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A religion is "a system of social coherence based on a common group of beliefs or attitudes concerning an object, person, unseen being, or system of thought considered to be supernatural, sacred, divine or highest truth, and the moral codes, practices, values, institutions, and rituals associated with such belief or system of thought. It is sometimes used interchangeably with "faith" or "belief system", but is more socially defined than that of personal convictions." In other words, a "religion" is a type of "faith" that includes social aspects.
- /respect: it is often claimed that religious ideas deserve respect simply because they are religious
- the tendency to arrive at (or prefer) anthropomorphic explanations (e.g. the intentional stance)
- ethnocentricity ("my tribe/group/family is the best"), with religious rituals and beliefs forming an essential part of the sense of group identity
It has often been said that there is a "God-shaped hole" in our lives, which therefore proves that we need God; more likely, the concept of God has evolved over the millennia to fill an existing hole and to dig in its claws in just the right places to make it almost impossible to extract -- in much the same way that carnivorous plants have evolved to fool insects into believing there is food inside and then keep them from escaping with carefully-"designed" systems of hooks and sticky stuff, but with less fatal consequences (usually).
A short list of ways in which religion is harmful:
- If someone can convince you to hold beliefs that contradict reality, this has two negative effects:
- They leave you dependent upon them to interpret reality.
- They can control what you believe, and thereby what actions you believe are morally correct – and thereby they control your actions. "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." — Voltaire
- If you believe that all humanity is part of a plan set in motion and ultimately guided or controlled by an entity who is vastly more powerful than our entire civilization, then you are less likely to take measures to preserve that civilization. "God wouldn't let that happen – and anyway, if it is destroyed, that must be part of God's plan." (Especially if you belong to an apocalyptic sect; see next point.)
- If you believe that part of God's plan involves an apocalypse, after which there will be some kind of dramatic improvement in the condition of the properly faithful, you might even seek to encourage apocalypse-level confrontations between major world powers (e.g. the United States and the Islamic world).
- If you believe that everything in the Bible is literally true, this gives you license to commit horrible atrocities and to encourage others to do so as well. (This also holds true for the Koran and probably many other scriptural works.)
- A substantial portion of scientific progress has been made in the face of religious opposition, whose viewpoint tends to be that "we shouldn't meddle in things we don't understand". (We're never going to understand them if we don't meddle, so this is just confirming religion's essential anti-knowledge stance.)
- Religious opposition to stem-cell research has been a great obstacle towards doing that kind of research.
See also bad religion
 reduction of thought-effort
Religion is a kind of sanctioned irrationality, an organized suspension of disbelief in certain areas by a coalition of willing believers. In exchange for this suspension, believers receive their belief-system essentially pre-digested (to an extent which varies by religion) by higher authority, rather than having to go to the trouble of working it out for themselves. Some believers will go to the trouble of trying to reconcile their beliefs with reality, but this generally only goes so far; when push comes to shove, it is reality that gets second priority.
The main western religious traditions, having at their core the idea of an all-powerful, all-knowing being, can use the supposed existence of that being as a fake explanation for any seeming inconsistencies in doctrine, or between doctrine and observed reality. "Q: How could all those fossils seem to be hundreds of millions of years old, when the world was created in 4004 BC? A: God did it! Q: Why would God plant all that false evidence to confuse us? A: God moves in mysterious ways!"
 spread via offspring
Most religions encourage their believers to reproduce and to pass on their religion to their children, at an age when children tend to believe anything their parents tell them; this is one of the most powerful mechanisms by which religion is spread, and certainly the most powerful method by which it is maintained against contrary evidence.
 control mechanisms
Most if not all religions use a number of obvious memetic social control mechanisms to maximize the number of new adherents, minimize the numbers who leave, and prevent any serious inquiry into the veracity of doctrine. Some religions make more use of these than others, but it seems safe to say that they all use at least one of them:
- One or more arbitrary requirements for membership
- Making it harder to leave than to join
- Drawing a thick line of separation between members (the faithful, the chosen people, those who will see God's kingdom, the Saved) and non-members (infidels, the damned, sinners, heretics).
