It took me a few days to chew on I.O.'s very detailed and well thought out post. I would like to counter some of these points. My intention is not to shoot them down, but to bring out an additional viewpoint for each of the basic topics covered. I organized this into fewer topics for brevity.On the Calming effects of unverifiable beliefs
Unverifiable beliefs that offer psychological comfort, a sense of purpose, belonging and security are certainly an asset in that they improve psychological well being and perhaps aid in physical health indirectly. This asset does come with a price though, and that is the negative effects of holding beliefs that are incorrect or that by their very nature, cannot be verified or falsified. I think the net benefit here is thus questionable.On Like-mindedness
Yes, people who are like minded may flock together and that commonality may serve as a seed for establishing a community of compatible folks. While its good to mingle with folks of dissimilar mind, I think definitely beneficial overall if you have more like minded folks in your home, or your resting place. I would see this as an overall benefit.On Religious experience
I think the arts serve a very similar purpose. I agree that some religous rituals and ceremonies add beauty and symbology to various events and epohcs in our lives. Wedding ceremonies, birth rituals and rites of passage and funerals can all be made quite special, memorable, or solemn with the application of art, symbology, music and the lack thereof. I see this more as tradition and culture than religion though.
In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky has Ivan Karamazov say “If God does not exist, everything is permitted”. Ivan expresses an attitude that is still common today. Four percent of believers choose ‘Without God there is no morality; as their top reason for believing. Pop philosopher Dennis Prager has said ‘if there is no God, there is no good and evil -- there are only opinions about good and evil.’
Statements like these are initially gripping because they set up a frightening choice: you either accept a religious moral code or face the awful prospect of having the whole burden of designing and justifying a moral code dumped on you. And how are you going to select between differing ‘opinions about good and evil’?
Correct me if I am wrong, but with regard to the dilema of seleting between differing opinions about good and evil, I don't think religions really solve this problem. They do solve it within their organization, but not globally. When the Israelies say that god said that Israel beings to them, and then the Arabs and Palestinians make the same claim, you are left with the predicament of chosing between opinions of who is right or wrong.
Another example would be with gay rights. Many religious groups are still againt gay marriage, some will teach that homosexuality is wrong, but their believers should not pass judgment. Today, we have to choose for ourselves if this is right or wrong. Religion does not solve this for us.
Four percent of believers choose ‘Without God there is no morality; as their top reason for believing.
The number or percentage of people that believe a claim does not make it any more right or wrong. If the statistics are correct, then this statement shows that this is a pretty common belief, but nothing else. By the way, 96% would have been more impressive than 4% at first glance... >.> Maybe I'm missing something here.Death
I agree, the idea of a loving god and afterlife is extremely comforting. It takes the sting out of death and replaces it with hope.
I'm going to counter this point by saying that while this is true, it may also have a negative effect on how we live our lives. If I believe that death is lights out, I'm going to live my life differently than if I view life as mere step in a great cosmic journey. Now everybody is different, so I'm not going to speculate too much about what results such beliefs might have. YMMV. I will say this though, giving one's life or making selfless sacrifices that lessen one's quality of life are seen differently when you believe in life after death versus lights out.
(( Interestingly, studies have shown that religious attendance once or more per week leads to an extra seven years of life expectancy. Other studies have shown other health benefits such as a stronger immune system and lower blood pressure. Further, religious involvement has been linked to less depression and less drug use.))
Would you happen to have links to studies for these claims? I ask only because it sounds a little too good to be true. "Seven years of life expectancy"? Does that mean you live seven years longer, or you expect to live seven years longer? And why seven and not six? And where did they get these numbers from? I don't mean to chop on this, but it sounds like the kind of statistics they use on toothpaste commercials. ie. Three out of four dentists recommend Crest. I'm just sceptical and curious about this, that's all.
***Some thoughts on how religions might change for the better
What if you could make the following changes to Christianity to make it more up-to-date:
- Drop any beliefs that are proven to be false or unverifiable
- With regard to religious teaching, adopt a policy of not representing unverifiable beliefs as if they were truth
- Drop the god and say that the existence of a god is a mystery - allowing members to choose whether or not to believe in it.
- Drop all religious and sexual discrimination. People are equal regardless of gender, race, sex, identity blah blah blah...
- Promote the use of logic and critical thinking - allowing members to question and challenge the religions beliefs and doctrines.
Would Christianity still be a religion after all of these changes?
Would we have something better, or would it just vanish?
The way I see it, some of the major changes that would precipitate from these changes would be as follows:
A. There would be no need to proselytize. This could be simply replaced with friendly promotion.
B. People would be free to join and leave as they wished without the threat of being damned
C. The community would be need to become more tolerant of one another - which is good.
D. Most of the bible would be considered fiction, but fiction with embedded meaning and morals.
E. Rituals would continue, but with the understanding that they are more tradition and art than anything else.