reduced education in the sciences, and perhaps also to dangerously misinformed decisions, such as the use of prayer as a substitute for trying to solve difficult problems.

 

From a moral perspective, it means people never question why they accept the morality that they do because they believe the answer was given to them by a god and who are they to question that. This leads to childlike moral systems harmful to society and sometimes also to the individual in question and their family, because the religious morality is based on societies that no longer exist. Specific examples are opposition to abortion which results in unwanted children which statistically are more likely to be poor, poorly educated, and criminal; this directly harms society and has no benefit for anyone. Another example is the expectation that people stay virgin until their wedding, which may have been reasonable when marriages happened in the teens and there was no birth control, but now result in shame, hasty weddings, and much suffering and frustration. This of course is a major problem of authoritarian morality - because the morality is handed down as specific rules, it cannot be adapted to changing circumstances. Because people are expected to accept the specific rules, they don't learn to deduce the moral rules for themselves as needed given the circumstances, and so are lost when new circumstances allow for moral decisions that the ancient rules haven't accounted for (eg IVF, cloning, genetic engineering, contraceptives) or the circumstances change.

 

Furthermore, dependence on an authority for morality means people cannot justify their own morality and furthermore cannot understand how morality distinct from their own was derived. This means they cannot engage in proper moral discussions to discuss what would be morally best, instead stubbornly sticking to "what god commanded" instead of considering the combination of facts and moral axioms of themselves and their discussion partner and seeing if they can't lead to the same moral conclusion. Instead, they can only declare the other to be wrong, leading to intolerance and strife. Whereas realizing that morality must necessarily be based on unprovable axioms (ie that morality is arbitrary) could lead to more unity and definitely to better understanding of morals both their own and others'.

 

As for unity, religion is a problem because it promotes intolerance toward others. The others are wrong because they believe a bunch of lies instead of the truth as written by the religion, and they are also wallowing in evil and perhaps even are preaching evil as if it were a good thing (because they can't accept alternative moral rules as being equal). This intolerance can manifest violently, but it can also manifest in a more "nurturing" manner in that the poor lost souls need to be told the truth that they are blind to, and saved from their evil ways.

 

Of course, not all religion must be as described above. It's just that religion implicitly suggests authoritarianism. However, many religious figures have gone past authoritarianism and started preaching a more morally mature system. This has occurred in many religions and manifests as rules such as the golden rule. Because the golden rule is a single rule yet can be used to derive all the appropriate rules specific to any context, it will never be outdated, and also leads to the highest level of moral thinking, where one makes their own rules as needed in a given situation from unchanging axioms.

 

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[c]38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[d]40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

 

I'd say get rid of all the laws and the prophets, and focus on this one rule and you can't go far wrong. Because if the other things are inconsistent with this rule, then I'd say the other parts of scripture are wrong or misinterpreted. As for the "loving god" part, I think it best to interpret that as a respect for one's principles above all else (since I don't believe in God having an actual existence), much like we ask our officials to above all protect our constitution.

 

(However the Golden Rule is incomplete because it does not give a method to determine what "loving" means. For example holding happiness as a main value might lead to hedonistic thinking, or holding chastity as an important value might lead to suffering and frustration "for their own good". To make the complete moral system might require adding specific values as axioms that those things are good for people even if they don't want it. And no, I cannot tell you what those values would be.)

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Insofar as religion encourages the adoption of dogmatic, intellectually opaque, arational or irrational 'answers' to all the central questions of life, it blocks our access to real answers or genuine understandings of the meaning of our our lives.

 

Consider someone grieving over the death of a child. A religion might offer a dogmatic 'image' or 'fairy tale' which poses as some sort of answer to that grief, such as "Oh, don't worry, your child is with the baby Jesus in Heaven!!" But this does not really offer a rational explanation or a thought-through way to exit the grief, rather than just the mythical picture of some magical grief-solving thing.

 

In contrast, something more like a rational solution to the problem of grief in this situation would be that which has been offered by Stoic philosophy. The death of the child will never go away as a fact in your life, the grief will never be overcome by anything else, but at least you can know that the intensity of your misery is in part under your control, since your suffering depends on how you choose to think of the event. Now admittedly a terrible event like that tends to compel a certain type of psychological and emotional response, but the human mind still has resources to fight against that compulsion and to develop strategies for conceiving of the event which make it easier to bear.

 

The opposition here between the Christian and the Stoic responses to the same event shows the superiority of the rational over the religious response to life, since at least in the rational response the possibility of real answers rather than just the dogmatic imagery of answers is available.

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For psychological reasons, I think people need to believe in more than what they just see in this busy capitalistic/materialistic world. I mean what is the purpose of this life we’re living now? Is it to gain financial wealth as to survive and continue living, as it is better for most than the alternative (which is death)? I believe that every individual has to believe in something spiritual and things which they cannot see or explain adequately themselves to others or else their life would be very bleak and unmeaningful whether they are aware of this or not, this includes people from a variety of backgrounds including both the financially rich and poor and as most religions are things that transcends race or gender (at least they should) those things too. I don’t believe its something that’s only restricted to the poor and stupid.