|Paul Bloom said:|
In this conception religion is a fraternity, and the analogy runs deep. Just as fraternities used to paddle freshmen on the rear end to instill loyalty and commitment, religions have painful initiation rites – for example, snipping off part of the penis. Also, certain puzzling features of many religions, such as dietary restrictions and distinctive dress, make perfect sense once they are viewed as tools to ensure group solidarity.
|from page 2 of Is God an Accident?, Atlantic Monthly, December 2005|
 natural intoxicant
There is some anecdotal evidence that religious feelings may stimulate the brain in ways similar to those induced by psychoactive substances such as alcohol. The mechanism by which this might happen is as yet unclear; perhaps the relaxing cadences and repetitions of the same message in slightly different forms are able to excite areas of the brain responsible for "feeling safe" or even "feeling loved"? This is sheer speculation at this point, but worth being aware of in case any data shows up supporting or disproving it. See googlegroups:theauthoritarians/msg/34f012bf77dde5b3 for an anecdote.
 Claims for Discussion
- All religious followers are essentially dogmatic and unwilling to discuss the basis for their beliefs.
- When a religious person is forced to choose between dogma and common sense (and isn't able to successfully change the subject), dogma always wins.
- Demonstrate how the Bible can be used as a source of moral authority, when each branch of Christianity interprets the Bible differently and there is no official understanding or interpretation.
 Related Concepts
- Russell's teapot [W] is an analogy coined by the philosopher Bertrand Russell [W] to refute the idea that skeptics have the burden of disproof regarding unfalsifiable claims of religions. Richard Dawkins adds to this the observation that we are all atheists about a great many things, including Odin, Zeus, and Quetzalcoatl, whose existence nobody even considers the need to disprove; why is it necessary to disprove the existence of God as well, for whom there is no more evidence than any of the others?
- Einsteinian religion is a term used by Richard Dawkins (and possibly others) to describe the non-theistic, non-traditional uses of the words "God" and "religion" by Albert Einstein and other prominent non-religious scientists.
- Providentialism is the belief that God is actively directing the affairs of the world, e.g. through the actions of 'chosen people' whom God "provides" for such purposes.
 Related Pages
- Religion is a philosophical concept.
- The religion category has a list of articles relating to religion in general.
- Many religions (notably, most fundamentalist Christian varieties) tend to be pro-life, anti-contraception, and anti-sex-education, and in general have strong opinions about reproductive issues.
- prayer in public schools
- It is often argued that the USA is a Christian nation
- Most religion revolves around the idea of (or depends upon) the existence of one or more supernatural beings, most commonly a single being named God.
- Atheism denies the necessity for belief in a God or gods.
- Religion's track record as a method of making decisions has been less than exemplary, and there are indications that it actively disrupts good decision-making.
- Some varieties of religion, most commonly extremist religions, arguably do more harm than good
- Location-specific pages:
- Some specific religions:
- some "un"-religions:
 Jehovah's Witnesses
According to a flyer distributed in 2006 by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania (the mouthpiece of the Jehovah's Witnesses, an apocalyptic evangelical Christian sect):
- True Religion:
- Practices love: "True worshippers are 'no part of the world', are not divided by race or culture, and display 'love among themselves' (John 13:35; 17:16; Acts 10:34, 35)... Rather than killing one another, they are willing to die for one another (1 John 3:16)"
- Trusts God's word: true religion bases its doctrine on God's word, not on tradition or the commands of men
- Strengthens families and upholds high moral standards: husbands must "love their wives as their own bodies", wives must develop "deep respect for their husbands", children must "be obedient to their parents", and "those entrusted with positions of authority must have exemplary morals". A "true religion" encourages or requires all of these.
- False Religion:
- Meddles in war and politics: quotes the journal Asiaweek (ceased publication in December 2001) as saying "...power-hungry leaders are cynically manipulating people's religious sentiments for their own needs." Contrasts the words of an unnamed "prominent religious leader in the United States" who said "You've got to kill the terrorists before the killing stops. ... Blow them all away in the name of the Lord." with several Bible quotations: "If anyone makes the statement 'I love God' and yet is hating his brother, he is a liar." (1 John 4:20) and "Continue to love your enemies." (Matthew 5:44).
- Spreads false doctrine, which apparently means teaching that the soul does not die, or does not die under certain circumstances, and thereby extracting money from their followers to help ensure this reward. (Apparently what really happens is that the dead will be resurrected, as taught by Jesus (John 11:11-25), so no afterlife is necessary.)
