This message came in, talking at me about morality in religion. If there's one thing that religion is lacking...
From: David and Misty|
Sent: Sunday, November 03, 2002 11:03 AM
Spirituality and religion is much more than a pathetic attempt to explain the unexplainable. It serves as a moral grounding for followers.
You may say, as Nietzsche wrote, that humanity has evolved passed the point where we need to have some sort of god—that we can be good and moral people for the sake of being moral and good.
However, this argument seems a little weak given the amount of moral decay in our society. Examine, for a moment, the increasing gap between the rich and poor. Why are people starving to death when there are enough resources in the world to feed everyone? Greed. Simply put. We, as a human society, are capable of terrible things. A group of teenagers recently beat a man senseless. Why? They were caught up in a brutal group mentality. Could all these people be just bad? Or could they have gone astray for that moment and parted from their morality? Was their morality clearly defined? We need some moral structure in our lives. And yes, sometimes these moral structures are distorted and used to carry out the things they try to prevent. But these examples, in my view, do not cancel out the good examples. On balance, religion does more good than bad. For instance, religious organizations and religious people are leaders for the fight against poverty. They fight against injustice and try to do the right thing.
Whether God exists or not is a silly question. No one can prove or disprove God exists. You may win the argument, on the balance of probabilities, that God does not exist. You may be able to produce all kinds of evidence against Christianity or any other religion. However, this proves nothing and serves no real purpose.
Religion provides a psychological need for people. Many people have overcome personal struggles using their faith. Millions have recovered from Alcoholism using the 12 Steps, a structured pathway to spirituality. Many others have been guided to a better life because of religion: Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, to name a recent few. Were these people really guided by God, or were they involved in a complex psychological game with themselves? The question is not relevant. The point is that religion helped these people.
Religion is about faith, a belief in something greater than ourselves. It takes humility and it is a sign of great personal strength. As human beings, we are not solely logical. We have impulses, fears, and emotions. We have needs that pervade logic. Spirituality is a human need. It may be illogical on some level but this does not discount its value.
You might say that religion is a sign of weakness, a sign of someone who does not have sufficient inner strength. I disagree. As social beings, we need something outside of ourselves. To admit to our own inherent human weaknesses is paradoxically an enormous act of strength. No one is perfect after all. All of us can improve on something. Using a tool to overcome these shortcomings is not weak. We all need help from something or someone at some point in our lives.
If someone, such as yourself, does not have the psychological need for religion or some other form of spirituality; if you can live your life to your full potential without the guidance and support of God; then, I earnestly wish you all the best in your life.
From: Wildsong [firstname.lastname@example.org]|
Sent: Wednesday, November 06, 2002 12:05 AM
To: David and Misty
Subject: RE: Religion
Hello, and thank you for your message.
:: Spirituality and religion is much more than a
:: pathetic attempt to explain the unexplainable.
:: It serves as a moral grounding for followers.
It does this, but it began as an explanation for the mysteries of the universe. Whatever it has become, the origin is the same, and that being the case, it no longer serves its original function. As to the morality, I think that a self determined morality is a more real, more meaningful morality than an externally imposed one, don't you? Now, granted, very few people make their own morality. Almost everyone is influenced to some degree by the laws of our society, the media, and so on, but the point is that having an externally imposed morality does not make someone a moral person (by the standards of the morality-imposing power). How many people act in a manner that is morally acceptable to their religion solely because of the threat of hell, or some such punishment? The law works by threatening punishment to those who behave aberrantly according to the lawmakers' standards. Religious morality works in the same fashion. This means that religion is no different from, and no better than the law, and therefore quite unnecessary. The difference is that the law deals with reality, while religions usually tell you that you have some sort of energy, a soul or karma sort of thing, that is in peril if you behave in a manner that is out of step with the rules of the religion. Is this a higher form of morality than the legal system? It's the same premise. The values are just different but, and this is important, the law doesn't claim to be divinely inspired, which means that if it doesn't make sense, if it hasn't changed with the times, it can be altered.
:: You may say, as Nietzsche wrote, that humanity has
:: evolved passed the point where we need to have
:: some sort of god—that we can be good and moral
:: people for the sake of being moral and good.