 

People like to believe that they’re living their lives now as to avoid something much worse later on (e.g. Hell). It motivates people to strive to become morally better people according to what their religion teaches them as being right or wrong. It gives satisfaction, a peace of mind and spiritual fulfilment. It gives them stronger reasons to give charity, to help the poor and needy, which is something I really admire about religion (at least the ones which encourage/commands this).

 

Many don’t like the idea of not knowing how humans came to be, our very existence. There are too many things which science can’t explain or hasn’t determined yet fully and people are not content with this and they don’t like the idea. The world is full of questions and many injustices, religion offers many of these answers and it provides the idea that something/someone (God) is carrying out justice for all the evil that people do during their lifetime on Earth as well as be rewarded for those who do good. There’s also this idea that there is a hidden purpose in our existence, whether it be that this life is really a test for the Afterlife, our ability to distinguish between what is good and what is not as well as resist temptations which cause people to become misguided and attract them towards evil. Maybe this life we’re living now is just practice for the Afterlife or maybe it’s some sick video game I’m playing right now in Heaven. It’s all an experience.

 

And even if religion were to die, we’d probably see the same sorts of spiritual worshipping type behaviour in different forms in different activities, for example, in rock concerts where people do get very emotional and “spiritually high”.

 

But I think overall religion does make this world a better place or at the very least it could. In fact, I think if the very foundations of religion were destroyed it would cause a lot of havoc, people would engage in activities they normally wouldn’t do had they been religious. Overpopulation, thievery, violence, STDs, injustices and poverty would all increase if the very foundations of the world’s major religions were destroyed without a better system in place to replace these religions.

 

 

And then people in charge start adding more rules. And it becomes more expensive. And a more complex bureaucracy/government/college. And religion changes from being some simple rules in life to be a political entity in which people just don't ask difficult questions. And living a good life isn't good enough anymore. You now must actively support the religion, rather than those simple rules.

 

The major problem that we have today is probably religious extremism to the point where people have chosen and made the decision to intentionally kill people, particularly those outside their faith, in order to protect their very own belief system which they consider very dear and sacred. Those questions, that people don’t ask, philosophical questions I presume you mean aren’t so popular nowadays among our youths because they never really go anywhere. I mean you can debate a variety of things but in the end people are just going to have to agree to disagree, everyone always sticks to the same stance at the end of debates and this just wastes time and doesn’t lead anyone anywhere. I am only posting this to express my own views however I am not trying to persuade anyone anything.

 

Religion is harmful from the perspectives of knowledge, of morality, and of unity. It robs people of the initiative to search for answers, by suggesting that they should turn toward their religious authority for them. From a scientific perspective, it means less people are trying to find out how things like weather, biological growth, the origin of life, medicine, etc. happened because they already "know" the answer is that God is in charge of that. This leads to reduced education in the sciences, and perhaps also to dangerously misinformed decisions, such as the use of prayer as a substitute for trying to solve difficult problems.

 

Science has lead humanity to some great feats, particularly within the last century; it has significantly improved human life, our quality of living as well as increased our understanding of a lot of things in the world around us. I would argue that most people (practically the entire global human population) would agree on this too, even religious people from a variety of faiths. I would also contend that religious people are not blind to the achievements made by science and at the same time I’m not saying that you’re implying this too. In fact, many religious people often claim that science is on their side, that it’s compatible with their religion (e.g. Islam, Buddhism etc) and if I remember correctly even physics had it’s roots back with Christianity but somehow with time it leapt free and the two became separated. I haven’t really looked at the science in religion, so it could be that science is being corrupted by religion but I think the fact that people are trying to mix the two together shows that religious people seem to want to think more rationally about their faith but this comes with a compromise and arguably a grey area on both sides. Furthermore, it’s not like religious people are incapable of rational thought, there are many scientists and doctors who have strong religious views, some in fact to the point of undertaking extreme religious actions which many would call terrorism.

 

From a moral perspective, it means people never question why they accept the morality that they do because they believe the answer was given to them by a god and who are they to question that. This leads to childlike moral systems harmful to society and sometimes also to the individual in question and their family, because the religious morality is based on societies that no longer exist. Specific examples are opposition to abortion which results in unwanted children which statistically are more likely to be poor, poorly educated, and criminal; this directly harms society and has no benefit for anyone. Another example is the expectation that people stay virgin until their wedding, which may have been reasonable when marriages happened in the teens and there was no birth control, but now result in shame, hasty weddings, and much suffering and frustration. This of course is a major problem of authoritarian morality - because the morality is handed down as specific rules, it cannot be adapted to changing circumstances. Because people are expected to accept the specific rules, they don't learn to deduce the moral rules for themselves as needed given the circumstances, and so are lost when new circumstances allow for moral decisions that the ancient rules haven't accounted for (eg IVF, cloning, genetic engineering, contraceptives) or the circumstances change.

