Does religion make us better people?

Discussion in 'Religion' started by Magical Realist, Aug 18, 2013.

  1. wellwisher Banned Banned

    There is a place in bible prophesies that hints of a guilt sacrifice. In Christian tradition, Jesus Christ was a sacrifice for sin, leading to forgiveness of sins. Although people are now forgiven their trespasses, many still feel guilty. The guilt sacrifice deals with this tendency for many people to still feel guilt even after the sin has been cleansed. The guilt sacrifice will help such people, but it will also open the door to the callous of heart, who will interpret the guilt sacrifice to mean anything goes since there is no sin or guilt.

    If you think about it guilt, it helps prevent additive behavior. If you steal and then feel guilty, you will not be able to practice stealing as easy. This makes it harder to get good so it becomes second nature; habit. Without guilt you can practice. With the guilt sacrifice, the true colors of people will shine through, since on can practice anything without internal guilt censor, forming habits faster. It will require the mind and common sense since the heart is not controlled the same way. It is all part of an update.
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  3. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    If their supposed goodness can be replaced, then it wasn't much of a goodness to begin with.
    IOW, you're arguing in favor of a goodness that is weak and easily overthrown. That's not goodness at all.

    Like in that saying - "All it takes for evil to spread in the world is for good men to do nothing". But this saying neglects to admit that if men do nothing, then they cannot possibly be good.

    "The right thing" - according to whom, to what end, to accomplish what goal?
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  5. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    If you think that some particular version of Christianity is the alpha and omega of all religion ... then you've got a lot of work ahead of you.

    Who placed a gun to your head and commanded you to remain within that particular nominally Christian mindset back then?

    Nothing and nobody is stopping you from becoming a more _religiously_ advanced person, nor was anything or anyone stopping you back then. Other than your own attachment to drama.

    One thing that puts many people off about a bit more serious religion is that it has so little drama in it, it seems downright boring. Many people, theists or atheist, prefer a good drama with hells and angels and devils and torments and miracles, as opposed to the diligent, patient, peaceful, plain, sober course of people who are really interested to get somewhere, spiritually.
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  7. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    What I think now is irrelevant to what I was brainwashed to believe as a kid. NOW I know religion to be a sham that is designed to suppress free thought and to saddle individuals with a self-enforcing meme system that emotionally enslaves them to dogmas and beliefs. NOW I see it was like a mind virus that invaded my soul and turned me into a non-thinking, nonexperiencing robot numbly going thru life with no sensitivity or respect for others or other ideas. By 24 I had completely separated from christianity and found meaning in philosophy and psychology.

    An authorative institution called a church and an authorative book called the Bible that I was brainwashed into believing represented THE truth about life and the universe. The assurance that Jesus was coming soon and that I'd better be on the right side or I'd get burned up by the brightness of his coming. For a kid just trying to find his way in life this amounts to extortion. "Do this, believe that, and you will please God." It was the twisting and manipulation of the innocent youthful desire to please into something dysfunctional and unnatural.

    Nothing indeed stopped me from escaping from that delusional hall of mirrors. In my twenties I discovered Nieztsche and Whitehead and Jung and a whole host of poets and thinkers who finally provided me with the leverage to pry myself loose from that meme trap. Ironically it took the anti-meme of philosophical questioning and poetic creativity to break the insidious spell of religion for me.

    You're talking about watered-down metaphorized religion. God and Jesus as a metaphysical force such as Tillich or Teilhard De Chardin taught. No most people don't want that sort of cerebral depersonalized approach to the spiritual. They'd rather have everything spelt out clear and infallibly--sparing them of the burden of doubt and granting them a free pass into the afterlife. People want something out of religion. And that's how it maintains its enormous appeal. It pitches itself to the more visceral instincts of fear and shame and hope that rule the uneducated masses.
  8. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Depends on how we define 'religion' and 'better people'.

    My own view is that I don't think that it makes a lot of difference for most people. Most people's religiosity is kind of nominal and they are thoroughly secular most of the time.

    But for some people, religion is associated with ethics and compassion. To the extent that they keep their religious principles in mind, they are apt to behave more ethically and compassionately.

    And there are other people, whose religiosity pushes them in the direction of fanaticism and even terrorism.

