Religion has a lot of faults, but at its best it is good at promoting thriving, cooperating and self-control. But I do think it needs to be approached intelligently and criticially, with an eye to the big picture.
Not really no.
When someone pops this kind of question I ask the person:
Can you think of any positive attributes to an "anti-immigrant union-club" in Northern England? I mean it cannot be all maliciousness and deviousness...can it?
No. Surely within the club are people who, when not talking racist trash about immigrants, are ordinary humans with ordinary problems who through spending time together fill the "human-contact hole" in their lives as well as boredom, provide a forum to help reinforce their own ideals and their identity and in all likelihood make friends and find a support network of some kind. They likely do some good within their own small sub-community. The question is...would this still be the case if it was a "non-racist union-club"? I'm pretty sure the answer is yes. There would be most of the good stuff. But there would also lack the de-humanising part and instead the goal to make every working class person's life have a minimum of value and dignity.
The good stuff is entirely irrelevant. Because you'll find the good stuff in every community/ideology.
Religion, historically, starting with primates, as we now know some chimps for example do practice certain rituals before battles with other troops of monkeys, etc, is a deep seated part of our neurological interpretation of our world.
We are hard wired to look for patterns, any patterns, which is why we see animals, etc, in stars and clouds, AND love music,rhymes, and playing peek a boo as babies, and so forth.
The nervous system of even an amoeba is hard wired to repeat what worked...as even that wee beastie w/o a brain can learn to look for food in a new place, say in lab experiments where they used to look where it was dark, but the experiment only had food where there was light; They stop looking in the dark and start looking where its light...they learned to look where the food has been lately.
Egrets in the Everglades fly all over looking for certain size/shape sticks for their nests, and, some alligators there started to put that type of stick on their noses, and wait submerged with the stick as bait, nabbing egrets that swoop down to get the sticks, etc.
We are even more clever than amoebas and alligators though, and, we, as other primates before us, ALSO imagined that there MUST BE some way to influence what happens.
So, just as a monkey might place certain rocks in certain patterns in the crooks of trees, or in a circle, etc, to try to make their troop victorious in battle, a human might wear a certain shirt with his team on it when watching a game on TV, believing it might make his team victorious in battle...or ask particular supernatural forces to intervene on their behalf, etc.
Its why we gesture and plead with a bowling ball to stay on course, etc.
Those who felt more confident actually were more successful typically, and, back when a battle was mostly a bunch of individuals with more or less identical weapons and skills, fighting individually, if you felt invincible, you fought with less fear, and, that often psyched out your opponents.
If out in a wilderness, humans can be afraid, and fear can paralyze you, so, believing that there was ANY WAY to control the environment, to help assure one that things will be OK, was a survival benefit.
Later, when tactics and technology, training and experience made wars progressively more deadly, that advantage slipped away....but the practice of "god is on our side" was still used to motivate the troops to fight in the first place.
So, the ancients did not starve to death praying for food, it was basically obvious that you still had to hunt or gather or sow, etc, and you still had to personally fight if need be, etc, and not just wish for it all to happen by itself....but, they did pray for the success of battles, hunts and crops, etc.
Where things went south fast, was when some claimed they were really good at communicating with these supernatural forces, and, they would do the talking for you, because they were better at it.
They convinced people that their job was to do this, and, to make these forces happy/more likely to act in their behalf, they needed to keep the shaman/priest fat and happy too.
Bigger monuments and temples, richer offerings, and so forth...became one's pathway to success.
No one would cross a witch doctor, etc, as they might get turned into a newt, and, even if they got better, its still quite daunting as a deterrent.
And so forth...
So, what BEGAN as simply as that feeling that a shirt on a guy on a couch watching TV COULD help the guy's team win a baseball game on TV/we won when the rocks were placed like THAT, etc....evolved, over time, into formalized rituals and practices of observance.
It went from a more or less harmless practice of basically "hoping things will be ok", to believing that the act of hoping makes it more likely to happen....
...to the organization as basically political entities controlling the masses via their belief in the supernatural and the entities special powers to communicate with these forces.
The lines in the silly sand were crossed when the hoping replaced the doing, and again when the parties claiming to be conduits for that hoping started to have their own agendas, and then created new "doings" for their flocks to do, separate from the flock member's priorities, and in line with the entities' priorities instead.
So, the initial "this seemed to work, so lets do it again" morphed into old guys in tall hats dictating morality.
All humans are hard wired to believe in the supernatural, due to the deficiencies in processing of our wet ware.
Some of us are able to recognize that something is wrong, and, start to rewire, test circuits, run logic tests, and see if we are getting false or correct results, and so forth...and, eventually, drop the lucky charm on the floor, and move on.
The rest of us are crippled by that deficiency, and, do not even recognize that something is wrong, as the added wiring done by vested interests, was protected by a sticker over the cover, saying that they cannot look inside w/o violating their warranty.
So, some of us don't take the tags of our mattresses, just in case we might get into trouble, because they were taught that it was a risk....and that homosexuals are choosing to be gay because they are weak and unable to overcome their sinful desires, and that exposing a woman's face is a sin, but not a man's, and so forth.
