Religion: what good is it?

I have just viewed the video series “Why do People Laugh at Creationists” by Thunderf00t.  It is an excellent series and I highly recommend it if you find the time.  In this series, Thunderfoot pokes fun at those who promote “intelligent design”.  The series is very artfully done and includes lots of skillful effects, making it quite entertaining.  His creationist enemies come off looking like a bunch of clueless morons who lack not only the most elementary knowledge of science, but also any sound ethics.  Thunderfoot targets not only Christian fundamentalists, but also Muslims and, to a much lesser extent, Jews.
All this is good and well, and his points are well taken.  He has done humanity a great service through the production of these videos.  But the question remains: is there a legitimate function for organized religion in modern society?  More to the point, does society at large benefit from the fact that so many of its members believe in the Bible or the Quran?
A while ago, I posted about an extraordinary book called “The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”.  An underlying theme of Julian Jayne’s theory is that the development of consciousness represents a weaning of the human race.  It was (assuming the theory is correct) a weaning from a state where decisions were made for us to a state where we had to make our own decisions.  In a sense, this transformation was an essential stage in the maturity of the human race.  Just as a child must reach a point where he no longer depends upon his parents to guide his every move, but must ponder his own decisions and fate – so too does humanity stand at the very same crossroads.
This transformation has been progressing for many centuries.  It has not been a smooth one.  Rather, there have been many instances of regression.  It is easier to be a child than to be an adult and many people would prefer that divine voices tell them what to do rather than accept the responsibility themselves.  This ongoing process of growing up, like the transformation from bicameralism to “Jaynesian consciousness” before it, does not take place at one universal rate throughout the world.  Rather, some races/ethnicities seem to mature quicker than others.
Many (mostly on the “left”) love to point out how blacks tend to be more spiritual and more religious.  Of the various explanations given for this phenomenon, one is conspicuously missing: blacks need the crutch of religion more to maintain the rudiments of a civil society.  Perhaps, deep in their hearts, they know this; I suspect that some have even said so publicly.  To be fair, many whites also need this crutch.  As a society, we should ask: Are we better off that many NAM’s have some sort of religious faith or are we worse off?  With the exception of radical Islam, I think the answer is clear that we are better off.  Religion can often tame the beast; it can make a positive difference in the lives of many people.  We all benefit from this indirectly.
Religion is a complex institution.  Each flavor can be interpreted in myriad ways.  We can view it as a tool for personal advancement (and hopefully, “advancement” means positive growth and not blowing people up).  I am not sure that there are lessons to be learned from religion that cannot be learned without it – but this does not negate the fact that many people find this easier if religion is their vehicle.
There are atheists who are moral people.  My brother is a good example; he cares deeply about his fellow human beings, strives to be a good citizen and supports his family.  Yet he has no expectation of any sort of eternal reward for his efforts.  He does what he does because he believes it is right.  I am not claiming that all card-carrying atheists are this way, only that those who are have reached a threshold in their maturity where they can stand on their own morally.  They represent, in my view, the next stage in our Jaynesian evolution.  It would be interesting to know what percentage of these “conscientious atheists” are white.  My guess is almost all of them – with a sprinkling of Asians.
As siblings grow up, some take longer to throw away their pacifiers, while others are quicker.  A good parent or sibling would not ridicule a slow child for his pace in growing up; he would have patience and continue to love the child.  So too should we view those who cling to organized religion as their crutch.  If they need it, and if it makes them better people, then we should support them and be kind toward them.  We should not take pleasure in bursting the bubbles of their faith just for fun.  I would condemn any individual who marched into a Mennonite school with the intention of sabotaging the religious instruction of the children.  The Mennonites enjoy an overall healthy and cohesive community.  What good would come of destroying it?  Ultimately, those children will grow up and be able to make their own decisions.
Organized religion can have another function: To maintain the identity of an ethnic group.  Obviously, without Judaism, there would be no Jews.  Hence, organized religion can play a pivotal role in defending one’s genetic interests – though we would be hard-pressed to find any adherent who would cite this as the reason he is a believer.  Yet even the believers would surely agree that, for a people in exile, there is no future without some sort of cohesive force – and religion is the best such force anybody has been able to come up with.
When organized religion poses a danger to our society by overstepping its bounds (within the context of our modern world), then we need to fight them tooth and nail.  This is when we must expose their fallacies – and this is exactly what Thunderf00t does.

