philoreaderguy wrote:I recently was told by someone that religion is a good thing even if it is false. He said that it's good because it brings people together and teaches morality. Is this true? Is religion good for people even if it isn't false?
I believe that religion can play an extremely important role in the development of a given society--and it can certainly be one of the more effective social glues that hold a society together.
Like other forms of social tradition... religious tenents are generally based on things that work. Even when they don't "work" from our perspective, they still tend to be something that allows the community to move forward successfully.
For example, I recall reading about a culture where the religion involved a series of complex festivals and various rituals that determined when the planting and harvest and so forth began... Scientists decided that these superstitious rituals were hurting the harvests, because the farmers weren't planting early enough... so they convinced the farmers to plant early, and the results were disastrous. I can't remember what cause the disaster, but it was related to the season. The festivals served to prevent the farmers from doing exactly what the scientists were foolish enough to try doing. And the religious fervor behind the beliefs ensured that the harvests had been highly successful for many many generations.
Another example is the sacred cow in India. This religious belief also serves a purpose. It prevents the poor people from killing the cows and eating them. Killing the cows would provide meat for a few meals, but the cows provide milk day after day, which can be turned into cheese and so forth. This is such a vital part of the poor people's diet that if they killed the cows they would starve. Making the cow sacred prevented anyone from killing the cows to satisfy their more immediate hunger and thus placing the whole society in jeopardy.
Most religious tenets, (particularly the universal ones which are shared by virtually all religions) are essentially natural laws... they define how things need to be if a society is going to survive.
All religions hold that it is wrong for a member of the community to kill another member of the community. Killing outsiders may be acceptable--in fact historically that has been the norm--but killing members of your own group has always been an exceedingly grave sin.
This is easy to understand. If murder had no repercussions, you would have to worry about your neighbor killing you all the time. You wouldn't be able to focus your time and efforts on sleeping, working and doing the other things that allow you to thrive as oppose to simply surviving. For much the same reason, lying is a universal sin.
Another area where religion has been very important is when it comes to waging war. People who are angry and emotionally aroused towards someone find it much easier to kill such an enemy. That is why the leaders always try to convince their soldiers that God is on their side. It doesn't matter if you're an aggressor, or simply defending yourself. Few people are willing to fight as hard as those who think they're doing it at God's will. (Suicide bombers are a good example... they believe they are dying for Allah.)
Religions always promote the interests of society as a whole--else that society or that religion won't survive for long. But this doesn't always mean that the religion also serves the best interests of the individuals in that society. For instance, Islam is often extremely oppressive towards women. Yet many Islamic women bow to their servitude with a fervor that is frightening. Many are proud to sacrifice their children as suicide bombers, for instance.
In India, their religious system of castes served to oppress the poor, because it told the poor not to fight their lot. They would be rewarded in the next life--not this one. This made it easier for their conquerors to rule.
And again, many cultures have distinct characteristics that are tied directly to their social traditions and religious attitudes. Many cultures produced a superabundance of art, music, inventions and so forth. Jewish people are stereotyped for their strong business sense, and so forth.
The Islamic culture is a fairly large portion of the world population, but if you look at the number of patents, works of art, inventions, great literary works (that aren't religious in nature) and so forth... the Islamic culture has produced such a small percentage compared to the rest of the world that it is amazing.
I believe this is a clear case of a religious system that is very effective at promoting what is good for it's society as a whole--but equally bad at promoting what is good for its members as individuals.
So religion isn't necessarily good simply because it is religion. But I do believe that religion plays a powerful role in any society's development, in a way that people who are atheists simply cannot duplicate. Atheists often claim that they operate under a high moral code--but when push comes to shove, there's nothing like the fear of going to hell to make someone not tell that lie that they know no one else will ever know about.
And again, most religious practices have some practical purpose. The prohibition against contraceptives and homosexual behavior, ensures that citizens will reproduce--which even in today's world is still very important.
In America, Planned Parenthood has aborted several millions of babies since Roe vs. Wade... And if you took all of those babies, who would now be adults, and many having babies of their own, and the problems that we're having with the collapse of social security would not be anywhere near as significant a problem.
But we've created a serious financial problem because we've been aborting our babies and thus reducing our population by millions what it would otherwise have been.
Just as with the religious festivals that timed the planting and harvest--the prohibition against contraceptives and homosexuality would have served a purpose. And by abandoning those principles we have placed ourselves in jeopardy.
Similarly, Americans had a (largely religious based) attitude that said you worked hard for your pay... you didn't take anything that you didn't earn... and you used your money to help others in need... But years of handouts from the government have eroded that CAN DO attitude in many Americans and we often wonder why we should bother to donate to charity when the government takes so much from us and gives it to people already. Again, these are "experimental" social changes--closely tied to our religious beliefs, that have largely destroyed the greatness that was once America.