Oh, yeah, and that disagreeing with any of it is blaspheme or heresy, special rules that protect only religions, and its ok to kill those who want to wear a different team jersey or stack the rocks differently, etc.
There are a lot of aspects to religion. Many of them are cultural, and culture can be very cruel.
But I think you're missing one of the main points, which is that religion helps people to cope with life, and to live a good and productive life. This doesn't even require anything supernatural, as Buddhism can show.
Obviously, as we can all see, there are a lot of things that can get in the way of this noble mission.
You have raised a legit question Simon.
And there may well be clear instances in which it is so. Belle for instance.
But i wonder if lives of theists are on the whole made easier by membership in a cult. I suspect it is not so although the range of devotion and piety is great and western and eastern craziness is also at odds. So it would be an exhaustive study to learn of differences between theists and atheists in coping with life/leading a good and productive life.
"an exhaustive study to learn of differences between theists and atheists in coping with life/leading a good and productive life."
- we regularly hear of research which says that religious people are happier than the average.
Very well observed Jade. I agree.
Manic/depressive as a collective group?
I know what you mean, blissed out, or half-crazy, or whatever. Off their heads on Jesus.
At the same time, at least this is appropriate and not misplaced. Jesus was the "master"of promoting healthy long-term thriving (is the upshot of a lot of his teaching), and what could be more blissed out, than the right kind of unalloyed thriving? Also, the feeling of being on the right path in life is an optimistic one.
I know that Hare Krishnas are famous for being blissed out, but I don't know anything about Hare Krishna, and I don't want to, so I don't know anything about the truthful content of their religion. Probably it's something similar to what Jesus was saying, with a blue God or two thrown in.
Buddhists are blissed out because they meditate. I have a theory that this is because meditation trains and subdues the ego, and the ego is famous for acting in the moment without thought to consequences (i.e. giving way to the emotions straight away), and generally coming up with all kinds of short-term, restrictive, self-imprisoning, alienating answers to the problem of how to thrive that actually end up making us unhappy. So they don't have the ego thinking it has all the answers and actually lousing things up. Instead there is more direct engagement with reality, a healthy attitude to life and an ego that can manage things well on a long term basis, because it can handle reality comfortably. Experienced meditators report a deep and unique feeling of bliss during meditation: "the sweetness of consciousness". I think this is because in the silence, we can experience the biological pressure to thrive, as a raw optimism and bliss.
I understand that the situation is far from all fun and games and that religion can cause problems in itself for many reasons. Some reasons can include, sometimes:
- a screwed up value system
- supporting the cruelty of local culture
- lack of freedom of thought, to overcome limitations in the religion
- telling people exactly what they want to hear
So it has to be a mixed bag all round. I think as "political atheists" (atheists who care about changing the religious landscape in the world) it's our mission to support the good bits and take out the bad, instead of trying to eradicate religion, which is just never going to happen.
I am not sure that eradication of religion is necessarily a goal.
I dont have a problem with belief per se. But I do have a problem when it has a detrimental impact on my life and the lives of people i know.
Where religion begets terrorism, guilt and fear then I feel we as atheists have an obligation to act.
religion helps people to cope with life, and to live a good and productive life
Religion doesn't on the whole help people cope with life, it tells them how to cope (if not to simply suffer as though you deserve it). It tells you how to live. It tells you what a good productive life. If you don't cope the way your religion tells you to cope than you are actually in a doubly uncopable situation. The religion itself makes it not only more difficult to cope, but it compounds the problem.
Using the term "help you" to do something would only apply to those who converted into the faith. Otherwise, they aren't being assisted in doing things, they are doing things as their religion has told them from the beginning. What many people actually need real help from and the source of what makes their life uncopable, are the grim situations one ends up in when the religion that "helps them cope with life" judges that you are not "coping properly" and bam, you end up with a downward spiral of a life not being helped but being opressed.
Being told how to life your life doesn't help you cope...it dictates...and in the process creates a lot more problems that the person will have to find a way to cope with (sexual repression, sexism, limit on free thinking, guilt, fear, terror, confusion, inferiority, being a puny insect) etc.
This whole notion that religion has helped mankind get through life is nonsense. The religion is the source of endless problems that the human being has to cope with. The introduction of religion doesn't create a new form of being able to cope and live...it places limits on them.
As with Bhuddist societies or countries with an established Bhuddist powerbase (Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bhutan) there is no shortage gender discrinimation, sexual repression, thought controll, violence and cruelty. You seem to think that Bhuddism is just a set of hints on how to live your life. It is not. It is a world view with supernatural elements and has a very complex structure even with pantheons of Gods. If a bunch of hippie like Americans want to take a few wonderful sounding phrases from Bhuddist texts, convert it into a sort of folk-wisdom, try to practice that (without the supernatural part) and then call themselves Bhuddists...then by all means they can. That doesn't make them Bhuddists. It makes them ordinary people who picked out a few words of advice from an enormous resevoir of theology.
Without the supernatural element and recieved wisdom...you no longer have a religion...you have an ideology. Those can help you cope through life...if they aren't too toxic. Preferably that ideology has some basis in empirical research or at the very least critical analysis. So no...a supernatural-free world view is not religious.