Religion: Good for the individual. Bad for the world. An opinion.

| February 25, 2012 | 10 Replies

I don’t think it can be denied that religion provides much good to the individual. Those who suffer from addictions, the effects of abuse and loss of loved ones are strengthened and comforted by the religions of the world.

Many are comforted by the knowledge that there is more to life than what we see. That helps them deal with the daily trails and tribulations that can all too often discourage us.

I don’t dispute that.

Religions also provide a framework of community that helps people come together to help each other. One need only look to your local churches to find food banks, clothing drives and other altruistic community activities that benefit your less fortunate neighbors.

This also is hard to ignore or speak ill of.

However, when multiplied by millions or billions of people, certain tenants of religion which are built into the doctrine can become toxic.

An analogy…

In the late 80s computer technology in the investment industry had given some brokers an edge over their competition. Complicated algorithms would determine the best time to buy and sell stocks. However, as more and more firms got the software the computer systems began to synchronize and it eventually led to wild fluctuations in the market bringing on an automated sell off and the crash of October 19, 1987. See this article for more…

It wasn’t the only reason for the crash and it’s an imperfect analogy, but I think it illustrates my point that small advantages for a few can add up to large problems for many.

It’s the same with religion. When multiplied by millions you inevitably get conflict between religions and even sub-cults of various religions because of the very nature of elements within the doctrine. These elements are inherent in any successful religion.

Here are what I think are the top 5 elements of dogmatic religion that, when multiplied, have created conflict in the world. I don’t think I need to provide examples of the kinds of conflicts these elements have created. We are sadly all too familiar with them.

1. The “one true” religion. – This assertion is necessary for religion in order for it to create a cohesive community. Believers must believe that they have found the best possible faith among the many that exist in order for them to commit completely to it. However, when expanded to the world at large it also tends to pit the religion against all others.

2. Spreading the “word” – What at first seems harmless enough, sharing your good fortune with other individuals and family members, turns ugly when it become transformed onto the world stage. This exhortation to spread the word becomes a drive to proselytize, sometimes aggressively, and when two such religions meet we get the kind of conflict that Islam and Christianity have had since the beginning.

Again, each religion NEEDS to be the ONLY one. That directive is at the core of each of the philosophies and therefore conflict is inevitable on the large scale. Although an individual Muslim and an individual Christian could live harmoniously side by side, Islam and Christianity cannot. (In another forum someone wrote recently, “Those of us in the CHRISTIAN world…”. Need I say more?)

3. “Be fruitful and multiply” – It makes sense for religion to have rules against contraception. In order for a religion to be successful it must have members! Any religion which wants to survive and dominate needs to have within its God-given code a provision that ensures that its adherents have lots of children. That seems obvious and basic. However, with the world dangerously close to self destruction from overpopulation I don’t think I need to elaborate more about how this has become a very bad thing.

4. The vagueness of scripture – Scripture can be interpreted in many different ways. That can be good for the individual. We can each find what we need to find in the dogma. It can speak to us in different, very personal ways. However when multiplied, conflicts over interpretation leads to fracturing of religions and sectarian violence; fighting WITHIN the religion.

Very often you will have two factions who profess to be following the same religious teaching of peace, viciously murdering each other because of differences of opinion about how that peace is to be achieved.

5. Prophecy – The prophetic nature of some religious texts is said to prove that these texts are inspired by a God who is foretelling the future. There are many problems with this notion that I won’t go into here, but prophecy certainly can give confidence and comfort to the individual believer who likes to think that God has a plan for us and that everything will work out in the end. Unfortunately prophecies can become self fulfilling.

If an entire society believes something will happen, the collective mind will do things to ensure that it will happen. If billions of people believe the end of the world is nigh, is it hard to imagine that they will collectively do things and make decisions which will help to bring about that destruction?

Are prophecies indeed the foretelling of the future, or are they warnings about a dim future that we might avoid if we did not think these dire events inevitable?

Can you think of any other examples?

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Category: Religion, Uncategorized

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Mike Pulcinella is a documentary filmmaker.

Comments (10)

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  1. Xtech says:

    Yes. And no. Part of the problem is the definition of religion is very fuzzy. If you squint real hard, it is basically characterized by 1) beliefs and 2) practices. And not necessarily both at the same time either. Religions are relics of the very earliest kinds of societies, ones that grew out of smaller tribal groups, and like any other human institution are political entities – for good and for bad. It is almost impossible to separate out religion from spirituality and the human longings for guidance on The Big Questions, for connection to something greater than our selves. It is also almost impossible to separate religion from tradition and culture.