- Tolerates immoral sex, which apparently means homosexuality and gay marriage, as well as tolerance of child abuse
- Wikipedia: Religion
- Media Matters: religion-related media items
- 2007-03-27 IQ2 religion debate on the statement "We'd be better off without religion"; the motion carried 1,205 to 778.
 Filed Links
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- 2008-04-20 [Talk|Index] Religion is "the new social evil" § “A poll by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation uncovered a widespread belief that faith - not just in its extreme form - was intolerant, irrational and used to justify persecution. .. Many participants said religion divided society, fuelled intolerance and spawned "irrational" educational and other policies.” Did the original poll use the words "faith" and "religion" interchangeably, or just the article?
- 2008-04-01 [Talk|Index] How the Neocons use the Myth of religion in politics § 2-minute segment of what sounds like a British documentary. Michael Lind, "journalist and former neoconservative", explains neocon belief in Straussianism and Plato's noble lie.
- 2008-02-28 [Talk|Index] Survey challenges myths about Islam § A survey “shows that the overwhelming majority of Muslims condemned the attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, and other subsequent terrorist attacks ... the poll found that most Muslims, including radicals, admire the West...”
- 2008-02-23 [Talk|Index] The coming religious peace § by Alan Wolfe, The Atlantic: “Human beings have never lacked for things to fight over, but for the last two millennia, they have fought the most over ideas involving the divine. Politics, technology, military capacity, and diseases have all played decisive roles in shaping history, yet it is impossible to understand the rise and fall of empires, the clash of civilizations, and the evolving balance of power without appreciating the unique fervor that religion inspires, and the speed with which new religions can spread.” Survey of the current state of religion, including a graph showing the (negative) correspondence between national religiosity and per captia GDP.
- 2007-08-04 [Talk|Index] Religion's Claim to be Non-Disprovable § “Ethics has not been immune to human progress - for example, we now frown upon such Bible-approved practices as keeping slaves. Why do people think that ethics is still fair game?”
- 2006-10 [Talk|Index] In God's Name § “Articles in this series examine how American religious organizations benefit from an increasingly accommodating government.” 8 articles.
- 2006-09-18 [Talk|Index] Three teachers § “Where do we place the blame? Where do we need to take action? (No, the answer is not to fault the existence of atheists in our society, so if that was your first thought, stop reading this page, go sit in a corner and read your Bible.) We don't have to look far; the problem is perpetuated in the same way everywhere... The problem is religion. Religion encourages ignorant people to pretend they know science and to evangelize lies for their beliefs.”
- 2006-06 [Talk|Index] Obama religion speech § Excerpts from a June, 2006 speech in which Barack Obama says some very sensible, non-political (and probably not very popular with the religious right) things about religion; full video is here.
 Facts & Data
- American Ethnic Geography: maps of United States church membership by county
- God and the Brain: "Is Belief a Psychological Condition? A collection of guest articles on the subject."
 to be filed
- 2007-04-24 Study: Religion is Good for Kids by Melinda Wenner
- ...but at what cost later in life? Has anyone looked at the correlation between religion and adult success?
- Has anyone studied which religions seem to be more effective in this regard, or tried to find correlations between attributes of religious upbringing and the effects on the kids?
- 2007-04-20 Vatican abolishes Limbo; Purgatory remains open for business
- 2007-02-14 Christian pediatrician denies child service because parents are tattooed
- 2006-11-12 Sir Elton: Ban organised religion: Elton John suggests a ban on organized religion, despite being an admirer of the teachings of Jesus Christ
- 2006-11-11 Archbishop attacks public atheism: Dr. John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, condemned what he called the systematic erosion of Christianity from public life. The phrases "intolerant public atheism" and "intolerant faith position" are mentioned.
- 2006-09-27 Societies worse off 'when they have God on their side': "In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies."
- 2006-09-13 Muslims and Christians 'allies': Dr. John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, says British Christians should see Muslims as allies in the struggle against secularism. (Likewise, proponents of the Enlightenment may see Christians and Muslims both as enemies...)
