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Are the benefits of religion greater than the costs to society?:

As a non-believer, I am stuck wondering what, exactly, religion does that makes it so appealing to people. Is it just about the comfort of believing some deity is watching over you, and that one day you will be reunited with dead relatives and friends? Because if that is all that it is about, then that seems a poor reward considering the costs of religion to society.

To be fair, there are some other "spinoffs" from religion that have some limited benefit. Here's a list, before I go into the negative side of religion:

1. Art. Temples need their treasures, and some of the most beautiful buildings, sculptures, paintings, and music on Earth come from religion. The thing is, you don't have to have religion to inspire artists, and oftentimes art can be repressed just as easily as it is encouraged by the various faiths.

2. Most religions do encourage charity and good-will towards others, and donate food and medical supplies to the needy. I'm enough of an optimist, though, that I feel humans would follow these practices with or without a religion actively encouraging them.

Please feel free to point out any other benefits. Like I said, I am not of any faith, and therefore might have missed something in my ignorance.

Now, for the negatives: 1. AIDS crisis in Africa would have been contained if not for the Catholic church's problems with condoms. So millions of people die from AIDS because we refused to spend our money sending Africa protection, all due to religious misgivings about contraception.

2. Forced conversion is one of the great horrors of the past, right? Except for the fact that missionaries are actively undermining native cultures globally, and often use conversion as the price for services such as food and medical supplies. People get angry over physical genocide of a peoples, but religion gets a pass when it commits cultural genocide? We are losing hundreds if not thousands of unique languages, folk traditions, and cultural practices to missionaries.

3. Religions remove vast sums of wealth from circulation, undermining the economy. Though some of said wealth does go on to fund charity events, most of it is used to buy land or for constructing new churches and filling new churches with useless trinkets. Imagine if all the land owned by churches was taxed, and that the money spent on building these structures instead went towards improving society.

4. The general progress of science is often held up by religious groups, even in such cases where the research in question has obvious benefits to society at large. Case in point, Perry's recent denials of global warming, motivated by appealing to the anti-science platform of the religious right, has cast doubt on legitimate scientific concerns at a time when the opportunity to stave off the worst consequences of global warming is fast reaching a critical point of no return. Then there's the opposition to famine-ending genetic engineering, the denial of evolution by religious groups which undermines efforts to stop bacteria from evolving antibiotic resistances, opposition to euthanasia when quality of life in the patient is unbearable...I could go on, but I think you see what I mean.

5. Most conflicts on Earth are caused by religious differences. Pakistan vs. India, the USSR vs. USA, the mess in the Middle East (Shiite vs. Sunni vs. Jews vs. Christians vs. Zoroastrianism vs. etc.), conflicts all over Africa (such as Sudan), unrest in Southern Mexico, Southeast Asia, and to some extent Russia vs. its former Soviet satellites (atheism/Orthodoxy vs. Islam).

6. On a more specific level, the desire to usher in the End of Days in some Christian sects (by triggering a war in the middle east) has penetrated surprisingly deeply into the government of the USA, and is the source of the "support Israel no matter what the costs" line of thinking that might end up making it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Is it not madness to desire a disastrous war, and how can we possibly ignore the matter simply because it is coming from a religious source?

7. And finally, all those cases where an otherwise intelligent and pro-active person decides that a problem is "in god's hands" and fails to act when they could have prevented a coming disaster. You see this kind of talk a lot concerning our failures to protect the environment for ourselves, but I believe it permeates through all levels of society and basically accumulates to the point that it obstructs and hinders the progress of human society towards a technological utopia.

Well, those are my feelings on the matter. To me, the harm that religion does cannot compare to the good feelings it gives its practitioners.
 
 2 USAF713, Sun, 4th Dec '11 6:17:26 PM from the United States
I changed accounts.
This won't get past two pages before it gets locked, I absolutely guarantee it.

I'm enough of an optimist, though, that I feel humans would follow these practices with or without a religion actively encouraging them.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

...

Oh, wait, you're serious.

There's a reason that, in the absence of powerful religious control pushing people towards charity, we have to have the government do it instead.

