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

 101 Fighteer, Wed, 7th Dec '11 11:03:30 AM from the Time Vortex Relationship Status: Dancing with Captain Jack Harkness
I will EXTERMINATE your unhappiness!
As with any generalization, there are exceptions, but many of those quibbles are over doctrinal issues and don't touch the core elements of the faith. Plus, modern times have brought a vast liberalization of thought, largely due to the fact that the Church is no longer the primary channel for information flow.
 102 Aondeug, Wed, 7th Dec '11 11:05:02 AM from  Our Dreams
Oh My
What Fighteer says certainly has merit though it could do with generalization. If we think about it it's more "people are really dumb and will swallow whatever fits with their beliefs". Things that have the words "scientist Bob said" stamped on it or "herbalologically hermetic" are bought into by the corresponding people because hey, it must be true. These people said so and they are people with fancy degrees and shit who agree with me so they must be right. Right? But then I feel that this was probably meant to be implied by his post. Religion just happened to be the one big dog for the longest amount of time.
If someone wants to accuse us of eating coconut shells, then that's their business. We know what we're doing. - Achaan Chah
 103 Fighteer, Wed, 7th Dec '11 11:07:41 AM from the Time Vortex Relationship Status: Dancing with Captain Jack Harkness
I will EXTERMINATE your unhappiness!
Right. There are lots of channels for information flow, but the Church (of all types and variations) was the biggest and most influential one for thousands of years.

Human beings come with built-in information filters that determine how we react to new ideas. You can look at it like a heuristic: we automatically screen new information and assign it a reliability factor on the basis of how it matches our filters. For example, we're more likely to believe something that a friend or family member tells us than a complete stranger. Religious indoctrination is a ready-made channel for bypassing information filters. Once you have the notion of God as an infallible super-being and the Church as the spokesman for God firmly implanted, then most of your work is done already.

Obviously, religion isn't the only channel, but like I said, it's one of the oldest and strongest. The fact is that once you have established such a channel, it's just as easy to insert harmful memes as it is beneficial ones. Anti-gay prejudice, for example, has no basis in biology or science, but is propagated almost entirely through religion.

It takes a lot of hard work to install rational information filters in a human being. It takes exceptionally hard work to modify already-existing filters.

edited 7th Dec '11 11:42:01 AM by Fighteer

 104 Owlman, Wed, 7th Dec '11 12:44:13 PM from Doesn't matter.
It doesn't matter.
This would be a topic for another thread, but, incidentally, I'd like to sak, why is it that something as esoteric as religion is what causes such passion in peopleposters, that their spirits ignite with hitherto unseen flare, cutting and slicing at each other with keen eagerness... In other words, why do people pull all the guns and show up extra-smart to discussions about stuff that doesn't affect Real Life all that much? Is it, then, a good thing, that religion exists, if only to give people something interesting to discuss and be smart about? Was that all those nerdy priests had for centuries, in their basementsconventionsmonasteries? Was most of scholasics troperish geeking out, in the Something-Awful sense of "troperish" (those who don't know what that sense is... don't ask...)?

If you deem this to be flame bait, or too clumsy, don't hesitate to PM and I will edit accordingly.
I don't want to set the world on fire, baby. I love you too much. I just want to start a big, big flame in your heart.
Moar and Moar and Moar
It's simple.

I do think that religion and spiritual beliefs do affect the external world. I reject the notion that they don't. Some religious groups do affect the world positively, some affect it negatively. My interest is in maximizing the positive and minimizing the negative.
Democracy is the process in which we determine the government that we deserve
 106 captainbrass 2, Wed, 7th Dec '11 12:49:34 PM from the United Kingdom
"Anti-gay prejudice is propagated almost entirely through religion."

Whilst I wouldn't dispute that this is partly true, this both ignores situations where homosexual activity was not disapproved of by the religion of the day (e.g. ancient Greece) and those where the prejudice was not primarily driven by religious belief. The Nazis, for example, persecuted gays on the basis of what they considered science.