On the contrary, I think that people these days are just as violent, vicious, and nasty as they have ever been. And that's the point. Human nature hasn't changed despite the fact that we've had religiously imposed morals since the dawn of the species. So it obviously doesn't work. We've existed in fear of the wrath of the gods, and we've been obedient and submissive, but you can only make threats last for so long. People are starting to disbelieve that god will take any action, and so they're getting more and more bold. As an example, suppose you're a parent with a child who is constantly misbehaving. You can threaten him with a smack, and it will stop him for a while, but suppose you never actually smack him? As he gets older, he'll keep trying you, keep pushing to see what he can get away with, and suppose that all you ever do is threaten? Eventually, he'll know that you won't smack him. Oh, he'll believe that you can, but he'll know that you won't. Just try to control him then. That's where humanity is. Even most of the people who still believe in a god know that he/she won't actually do anything, so they can get away with whatever they like. I think that the answer here is to stop looking outside ourselves for guidance. Creating and enforcing morality is a responsibility, and humanity really needs to start taking that responsibility on its own shoulders rather than blaming it on god. That is, morality must be subject to examination, and must be flexible in order to represent the majority of opinions on any subject. For example, christian morality is commonly believed to demonise homosexuals. Since that code of morals was constructed, or divinely inspired if you prefer, it has been determined that homosexuality is not a choice that someone makes, it's just the way they are as a result of their genes, primarily. Is it then morally justifiable to say that it is wrong to be gay? And yet, if you try to change the christian morality, you're arguing with a supreme being. Notice, then, that the laws regarding homosexuality have changed, but the religious standpoint has mostly remained the same. Which would you say is more right? Morality is subject to majority rule. It must be, since we live in groups. Individuals can hold their own morals, as well, but must exist in accordance with the majority of their group. Whether that group is a family, a tribe, or a city. This being the case, the inflexibility that is built into the very nature of religion must put it into conflict with the laws governing a society by keeping it from reflecting the changing views of the majority.
:: However, this argument seems a little weak given the
:: amount of moral decay in our society.
Agreed, and yet the ongoing failure of any religion to correct this problem negates claims of its value. Add to that the number of atrocities regularly committed by religious groups these days, and the argument collapses completely. Even those groups that consider themselves morally superior to those without religious affiliation are guilty of this. I draw your attention to the pro-life shootings, the ongoing war between Protestants and Catholics that has killed thousands of innocents, the war over Israel, the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, the psychological and physical abuse of the scientologists (http://www.lisamcpherson.org/), and so on. Every religion seems to have its secrets, secrets that destroy any moral credibility that they may have had. Oh, some religions do lots of high profile charity work, but does that make up for the other, less savoury acts that they have committed? Does that bring back the dead, or return the money conned out of the old people who have nothing but faith to which to cling? I think that, doing the research, you'll find that religion does not do more good than bad. On the contrary, I have found little good that comes of religion.
:: Whether God exists or not is a silly question. No
:: one can prove or disprove God exists.
Actually, I look at it this way: the only support for the existence of the christian god is in the christian bible, which is a document written by people long ago. There is a truly massive amount of undeniable proof, however, that conflicts with the biblical account of the existence of god, the creation of the universe, and so on. If you take each as a theory, it becomes apparent right away which is more realistic. Taken in this light, the biblical account isn't even a god theory since it conflicts with the facts in so many ways, and even with itself on countless occasions.
Exodus 20:13 "Thou shalt not kill."
Leviticus 24:17 "And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death."
Numbers 15:36 "And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the Lord commanded Moses."
Hosea 13:16 "they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with children shall be ripped up."
Many more can be found at http://www.ffrf.org/lfif/contra.html, http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jim_meritt/bible-contradictions.html, http://members.aol.com/ckbloomfld/. So as you can see, the bible doesn't even stand against itself, let alone the solid facts of the world outside christianity. All of this comes together to show that everything has happened on its own, with no influence by a supreme being. This makes god unnecessary. So what I don't understand is why someone would place their complete faith in a being that clearly is likely to not exist. Of course, I find that education and religious faith seem to be inversely proportionate, which means that those who believe the biblical account of creation often don't have any choice. I know many ex-christians, many of whom became that way because they started to ask questions, and weren't happy with the bible-based answers. I would say that, far from being a silly question, the issue of the existence of god is very important. If you're going to base your life around faith in something, shouldn't you make certain that it actually exists? And by that, maybe you can't prove that it does and maybe you can't prove that it doesn't, but you can definitely get an idea about how likely it is.