 

I agree, religion is pretty inflexible and rigid and will probably never adapt properly due to changing conditions. I think this will become an increasingly serious problem for many as we head into the future and is something we need to seriously watch out for so that society’s way of living does not adapt to the extent as to further exclude religious people from participating in various activities that would go against their religion or way of life (e.g. think about the Amish) as this would just cause more segregation and segregation is not good within a society.

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The basic point of Ludwig Wittgenstein's philosophy was that we should resist making the assumption that everywhere we can imagine a question that means there must be an answer. Just because you have a number line where you can always say which of two numbers is greater than the other does not mean that there is a greatest number, even though posing the question seems to flow naturally from what it makes sense to do on the small scale on the number line. In the same way, just because most macroscopic events on Earth can be described in terms of the cause-and-effect relationship doesn't mean that the whole of reality must have a cause.

 

Religion makes the mistake which mathematicians have learned not to make, since it is largely based on the assumption that every problem that can be formulated must also have a determinate answer. Many formulatable questions (e.g., Goldbach's Conjecture) don't have an answer, and any system sufficiently complex might be unable to prove its own consistency (Goedel), even though we are tempted to enquire about its consistency.

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In other words; yes but not for the right reasons.

It was more of a 'no.' There is an inverse correlation between societal health and religiosity of a nation. Since the more secular nations are more societally healthy, we can say that religion does not make the world a better place.

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It was more of a 'no.' There is an inverse correlation between societal health and religiosity of a nation. Since the more secular nations are more societally healthy, we can say that religion does not make the world a better place.

 

Can we really? I'm pretty sure that poverty increases both religiosity and social health problems, which would complicate linking religiosity causally to the social health problems.

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Can we really? I'm pretty sure that poverty increases both religiosity and social health problems, which would complicate linking religiosity causally to the social health problems.

If religiosity made the world a better place, would it not offset the effect of poverty on societal health problems in religious countries? I didn't say that religiosity caused societal health problems; I said the correlation needed for religiosity to make the world a better place does not exist.

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And then people in charge start adding more rules. And it becomes more expensive. And a more complex bureaucracy/government/college. And religion changes from being some simple rules in life to be a political entity in which people just don't ask difficult questions. And living a good life isn't good enough anymore. You now must actively support the religion, rather than those simple rules.

The major problem that we have today is probably religious extremism to the point where people have chosen and made the decision to intentionally kill people, particularly those outside their faith, in order to protect their very own belief system which they consider very dear and sacred. Those questions, that people don’t ask, philosophical questions I presume you mean aren’t so popular nowadays among our youths because they never really go anywhere. I mean you can debate a variety of things but in the end people are just going to have to agree to disagree, everyone always sticks to the same stance at the end of debates and this just wastes time and doesn’t lead anyone anywhere. I am only posting this to express my own views however I am not trying to persuade anyone anything.

 

I am glad that you include "our youths" as well as the religious extremism, which is often thought to exist only far far away.

 

The thing is: we're often just as blind about our own society as religious extremists. Most people in free democratic countries fail to question their system. In some cases it's even considered unpatriotic. I'm not saying that the system itself is bad. It's probably the best in the world (that's my opinion). But that doesn't mean that you have to accept everything just like that. It can only be so free and good if people keep asking questions... and I really think that it's become less popular to be very critical about our own societies - and that automatically makes it a bit more fundamentalist/extremist.

 

If a society is based on some rules that make sense, then asking questions cannot harm it. In other words: you can challenge those 10 commandments all you want. It's easy to defend those, because they make sense.

 

If you challenge the establishment (those in power) you will get yourself into trouble... because of blasphemy, unpatriotic behavior, etc.

Edited by CaptainPanic
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The optimal way to maximize human happiness would be to adopt a positivistic approach and do everything rationally possible to increase the sum total of pleasures and diminish the sum total of pains. Pleasures and pains would have to be measured in utilitarian terms, in terms of actual good and bad sensations experienced by real humans. We would also have to measure higher and lower quality of sensations as well as intensity of lower quality sensations, which would unavoidably start to inject some value considerations, but the general positivist-utilitarian approach should be preserved as much as possible.

 

Unfortunately, the very design of religion is anti-positivist and anti-utilitarian, since it attaches values to non-human, non-existent things, and limits real human happiness for the sake of the pleasures or pains imagined to inhere in made-up entities like gods. This forces any religious society to start deliberately diminishing human happiness to accommodate the mysterious demands of some sacredness which is itself not human and which itself can feel nothing, so this creates a drain on the total happiness available in the system.

 

Making this worse is the fact that religions often assert their power over people by pretending they can withhold from them some basic human need, which they then distribute only if the artificial rules of the priesthood are complied with. 'You can have sex, but only in marriage.' 'You can eat, but only hallal or kosher food.' 'You can take nourishment, but only according to the fasting regulations.'

 

So instead of a world where everyone eats what they want and people have sex whenever they like, we have a world where Indians starve since they cannot eat sacred cows and where there is an enormous shortage of sexual happiness so as not to offend a non-existent god.

 

If I were suddenly to announce that my shoes were god and could never be touched by anyone else without sacrilege, imagine the unnecessary misery I could create in the subway!

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