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5 Responses to Religion: what good is it?

  1. FrankBD says:

    I’m not religious, but one of the positive aspects of churches (used generically) is to provide a form of social organization for people excluded from others. For example, the election of a Polish Pope provided a focal point that eventually to the end of communism in Europe.
    The black church is the focal point of the African-American community, in ways that are not necessarily religious. I wouldn’t count it as either a good or bad thing, and wouldn’t necessarily analogize the role it plays for them to the role churches, synagogues or mosques play for whites.

  2. Gay State Girl says:

    Religious centers provide a sense of community and brings people of different age groups under the same roof. In the case of the black community, it provides a sense of traditional values and morality to younger generations of blacks who otherwise would not be exposed.

  3. ski says:

    You’ve made a lot of interesting points worth addressing.
    First off, I’ll agree that religion is very good for Blacks. I’ve lived spent a lot of time around Blacks; grown up with them as friends and foes; and from this noticed that the ones who are most successful, especially those who aren’t above average intelligence (i.e. far below the White average), are usually highly religious. There’s a certain type of Black- constantly quoting scripture, constantly thanking God for every good thing, constantly talking about Jesus… and also not the sharpest knife in the drawer. They strike one as superstitious and childlike but they stay out of trouble for the most part, at least compared to non-religious average (or below) Blacks.
    As regarding religious Whites (or Asians or above average intelligence Blacks etc.) I don’t believel that they should also all ditch religion. I’ll admit to my own biases– that I’m personally a non-religious (in the conventional sense) theist, who’s very strongly Christian influenced, yet decidedly non-Christian. I see belief in God, whether conventional or not, as very useful for many intelligent people, not just a silly superstition. I think William James got it right in general that some people are naturally inclined towards spirituality while others simply don’t have the temperament for it. Both have a place in this world IMO, and if anything I think the God believers are more “advanced” (though obviously I’m biased).
    Science, philosophy, mathematics, and things like art, literature, etc. have always been intimately connected with religion and/or mysticism, spirituality etc. This connection is very complex and far from fully understood, so in my view it’s premature to conclude that atheism represents the future of all things cultured, logical and scientific. Perhaps it will at some point be shown that this is the case, but that case has yet to be proven or even close to adequately supported. The simple view of religion, or even any sort of spiritual mentality as nothing but a crutch is sophomoric.
    Lastly, “creationism” is silly indeed, but creationism is not the sum total of ID or anti-Darwinism. This is a complex issue, but in short: evolution by natural selection is not a sufficient explanation for how life forms have come to exist as they are today. It’s a better theory than that the Earth was created in six days, but it’s still insufficient and is IMO better classified as dogma (as it stands now) than science. Some of the better ID theories I would consider to be decent tentative hypotheses without sufficient evidence. I would put Darwinism in the same category but for the fact that it is now the dominant paradigm and claimed (falsely) to be as well tested as theories or gravity or the heliocentric theory of astronomy.
    Right now, the best position is that evolution by natural selection is an extremely well supported theory that explain most inter-species evolution (micro-evolution) very well, but that it is insufficient to explain the genesis of new species. Regarding the genesis of new species, we simply do not have any sufficient scientific explanation.

  4. Kinderling says:

    Hi Jewamongyou,
    When organized religion poses a danger to our society by overstepping its bounds…
    All religions overstep their bounds. Their history is repleat with persecution and being persecuted.
    “I would condemn any individual who marched into a Mennonite school with the intention of sabotaging the religious instruction of the children.”
    A little enlightenment at the start saves everyone the hassle of spending years having to dehypnotise and become the hated and outcast apostate.

  5. fred says:

    People are religious not because the beliefs are necessarily right but because religion provides a value. So how does one reconcile the value one receives from religion with the incorrect beliefs espoused?

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