I also have to say that a theory that basically says that people are prone to accept generalisations based on their pre-conceived views of the world, whether accurate or not, isn't that original. It's like saying: "People are people."
"Well, it's a lifestyle"
 107 Owlman, Wed, 7th Dec '11 12:56:56 PM from Doesn't matter.
It doesn't matter.
[up][up]Oh. So we're not talking "religion" as in "body of untestable hypotheses on how the world works", but relgion as "group affiliation"? So it's like with hooligans, whoever thinks football is just the matches/religion is just the tenets is comically missing the point?

Well then we shouldn't talk about religion, but about "religious groups". Unless you mean that sort of "affiliation" is bad in itself, rather than being an accidental characteristic of the groups that have it as their basis for existing?
I don't want to set the world on fire, baby. I love you too much. I just want to start a big, big flame in your heart.
Moar and Moar and Moar
Well see that's where it gets tricky. The words/definitions get all mixed up. I was actually more talking strictly about tenets there, and I apologize, to be honest, because I should have been clearer.

However there are some people..a lot of people really...who don't think that beliefs actually mean very much in the big picture and put the blame on "organized religion". I'm sure that's a term that's not unfamiliar to anybody here. I just happen to disagree. I think that the nature of those beliefs/tenets matter a great deal and will shape the character of the religion or any other group affiliation.

Religion isn't alone in this sort of thing of course, but we have to remember not to give it a free pass because of it. In fact, we should hold it to a higher standard as long as religious groups tend to claim having a higher standard.

Democracy is the process in which we determine the government that we deserve
 109 Fighteer, Wed, 7th Dec '11 1:20:41 PM from the Time Vortex Relationship Status: Dancing with Captain Jack Harkness
I will EXTERMINATE your unhappiness!
Organized religion is exactly the problem, because of the excessive political and economic power it grants to what is, effectively, glorified superstition. It is also the point, because religious institutions by their very nature tend to be expansive, grasping hold of as much power as possible in order to solidify their belief system in opposition to other belief systems. Dueling arch-memes.

A meme is exactly like a virus in that if it does not propagate itself within its host organism, it eventually goes extinct. Successful memes work by spreading to as many people as possible. Organized religion is a formally designed structure for meme propagation.

edited 7th Dec '11 1:22:00 PM by Fighteer

 110 Owlman, Wed, 7th Dec '11 1:26:03 PM from Doesn't matter.
It doesn't matter.
I'm not sure about that. The most extreme religions are not only small, they're designed to stay small. Initiation is hard, there's a lot of mystery and secrecy involved, etc etc. The most successful religious organizations are those that are ready to compromise their tenets to tailor a perfectly attractive message for every market. This can lead to some apparent schizophrenia if you are under the impression that the tenets are what matters rather than the gathering of people and the giving them "higher" reasons for doing what they've always been doing. By the way, merry Christmas.

edited 7th Dec '11 1:27:42 PM by Owlman

I don't want to set the world on fire, baby. I love you too much. I just want to start a big, big flame in your heart.
 111 Fighteer, Wed, 7th Dec '11 1:33:27 PM from the Time Vortex Relationship Status: Dancing with Captain Jack Harkness
I will EXTERMINATE your unhappiness!
Well, I'll grant you that. And mainstream Christianity is quite a bit less "extremist" than it used to be. Those fringe cults are extreme examples of self-contained meme generators, but they are also unsuccessful in the grand scheme of things for the very reason that their memes aren't robust enough to make the leap into general society. Islamic extremism is an interesting case; they have successfully advertised their product by using fear of outsiders as a catalyst... not unlike other cults.
 112 Owlman, Wed, 7th Dec '11 2:06:35 PM from Doesn't matter.
It doesn't matter.
It's not really fear of the outsider. It's more like fear of loss of what will never be recovered. Muslims were fine being all sorts of unholy for centuries, but they only started to take the creed seriously again once they noticed they were starting to lose it, and how cool and awesome and attractive the lifestyles of their bettersconquerors were. They were about to lose themselves out of their own volition, and they panicked, hard.