    Even atheists are prone to judging people, particularly religious people, and labeling them 'worse' than themselves.

    Whether a religous person's belief in sin makes any difference in their value judgements probably depends on how the word 'sin' is understood and on what it's thought to mean. My sense is that most people kind of treat it as synonymous with 'wrong', 'bad' or 'evil'. Opposing bad things might be a good thing or a bad thing (I seem to be getting into a circular loop here), depending on how 'good' and 'bad' are identified. Providing a justifiable account of that is a real conundrum, but it's a problem for all of ethics, not just religious ethics.

    And people probably need to remember that not all religions even have a concept of sin. That's basically a Judeo-Christian-Islamic concept, it seems to me. It's the idea of disobeying, or going against the will of God. Other religions have other ideas that play similar roles in their ethics, but sometimes in very different ways.
  9. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    And does it give you peace of mind to think this way about the past?

    And yet not everyone who is exposed to the kind of things you were, thinks and feels about those things the way you do/did.

    Some people, for example, pity those wo wish to oppress them.

    Actually, I'd say you have a long long way to go to "break the spell of religion," "insidious" or otherwise.

    Not at all. But I think you've had so far a very limited, narrow exposure to religion. You yet have to get past the drama.

    But here, we're talking about you (and other people present in this discussion), not some vague "other people" who aren't participating here.
  10. Hapsburg Hellenistic polytheist Valued Senior Member

    Quite. In many native or ethnic religions, both in antiquity and in the ones still existing as living traditions, the notion of the gods handing down laws to man, and man disobeying them being some grievous wrong, was not that pervasive or extensive. The gods or other spiritual beings were seen as forces of nature, indifferent to mankind's laws and governance; they could be beseeched and sought out for aid, but they're not the ultimate arbiters of how people interact with each other. Human beings are, because it's our rules and our societies.
    Though this did, and does, vary. The description I outlined is most accurate for the Greeks. Though even they had some things that were portrayed as distasteful in the sight of the gods, such as cannibalism and inhospitality. The Romans, on the other hand, and the Egyptians for that matter, saw the gods as absolutely intertwined with the function of both state and society.

    I think it comes down to how extensive the state system is in a society, and how intertwined the religion is with that state. In societies that were tribal or dominated by tribe-like entities, such as city-states, there was a looser connection between the gods and human behaviour. In societies where there was a centralised state, and where the state religion was highly integrated into the bureaucracy, there was a stronger conceptualisation of the gods determining social propriety and the being ultimately responsible for the survival of the state. This latter form applies also to societies where the only form of governance was the religious bureaucracy.
    The concept of "sin" is strongest in societies that expressed the latter form of religion as a social construct. Societies such as Second Temple Judaism, Late Roman and Byzantine Christianity, the Islamic Caliphate, and Imperial Japan. And, probably most prominently in our minds, the mediaeval Catholic Church, when its bureaucracy and role in society allowed it to function as more of a state than the state itself in many parts of Europe.
  11. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member


    It gives me peace of mind to be out of religion period. Why should I require thinking to achieve what I already have?

    "But here, we're talking about you (and other people present in this discussion), not some vague "other people" who aren't participating here."

    Actually I have exactly zero interest in how a religionist like you evaluates me or my progress in life.

    I didn't ask for your advice or observations about my character. You're in no position to judge me..not that's that ever stopped religious prigs like you from doing it.

    We're talking about religion as per the OP. Try to stay on topic..
  12. Robittybob1 Banned Banned

    Don't feel victimized, it happens both ways.
  13. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    That you think I, of all people, am religious, just goes to show that you're not really able to discuss the topic of religion in much depth. And that you don't have much to offer in terms of getting past the abuse that people sometimes suffer at the hands of those who claim to be religious.

  14. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    Right. Not religious at all. No dog in this hunt at all. A passive nonemotional observer who just happens to be enthusiastic about religion being true. Hell, you're as priggish and moralizing as they come. You just hide behind the veil of philosophy because you think it makes you look more sophisticated. Just another prop for your sanctimonious grandiosity. A creaky old soapbox to judge other people from. I can smell the stench of your religious piety a mile away. So don't even TRY to pass this "not religious" crap off on me. Been there done that.
  15. Balerion Banned Banned

    MR, take this from someone who literally has no horse in the race between you and wynn: You're wasting your time. I put her on ignore a long time ago, and not only has her presence on this site declined by about 200%, but my life is far less stressful. She's not interested in conversation. You have the right of it in your post above. I suggest following my lead on this.