- 2006-09-12 View of God can predict values, politics: summary of results of a survey on religion in America by Baylor University
- 2006-06-12 Using Children as 'God's Army'
- 2006-05-26 Why Tolerate Religion?, academic paper by Brian Leiter, University of Texas at Austin - School of Law & Department of Philosophy
 Religious POV
- Multifaith; Inclusive, Questioning & Explorative
- The Ekklesia Project
- The Interfaith Alliance & Foundation: "...committed to promoting the positive and healing role of religion in public life..."
- Pagan Forum: "We welcome members of ALL Faiths, even those that have no interest in following a religious or spiritual dogma. It is a place of learning and exploration which sometimes requires stepping out of our comfort zone to understand where "the other guy" is coming from."
- Street Prophets: "online forum that mobilizes progressive people of faith to name, discuss and take action on critical political and religious issues"
- Answers in Genesis: "Upholding the Authority of the Bible from the Very First Verse"
- Christian Answers: "biblical answers to contemporary questions"
- Secular Humanism as defined from a Christian perspective
- Why Won't God Heal Amputees?: disjointed dogmatic babble posing as rational exploration? Arguments against religion? Can't quite tell from a quick skim.
- Philosophical Issues
- Problem of evil (Wikipedia)
- Iron Chariots: provides "responses, information and resources to help counter the glut of misinformation and poor arguments which masquerade as "evidence" for religious claims."
- God Is Imaginary: simple arguments and videos against religion
 Science on Religion
 Criticism of Religion
- 2007-07-12 video Why does faith deserve respect? by Pat Condell
- 2007-07-10 video Politics and religion need to be prised apart with a crowbar, argues Pat Condell
- 2007-06-29 video What about the Jews? by Pat Condell: some history, and a firm opinion about Israel
- 2007-03-15 God's dupes by Sam Harris: Moderate believers give cover to religious fanatics – and are every bit as delusional.
- 2007-02-24 video George Carlin on religion by George Carlin
- 2006-12-05 When Atheists Have Their Say by Matt Arnold (blog entry with comments)
- The Alpha Male Monkey In The Sky
- Beyond belief: "What is belief? Is absence of proof the same as proof of absence, or is it just as misguided to disbelieve something without evidence as it is to believe in it? In this article we explore the touchy issue of dogmatic belief and try to establish why atheism is not just 'religion for the nonbelievers'."
- 2006-11-14 Faith Won't Heal a Divided World by Sam Harris: "It is worth observing that religion is the one area of our lives where faith in dogma – that is, belief without sufficient evidence – is considered a virtue. If such faith is a virtue, it is a virtue that is completely unknown to scientific discourse. Science is, in fact, the one domain in which a person can win considerable prestige for proving himself wrong. In science, honesty is all. In religion, faith is all." ... "It would, of course, be absurd to speak of 'Christian physics' or 'Muslim algebra.' And there is no such thing as Iraqi or Japanese – as distinct from American – science. Reasonable people really do have a monopoly on the truth. And while they might not agree about everything in the near term, common ground surrounds them on all sides."
- 2006-05-24 How do you prove Jesus existed? CNN article about an Italian man who is suing the Catholic Church to prove the existence of Jesus (with reader comments)
- 2006-05-16 Why Religion Must End by Laura Sheahen, Beliefnet (original is much more cluttered)
- 2006-03-05 The Book of Bart: "In the Bestseller 'Misquoting Jesus,' Agnostic Author Bart Ehrman Picks Apart the Gospels That Made a Disbeliever Out of Him"
- 2006-03 Killing the Buddha by Sam Harris: religion stands in the way of rational discussion of belief
- The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris: ISBN 0393035158 (hb) ISBN 0393327655 (pb)
- Islam: The Religion of Peace (Believe It Or Else): not sure how rational this site is, but it certainly presents food for thought
- Exposing Religious Error and Deception: bizarre, disjointed criticisms of Christianity (by someone apparently named Seven Star Hand) which nonetheless seem to make a few useful points... but mixed in with all kinds of bizarre nonsense...
- WikiWrit: "The Holy Book Anyone Can Edit"
- 2007-04-07 How to defend your faith with an electric wheelchair: my invisible man is good, yours is evil...
