Would the world really be better without religion?

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by Neil Godfrey

Tamas Pataki

And it gets better. This is the link to the second part of Tamas Pataki’s address: http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2010/08/13/2981969.htm

I was moved by humanity expressed in Pataki’s 2007 book, and it is refreshing to find this expounded once again from a secular humanist viewpoint.

The second part begins:

I concluded the first part of this article with the contention that the humanist atheist is obliged to try to understand the complexity of religious experience, and the social conditions, human needs and unconscious wishes that give rise to it. Unfortunately, in my opinion, many of our prominent atheists have failed in that exercise of sympathetic understanding.

To suppose, for example, that religion arose principally as a kind of proto-science, and was then perpetuated by the self-interest of priests, or to suppose that its survival depends mainly on infant credulousness and indoctrination supported by subsequent social reinforcement – as Dawkins, Grayling and many others do – is to miss entirely the most important thing about religion: its emotional significance for its adherent, its intimate relations to human needs.

Infants are credulous, but why does religion persist in the adult, often in the teeth of unanswerable objections? Can it be reduced to indoctrination? In this view, religious adherence is conceived as a kind of intense education, as in a madras or yeshiva.

Well, then, why can’t we be indoctrinated into physics or geology? “Indoctrination” is not an answer, but rather merely a label on a problem.

Such accounts of the origin and persistence of religion – and I would say the same about speculations concerning “god genes” and memes – radically misunderstand the kind of thing religion is.

In a word, they ignore the ongoing psychological functions of religious beliefs, practices and institutions. For example, they ignore the way some religious beliefs sustain and are sustained by unconscious dependencies on parents, or the way religion can satisfy various liberally distributed narcissistic, hysterical and obsessional needs.

And there’s worse. Most religions entertain the conceit that only they can endow human life with meaning and purpose. This admirable end is allegedly achieved by situating human life in a larger scheme of divine purposes.

He then gives poor Christopher Hitchens a well-deserved dressing down for some of his comments in his God Is Not Great.

The religious (Abrahamic ones certainly) are taken to task for, despite their claims to the contrary, shutting down the experience of mystery. Their dogmas leave no room for it.

I found his comparison of religion with insect pests quite, well, amusingly ironical. We know if we get rid of them we will upset the whole ecosystem and our own survival! 🙂

And he is always open-minded to the last:

But the empirically-minded atheist and secular humanist must also concede ignorance. I do not mean about the existence of god, for that matter seems to me settled – there indubitably is no god (though we could be wrong).

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Neil Godfrey

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