AIDS crisis in Africa would have been contained if not for the Catholic church's problems with condoms. So millions of people die from AIDS because we refused to spend our money sending Africa protection, all due to religious misgivings about contraception.

I highly doubt that by the '80s the Catholic Church had that much control over policy to actually dictate such a thing.

What is far more likely is that the developed world is simply not willing to spend the money to actually fix the problem.

Forced conversion is one of the great horrors of the past, right? Except for the fact that missionaries are actively undermining native cultures globally, and often use conversion as the price for services such as food and medical supplies. People get angry over physical genocide of a peoples, but religion gets a pass when it commits cultural genocide? We are losing hundreds if not thousands of unique languages, folk traditions, and cultural practices to missionaries.

Because governmental outreach programs into the Third World from the First and Second Worlds are obviously really great at preventing this kind of thing.

If religion didn't do it, economic globalization would.

3. Religions remove vast sums of wealth from circulation, undermining the economy. Though some of said wealth does go on to fund charity events, most of it is used to buy land or for constructing new churches and filling new churches with useless trinkets. Imagine if all the land owned by churches was taxed, and that the money spent on building these structures instead went towards improving society.

Ha! "Vast sums of wealth, " he says. You're living in the medieval era, buddy. You should be looking for CEOs doing this, not religions.

4. The general progress of science is often held up by religious groups, even in such cases where the research in question has obvious benefits to society at large. Case in point, Perry's recent denials of global warming, motivated by appealing to the anti-science platform of the religious right, has cast doubt on legitimate scientific concerns at a time when the opportunity to stave off the worst consequences of global warming is fast reaching a critical point of no return. Then there's the opposition to famine-ending genetic engineering, the denial of evolution by religious groups which undermines efforts to stop bacteria from evolving antibiotic resistances, opposition to euthanasia when quality of life in the patient is unbearable...I could go on, but I think you see what I mean.

  • Perry is a fanatic. The mainline religious position is almost certainly not against global warming. I will put on a top hat and set myself on fire if it is.
  • Opposition to genetically-engineered farming is understandable, if somewhat misguided, because it easily could wreak havoc on the environment and cause economic devastation like robotics did to the manufacturing sector. The world overproduces food as it is; it's just the wrong people making all the food that's the problem.
  • Once again, only the fanatics deny evolution. The official Catholic Church position is that evolution is real. My Catholic high school taught evolution and only evolution, sans intelligent design.
  • I'm against euthanasia and I'm not even religious. Keep trying, you'll get there eventually.

5. Most conflicts on Earth are caused by religious differences. Pakistan vs. India, the USSR vs. USA, the mess in the Middle East (Shiite vs. Sunni vs. Jews vs. Christians vs. Zoroastrianism vs. etc.), conflicts all over Africa (such as Sudan), unrest in Southern Mexico, Southeast Asia, and to some extent Russia vs. its former Soviet satellites (atheism/Orthodoxy vs. Islam).

Actually, most conflicts are caused by economic tensions. Religion is just window dressing. See: the Crusades. They didn't go in to take over the Holy Land, they went in to attempt to reunite the Roman Empire for profit. The Holy Land wars were the bonus.

Likewise, somebody failed Cold War history. The atheism v. Christianity thing was secondary to the actual conflict, and the atheistic Soviet Union committed more atrocities than the largely Christian United States.

Though I would qualify atheism as its own form of religious belief, so perhaps that's a point in your favor either way, hm?

6. On a more specific level, the desire to usher in the End of Days in some Christian sects (by triggering a war in the middle east) has penetrated surprisingly deeply into the government of the USA, and is the source of the "support Israel no matter what the costs" line of thinking that might end up making it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Is it not madness to desire a disastrous war, and how can we possibly ignore the matter simply because it is coming from a religious source?

Oh my god, please stop abusing my strawman radar. It's not used to this kind of thing!

7. And finally, all those cases where an otherwise intelligent and pro-active person decides that a problem is "in god's hands" and fails to act when they could have prevented a coming disaster. You see this kind of talk a lot concerning our failures to protect the environment for ourselves, but I believe it permeates through all levels of society and basically accumulates to the point that it obstructs and hinders the progress of human society towards a technological utopia.