    When we criticize religion, we criticize what it to be human. Which is to be great, compassionate, intellectually engaged, aspiring, generous; to be belligerent, devious, greedy, dishonest, fearful, and to hate.

  2. Xtech: Thanks for your comment, but you aren’t really addressing the issue that I’ve raised, as far as I can see. That is, is it possible that the elements of religion that have been designed to help the individual become toxic for an entire society when multiplied by millions?

    In other words, is there a “mob mentality” that takes over at some critical tipping point as a religion grows?

  3. Xtech says:

    Ah yes, I see what you’re saying. Well like I said religions are like any other institution, such as a government. They are political entities and once they are major players, when they have a large group of people they are controlling, yes they certainly can be bad for the world. This is that fuzzy line between religion being groups of people that share practices, traditions, culture, etc and a group that is exerting control beyond what it is within the religion that binds those individuals together.

    Perhaps there is a critical size limit. Interesting to consider, seeing how religions probably evolved as we did, in keeping bands of people together, bonded in their shared rituals and stories.

    I might add to your list of negatives:

    – the controlling of resources – use the example of Catholicism and the great wealth of the Popes;

    – the insistence upon literal belief in myths, causing intellectual dishonesty to be not only accepted but encouraged, and creating a kind of disconnect between reality and fantasy among the faithful

    – the cultivation of groupishness and hatred for outgroups

    But is this any worse than any other large group of people who are controlled by ideology? Haven’t there been political ideologies that have done a lot of damage to the world?

    Wouldn’t it be great if there were some way to quantify the impact of religion on society? Until then I cannot decide but am inclined to think it may be a wash, but tend toward the positive – and again, it comes down to how exactly religion is defined.

    Oh and to address ‘religion is good for the individual’ – another maybe yes maybe no. You have examples of the good that it does, yet there are many examples of the damage:

    – cognitive dissonance of contradictory and fantastical scripture creates some serious unhappiness and perhaps mental illness;

    – religion makes a great stick to beat each other with – religious community shunning, for example; lots of everyday cruelty to one another done in the name of some god;

    – the anger and disillusionment when the pretty lies are uncovered as such; the funneling of resources from those who need them to frivolous vanities like large expensive church buildings while many go hungry;

    – the inaction caused by the illusion that praying actually has an affect on the real world, see the cases of parents not taking medical action on behalf of a sick child but opting to pray and the child dies, etc

    Check out a website called ex-christian.net on which you may read many many stories of people who been done wrong by religion.

  4. Karl says:

    Are you asking “If individual personal goals of a religious person do not match with the actions of their religions leaders is this an acceptable arrangement?”

    Don’t be fooled by the claims of anyone’s religious moral code of conduct. It will never be the righteousness of any flesh that will inherit the Kingdom of God.

    If anyone refuses to see where the prophetic writing of their holy writ leads their own religious leaders to take various actions there is a gross misinterpretation of this own holy writ. Many leaders of religious orders do not consider much besides their own thirst for power and authority over the minds and will of others.

    If one studies and reads with an open mind from both History and the Religious writings of most people, one will see that Muslim political leadership must corrupt itself nearly absolutely before Jesus returns as the only hope for all of humanity. The Jews, the Christians and even the Muslims will all view this as a “second coming” of Jesus. However, not everyone will look upon this second coming the same way.

    Many Jews will see Jesus as the one they rejected the first time around and will finally accept forgiveness and atonement through his death on the cross. Many Jews will willingly call upon the Name of Jesus as Lord and Savior. Other’s who thought they were simply a favored “superior” type of human will be in for a rude awakening.

    The same goes for anyone that thinks their ideas or actions are good enough to please their creator.

    Many Muslims look upon Jesus’ second coming as the Jews wanted the first time, as the strict enforcer of their moral code of conduct because they will know full well how badly their own leadership corrupted itself. Few cleric Muslims see the necessity for the forgiveness of sins, because most do not think this to be important as they are looking for a reward for their zealousness and do not discuss their personal short comings.

    The Christian will see him as the one upon whom they have already cried out for salvation, forgiveness, a transformed life and hope for all eternity.

    The Christian Book of Revelation sees the very end times from a political/cultural Muslim point of view. That’s just the way it is. This is what will dominate any one world – new age movement. The beliefs of Muslim clerics and their dictatorial grip upon their societies makes this very obvious and clear from any common sense reading of Religious texts and history as well.

    There will soon be nothing to stop the ever so constant march of Muslim clerics to absolute corruption except the very return of the one they claim will come to rule the infidels with a rod of iron.

