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 How do we make religion irrelevant?
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Bob Lloyd
Skeptic Friend

Spain
59 Posts

Posted - 10/24/2010 :  07:28:56  Show Profile  Visit Bob Lloyd's Homepage Send Bob Lloyd a Private Message  Reply with Quote
It's popular amongst skeptics to regard religion as just plain irrational. In the absence of any evidence, believing this stuff is simply daft. We can acknowledge that people get psychological solace from their beliefs but we sort of pity them for being deluded.

The problem with this approach is that it doesn't adequately come to terms with the origin of religion and its social and historical role. We can decry the religious for being irrational or na´ve, which is almost always interpreted as a personal insult or attack, and we can criticise the objectionable behaviour of religious institutions. But that always seems to side-step the historical and social roots.

Treating religion as a personal irrationality, an individual delusion, a mistaken or unfounded individual belief, makes the problem of religion one of personal psychology. But ideas are rooted in material reality not the other way round. We develop and hold certain beliefs about the world because of our material experience of it. We inherit beliefs and values from those who pass them on to us through social organisations such as families, schools, and workplaces and we develop new ideas and values within specific social contexts.

The main ideas of any age are transmitted to us and we should think about why religious ideas appear have a particular social relevance at particular times. As a form of ideology, religion performs certain social functions and unless we understand how it works on that level, it won't ever be undermined. For example, what is the political effect of religion postponing reward and making suffering acceptable?

All of which makes the opposition to religion a political process, rather than simply challenging the irrationality of it. The approach taken by Dawkins, Harris, Dennett et al, focussing on the irrationality of religion, does not get to the root of the problem which is the political role of religious ideology. Unless we address the social origin of religion, we won't see why religion arises and the social and political role it plays. We might persuade a few people to become atheists but we won't undermine the process by which religions propagate their beliefs.

So the questions seem to be, how do we make religion itself irrelevant, rather than simply labelling the religious as irrational? And is that even possible?

filthy
SFN Die Hard

USA
14408 Posts

Posted - 10/24/2010 :  08:08:07   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send filthy a Private Message  Reply with Quote
We don't; it's not possible. Now and historically, there's always been too much money (goats, camels, pomegranates, whatever might pass for coin of the realm; concubines maybe) in it, and people are easily influenced by fancy dress and the gift of gab.

But to briefly play the devil's advocate, religion was a valuable factor in binding societies together into cohesive units, to their benefit, mostly anyway. [/devil's advocate]

But today, it is only relevant in the minds of the believers and the politicians who pander to them, and they, in all of their various sects/cults, are cohesive units even though many of them despise each other almost as much as they loath atheists and others who are not Peoples of the[ir] Book.

The faithful will ever follow false prophets; they must, as there are no real ones.




"What luck for rulers that men do not think." -- Adolf Hitler (1889 - 1945)

"If only we could impeach on the basis of criminal stupidity, 90% of the Rethuglicans and half of the Democrats would be thrown out of office." ~~ P.Z. Myres


"The default position of human nature is to punch the other guy in the face and take his stuff." ~~ Dude

Brother Boot Knife of Warm Humanitarianism,

and Crypto-Communist!

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Bob Lloyd
Skeptic Friend

Spain
59 Posts

Posted - 10/24/2010 :  08:50:48   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Bob Lloyd's Homepage Send Bob Lloyd a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by filthy

We don't; it's not possible. Now and historically, there's always been too much money (goats, camels, pomegranates, whatever might pass for coin of the realm; concubines maybe) in it, and people are easily influenced by fancy dress and the gift of gab.


And yet in subsistence cultures, religions are strong too, so it's not just about too much wealth. I agree that it helped bind societies together, for example in codifying all the dietary and social customs in the early tribes of the middle east. It's also clear that the likes of Moses needed rules to be able to discipline his followers, witness the slaughter of thousands after he apparently found them worshipping graven idols.

These days, it's harder to see what religion provides in the form of social cohesion. It's much more about imposing a moral and political stance on society so it seems to be becoming much more overtly political than it was in the past. It's less about individual values and more about state institutions, laws, policies, etc.

And since religion exerts a strong influence on the law makers and the way institutions operate, it ends up being relevant to all of us. If the role of religion these days is overtly political, and it certainly seems that way, that's surely because the religious ideology embodies a particular political basis.

So an important target is the separation of church and state, for clear political reasons. My point really is that the engine of religion these days is less the faith and more the politics.
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26012 Posts

Posted - 10/24/2010 :  10:08:59   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Bob Lloyd

These days, it's harder to see what religion provides in the form of social cohesion.
It's the same thing that professional sports, racism and nationalism (for just a few examples) provide: tribalism. Even the Mac/PC/*nix computer "wars" provide this.

