Inspired by Faith

Ophelia Benson picks up on an interesting minor point in an essay by Conor Friedesrorf where he attributes some of the goodness of his friend to the influence of religion: “Nick happens to be one of the best people I know. Even though I don’t have faith in the same things that he does, I see how his faith makes him a better person. I see how he makes the world a better place, and how his belief system drives him to do it. And whenever I think about Nick, I think to myself, you know, I disagree with the Catholic faith on a lot of particulars, but there must be nuggets of truth within it if it inspires people like Nick to be this good.”

At first it seems odd that Mr Friedersorf does not give his friend full credit for his own goodness. Does he really suspect that it’s only the benign influence of the church that gives us Saint Nicholas instead of Old Nick? But actually that’s not so impossible. The same religions that enable some people to be far more evil than they would otherwise have been may also support increased goodness in others. There’s really no contradiction in that and it’s not obvious where the overall balance lies. (It may also be true that religion played an essentially positive role at some stages in our cultural development but that it no longer does so. )

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