At least that's how I see the cultural part. But enough about the Muslims, let's talk about Shinto and State Shinto. For people who are so anxiously hooked up to Western fads (the sentiment is selectively returned), they're awfully obsessive and panicky about racial and cultural purity.

Or maybe Japan is too topical even for TV Tropes. Let's talk about [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord's_Resistance_Army]].

Our President has sent some folks to train other folks to kill these folks. And you know what? I'm happy about that.
I don't want to set the world on fire, baby. I love you too much. I just want to start a big, big flame in your heart.
 113 The Earth Sheep, Wed, 7th Dec '11 3:47:58 PM from a Pasture hexagon
Christmas Sheep
@Fighteer: I think you'll actually find that a lot of "additions" to Canon that people claim were given to them directly by God(s) are promptly quashed, or at least there is a good attempt at quashing. Just look at the beginnings of Mormonism: a guy claims that God himself appeared to him and, among other things, wants to reveal a new set of doctrine, essentially another Bible. What happens? The guy is killed by a mob and the entire religion is forced out of the country, after ruthless persecution, including an actual law that made it legal to kill Mormons. A very similar thing happened to Jesus and his early followers.

You can't just say stuff and have it be included in the Canon. People are conditioned much more to believe in the status quo than authority figures.

Oh, and another thing: As far as I know, a Catholic Pope has acted in his ability to speak for God, which is also the only time that his words are considered infallible, exactly SEVEN times. Ever. More than a millennium and a half of power, and it's been used on seven occasions.
Still Sheepin'
 114 Owlman, Wed, 7th Dec '11 10:05:22 PM from Doesn't matter.
It doesn't matter.
I thought the Church was infallible all the time?
I don't want to set the world on fire, baby. I love you too much. I just want to start a big, big flame in your heart.
 115 captainbrass 2, Wed, 7th Dec '11 11:49:55 PM from the United Kingdom
[up]I'm not a Catholic, but I think the Church is considered infallible in the sense that its beliefs are correct, not in the sense that it never gets anything wrong.

Papal infallibility, on the other hand, is basically a means of getting closure on issues by saying that when the Pope makes an ex cathedra pronouncement on a matter of faith or morality, that's it, case closed. As mentioned above, Popes don't do it that often and it doesn't mean that the Pope's opinion on cappucinos v. lattes or Apple v. Microsoft is infallible.
"Well, it's a lifestyle"
 116 Carciofus, Thu, 8th Dec '11 3:44:24 AM from Alpha Tucanae I
Is that cake frosting?
@Katrika:
Carc: Wha...really? Isn't it basically a fact that men who sexually abuse young boys aren't actually homosexuals, in that their attraction is to the age primarily and to the sex of their victims secondarily? I don't see how banning people who admit to being attracted to adults of their own gender or supporting gay rights will cut down on child sex abuse, sadly.
Well, I do not really approve of that rule either. The real issue was not the sexuality of the priests, but rather the Church's obsession to avoid scandals and maintain its reputation (and boy, did it fail...) However, it is true (I think — I should check, to be honest, but I heard this from more than one source) that the majority of the victims of the abuses were postpubescent boys, not girls or little kids: clinically speaking, the abusers were not pedophiles, for the most part, although obviously this does not really justify them.

But yeah, I can agree that this rule is not one of the best ideas that the Church has ever had.

@Owlman:
I thought the Church was infallible all the time?
It isn't. As Wikipedia says, infallibility only applies to the sacred magisterium, that is, to the Papal ex cathedra pronouncements (which are exceedingly rare) and certain pronouncements of the Councils. There is a healthy amount of discussion (more than the Wikipedia article lets on, I think) about what does and doesn't count as infallible, actually, with a lot of different shades and subtleties — if there is one thing that Catholics love, is to debate about the correct way in which some rule is to be interpreted; and if a binding, official interpretation is given on that, the debate merely shifts on how this interpretation is to be interpreted :)

But in any case, most of the pronouncements of the Church are definitely not infallible, and are freely and amply criticized at all levels. And, as Captainbrass said, the Church's actions never fall within infallibility, although some of its rulings do.

