I would argue that religions are desirable, in addition to rather inevitable and predictable. The idea of a divine protector gives comfort to people. Being optimistic about the future is good. People who are optimistic are more likely to survive illnesses and live fuller, happier lives. In addition, religious groups give each other support. They provide the “village” in which to raise children when families are scattered throughout the country and villages have swelled to cities with populations in the thousands.
Of course, there have been absolute atrocities committed in the name of religion, but religions, particularly the ones I am familiar with, advocate things like fellowship, compassion, kindness, humility, self-restraint, and pro-social behaviors, not intolerance and hatred and violence. Other justifications have and will be found for war and crimes against humanity.
Why abolish something that can be so valuable, just because it can be used for justifying the evil? Shall we stop teaching people about honor because people have violently defended it? Or outlaw families because people might aggressively protect them?
However, people don’t need a religion in order to be good. We’re social creatures. We live in groups. In order to facilitate group survival, people need to be helpful, kind, compassionate, and behave in ways that make other people like them and include them in their groups. Of course there are freeloaders, but we identify and punish freeloaders. We do. Similarly, if everyone stopped believing in God, the result would not be anarchy. And most people are not good people because they are afraid of eternal punishment, but because it feels right to be good.
How many true friends do you have that are unkind, arrogant, selfish, self-centered, greedy jerks? No one likes people like this. We know that if we acted like this, people would dislike us, and we all have a fundamental need to be liked. Sure, there are people that get by acting like this, but they manage to find other means (e.g., intimidation) to get people to include them.
Yes, we need to teach our children how to be good human beings, but we don’t necessarily need religion to do it. Religion is one good way to do it, but not the only way. Do you have to think to yourself “I better be good, or it’s hellfire and brimstone otherwise”? Do you tell your kids “be nice or you’ll go to Hell”? Of course you don’t. It’s insulting to atheists to be told that we’re bad people, because the threat of damnation doesn’t hang over our heads. We don’t tell Christians (or at least, if we’re not the obnoxious, smug, anti-religious atheists, we don’t) that they’re actually bad people because it takes divine intervention for them to act like decent human beings.
To put it simply, I am just as put off by jerks as you are. I think murder and rape and robbery and theft and vandalism and envy and arrogance and laziness and all of the other sins and commandments (well, maybe not the idols) are as bad as you do. I just think that morality and ethicality are not necessarily inextricably linked to belief in the divine.
Next week, Brittany will point out the similarities we share, Catholics and atheists.
There are 3 principles that are the most important to me in dealing with jerks…… I call them the HIM principles……….Honesty- treat everyone as you want to be treated, Integrity- deal with people fairly and evenly, Morality- we all know what that means, VALUES and personal fortitude you only get from God knowing right from wrong, good from evil. Yet we often fail.
This is a very interesting series. I know and love many people who believe in a variety of different types of nonbelief, and all of them try as hard as anyone else I know to be kind people.
I don’t group people into “good people” and “The Godless”, certainly.
What my faith does gives me is the strength that comes from knowing that I am not working on my own character issues alone, courage when I find things unbearable and hope. Without the strength, hope and courage that I get from my faith, I would find it hard to even exist.
Christianity does not teach us to be good primarily as a means to avoid hell. It teaches us to be good primarily as an act of love for our Creator.
Thus I do not hurl insults at my husband because I do not want him to divorce me…but way more than that, I do not hurl insults at my husband because I love him and care about his feelings.
Which is exactly what you should tell someone who actually believes that. It always irritates me when people assume that people need some sort of external motivation to be good people. I like to think the best of people 🙂
This whole series is very interesting! I actually find it strengthening my own faith in little ways and while out of respect for the writer, I would never nit pick the moments where I feel more resolved I will say that I am glad I am reading.
I’m glad that it is strengthening your faith! The more you think about something, the more you’ll be certain of it, and the more it will affect your life. I’m so happy that my little blurbs are making you think more about your faith and hold your beliefs with more conviction, even if we don’t agree on everything.
Also, I’m glad you’re not nit picking 🙂 Part of my experience has a lot to do with the Christians I know, and while we certainly disagree on little things, and that one big thing, we actually agree on most everything else that counts. I think if I nit picked everything they said, I would probably not be able to get along with them as well as I do.
Sorry 0 I’ve been under the weather of late – just catching up. Thank you for posting these things. I enjoy seeing the things that unify us, and getting another perspective.