Is Religion Good?

Yes, no…sometimes

The New Oxonian

You can vote on the question today at the Center for Inquiry website. That’s right, the people who offered you Blasphemy day and the Cartoon Cavalcade and the Campaign for Free Expression now want you to “take” a quiz! It’s simple: don’t do any research. Go with your gut:

On balance, is religion beneficial for humanity?

* Yes, definitely.
* Yes, probably.
* Probably not.
* Definitely not.
* Don’t know/can’t answer

I avoid such surveys because like this one they are usually loaded dice, like the ones we will be treated to by CNN or MSNBC this week asking whether we think Christine O’Donnell is a good witch or a bad witch.

They create the illusion that Big Media care about what you think, when they don’t, or that you have something interesting to contribute to a controversial topic, when you haven’t.

As I read this little MCQ I…

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One thought on “Is Religion Good?

  1. People who blame religion have the problem of an incoherent argument.
    1) They generally believe that God does not exist.
    2) In which case religion is just another institution among many, created by people and run by people.
    3) Should the institution be defective in some way it can then only be that people create defective institutions.
    4) So people are responsible for the so-called wrongs of religion.
    5) But there is nothing surprising about that. People create defective institutions all the time. History is the long story of wrongs committed by people in every kind of institution known to man. We have had a long succession of defective monarchies and autocracies, not to mention defective democracies. We hardly have to scratch the surface to find corrupt police forces, corrupt judiciaries and corrupt legislatures. We even have corrupt bus drivers! Democrats and Republicans spend their life proclaiming the defective practices of their adversaries. Our free enterprise system is going spectacularly wrong and our financial system unashamedly preys on the weak.
    6) Every single one of these wrongs is essentially a moral failure by individuals.
    7) So the problem is not about God at all.

    The heart of the problem is that we look for structural remedies for problems that are essentially moral in nature. For example, we try to curb the activities of the rapacious boss by introducing more stringent labour legislation. Or we try to curb his financial finagling with better oversight mechanisms. Unfortunately, structural remedies cannot cure amoral behaviour for the simple reason that amoral people are capable of subverting any structural solution that we devise. In my example, the rapacious boss employs lobbyists to weaken the legislation with many loopholes. Or he chooses compliant auditors so that he can get away with his financial finagling.

    The answer is to go to the core of the problem and promote moral behaviour so that structural remedies have a decent chance of working. Structural solutions require moral cooperation. This is why we have religion, to promote moral behaviour. Religion is the primary source of moral priming in society. When we weaken religion we weaken moral priming in society. When we weaken moral priming we enable people to become corrupt, rapacious, exploitative, decadent, narcissistic, self serving and criminal. These people then pervert whatever structural solutions we put in place. Moral priming is necessary because Internal controls on behaviour are always more effective than external controls on behaviour. Whenever we are subjected to external controls we seldom respect them and we look for ways to subvert them. We exercise great ingenuity in rationalizing this.

    In that case, you might ask, why do we need God at all, can’t we have religion free of God? That is because moral behaviour is always an exercise in restraint. Denial of immediate interests in favour of some larger good requires an internal motivation powerful enough to overcome immediate desires. Belief in God supplies the warrant, the motivation for such moral behaviour. Religion relies on this warrant to make its moral priming more effective.

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