And then there are Catholic theologians like Hans Kung (he's well worth reading, by the way), who make no secret of the fact that they think infallibility to be nonsense — his position is not orthodox in this, obviously, but it's not like he got excommunicated for defending it.

edited 8th Dec '11 4:07:46 AM by Carciofus

But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

 117 De Marquis, Thu, 8th Dec '11 7:58:56 AM from Hell, USA Relationship Status: Buried in snow, waiting for spring
Who Am I?
@Fighteer- OK, here goes:

First off, IIUC, you are basically claiming that religion is uniquely harmful in terms of indoctrinating people to obey authority. Of course it is true that nearly every authoritarian regime before the mid-twentieth century justified itself by basing their claims on one religion or another. This is true across virtually all historical eras and across nearly all cultures. It's practically a universal human behavior pattern. It's also true, however, that across the same time periods and cultures, nearly every rebellion against authority also justified itself using some sort of religious claim. Religion has been used as a nearly universal indoctrination device, and it has also been used as a nearly universal anti-indoctrination device (and I'm not even including actual rebellions against a religion, like the Reformation, or the Puritan exodus). If memetic indoctrination actually worked the way you describe, that couldn't happen.

Then there is the entire phenomena of 20th century secular authoritarianism, including Fascism and Communism, neither of which used religion to justify themselves. How did their memes bypass our mental filters? Of course, many have claimed that both political movements "functioned like a religion", which makes a good analogy but a poor explanation- if anything can function "like a religion" then religion itself isn't at fault.

Of course, religion doesn't actually interact with the cognitive process the way you claim it does. "...we're more likely to believe something that a friend or family member tells us than a complete stranger..." (post 103)- yes, but this also applies to religious beliefs.

I can use myself as an example. I'm a Christian. Now, I would love to be able to claim that this is because God has inspired me, a result of my own self-directed spiritual development, and etc., but truthfully, I originally became a Christian mostly because my parents were. I was socialized that way ("indoctrinated" if you like) by nearly everyone I came into contact with during my early childhood. I'm just one example, but I think if you look at the evidence, you will find that, to the extent that "mental filters" work the way you say they do (not a given, but I'm willing to concede this for the sake of discussion), then religion functions in perfect alignment with these filters. The Church doesn't posses a magic "brainwashing button". It has stuck around for thousands of years (more like tens of thousands) and seems likely to last just as long, because faith satisfies a basic emotional need, not because it somehow automatically bypasses critical thinking.

So I am afraid I must conclude that the entire argument is historically unsupported, and is logically incoherent. Sorry Fighteer.

edited 8th Dec '11 8:00:27 AM by DeMarquis

“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.”
 118 Fighteer, Thu, 8th Dec '11 8:15:54 AM from the Time Vortex Relationship Status: Dancing with Captain Jack Harkness
I will EXTERMINATE your unhappiness!
You are seriously misreading my argument if you think I ascribed any uniqueness to religion in this respect. That's what the thread is about, so that's what I talked about. We could be discussing how social networking impairs our information filters — witness the number of people taken in by Facebook friend scams.
 119 De Marquis, Thu, 8th Dec '11 8:28:49 AM from Hell, USA Relationship Status: Buried in snow, waiting for spring
Who Am I?
The basis of my representation of your argument: "...Religion actually does have an interesting role in human societies..."

"...In short, religion is an extraordinarily successful (by evolutionary standards) means of transmitting cultural memes..."

"...There are lots of channels for information flow, but the Church (of all types and variations) was the biggest and most influential one for thousands of years..."

"...Religious indoctrination is a ready-made channel for bypassing information filters... Obviously, religion isn't the only channel, but like I said, it's one of the oldest and strongest..."

"...Organized religion is exactly the problem, because of the excessive political and economic power it grants to what is, effectively, glorified superstition. It is also the point, because religious institutions by their very nature tend to be expansive, grasping hold of as much power as possible in order to solidify their belief system in opposition to other belief systems..."

