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?
There are very abstract conceptions of God which are hard to get one's mental fingers around, such as the Hindu concept of Brahman which is almost an exact analog to theologian Paul Tillich's concept of God as The Ground of Being.
Feces provides nutrients to the plants we eat, it also harbors disease. Sunlight is very helpful but causes cancer.
Helpful in some cases does not make a thing admirable, just helpful in some cases.
Plus, while helpful are you so sure they are charitable? Are they not investments in an economy dealing with ethereal products? It seems sorta like giving a nutrient enriched sugar pill to a cancer victim.
One can make anything admirable, especially couched under the cloak of religion (just look at the pro-slavery arguments, for a start).
There comes a time for humanity to recognize we don't need a god for anything anymore - not even to "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." In general, many more of us live long enough lives now to realize and accept that the sky daddies, mommies, sisters, and brothers of the past simply don't exist outside of the minds that created and believed in them. Humans in the past may have needed to believe in these imaginary friends to cope with their shorter lives full of so many unanswered questions, but those times are long gone.
Sadly there are still MANY humans today that need their god to find solace. My dear Mom is one of those. I love her dearly despite her delusion.
As long as people claim faith for personal reasons such as I need God or I want God in my life, then I say, "Amen". But as soon as claim they know what God wants, needs, thinks, likes or does, then it's time to stand firm against delusion. I don't believe it is beneficial to coddle childishness in adults.
It's when people try to justify their faith that trouble develops. Such justification necessarily requires DENIAL: the suspension of disbelief. And denial always has ways to come back and bite us on the butt. Just turn on CNN, any time, and within half an hour you'll see ample evidence of this simple fact of life.
Faith as a subjective, personal, preference -- as long as it stays that way -- is benign. It makes no demands for recognition. It doesn't rationalize reason out of desire.
We don't beat up on "love thy neighbor". We don't hate things just because they're in the bible or believed by religious people. We beat up on things that need beating up. Religion definitely needs to be help up to critical scrutiny. If it makes people uncomfortable, that's good. It should. We can't rid the world of the ills of religion without shaking things up. Surely you don't think encouraging the status quo is the answer . . .
I'm not willing to take the good with the bad when it comes to religion. Sure, there are aspects of religion (a.k.a. community gatherings and social constructs) that I do appreciate. I like the idea of prayer (a.k.a. hoping and wishing). I like the idea of grace (ak.a. being thankful for the good things in your life). I like the idea of fasting (a.k.a. taking a short break from stuffing your face with food). They do "good" things with an agenda. That agenda ALWAYS is P.R. for their team, their ideals and the advancement of their continued hegemony.
Side note: "Atheists have a great deal to learn from religion?" We don't need religion to learn anything, the only thing I learned from religion was to stay away from it.
I think people confuse "religion" with "community". Why does religion get all the credit for encouraging charity, good deeds, and healthy social interaction (i.e. community)? And, really, what does religion have to do with inspiring travels, training minds, or getting people to appreciate beauty? In many ways, I could argue it deters those things (be content with what you have, submit to authority, don't doubt/question, have a narrow view of beauty/don't accept diversity).*btw, not suggesting people should NOT be content with what they have, but too much contentment means no innovation, invention, curiosity, or even travel.
I don't think "the error of modern atheism is to overlook..." anything; I think many of us have taken a step back and looked at the world quite broadly. We don't need religion to enjoy life or each others' company. What we need to do is learn how to do it successfully without religion, and that's the task for we're all problem-solving. If Mr. Kristof does not realize that a very large goal of most atheists is creating community, and that we're all rallying around this idea that we need each other, and that we need to have more in common than just a lack of belief in something... he's not paying attention at all! Not even a little. And I think he's discredited himself for failing to see how atheists care about art, music, humanity, civil rights, community, charity, etc etc etc... and we have ZERO need to include an imaginary friend.
We don't revere certain aspects of religion. "Community" is not solely an aspect of religion. We're reclaiming these concepts, not borrowing them. They did not originate with religion, and religion does not have a monopoly on them. What we revere is a quality of life everyone can share, not just those in our in-group.
"If Mr. Kristof does not realize that a very large goal of most atheists is creating community, and that we're all rallying around this idea that we need each other, and that we need to have more in common than just a lack of belief in something..."
I disagree. My main goal as an atheist, on the community level, is to gain acceptance and respect by my fellow citizens and not be looked at in a condescending way. That's all.
The idea of creating a sense of unity in one's community is admirable and certainly worthwhile. But I fail to see how it is something that should be on the agenda of atheists in particular. I have an appreciation for the arts and humanities as much as or more than my neighbor but I don't believe as an atheist it is something I should necessarily feel compelled to promote. Civil rights, the environment, pollution, etc are all issues that EVERYONE, irregardless of religious position, should feel a concern for.
Religion has meetings and meeting places. It has meeting rituals and regular congregations.
Religionists compete to be a good follower which usually involves doing things outside of their own needs and wants. So religion encourages (using peer pressure) to turn a person into a good person that benefits those around them.
Atheism is quite selfish. IT IS ALL ABOUT THE 'I', ego.
Religion is about surrender, release of ego.
Atheists have no faith
Faith is a powerful tool for giving purpose and context, and for distracting fear about the future.
There are so many reasons why religion should be admired. Yogis know that enlightenment can be achieved with or without religion but the religion-route is definitely the fast-track because surrender is so much easier with a religion.
North Koreans compete to be good as well - lest the tyrant that rules them have them publicly executed - is that beautiful or what?
Atheism is not about the 'I', it's about not submitting to authority based on fiction. Most religion is about surrender of intellect and reason - and claiming to have a personal relationship with the creator of the universe is about the most egotistical position I can imagine.
How, exactly, do you define enlightenment?