Saturday, May 12, 2007

Religion as a Facilitator?

Although I'm no more of a religious person than is Sam Harris, I don't share his view that faith has always and merely been detrimental to humanity. Nor do I share the views of Richard Dawkins and many others that religion has more readily lent itself to evil than to good through-out human history. Instead, I subscribe to the view that religion has acted like an enabler.

That's to say, religion -- so far as I understand it -- doesn't create new motivations in people. Or, if it does create new motivations, that's a very small and insignificant part of what it does. Instead, it facilitates, encourages, or enables motivations that are already there.

For instance: I don't think religion creates a desire for power in people. But it is certain that religions have often facilitated for some people the realization of their desire for power. Again, I don't think religion creates a desire to be charitable. But it is just as certain as before that religions have often facilitated for some people the realization of their desire to be charitable.

So, as I see it, Harris, Dawkins, and many others miss an essential point here. They talk as if faith or religion creates motivations. I think it would be more correct to say that faith and religion enable motivations. Moreover, I believe they enable both good and evil, at least historically.

Given my view, the problem facing anyone concerned about the effect of religion on humanity is not to abolish religion, as Harris et al might wish to do, but to figure out how to make religion a wholly positive -- or at the least a benign -- influence on humanity.

4 comments:

Ed Yong said...

Bravo Paul.

Well said that man.

steppen wolf said...

however, it is much easier for an obsessed religious believer to justify the killing of innocents who are different (with another faith, infidels), no matter what the actual motivations behind it (power, land, slavery), than it is for non-religious people, who are usually bound to a more humanistic point of view. People might come up with Hitler and Stalin, but logically they had to turn their ideology into something of a religion to make their system work.

Also, I do not think that Dawkins' point is to say "look, this is how many bad things happened because of religion, and so on..": the main point is that we should be able to argue about theistic religions and belief in God like we should be able to do that about any other idea. The fact that people try to shield them from discussion is dangerous, more dangerous than the belief itself - which, though irrational, has probably some evolutionary/physiological and psycological explanation in itself.

Brendan said...

"Religion" is a label placed on certain forms of socially constructed reality. The underlying problem is that people give up their power of will to social institutions by identifying themselves through the institutions' mythologies rather approaching the world as creative individuals. Nationalism and religion are essentially the same thing. They are the same as political dogmatism as well. Christian v. Muslim, Conservative v. Liberal, American v. Iranian. It's all the same.

Elton said...

Religion, when separated from Spirituality; and in effect when the Disciples of the Master Teacher has disciples; then it loses its focus. Religion used to help a person attain Spirituality; but through the years a Religion can become distanced from Spirituality.