"I believe..."

..."I believe..."

I wonder what these words mean?

Let's try language that will appeal to you: unverifiable, untestable hypothesis.

You have to prove assertions. I don't see statistics or studies here. I see mostly baseless attempts to claim that religion is the source of all our problems.

You'd have an easier time claiming that capitalism fucked up the last three or four centuries than religion, anyhow, though there's a reasonably good case that a religious sect gave us modern capitalism, so hey, there's another talking point to bolster this absurd argument.

edited 4th Dec '11 6:18:24 PM by USAF713

I am now known as Flyboy.
 3 Vericrat, Sun, 4th Dec '11 6:18:31 PM from .0000001 seconds ago
Like this, but brown.
Okay, I am in agreement with much of your cost/benefit analysis of religion, though I would point out that when a religious organization pays money to have, for example, a church erected, that does not take money out of the economy. People are paid to build the church. They then spend that money on food, bills, etc. In fact, unless religions just keep the money they receive in a box somewhere, they CAN'T take money out of the economy. Put it in a bank? It's being invested. Buy some "worthless trinket"? Someone made it and now is a little richer.

Removing that particular negative is small potatoes to me though. There is one additional cost you have to consider, but it isn't a cost of religion - it's the cost of removing it.

In a democratic society, it's hard to value a right more than the right to put forth your ideas, decide how you're going to come to decisions, and what you personally believe. Freedom of speech, religion, etc, are there because there is truth to be found, be it scientific, spiritual, or philosophical. Finding that truth often requires vigorous debate, and even when that debate is over, you'll still have people in the "wrong" still voicing their opinions. You may find that annoying, but since the truth will occasionally be championed by less charismatic people than lies, sometimes, the "truth" will be the loser in a debate, and therefore, to promote understanding and truth, we have to let those who have lost keep talking.

So getting rid of religions would rob us of a fundamental right that men need if we are to seek truth. Maybe religions harm us in other ways, but I can't see them as being more important than that basic right.
THIS IS A PSA: As of 1/1/13 there is a 1-year moratorium on No Pants Thursdays. Instead, we shall celebrate No Pants 2013.
 4 feotakahari, Sun, 4th Dec '11 6:25:54 PM from Looking out at the city
Fuzzy Orange Doomsayer
I don't think religious fanaticism is fundamentally different from any other form of fanaticism. I've certainly had plenty of experience with anti-religious fanatics who were certain they knew more than they really knew . . . [insert yet another anti-Yudkowsky rant here]

Anyways, without religion, people would just be killing each other over politics.
That's Feo . . . He's a disgusting, mysoginistic, paedophilic asshat who moonlights as a shitty writer—Something Awful
 5 Drunk Girlfriend, Sun, 4th Dec '11 6:28:26 PM from Castle Geekhaven
I think that the "benefits" of religion are far outweighed by the harm it causes, but y'all have already heard me talk about this enough in other places.
"I don't know how I do it. I'm like the Mr. Bean of sex." -Drunkscriblerian
 6 USAF713, Sun, 4th Dec '11 6:32:51 PM from the United States
I changed accounts.
Well, hey, I wouldn't be terribly distressed if all the religious people in the world spontaneously became agnostic atheists or secular humanists or whatever. I'd be kind of sad at all the potential culture that probably just died, but so long as they do it of their own accord, I don't really care.

However, if nothing else, MGIFS's analysis of the problems religion has caused is largely wrong or better attributed to other, deeper-rooted issues than religion itself.
I am now known as Flyboy.
Princess Ymir's knightess
Without religion there wouldn't be atheism.

So Stalin's reign of terror was the fault of religion too!

 8 Clarste, Sun, 4th Dec '11 6:48:47 PM Relationship Status: Non-Canon
Three Steps
Anyways, without religion, people would just be killing each other over politics.
I think without religion or politics we'd be killing each other over sports teams.

Personally I don't believe religion has any particular benefits, but it's not really more harmful than any other kind of "us against them" mentality.