:: You may win the argument, on the balance of probabilities, that
:: God does not exist. You may be able to produce all kinds of
:: evidence against Christianity or any other religion. However,
:: this proves nothing and serves no real purpose.
On the contrary, it provides facts that justify or do not justify a worldview. Suppose that you've been buying lottery tickets every week for your entire life, and then one day you find out that there's no way you could possibly win because there is no prize. You'd be pretty upset, wouldn't you? How much time, and money, hope, and disappointment would you have saved yourself if you'd known at the beginning? But suppose that you never found out. Suppose you went on spending money, went on hoping that some day you would win, until eventually you died. Does that seem fair? Does it seem fair that your life has been spent in the pursuit of something that never even existed? Does it seem fair that you spent so much time hoping, praying that you would win, being disappointed when those prayers were not granted, for nothing? Because that's what it comes down to. We have little time.. barely a hundred years. How many people have thrown away their lives, wasted many precious hours being told that they are bad and evil and unworthy and going to hell? How many people have given more money than they can afford to the churches so that maybe they can buy themselves a little space in a heaven that they have never even seen? How many people have suffered horrific abuse and violence at the hands of the religious leaders because they thought that they were in the service of a god that they have never met? Does that seem at all right?
:: Religion provides a psychological need for people.
No argument here, but I think that that's rather sad. I think it better to believe in yourself, to believe that you have the strength of will and the courage and whatever else you need to do what you need to do, to live your life happily, than it is to rely upon faith in some being that you only know exists because, again, a book tells you so. You know that you're real. Isn't that enough? Because ultimately, if you need to believe in a higher power to make you feel worthwhile, you're not happy with yourself. The need for a god, then, is a symptom of the real problem, and what is it they say about treating the symptom rather than the disease?
:: Many people have overcome personal struggles using their faith.
I have faith in me. I don't need a higher power in which to put my faith because I alone am enough to overcome all kinds of obstacles. I've escaped from an abusive relationship after six years, and I did it without faith in any kind of god. In that situation, many people turn to a god to help them, to protect them, to get them out of the relationship that is hurting them. And god doesn't do anything. So which do you think is the better solution? I think that if more people were confident in themselves, and stopped looking for help from outside, they would be much happier and religion would die out. That seems to be happening now.
:: Many others have been guided to a better life because of
:: religion: Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, to
:: name a recent few. Were these people really guided by God,
:: or were they involved in a complex psychological game with
:: themselves? The question is not relevant. The point is
:: that religion helped these people.
Ok, now how about modern Israel? How about the Crusades? How about all of the tribes in Africa and South America whose cultures and beliefs have been destroyed by christian missionaries? The Salem witch trials? The Taliban regime in Afghanistan? How about the children who have been blown up in the Catholic/Protestant wars? The KKK? Have these people found a better life because of religion? Yes, Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Mother Theresa were people who did a lot of good. But I would take issue with the claim that it was religion that led them to do so. The Peace Corps, Green Peace, the World Wildlife Fund, and many more organisations are filled with atheists who, while not as high profile, are just as caring and giving and good. Therefore, while the people you mention may have been acting, they thought, in the service of a god, one would tend to suspect that they, being that sort, would have done what they did without religion. The point, therefore, is not that religion helped them. Rather, the point could be made that it took religion to make them do what they did, but atheists do it without being required by a god. Does that make them better people, since they take the initiative to do such good deeds on their own?
:: Religion is about faith, a belief in something greater than
My problem here is that very need for something greater than the self. Why do people need to believe in something greater? Why is their own existence, their own life, not enough?
:: It takes humility
And what makes this a desirable trait, exactly? Humility is meekness, submission and in this world that's not a good thing. For example, when looking for a mate, the opposite sex likes self confidence. When applying for a job, you need to tell the interviewer how wonderful you are. Realistically, humility is not a survival trait. So why does religion promote it? Many religions are about control. Control the beliefs of the person and you can use them for your own ends to make money, fight wars, and so on. How better to control than to make them believe that they must remain meek and humble in the sight of their deity or be cast into hell? If you look at the correlation of religions that demand humility, and the history of exploitation of those religions' followers, you will find a definite pattern. Do you think, then, that this is coincidence? Those who humble themselves before a deity they haven't even met are not strong people. They are not wise people. They are victims of a scam. They are called "suckers."
