What’s Wrong With Religion?

This is just a prompt for me to consider the issue. It’s very far from “right” for me but does contain some points I agree with.

Many of us will from time to time need “moral support” either to do the “right thing” in some context or to deal with some pain or loss. Religions have existed in all societies for the purpose of ensuring that support is provided whether it is wanted or not (in the latter case perhaps to ensure compliance with social norms and obligations by those who would rather evade them). Many who participate in religions do so either because they feel or expect the occasional need of such support themselves or because they consider such support is necessary in order to ensure the eusocial behaviour of others. Such people may think of the mythologies they espouse as useful sources of metaphorical inspiration rather than literal truth but may nonetheless declare “belief” either in solidarity with others or so as to strengthen the authority of the faith over those who “need” it. The problem as I see it is that any systematic delegation of moral authority has the potential (which seems inevitably to get realized) of eventually putting that authority in the wrong hands. It may be that a culture free of myths and priests can fulfill the same needs via more general literacy and education – with individuals having moral independence and still supporting the society with just legal and peer pressure to ensure eusociality of potential defectors, but the jury is still out on the long term feasibility of such a society and we have evidence that a secular peer group can be just as evil as any individual and/or can delegate its moral authority to a psychopath.

Finke speaks of ‘cleaning up the good parts of religion and rehabilitating them and forming what I would call a “true religion”, i.e., a religion which is truthful, which trains people in truth, and which helps people in pragmatic, scientifically and ethically approvable ways to live as well as they can.’ But if that wasn’t just pathetically presumptuous then it would actually be a disaster. It’s been tried many times by many people (maybe including a guy who got crucified for it 2000 years ago) but every time a path to moral “truth” has been identified it has been rapidly co-opted by those I consider “evil”. Once you get into the area of helping people to live “well” you end up with the potential of being seen as some kind of moral authority – which is such a tempting target for the unscrupulous that some of them will eventually succeed in usurping it.

I think Finke was closer to the mark in his opening paragraph with the emphasis on *numerous* kinds of support networks. That multiplicity is exactly what is needed in order to preclude the rise of any “one true path”. I don’t even mind if some of them are “faith” based so long as we can keep the variety.(The risks of monoculture are not confined to agriculture)

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