 9 Shinziril, Sun, 4th Dec '11 6:50:13 PM from the internet
Compulsive Researcher
Also, it depends on the religion, for fairly obvious reasons.

But eh.

[up][up]Americans already worship football, so I definitely see this being the case.
 
 11 drunkscriblerian, Sun, 4th Dec '11 6:54:11 PM from Castle Geekhaven Relationship Status: In season
Street Writing Man
to my way of thinking, religion is a good deal like modern British monarchy; it's outdated and doesn't really have a practical use that isn't better served with other things, but its ingrained into society and a lot of people would not appreciate it being suddenly disposed of. So I guess it's here to stay.

If I were to write some of the strange things that come under my eyes they would not be believed.

~Cora M. Strayer~
 12 Blurring, Sun, 4th Dec '11 7:28:17 PM from Ampang, Selangor, Malaysia.
Get bored because one can.
Mostly agree with USAF 713

1. Is the religious really have that much say in this?

2. As old cultures die new ones are born.

3. Unless they hide a tonne of cash in the basement, they are contributing to the economy by spending money on religious building and paraphernalia.

4. And then there are secular environmentalists ranting about GMO and secular whatever who spread garbage about food and nutrition.

And to answer your earliest question, I follow my religion as a submission to God. End of story.

edited 4th Dec '11 7:33:16 PM by Blurring

Ain't no parrot on my shoulder and no rings in my ear, but I ain't no irate pirate, real swashbuckling buccaneer!
Moar and Moar and Moar
I'm as outspoken as an atheist as anybody, and to be honest, I'd say it's a coinflip. it's 50/50.

However, my point, is that it doesn't have to be. I think you can lose the bad points without losing the good points. You don't have to throw the baby out with the bathwater so to speak.

That said, the good half can come from non-religious community organizations, so if religion is unwilling to adapt to fix that other 50%, well, what has to be will be.
Democracy is the process in which we determine the government that we deserve
> Is it just about the comfort of believing some deity is watching over you, and that one day you will be reunited with dead relatives and friends? Because if that is all that it is about, then that seems a poor reward considering the costs of religion to society.

That's not poor rewards. There is a lot non-religious people indulging in Astrology, Seance, etc. And all primitive societies studied have attempt to control weather, to control misfortune.

The idea that by prayer you could control your life, have misfortune disappear, and have better rewards at least in afterlife if not in this life is a very powerful desire. It is fundamental nature of human. You can not completely destroy it.

 15 The Earth Sheep, Sun, 4th Dec '11 8:32:36 PM from a Pasture hexagon
Christmas Sheep
I came in here to say things, but USAF said everything I was going to.

Well played, sir.
Still Sheepin'
 16 Joesolo, Sun, 4th Dec '11 8:56:24 PM Relationship Status: watch?v=dQw4w9WgXcQ
Indiana Solo
"AIDS crisis in Africa would have been contained if not for the Catholic church's problems with condoms. So millions of people die from AIDS because we refused to spend our money sending Africa protection, all due to religious misgivings about contraception."

The Church says they are allowed in extreme cases. I doubt that would have stopped the people who were raping everyone to take them down with them, or the many who though raping a Virgin would heal them. Not to mention the Church Spends MILLIONS trying to help those people.

In short, benefits far out weigh the non-exestant costs.
I am going to shove the sunshine so far up where the sun don't shine that you will vomit nothing but warm summer days -Belkar
 17 Kexruct, Sun, 4th Dec '11 9:31:01 PM from Vvardenfell
nonarySpade
I wish there was a way to flag threads...
They call themselves seamstresses -Feet of Clay
Princess Ymir's knightess
Religion is evil. And you are evil for believing in it.

Source: Family Guy.

 19 USAF713, Sun, 4th Dec '11 9:45:39 PM from the United States
I changed accounts.
@Kex,

If you mean report to the mods, the little yellow triangle button on each post will let you do that.

Might as well lock this, before it goes down in flames. MGIFS doesn't seem to want to contest my rebuttal anyway.
I am now known as Flyboy.
[up]I've said my piece, you've said yours, I'm refraining from starting a tit for tat thing mostly because I don't want this to turn into a flame war.