The "us vs. them" drive is so strong that even within a single group, there are disputes which lead to, say, fistfights between Yankees fans over Alex Rodriguez, to schisms between Episcopalians over homosexuality, or to "Blue Dog" Democrats.

Edited to add the word "fans" after "Yankees." Probably fairly confusing the way it was written.

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
Evidently, I rock!
Why not question something for a change?
Visit Dave's Psoriasis Info, too.
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filthy
SFN Die Hard

USA
14408 Posts

Posted - 10/24/2010 :  13:30:33   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send filthy a Private Message  Reply with Quote
PZ Myres:
Sunday Sacrilege: Cant can't
Category: Godlessness
Posted on: October 24, 2010 2:29 PM, by PZ Myers

Sophisticated is not a synonym for true.

Probably the most common dodge used by defenders of religion against atheist critics is the magic word "sophisticated," as in, "You only attack the crudest forms of religion, but avoid the more challenging, sophisticated forms of faith." It's an invalid defense in two ways: one, those crude forms of religion are the most common and the ones promoted by the rascals in power, so it's perfectly reasonable to address the most dangerous kinds of religion, especially since the theologians so rarely do so (although they seem to have plenty of time to attack atheism). Two, "sophistication" is a word that implies only an argument elaborately refined, not one that necessarily has the virtue of truth.

I would never deny that there are many smart people among the believers, some are incredibly brilliant and thoughtful scholars. Theology is also awesomely sophisticated and complex, and I think it's an indicator of the intelligence of the men (mostly) behind it that they have erected such a fantastically intricate collection of rationalizations for such deeply absurd ideas; Anselm and Aquinas, to name a few, were men of genius who applied the power of human reason to prop up archaic superstitions, and their intellectual craft, misapplied as it may be, was remarkable.

We should also recognize the historical fact of religion's influence on scholarship. If I'd been born a thousand years ago, I would have aspired to the priesthood myself; it was virtually the only outlet for men of the mind to apply themselves. Even up to about 500 years ago, it was almost the only option for the literate and bookish, and most of the smartest men in Western history made it to their position by virtue of the priesthood directly or indirectly, through a religious education. That, of course, has all changed now, and I suspect that we can credit the proliferation of third rate minds in religion to the fact that there are secular options now, and the really brilliant men and women of our time can pursue science and art while completely bypassing religion, and they're smarter to do that than to continue to posture for the follies of faith.

In short, the clergy speaks and the faithful listen. Fortunately, they lack the supreme power they once had and are trying, in vain, to reclaim. More and more polls show higher numbers of religiously unaffiliated people but even so religion will never be irrelevant. Too many people actually need it.




"What luck for rulers that men do not think." -- Adolf Hitler (1889 - 1945)

"If only we could impeach on the basis of criminal stupidity, 90% of the Rethuglicans and half of the Democrats would be thrown out of office." ~~ P.Z. Myres


"The default position of human nature is to punch the other guy in the face and take his stuff." ~~ Dude

Brother Boot Knife of Warm Humanitarianism,

and Crypto-Communist!

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The Rat
SFN Regular

Canada
1342 Posts

Posted - 10/24/2010 :  13:59:49   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit The Rat's Homepage Send The Rat a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I would be happy just getting rid of the priestly class which turned religion into what it is today. If someone wants to believe in a god or gods I don't really care.

Bailey's second law; There is no relationship between the three virtues of intelligence, education, and wisdom.

You fiend! Never have I encountered such corrupt and foul-minded perversity! Have you ever considered a career in the Church? - The Bishop of Bath and Wells, Blackadder II

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Dude
SFN Die Hard

USA
6891 Posts

Posted - 10/24/2010 :  18:04:24   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Dude a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Dave_W is probably right.

I do think it is possible to at least even out the imbalance between the religious and non religious though. A social movement headed by a charismatic leader might do the trick. Something like a campaign to end discrimination against atheists, with a strong and charismatic speaker at the lead. Turn non belief into a civil rights issue and defend it.

Or maybe something like the fake religious people admitting they are atheists. I always wonder how many politicians really believe the religious dreck they peddle and pander to. If a bunch of them just confess it would go a little way towards marginalizing the influence of religion on politics..... maybe.


