Friday, January 27, 2006

Good and Bad in religion

Norm and Ophelia (of have been getting very intense over Good and Bad in religion. For Ophelia, whatever good there may be in religion is so outfaced by the bad that it is justifiable to reject the lot out of hand. Norm thinks that this is all too simplistic and prefers to retain the capacity to distinguish the good from the bad, and, I suspect, to judge from actions rather than from the 'worldview' that supposedly inspired those actions. I think Norm is right, though for reasons rather less sophisticated than his. As an athiest who thinks that evolution is the best idea that anyone has ever had, I cannot reject religion.

1. I would hesitate before condemning a practice that has existed in 99% of human societies for 99% of human history. Ideas are tools and insofar as they are useful they survive. This idea (the belief in a 'supernatural superstructure', if you will excuse the phrase) has survived probably from the moment the species acquired consciousness until now. Therefore, it is more than likely that it has something in it that is worthwhile.

2. How you go about weighing up the good and bad in a phenomenon as widespread and varied as religion is quite beyond me. To make such a judgement with regard to specific religious practices or beliefs is as necessary as it is with political practices or beliefs. But condemning religion per se is like condemning politics per se.

3. Finally, and without wanting to sound flippant, I have often wondered if religious belief might not be, in evolutionary terms, a very important, even essential, survival mechanism. The shift in scale between my individual viewpoint and the size and multiplicity of the world was impossible to deal with rationally until technology made it seem so. Our minds can now manage that, by reducing it to a varying crudeness. But what will happen when we start space travel. Space, if I understood Hitchhiker's Guide correctly , is very, very big (remember the Ultimate Perspective Vortex?). Could religious belief be merely the best technique for dealing with the monstrous difference between 'little me' and 'the rest of the universe'?

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