  5. Xtech: Fantastic response! You added a few wrinkles I hadn’t thought of!

    Karl: I think you may have missed the point. I’m not talking about the leadership per se, but the force of society as whole when certain paradigms are accepted as inevitable.

  6. Karl says:

    So then the masses of people that really do not agree with the beliefs of the extremists that push their political agendas that are kept at the forefront of a society by financial manipultiations should just allow their beliefs to be of secondary importance?

  7. Karl says:

    Nothing says I’m a fool more clearly than saying I trust any leaders that push any agenda through the use of some manner of a culturally condoned political system that tramples upon any minority or majority opinion.

    If the agenda of any leader(s) be they religious or secular is essentially to make sure others fall in line and are forced to submit to the authority of said leader(s) we have all but given up any hope of open honest rational discussion of any differences.

    This is what scares most people about democracies in which either the majority is seen as callous towards the minorities or the minorities are in some way justifiably allowed to be hostile towards any majority. When a majority opinion is supposedly determined by 1 President, 5 out of 9 Justices, 51 Senators and so on, the results can be as one sided as the most recent crop of media moguls how only care about who is going to pay for the use of the media and message they are more than willing to supply.

    The only charity among media moguls is in the form of kick backs and pay to play schemes.

  8. Tim Hogan says:

    Karl, it’s only one Senator and she/he doesn’t even have to be known if what the Senator does is file a “hold” on a presidential nomination.

    Only one Senator needs to threaten a filibuster to force 60 others to vote to close debate and be able to vote on legislation.

    The Democrats haven’t had 60 Democrats in the US Senate to overcome threatened Republican filibusters because Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Republicans’ “number one job is to make sure Barack Obama is a one term president.”

    Even though Barry Sanders and Joe liberman caucus with the Democrats, Lieberman is far, far more a Repubican than a Democrat-he endorsed McCain.

  9. Xtech says:

    Karl

    No disrespect, but can you please re-write this response in plain English? I am truly trying to understand what you are saying here.

  10. Karl says:

    For Xtech,

    Nothing says I’m a fool more clearly than saying I trust any leaders that push any agenda through the use of some manner of a culturally condoned political system that tramples upon any minority or majority opinion.

    Translation, when leaders write off the holders of minority opinions/values as insignificant by the authority of any existent or proclaimed majority they are only asking for further future conflicts.

    In like manner, when the leaders who hold to minority opinions/values either existent or perceived to exist do not care how they topple the majority so it is less than able to be claimed as a majority any longer, there is likely to be some detrimental coalition building that will backlash on everyone.

    Why is it many atheists have more in common politically with Muslims than with Christians?

    It doesn’t matter if these leaders are religious or secular. In fact, it probably is a coalition built between both “secular” and perceived “acceptable religious” values that are seen as simply opposing the existent majority in one way or another. The desire is essentially to make sure others fall in line and are forced to submit to anyone’s authority other than the existent or perceived existent majority.

    When this happens, one side or the other has given up hope of coming to a peaceful coexistence of differences of opinion/values. This means they have all but given up any hope of open honest rational discussion of their differences.

    All they care for in these instances is that they not to be held accountable for their part in how either the majority or the minority treats each other. That is just dehumanizing and immoral, and all too many candidates for office do it because they think it is the only way to have an impact upon politics.

    This is what scares me most about democracies in which either the majority is seen as callous towards the minorities or the minorities are in some way justifiably allowed to be hostile towards any majority. When a majority opinion is supposedly determined by 1 President, 1 recently biased appointed Justice, 1 nameless Senator, and so on, the results can be as one sided as the most recent crop of media moguls (where the coalitions aggregate) who only care about who is going to pay for the use of the media and message they are more than willing to supply.

    It is the media moguls that get most of the campaign money which is converted into advertising revenue for the major media markets. If you don’t think this is the case you don’t understand why it takes such huge amounts of money for a national campaign.

    The only “charity” among media moguls is in the form of kick backs and pay to play schemes. They’ll gladly accept political advertising that they agree without complaint and on occasion will even provide free, reduced or better time slots for advertising that they agree with. But they will complain about how much advertising money they have to air that supposedly doesn’t agree with their own ready maid coalitions.

    Some media moguls exploit the differences by saying they are unbiased simply because they have joined minorities into a coalition against the majority. Other media moguls are identified as biased because they only provide either a consistent opinion/value either for or against a particular set of opinions or values that belong to either a majority or its perceived adversaries.

    In most of these cases the people are just being played against each other by the media moguls who do not have boards of directors responsible to anything but their own bottom lines.

    This is foolish indeed.

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