Ignorance is preferable to error; and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong.
-- Thomas Jefferson

"god :: the last refuge of a man with no answers and no argument." - G. Carlin

Hope, n.
The handmaiden of desperation; the opiate of despair; the illegible signpost on the road to perdition. ~~ da filth
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filthy
SFN Die Hard

USA
14408 Posts

Posted - 10/25/2010 :  03:03:43   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send filthy a Private Message  Reply with Quote
A case in point:

A baby died when a family of 12 leapt from their second floor balcony in Paris claiming they were fleeing the devil.

Eight more were injured, some seriously, in the tragedy when they jumped 20ft into a car park in Paris suburb of La Verriere.

The baffling incident occurred when a wife woke to see her husband moving about naked in the room, police said.

She began screaming 'it's the devil! it's the devil!', and the man ran into the other room where 11 others adults and children were watching television. One woman grabbed a knife and stabbed the man before others pushed him out through the front door.

When the man forced his way back in, they all began screamed in terror and leapt from the balcony screaming 'Jesus! Jesus!'

With this sort of a mind-set infecting much of the public, religion will never irrelevant. It's sort of like worshiping an image of Jesus in a slops bucket, but with terror. It's the knee-jerk, religious irrationality that has been firmly imprinted upon us over many centuries and it will never change.




"What luck for rulers that men do not think." -- Adolf Hitler (1889 - 1945)

"If only we could impeach on the basis of criminal stupidity, 90% of the Rethuglicans and half of the Democrats would be thrown out of office." ~~ P.Z. Myres


"The default position of human nature is to punch the other guy in the face and take his stuff." ~~ Dude

Brother Boot Knife of Warm Humanitarianism,

and Crypto-Communist!

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Bob Lloyd
Skeptic Friend

Spain
59 Posts

Posted - 10/25/2010 :  11:28:09   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Bob Lloyd's Homepage Send Bob Lloyd a Private Message  Reply with Quote
The tribalism argument doesn't seem to me to hold water because there are very many cases of cooperative tribes. The competition between tribes seems to have more to do the distribution of resources rather than any innate sense of belonging to a tribe or clan. When competition increases, so does the sense of tribalism. It seems rather that religion is simply one of the forms of expressing that tribalism which itself is an expression of competitive pressures between communities.

To me that indicates that the converse is likely to be true: fairer distribution of resources would reduce the conflict between tribes competing for the resources and would reduce the need to express tribal traits. In our societies, the competition is very much within the tribes rather than between them based on the division between rich and poor and yet religions try to suppress that distinction. It's interesting how the tribal aspects of religion militates against the central message of treating everyone equally, loving thy neighbour, being generous, etc. Rich and poor are treated very differently within religious institutions and even the dogma seeks to preserve that distinction.

The role of theology is interesting because the way I see it, theologians are employed to reinterpret dogmas to make them socially relevant: they are professional spin doctors for religion, in a tacit acknowledgement that the religious message becomes anachronistic and irrelevant without a lot of massaging of the message. The defence of the faith is inextricably linked to defence of the institutions of religion which is where the social power lies. I think that's why the Vatican employs large numbers of political consultants, some of them doubling as cardinals.

I always find curious the argument that "people need religion" because that seems to me to be substituting the idea of religion for a whole group of psychological needs that most people have but which are provided socially. For example, a sense of belonging, of self-worth, social confidence, a source of hope, consolation when things go wrong, and so on. Those needs are real, but that isn't at all the same thing as saying they need religion. So maybe increasing the social sources of those things obviates the psychological justification for religion.

In any case, the "people need religion" argument often revolves around a kind of placebo effect. Because they get solace and psychological support, therefore it is assumed that religion is responsible for any beneficial effects. In reality, it's the social contact rather than the religion which does the good.


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Ebone4rock
SFN Regular

USA
894 Posts

Posted - 10/25/2010 :  11:53:28   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Ebone4rock a Private Message  Reply with Quote
originally posted by Bob Lloyd
In any case, the "people need religion" argument often revolves around a kind of placebo effect. Because they get solace and psychological support, therefore it is assumed that religion is responsible for any beneficial effects. In reality, it's the social contact rather than the religion which does the good.
(bolding mine)

Just within the last couple of months I read two different articles (for which I have been hunting for links but I am coming up empty..sorry) regarding this idea. One was about how those who attend church services regularly have longer life spans than those who don't. The author was quite clear in his assertion that it has more to do with the social contact that the churchgoers have than anything.

The other article was very similar but rather than the subject being religion it was Drinking .

Haole with heart, thats all I'll ever be. I'm not a part of the North Shore society. Stuck on the shoulder, that's where you'll find me. Digging for scraps with the kooks in line. -Offspring
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