:: and it is a sign of great personal strength.
A matter of opinion. I, as well as other atheists, consider it a great weakness. Look at it this way: a human, when born, is weak and helpless. It depends upon its mother for everything from food to protection. As it grows up, as it matures, it needs her less and less until eventually it doesn't need her at all. Would you say that the baby, then, who has absolute faith in its mother, is stronger than the mature adult who can look after himself? Of course not.. the argument is ridiculous. Depending upon anything outside yourself is not a sign of personal strength. It is a sign that you can't look after yourself, that you are not independent. If you need a god to look after you, if you need a deity to guide your actions and control your destiny you are not strong, you are a child.
:: As human beings, we are not solely logical. We have impulses,
:: fears, and emotions. We have needs that pervade logic.
Yes and no. Logic is effective, but lacks creativity, imagination, and to be honest, it's pretty dull. But it does make far more sense than emotion. However, that emotion adds colour to life, it adds the spark that makes life so exciting. We're emotional creatures, but so are cats and dogs and chimpanzees. What separates us from them, as little as it does, is reason. And reason is based upon logic. It was primitive reason that led to the creation of religion, and it is modern reason that is now causing religion to die out. It's fear that causes people to cling to their religion. It's often religion that causes that fear. Look at death. When I die, as eventually I must, I'll die. I'll cease to be. I'll no longer exist. Nothing will happen.. there's no heaven, there's no hell. I'm not afraid of dying, though I'll admit that on an instinctive, self-preservation level I'm not looking forward to it, but I'm not afraid of it. Look at your typical Catholic. He's a sinner. His whole life he's been told that he's a sinner. Sinners go to hell. His whole life, he knows that he's going to hell. Hell is eternal torment. So for, let's say eighty years, he knows that he's going to spend all of eternity in torment unless he's meek and pathetic enough that his god decides to have mercy on him. And he won't find out until after he's dead. So every moment of his life is spent in fear, even if it's only on a subconscious level at times. So he's afraid of living because he's not doing it right, and he's afraid of dying because of what might be next. Does that sound like a nice life to you? Does it sound like he's been enriched by his religion? And what kind of image does this present of god? What kinds of tricks are you going to have to do to please a god who puts children on Earth to grow up in this kind of world? And this god is always watching. So you're born, and from the moment you're born you're told that you're a sinner and that you're going to hell. There's never a doubt in your mind that you're going to hell unless you please the sadistic god. Does it seem likely, then, that you'll even consider leaving the religion, even if you have doubts? Of course not. You have to believe or you'll go to hell. You have to crush your doubts, not think about them. It's a massive step from believing it all to not believing any of it. I can't begin to imagine, and if you think it takes personal strength to believe it, imagine how much strength it takes to stop believing something that you've been told all your life. Most people don't have that kind of strength. It's fear that keeps them Catholic. That's why, when you talk to former Catholics, many of them refer to themselves as recovering Catholics, or something similar. Many of them are rabid atheists.
:: Spirituality is a human need.
Not so. Spirituality is a stopgap, a lifeline for people who cannot cope with the idea that they are just another animal on a little planet and that when they die, they will disappear without a trace. Spirituality is a means for each person to say "I'm special! I really am!" when they don't actually believe it. I'm special. I'm unique. I don't need to be told this by a god figure or any other flavour of religious dogma to know it. And I don't need any kind of spirituality. The very idea is, to me, ridiculous. It is therefore not a human need except to those who are, by their own standards, inadequate. I can't imagine going through life never being good enough that I don't feel the need for a higher power to pat me on the head and say "good boy." To me, that's the worst part about religion. It's the dependence upon someone or something else to make you feel like you're worthwhile.
:: It may be illogical on some level but this does
:: not discount its value.
No, you're right. It's not logic that makes it worthless. But then, worthless is subjective. Napoleon said "religion is excellent stuff for controlling the common people," so clearly it had value to him.
:: You might say that religion is a sign of weakness,
:: a sign of someone who does not have sufficient inner
You're dead right, I would say that. It's dependence upon some outside power, meaning that no matter how good you are, no matter how strong you are, it's never enough. Self confidence is basic to strength, and religion must, by its nature, undermine that. Religion blames all of the weaknesses on the human, and attributes all of the strengths to their deity. How many Oscar/Gemini/whatever winners thank god when they win? How many athletes do the same? How many blame god when they lose? So they are inherently losers, and only when god helps them are they otherwise. Not the best self-image.