    Anyway, to the question of the OP.

    I think it would be impossible to at once claim that religion turns us into monsters but that it can't have the opposite effect. Some anti-theists make the mistake of arguing against religion's benefits, and I can understand why; conceding even a single point to a zealot means you're going to lose the debate 1-0. I know, I've been there. But I honestly think there is a difference between doing good in the name of God (or Allah, or Buddah, or whomever) and doing good for the "right" reasons.

    Not always, but for many religion is a risk-reward proposition. The ethical guidelines set down by organized faiths tend to center around the offer of heaven and the threat of hell, or some similarly-tantalizing analog. To me, this is merely behavior modification, as opposed to a philosophical sea change. This would explain why the secular find themselves so often at odds over very basic ideas, like the principle of equality. Because the religious are basing their actions on holy writ rather than compassion or understanding, they can feed the homeless with one hand and push back against homosexuals with the other. And because the secular don't base their actions on dogma, you don't find such glaring dichotomies.

    Obviously this isn't to say that religious people have no empathy. It's just that their "philosophy" is regurgitated scripture, rather than an ideal formed from experience and a knowledge of the human condition. Nor am I saying that non-religious people can't be bad or contradictory. They can. But where morality is concerned, they tend to be open to reason and logic rather than commandments from on high.

    So I guess the point is that, at best, religion merely gives us the appearance of being better people.
  16. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    But you still judge "religion" and "religious people" very negatively, based on some standard that you believe in.

    That's not necessarily a criticism, it's more an observation. Everyone makes moral judgements. What words are used to refer to what's being condemned ('sin', 'evil', 'wrong'...) doesn't seem to me to be as important as how these kind of judgements are justified.
  17. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    In order to address that question intelligently, one would have to define the scope of the word 'religion' and specify some criteria for making judgements about ethical behavior and psychological adjustment. Those definitions would likely be controversial.

    But just speaking conversationally, I'd say that sometimes religion does make people better. That's fairly common, in fact. Lots of people behave in more compassionate and ethical ways when they keep their religious precepts in mind.

    That being said, I think that religious adherence doesn't have very much effect on most people, whose religiosity is usually pretty nominal. And there are obviously plenty of religious-fanatic types out there who use religion to justify all kinds of unetical and anti-social behaviors. Some forms of religiosity seem to me to lend themselves to that.
  18. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    I think that you are battling with your own demons, MR.

    Your childhood doesn't sound like it was very happy and I think that you continue to equate those painful experiences with religiosity in general. So all religion becomes Christianity. All Christianity becomes fundamentalist Protestantism. So all forms of religion, whatever they are, must always be, at their deepest and truest level... dark and painful.

    Maybe that explains some of your seeming contradictions, how you can blast "religion" at one moment, then rush off again on your search for meaning, transcendence and magic. You entertain all kinds of ideas that seem to me to be basically religious both in their content and their motivation.

    I'm sympathetic. While I haven't experienced it, I can see how some varieties of religiosity can harm children. I can understand the resentments deriving from that.

    The problem is that you might be failing to perceive the many forms of religiosity that bear little resemblance to your youthful experiences. You might be blinding yourself to everything positive. Religion specializes in just the sort of transcendence that you seek. It's motivated most of the world's greatest art and music. It speaks to people's hopes and dreams, giving them a sense that their lives and the universe around them are meaningful.

    Maybe in factual terms, most of those religious dreams are ultimately illusory and false. But that doesn't mean that they can't on occasion be emotionally satisfying and surpassingly beautiful.
  19. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Any asshole can get angry at "religion" and thus think he has transcended it. But he hasn't.

    I myself have had many negative experiences with people who claim to be religious. I have had many sleepless nights full of tears over that. So much time wasted, so many life opportunities wasted.