Though I do remain unconvinced on all the issues I raised, including the removal of wealth from circulation. Temporary construction jobs cannot possibly outweigh the taxes that could be collected from the land if it was put towards more productive use, and tithes are still very much a part of all religions.

Also, as for the Catholics stopping condom use in Africa, it is less their influence on the USA (though that is a factor), and more the influence missionaries have on how aid gets distributed in Africa and what the English schools in various countries actually teach the people. I have been to Africa, and I have seen how missionaries have misled the natives into thinking that condoms are cursed and will cause your genitals to wither away because they are against God's wishes, and how the church deludes Africans into believing that the first step towards modernity and the wealth it brings is to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior. Then they start asking for the tithes. Its basically an enormous scam, and if any other organization was doing it besides a religion there would be international outcry.

And yes, globalization destroys cultures too, but it does it passively - there's a difference between manslaughter and murder, and that difference is intent. Missionaries are actively out to end anything of cultural value that does not agree with their faith. And it isn't just Christians (though the Christians are the most organized) - the Taliban blowing up ancient statues of the Buddha is another prime example.

edited 4th Dec '11 10:35:23 PM by MyGodItsFullofStars

 
 21 USAF713, Sun, 4th Dec '11 10:30:58 PM from the United States
I changed accounts.
Well, unless you can demonstrate that they're literally stashing the money in the basement or burning it, it's functionally impossble for them to take money out of the economy.

And again transnational corporations do infinitely more damage than religion.

Your "point" on holy wars is absurd, too. More people died from warfare in the 20th Century alone than in the 2, 000 years before it, and most of the major wars were over economic ideologies, not religion.

You really have nothing to show for that OP. Nothing intentional, at least. I reiterate that the atheist Soviet Union did more stupid shit than the predominently Christian US. Likewise, any "officially atheist" country is almost guaranteed to be a genocidal hellhole.

Even if religion was as bad as whatever fantasyland version of it you have in yur head, what do you suggest we do about it?
I am now known as Flyboy.
[up]What do we do about it? We let it go. We realize that our future can only be secure if humanity accepts the fact that there is no big man in the sky to come and bail us out. We grow up, roll up our sleeves, and get to work fixing the problems that we are the cause of. We recognize that as the only intelligent beings on this planet we have a responsibility to ourselves and to our world to protect and nourish life where we can.

Over time as medical advances increase our age and we learn not only how to coexist with the rest of nature but to promote its growth on other planets, we slowly come to realize that the REAL gods are ourselves. That is what I would strive for, an awareness of our awesome potential to be a force for good in this universe, if only we'd stop being so afraid of the dark and keep running back to our old superstitions. Of course they bring comfort, but children at some point need to stop running back to mommy and daddy when something goes bump in the night. It is time for our civilization to do the same.
 
 23 drunkscriblerian, Sun, 4th Dec '11 10:42:43 PM from Castle Geekhaven Relationship Status: In season
Street Writing Man
Might as well lock this, before it goes down in flames.

Or we could all, you know, behave ourselves and discuss this like rational adults.
If I were to write some of the strange things that come under my eyes they would not be believed.

~Cora M. Strayer~
 24 USAF713, Sun, 4th Dec '11 10:46:07 PM from the United States
I changed accounts.
@MGIFS,

You are naive and optimistic.

I hate to say it, but, you'll learn.

@Drunk,

AHAHAHAHAHAHA!

That was funny. tongue
I am now known as Flyboy.
 25 Blurring, Sun, 4th Dec '11 11:15:47 PM from Ampang, Selangor, Malaysia.
Get bored because one can.
Agreed 2nd time with USAF today.tongue

@22

And God really told us to grow up, roll up our sleeves, and get to work fixing the problems. God even make this a form of worship to God. So we do the things you said, the difference is, we do it because of God.

edited 4th Dec '11 11:25:26 PM by Blurring

Ain't no parrot on my shoulder and no rings in my ear, but I ain't no irate pirate, real swashbuckling buccaneer!
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