:: I disagree. As social beings, we need something outside
:: of ourselves.
Far from it, as social beings we exist in a state of constant competition with the others of our tribe/city/group, and we need all of the self confidence and personal strength that we can muster. As social beings, we need to be conscious of an ever changing morality, the shifting dynamic of our group. We must be responsible for ourselves and we can't be that if we keep deferring to a religious icon that no one has ever seen, and upon whose existence we can't even agree. Most importantly, it must be mentioned that there are countless atheists, with the numbers constantly climbing. And we're social creatures, too, you know, so it clearly isn't as important as you think. The fact that there are humans that survive very happily indeed without any kind of spirituality proves that it is not necessary to our lives.
:: To admit to our own inherent human weaknesses is paradoxically
:: an enormous act of strength.
Perhaps so, but it must be argued that what religion says are strengths and weaknesses are frequently quite the contrary. Is it not better to recognise your own weaknesses and to deal with them yourself than to be told what they are by a story in a book, written by someone who cannot possibly know you? For example, the christian religion says that lust is a human weakness. However, scientifically it has been discovered that people who have more sex are happier, healthier, less stressed, sleep better.. the list goes on. Is wanting or liking sex then a weakness? And if so, what about it makes you weak? That's one example. The point is that the there is no such thing as "human weakness." There are your weaknesses and my weaknesses, but they might not be the same. You can recognise your weaknesses, and I can recognise my weaknesses, but what are the chances that a single set of religious rules will cover both? There are as many unique combinations as there are people.
:: No one is perfect after all. All of us can improve on something.
Very true, but isn't it better to find the strength, the motivation inside yourself than to turn to someone else? The things I do to improve myself I do because I want to improve myself. I don't do it because someone says I should. If you work out because I tell you to, are you really bettering yourself? Or are you just meekly doing what you're told? Do you think that doing what you're told is a sign of personal strength? Or do you think that recognising your weaknesses and doing something about them is more of a strength? Because remember, religion isn't tailored to the individual. It's a blanket. What is your weakness is everyone else's weakness, too, unless your priest tells you otherwise. Does that seem realistic?
:: Using a tool to overcome these shortcomings is not weak. We
That depends upon your point of view, and upon the tool. I would consider it a weakness to feel that I could only improve myself with the aid of some sort of deity. That means that I cannot do it by myself. On the other hand, in reality I have confidence that there are very few things beyond me. As a result, I have come across very few things that I could not eventually do. I've been a musician, actor, dancer, martial artist, web designer, writer, teacher, artist, programmer, director.. the list goes on and on because if I can't do something, I work at it until I can. And I do it myself. I don't require a god figure, a spiritual tool to help me. I do it because I know that I can. And when I do, I can take credit for myself, and feel good about myself because I know that I, not god, did it. Would you not say, then, that this kind of self-confidence, self-reliance is, when compared to the need for a religion, a strength? Need indicates inadequacy, after all. And I'm not saying all of this to make myself look wonderful. I'm saying it to make the point that whatever the weakness, whatever the area in which one wishes to improve, one can do it without turning to spirituality for help. That makes it unnecessary. I'm no more special than anyone else, so if I can find the strength in myself rather than in a deity so, I'm sure, can they.
:: all need help from something or someone at some point in our lives.
Perhaps, but most people will agree that self-reliance is better than dependence. Given the choice, would you prefer to be young and living on your own, or old and living in a nursing home because you can't look after yourself? Would you consider yourself a stronger person if you had to live in a nursing home?
:: If someone, such as yourself, does not have the psychological need
:: for religion or some other form of spirituality; if you can live
:: your life to your full potential without the guidance and support of
:: God; then,
Absolutely. I've never talked to anyone who has communicated with god, and those who do claim to have done so describe experiences similar to those created with electromagnetic fields in a laboratory, thereby casting doubt upon their religious experience. This being the case, I have trouble believing that this creature could, stipulating his existence for a moment, be responsible for guiding or supporting anything. It is the belief in that deity that provides support and I feel that this belief, this faith, would be better directed at the self.
:: I earnestly wish you all the best in your life.
And I you. However you choose to lead your life, whether you turn to a religion or find the strength within yourself, good luck and happiness to you.