Look at what L. Ron Hubbard did. People will line up to read the most obviously specious crap. I understand why Americans become Christian. They grow up with it and simply absorb it. But why in the world does someone decide to become a Scientologist. This is a religion whose innermost secrets are rather obviously the invention of a sci fi author. And guess who that might be?
I'm sure Scientology made LRH a bundle and right now I'd like to get off my Top Ramen and chili dog diet and ride around in a stretch limo with a champagne bar and a cadre of bodyguards and a bevy (whatever that is) of 20 year old porn actresses. That would be when I'm not in international waters in my 400 ft yacht.
To get there, I need to invent a religion even more outrageous than Scientology.
What should its core beliefs be? Is it possible to outdo LRH?
There's something that we as atheists are forced to acknowledge, even though it's inconvenient for our case, because it's true.
Religious morality has been instrumental in facilitating mass civilization, and in much of the world, it still is. This is because of the level of trust and cooperation between strangers that it makes possible. Personal morality and society morality - small scale and large scale - are two very different problems. In the modern West we have effective state institutions which police and enforce things like the rule of law and contracts. In much of the third world, these are weak and corrupt, so it is necessary to rely on religion to enforce integrity and cooperation.
What are we going to say about that? It has to be admitted. Atheism doesn't cut it in that situation. China looks to me like a very immoral and corrupt country, and I think it's because it's Godless. On the other hand, in many countries where religion is strong, you still get plenty of immorality and corruption. But without the religion, things would be even worse.
The reason for this is that people feel that God is watching and judging them, and people trust other people who can demonstrate that they also feel they are being watched and judged. It's an extension of the small-scale "reputation" that we evolved to care so much about.
Religious morality has been instrumental in facilitating mass civilization, and in much of the world, it still is.
I think you're confusing cause with effect. With civilization comes (haltingly) morality.
As far as a civilizing influence, I'd say religion is a mixed bag at best. Remember The Crusades and The Inquisition, not to mention the Salem witch trials?
Religion is invoked in much of the world, including the United States, to oppress homosexuals.
"With civilization comes (haltingly) morality." - all social animals have a form of morality - customs and practices that allow them to cooperate as a group.
"As far as a civilizing influence, I'd say religion is a mixed bag at best. Remember The Crusades and The Inquisition, not to mention the Salem witch trials? Religion is invoked in much of the world, including the United States, to oppress homosexuals." - what you say is true. They don't always get it right, by a long way. However I'm talking about broad, long-term trends. Cooperating within large groups is difficult because you don't know who to trust. Along with some other non-religious factors, moralistic religion pretty much made this possible. There's no point trying to deny it: it's a historical fact. So what? Are we children? We can accommodate a bit of opposition to our favourite views. It's better to work with what we've clearly got.
In other words, I've got a perfectly good atheist solution to small-scale personal morality, but none at all to large-scale society-wide morality. Organized religion gave that to us, and secular institutions have taken over that function in the West. Therefore, to some extent, we suck.
. . . Organized religion gave [large-scale society-wide morality] to us, . . .
Simon, where did organized religion get large-scale society-wide morality?
From the tribes in which a few members created organized religion.
In short, tribes had large-scale society-wide morality before they had organized religion. The leaders of militarily strong tribes conquered nearby weaker tribes and created larger societies.
Good question. It's been found that as societies increased in size, their gods became more moralistic, watchful and interventionist and belief in heaven and hell became greater. These are mechanisms that ensure cooperation and unselfishness, discourage cheating, and encourage trust between strangers.
Those large societies that did not have this kind of religion collapsed quickly.
Even China had this kind of religion in its early days.
Because it ensured success, these groups flourished and assimilated other groups or at least passed on their successful religion, which is why most people follow these religions today. They're successful.
Simon, do you need religion?
I ask that in part because you ignore other considerations, such as:
1. the tyrannical rule of leaders in many early societies. Tyrants they were, yet their cruelties were the moralities of their times.
2. Populations are increasing everywhere, yet in your postings I read that organized religion is growing, rather than shrinking as it has been doing in Europe since the centuries when a tyrannical Catholicism dominated.
The reading I've done, which centered around the history of mathematics and was not directed toward a degree in cultural anthropology, persuaded me that the lives of common people in pre-christian times were so unhappy that anyone who promised a happier future, even in an imagined future life, would attract followers.
In short, I'm saying that religion does well in tyrannical societies and does poorly in democratic societies.
"in your postings I read that organized religion is growing" - I don't believe I said this, and if I did, I made a mistake. It may be true or it may not, I don't know.
"religion does well in tyrannical societies and does poorly in democratic societies." - this is exactly and precisely the whole point. In morality it seems that there are two different situations: small-scale and large-scale. The difference is that on the large scale, many of the people you have to deal with are strangers, therefore you don't know their reputation or track record and don't know whether you can trust them. Moralistic religion facilitates trust between strangers because somebody only has to demonstrate that they're a devout believer in a watchful, vengeful God for you to know they are probably trustworthy. In modern democratic countries, the government does the job of enforcing trust. In corrupt societies, this doesn't happen, so people need to rely on credible displays of religious devotion in order to know who to trust.
Simon, to the question I asked -- Simon, do you need religion? -- I'm reading an affirmative answer.
The difference is that on the large scale, many of the people you have to deal with are strangers, therefore you don't know their reputation or track record and don't know whether you can trust them.
I agree. Your words describe legislative bodies well, specifically the U. S. Congress.
In eight large volumes titled Precedents of the House of Representatives, members spoke often of reducing "arbitrary and capricious" actions by both members and leaders. Readers can see their development of a moral code.
People who today are active in their communities know the moral code the Congress developed as parliamentary law.
Moralistic religion facilitates trust between strangers because somebody only has to demonstrate that they're a devout believer in a watchful, vengeful God for you to know they are probably trustworthy.
You didn't go to Catholic schools. I did and met a few kids whose parents feared they would become gangsters. Trustworthy? NO!!!!
"I agree. Your words describe legislative bodies well, specifically the U. S. Congress." - my point entirely. When it comes to policing society, religion and effective government are interchangeable.
"You didn't go to Catholic schools. I did and met a few kids whose parents feared they would become gangsters. Trustworthy? NO!!!!" - I agree, the system is imperfect. However, 1-2000 years ago, it was instrumental in facilitating the rise of civilization.
"anyone who promised a happier future, even in an imagined future life, would attract followers." - a prosocial way of life, one that promotes flourishing and cooperation is, naturally and understandably, always more attractive than a brutal dog-eat-dog way of life. We should be applauding this. Again, this is why the big theistic religions have taken over the world.
In Europe and other Western cultures since the Catholic Inquisition, the big theistic religions have been losing influence.
Study Western literature and you will see this decline mentioned in the early 1800s. By the mid-1800s Victorian novels were trying to counter this decline with stories of peoples' lives and their eventual rewards or punishments for living morally or immorally.
People gradually lost interest in these moral tales and in the early 1900s "modern" short stories took their place.
In the 1970s postmodernism took modernism's place. Some thinkers are anticipating another Enlightenment.
Simon, many people here once accepted moralistic religions. Come out of your closet and say what your posts are saying: you're finding it difficult to let go of the moralistic religion you once accepted.
Trust yourself. You deserve it.