So if I misrepresented your argument, I apologize, but it certainly didn't sound to me as if you were presenting religion as merely one among many methods of "bypassing mental filters".

So do you therefore agree that although religious doctrine has often been used as a justification of authoritarianism, it is only one among many such tools, not all authoritarian regimes have used it, not all religious doctrines have been used that way, and that it has also been just as frequently used as a way of undermining the claims of a ruling regime? Do you agree that religious beliefs do not bypass any mental filters at all, but passes through them the same way any other information does?

If so, then there is nothing to disagree about.
“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.”
 120 Fighteer, Thu, 8th Dec '11 8:31:49 AM from the Time Vortex Relationship Status: Dancing with Captain Jack Harkness
I will EXTERMINATE your unhappiness!
Yes, that is what I said. We're on the same page.
Moar and Moar and Moar
Yes, that's pretty much right. It's just that we give religion, and to be more specific, major religion, a certain privilege to make those sorts of actions more culturally and socially acceptable.

It's why I'm interested not in eliminating religion, but in seeing reforms away from authoritarian tropes and memes. I simply don't think they're harmless.

Edit: The big problem is that, even being charitable and assuming that it's a 50/50 divide, the 50/50 divide is still a big problem. The major religions we talk about can both reinforce and disempower existing power structures. Both views are equally understandable, really. And this is a problem. Why not reform things to make the good stuff crystal clear? Yes, it means editing traditional beliefs, and doing it in an overt fashion. But the good it would do (in removing power from the bad people) I would think would be worth it very much, in just losing some warm and fuzzies.

edited 8th Dec '11 8:43:54 AM by Karmakin

Democracy is the process in which we determine the government that we deserve
 122 De Marquis, Thu, 8th Dec '11 9:01:03 AM from Hell, USA Relationship Status: Buried in snow, waiting for spring
Who Am I?
I think what you are worried about isn't a result of religious doctrine, it's more the in-group/out-group phenomena. There is a nearly universal tendency among human social groups to desire to maximize solidarity among members as a defense against other organized groups, and shared beliefs and values are a primary way groups form and maintain a sense of solidarity. Religious beliefs are obviously included in that, but so are political beliefs, beliefs about social obligations, family relationships, economic relationships, and attitudes toward members of other demographic groups. People have a tendency to want to believe the same things not because the beliefs are correct, but in order to maintain their ties to the group. Thus, the actual content of these belief systems is irrelevent- it's the fact that people are using them to define the group that makes them dangerous. Therefore, attacking the content of the beliefs, on the basis of their validity, is a waste of effort. The real root of the problem is conformity itself, so attack that instead.
“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.”
Moar and Moar and Moar
The thing is, not all religious groups I think are equal in terms of the in-group/out-group dynamic. I don't know how you can say that it is. (Not to mention that I think it flies in the face of everything else you've been saying). I do think the difference is in what they believe, or to be more specific, they change the nature of those beliefs to fit their desired social structure.

Or let me put it a different way, so it's clearer for myself.

I think the language/terms/memes/tropes that sometimes comes from more inclusive religious groups undermines their inclusiveness. I think that they empower exclusivist groups and exclusivist lines of thinking, making them more normalized and more socially acceptable than they really should be. I think this is very problematic, and the ethical thing to do is to change said language/terms/memes/tropes.

I do not believe that community structures need to be externally destructive. I do not believe that for a second. And that goes to community groups, clubs, social groups, and yes, even religions. Because there are plenty that are not.

Democracy is the process in which we determine the government that we deserve
Moar and Moar and Moar
Edit: Oops Double post. Site is acting up right now. My apologies.

edited 8th Dec '11 9:33:59 AM by Karmakin

Democracy is the process in which we determine the government that we deserve
 125 captainbrass 2, Thu, 8th Dec '11 10:14:25 AM from the United Kingdom
De Marquis explains in more detail a point I made earlier, which is that this "meme" theory is basically a superficial explanation. It can apply to any situation in which any belief is used to create in and out groups and isn't really a criticism of the beliefs themselves.
"Well, it's a lifestyle"
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