October 23, 2005

Does Religion Matter Any More?

Cyberkitten has a post called the Grand Illusion in which she says:
"I fear that humanity is innately too irrational to shake off the idea of God and I fear that it will be the end of us. We are a clever species but we are also an incredibly stupid one. We have developed the knowledge and reason to develop nuclear weapons yet we have retained the irrationality to use them against people who don’t believe as we do. I am coming to the opinion that belief in God is a Grand illusion – a Grand Delusion – that as a species we would be better off without."
Ok, it is the argument that the world would be better off without religion. She is not the first person to voice this point of view but I am not sure that agree with it. In the comments I provided a very simplistic response.
"We could make an argument that religion is one of the worst things ever to happen to man and we could make the same argument that it is one of the best. All depends on your perspective."
To which she said

"Really...? I'd like to hear the argument that it's one of the best things to happen to us...

I tend to look at things quite simply. One of the things I ask is: Is this true? Other things I ask are: Is this useful? Is this harmful?

I'm afraid IMO that religion doesn't come out well when you ask these kind of questions. Actually religion doesn't do very well when you ask ANY questions. The more questions you ask the worse it gets.

That's a major reason why I just can't accept religion as part of my life. It would mean I'd have to stop asking awkward questions."
The purpose of this post is not to proselytize, it is to think so I am not going to focus too much on one specific religion. However I would be negligent not to mention that Judaism requires thought and discussion on what she calls the awkward questions. I am curious to hear your perspective here.

Is religion an anachronism or is it something that is still relevant?


Jewish Atheist said...

I think you have to split up religion to understand its complete influence. Like the force ;) there is a dark side and a light side.

The light:

It can provide a sense of meaning.
It can give focus.
It can inspire self-discipline.
It can inspire morality and selflessness.
It can serve as a glue for community.

The dark:

Almost every religion has large swaths of followers who favor dogma over compassion and reason.

It can inspire closed-mindedness -- book burnings, the shutting out of the outside world, the refusal to accept facts which contradict the dogma. While virtually every scientist agrees that the Universe is billions of years old, many religious people believe that the true age is in the thousands! Quite a difference of "opinion." Jehovah's Witnesses don't accept blood transfusions, even for their children. Some yeshivas don't allow secular books or magazines. Lakewood is banning the whole internet.

It can inspire or make worse war and violence. The crusades, the Muslim terrorists, doctor-killing anti-abortionists, gay bashers, Kashmir, Israel & Palestine, Catholics vs. Protestants, Muslim fanatics vs. women who have pre-marital sex, hasidim who stone cars on Shabbat, etc. Most proponents of war in all Western countries are among the most religious of their citizens.

It can cause much harm to those who don't fit in with the religion of their society. Gays, atheists, people of different religions or even flavors of the same religion, are ostracized.

The question is how can we get the good without the bad? I think humanism is a good solution, but it's hard to compete with the power of dogma. Dogma beats nuance pretty handily without some serious effort at education.

Irina Tsukerman said...

If anything, religion is useful precisely because it provokes arguments and discussion about its usefulness. What makes you think in any way is already relevant.

Jewish Blogmeister said...

Well Karl Marx called religion the opium of the masses. Is religion relevant? Certainly those that have some belief say in an afterlife, have some reason in this life to behave themselves. If you hoenstly didn't believe that then what keeps you in line? Just an example...

rabbi neil fleischmann said...

I recommend this relevant recent article:


Jack's Shack said...


Good points and thoughts. What would you like to see happen?


Agreed that it is good to drive questions, but wouldn't people ask them without religion?


I don't think that you need religion to be good. It makes sense to be a good person because it promotes others to act as you do and in theory there might be enough to make an improvement in the world.

Rav F,

Interesting article, things to think about.

jaime said...

JA..very well said.

Jewish Atheist said...

Good points and thoughts. What would you like to see happen?

I think the most important things are education and exposure to people of diverse background. When people have a well-rounded education, regardless of background, they tend (with exceptions of coure) to be less dogmatic. Similarly, when people have a lot of exposure to people of other races, cultures, and religions, they tend to be more tolerant.

I think you'll find that the least tolerant and most dogmatic societies everywhere severely limit their children's education, either in scope (sacred texts only) or amount, and aggressively segregate themselves from others.

Jewish Atheist said...

(Thanks, jaime and jack's shack.)

Stacey said...

Jewish Atheist: I believe you are right on the money with your replies.

Jewish Blogmeister said:

"Certainly those that have some belief say in an afterlife, have some reason in this life to behave themselves. If you hoenstly didn't believe that then what keeps you in line?"

Personally, I find it disturbing that people need religion to keep themselves behaving.

I have no belief in an afterlife (or a before-life).

I behave because I belong to the human race and I believe I owe it to humanity, not because I am hoping for everlasting rewards or fear everlasting punishment.

Jack's Shack said...

I think that isolationism is very dangerous. It is very important to be exposed to different people and thoughts.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

I would tackle this issue by pulling together a couple of the earlier remarks.

First, I agree with you, Jack: my faith, like yours, requires thought and discussion on the "awkward" questions.

Second, I would like to build on jewish atheist's mention of the dark side and the light side.

By thinking and asking the difficult questions, we encourage development of the "light side" and minimize the "dark side".

Unreasoning religion is definitely a social evil. But thoughtful religion has at least the potential to be a force for good.

Irina Tsukerman said...

Not the types of questions that rituals and organized sort of morality raise.

chosha said...

I think religion is still relevent, but perhaps more to individuals rather than whole societies. I think that's good because I believe in the separation of church and state. I'm not saying there are no societies shaped by religion in an official sense, but rather that the trend is that societies are moving away from that.

Religion is certainly relevent in my life. I know that I would not be a member of my religion if I didn't find it valuable for my life right now (not just after this life).

Alice said...

Old question. Same old answers apply. Where you find humans, you find the same flaws of human character, weakness, what have you. Just another way of saying that there are religious jerks and nonreligious jerks. Maybe this person is wondering whether or not there are more religious jerks than nonreligious jerks. Personally, I don't think so.

Systems of government that involve and/flow from religious notions produce some degree of dysfunctional, hypocritical mayhem. But then again so do systems of government that discard religion all together- some forms of socialism and communism.

Coming at it from a different angle, if one believes a religion to be the Truth, capital 'T', as in true for everyone whether they believe it or not, then the question is really kind of irrelevant. The problem might be that people aren't adequately adhering to the tenants of the religion. Or it's simply just the way the world is, regardless, i.e. it's the divine design that all of this stuff that we find depressing exist.

If one rejects religion, all of them, because they feel that it has made the world a worse place, then that person must decide from whence they will find their morals. Are they going to embrace a subjectivist approach? A pragmatist approach? What will they do when their moral system clashes with that of another? What evidence do they use to decide which morals 'work'? How would they even define 'work'?

Jack's Shack said...


I agree with you on all points. Critical thought is of paramount importance.


Thanks, I appreciate your comments.


I think that the trick would be identifying those things.