 Problems with religion
 Woozle makes some points
- The chain of reasoning in many religious arguments vanishes into a black box, usually with the inscription "God says" on the outside. Even with churches like the LDS which admit the possibility of individuals communicating directly with God in order to get a better understanding of what God means, you are still either (a) forced to admit belief in God (can't communicate with something you don't believe in), (b) argue solely from existing religious doctrine, or else (c) have the validity of your arguments denied (your argument isn't based on God's word, so your premises may be wrong). In order to take part in the discussion, you have to admit to belief in God -- which is basically conceding the argument. In other words, the whole thing is a circular argument based on the infallibility of God.
- Belief in absolutes (moral absolutism and the infallibility of God) can be used to justify extreme measures. If your faith's doctrine tells you with absolute, unquestionable certainty that what someone is doing is absolutely wrong regardless of circumstance, that removes most or all of the uncertainty and allowance for mistake (perhaps there are extenuating circumstances; perhaps your belief that their actions are wrong is incorrect; and so on) with which most people operate when deciding whether to take action against someone.
- Because of the belief in absolutes, the black box nature of basic religious doctrine, and the authoritarian nature of most religions, it is extremely easy for someone who is both unscrupulous and power-hungry to manipulate, with a high degree of precision, those who have been raised and trained in the validity of such thinking.
- If absolute truth can be had by speaking with God (as allowed by some faiths, but not all):
- If you believe that God has spoken to you, how do you know that it is really God? (How can you tell the difference between the "real God" and an extremely advanced but non-divine being who isn't entirely honest?)
- If someone else claims God has spoken to them, how do you know they are not lying (or else deceived, as above)?
- "Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but more frequently than not struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God." – Martin Luther, quoted in The God Delusion page 190 (along with "Whosoever wants to be a Christian should tear the eyes out of his reason." and "Reason should be destroyed in all Christians.")
- "When one person suffers from a delusion it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called Religion." – Robert M. Pirsig
- "You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it's going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it's always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt." – Robert M. Pirsig
- "I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankindâ€”that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overborne by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking." – H. L. Mencken
- "We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart." – H. L. Mencken
|PZ Myers said:|
 Top Ten Reasons Religion is Like Pornography
|Douglas Adams said:|
Religion ... has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. What it means is, "Here is an idea or notion that you're not allowed to say anything bad about; you're just not. Why not? – because you're not!"
If somebody votes for a party that you don't agree with, you're free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down, you are free to have an argument about it. But on the other hand if somebody says "I mustn't move a light switch on a Saturday", you say "I respect that".
Why should it be that it's perfectly legitimate to support the Labour Party or the Conservative Party, Republicans or Democrats, this model of economics versus that, Macintosh instead of Windows – but to have an opinion about how the Universe began, about who created the Universe ... no, that's holy?
We are used to not challenging religious ideas but it's very interesting how much of a furore Richard creates when he does it! Everybody gets absolutely frantic because you're not allowed to say these things. Yet when you look at it rationally, there's no reason why those ideas shouldn't be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn't be.
|quoted in "The God Delusion", pages 20-21|
This brings up the topic of "why religion is a taboo subject", which is probably worthy of a page of its own. I don't know what Douglas Adams might have been taught when he was growing up, but when I was growing up the reason I remember understanding for not criticizing religion was something like " we don't understand it, but it's important to them, and it's not hurting anyone". Later I may have realized on my own that there are also hostilities between religions, so if you start to criticize one particular person's religion, others will know the particulars of their faith and the person you spoke with will be subject to religious discrimination from members of other faiths. The first argument falls apart in the face of increasing religion-based violence, and the latter falls apart when you realize it is almost entirely members of other religions who behave this way; atheists do not, generally speaking, attack people personally on the basis of their religion, but at most will attack the religion itself while still believing fervently in the individual's right to believe whatever they want. In any case, further discussion seems warranted. --Woozle 21:33, 14 February 2007 (EST)
- Contrary to a popular saying, there are atheists in foxholes. 
- Barsoomian religion: religion as a fallacy is explored on more than one occasion in the Barsoom stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs
- Narnian religion: the Narnia stories by C.S. Lewis provide a substantial and mostly positive metaphor for Christianity
- The "quantum theory of religion" explains how all religions can be simultaneously correct while still being contradictory:
- Creators' Rights: underscores the "Millennium" in "Digital Millennium Copyright Act"