Today NY Times Op Ed columnist Nicholas B. Kristof wrote a column under the title Learning to Respect Religion, which begins with these provocative paragraphs (you're invited to read it in its entirety):

A FEW years ago, God seemed caught in a devil of a fight.

Atheists were firing thunderbolts suggesting that “religion poisons everything,” as Christopher Hitchens put it in the subtitle of his book, “God Is Not Great.” Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins also wrote best sellers that were scathing about God, whom Dawkins denounced as “arguably the most unpleasant character in fiction.”

Yet lately I’ve noticed a very different intellectual tide: grudging admiration for religion as an ethical and cohesive force.

The standard-bearer of this line of thinking — and a provocative text for Easter Sunday — is a new book, “Religion for Atheists,” by Alain de Botton. He argues that atheists have a great deal to learn from religion.

“One can be left cold by the doctrines of the Christian Trinity and the Buddhist Eightfold Path and yet at the same time be interested in the ways in which religions deliver sermons, promote morality, engender a spirit of community, make use of art and architecture, inspire travels, train minds and encourage gratitude at the beauty of spring,” de Botton writes.

“The error of modern atheism has been to overlook how many aspects of the faiths remain relevant even after their central tenets have been dismissed,” he adds, and his book displays an attitude toward religion that is sometimes — dare I say — reverential.

What are YOUR thoughts?

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The community building aspect of many contemporary Western faiths are admirable.  I stress Contemporary because the Church was historically an instrument of repression. It could be argued that Christianity adopted it's more positive tone as a result of losing its societal supremacy.  Even still - I say this as former Catholic - Western Religion is about thought control.

For Non-theists looking for the congregational quality of a Church, I recommend Unitarian/Universalist.  I was involved with UU on two separate occasions (each time for a couple of years).  Most of my fellow congregants were non-metaphysical.  I just couldn't stick with it.  Years ago, a live-in girlfriend & I would attend services as a couple: I have fond memories of that.

I'm an agnostic atheist (I'm open to evidence, but I see no evidence so far indicating a deity exists). Even so, I can't deny that along with the harm religion is responsible for causing, they do some good that atheists don't. Where is the Atheist General Hospital, for example? There was a time many years ago when I needed some counseling. I got it from a Lutheran Family Services agency, and they respected my wishes for non-religious assistance.

There is a far greater sense of community among the religious, which usually (not always) is good.

Some of the hardcore atheists almost seem obsessed. Obsession isn't a religion per se, but it can be an awfully good simulation.

I agree.  By definition, sharing a common religion means sharing - and socializing around - a common world view.  As such, they act in a consolidated manner.  Freethinkers - which my atheism arises from - think freely.  So, it is hard to get them to work together.

The tolerance of mainstream denominations was a development over time: this tolerance is the result of competition in the marketplace of ideas.  You mentioned your positive experience with Lutheran Family Services.  

Lutheranism was founder by Martin Luther.  Five years before his death, he wrote a book On The Jews & Their Lies: a thoroughly repellant Anti-Semitic screed.  It argues for burning synagogues, throwing Jews out of their homes & businesses, so on.  The book justified itself with Biblical references.  Christianity did not shun Luther: he was embraced by it.

My point?

The positive attributes of Christianity developed over a centuries.  Indeed, it does do good.  What concerns me is that the seed of intolerance lies dormant.  

That which makes Modern, Mainstream, Christianity a source of hospital & charities is group think.  Benign group think can turn into a mob mentality. 

Well said

I don't think that your statement encompasses the complexity of how the Christian religion has changed over the centuries.  

Even Luther was positive toward the Jews but later changed his tune.  The earlier Christians had real bad blood towards each other due to conflicting claims of authority.

So I agree with your point that the tolerance of religious diversity developed over time, as diversity was once labelled heresy.

But I disagree that the positive attributes of Christianity developed over centuries.  They seem to have a rollercoaster effect if anything.  Eusebius paints an unnecessarily rosy picture of early Christendom, but we do know that it was highly split on whether or not Christians were allowed to participate in military service, for instance.

As far as not calling heterodox doctrines heresies, there has been a clear progress.  However as far as positive attributes, I don't find it that simple.  Most of them are found in the most ancient of Christian sacred writings and early Christian texts.

"Where is the Atheist General Hospital, for example?"

In America, as of 1999, 13% of all hospitals were religious (totaling 18% of all hospital beds); that's 604 out of 4,573 hospitals.  Despite the presence of organized religion in America, the Church has managed to scrape together only a few hospitals. Of these 604 hospitals, many are a product of mergers with public, non-sectarian hospitals. Not all of these 604 hospitals are Catholic; many are Baptist, Methodist, Shriner (Masonic), Jewish, etc.

Despite the religious label, these so-called religious hospitals are more public than public hospitals. Religious hospitals get 36% of all their revenue from Medicare; public hospitals get only 27%. In addition to that 36% of public funding, they get 12% of their funding from Medicaid. Of the remaining 44% of funding, 31% comes from county appropriations, 30% comes from investments, and only 5% comes from charitable contributions (not necessarily religious). The percentage of Church funding for Church-run hospitals comes to a grand total of 0.0015 percent. 

Churches are business, the Vatican as an example started as a Corporation, a Real Estate holding company, and has been a business ever since. The fact they get the tax status they do is the result of their involvement in government since the time of Constantine.

I certainly don't admire religion, I am more of the opinion that religion as it is practiced by the majority of people on this planet poisons everything.

A sense of community is generally healthy for the social creatures we are, religion has never been necessary for people to come together and form communities who support and take care of each other. Community is admirable in and of itself, no religion is required.

it took a while, but realizing that religion wasn't responsible for the "good" people did was a huge step in becoming non-religious.. and so respecting, admiring "good deeds"(which is what should be admired) is a far cry from a fear induced respect... religions are the divine bullies of modern times.. and life is the school playground.. 

I know many Christians I could rely on for selfless assistance should I need it. Religion is wrong and responsible (more in the past than now) for some very bad sh*t, but simply because someone is wrong doesn't automatically make them evil.

We are strangely on the same wavelength.

Hmm Mumble mumble conclusion, but I don't really want to argue my point. I just want to make it and be done with it.

To the extent that there are any things to admire in religion, they are irrelvant to me, since all those things are already a part of my being just through common sense and empathy.  If some, or even most people need religion to be moral, ethical, compassionate, etc. that implies that without religion, these people would be a%%&*@^s, doesn’t it?  If that is the case, then religion deserves my grudging admiration for keeping them under control. 

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