    Many people with negative experiences with people who claim to be religious become angry and bitter, revengeful. I was like that too for some time. But at some point, I got tired of the anger and bitterness, the revengfulness didn't bring me any real peace of mind. Eventually, a very clear determination arose in me that I don't want to be like those angry, bitter, revengeful people.
    I can't say I "have arrived," but I dare say I have more peace of mind, and more insight than so many who are still angry with religion.
  20. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    He sure does.

    And he's actually quite fortunate to have some contact to people who are either unscathed by abuse in the name of religion, or who have been, but are succeeding in making an effort to get over it.
  21. Balerion Banned Banned

    I don't think the most responsible advice you could give MR is to find his meaning and magic in a less fundamentalist denomination. He's an emotionally-stunted victim of fire-and-brimstone Catholicism; telling him to chase fairies over some other hill is pretty cruel.
  22. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    In normal cases when people speak of their direct experience with something, it is respected as a genuine insight into the nature of that something. I fished in that river and didn't catch a thing. I ate at that restaurant and got food poisoning. I tried that product and it didn't work. Why does religion suddenly become the exception, as if my experience with it wasn't genuine or maybe I didn't have the right religion? Yes..I DID have a bad experience. It was called religion. It was this teaching that I am a worthless wretch in need of Jesus to avoid eternal damnation by a so-called loving God. It was believing all these lies as real as you believe in science or psychology. I'm not exactly naive here in my generalization. When I left fundamentalist christianity I started studying theologians like C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesteron, and George MacDonald. I was more open to the higher valencies of God's love for us and the meaning of the cross. But it was STILL the same basic scenario--about deriving all my worth from how this imaginary being in my head regarded me. It was not good. It made me less of a person and to some extent continues to to this very day.

    The difference between finding meaning in Being and finding it in religion is that the former is real and the latter is imaginary. I now open myself just to Being, in all of it manifold forms and manifestations. It is infinite, immediately accessible, and genuine. And there is no need to grovel before it so you can feel special and accepted. You can call it magic. I call it the wonder of being alive and free in a mysterious yet beautiful cosmos.

    Religion specializes in a preconceptualized moralistic transcendence that is fake. It wants to convince you it's all about you. And that at the same time you can never live up to all this attention you're getting. That's a terrible burden to bear and a real drainer of life energy. Real transcendence otoh opens oneself up to the vast irrelevance of yourself in the scheme of things. That you DON'T need approval from some God to be who you are. Just be who you already are, like a tree is a tree or a river is a river. And that ultimately, everything's goin to be ok. I guess I should apply that truth even to the existence of religion. People MAY actually find their own ways out of that maze much as I did and come out of it a stronger and more insightful person. It actually doesn't depend on what I say one bit.

    But if there's a non-illusory experience of the sublime and the beautiful, why not opt for that instead? It's the difference between say staying a heroin addict or cleaning up and finding a more fulfilling life. Why not shoot for the real thing instead of shooting up, if such even really exists?
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2013
  23. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    It is respected as such, but not taken to be objective truth of the matter.
    And your "review" is as respected as any other, but it is just one of many. You may be just one of the 1% of dissenting views of that restaurant... i.e. you just got unlucky. That it put you off ever going there again is understandable, but does you catching food poisoning mean that it is objectively a bad restaurant that will give everyone food poisoning?
    It's not treated any differently. Yours is simply not the only view. For every person that had a bad experience, there is someone who has nothing but praise for their religion.
    And maybe it was even just the particular chain of restaurants you went to... such that it didn't matter if you went to one in Ireland, England, US, Japan you would get the same experience... but that doesn't mean that all restaurants are bad.
    Was it religion, or was it just a particular brand of religion? Was it just a particular brand or was it a particular restaurant within that brand? How do you know it was religion and not the subset you were unlucky enough to experience?
    I'm not making excuses, or diminishing your experience in any way, just that it may not be as black and white as you perhaps see it.

    While I am not religious, many of my family are, and I can not say that it makes them any better or worse than me. It helps them where they might need it, gives them comfort, a path, a sense of community, and answers to questions that perhaps they need answering to be able to be comfortable within themselves. I don't know for sure... I am not them... but are they "better" than me? No. Are they "worse" than me? No. They are just different in the way they think about certain things.

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