Religion; the Curse of Humanity?

14th C Europe

Nonsense! Religion, particularly Christianity, is a civilising, humanising influence that tempers the barbarity of man.

No! I say man’s law does that, not religion.

What you would you expect if all law was overnight abolished and religion alone left to govern our behaviour? Would your journey home tonight be a safe and happy one? I don’t think so. And if all religion was similarly abolished, leaving only the law of man to protect us, would you notice the difference? I don’t think so.

So what is the purpose of religion? Is it to comfort or is it to control?

Consider Ancient Greece. They possessed nothing of what we today regard as religion, there no dogma was taught, no demands from a priestly class to conform to sacred scriptures under pain of punishments varying from severe to barbaric. Their children were not raised to fear eternal damnation.That priestly class didn’t preach morals or manners. Their function was confined to temple ceremonial, hymns, prayers, lustrations, processions and so forth. None of this had anything to do with the moral improvement of the individual.

Nobody, apart from the functionaries themselves, was obliged to attend any of those ceremonies, nor even believe in any particular cult. All were left to believe or not as much as they chose and thought none the worse for it. There was no clear conception at all, their ideas on these things were loose and indefinite and their gods equally various and vague. Immortality of the soul and life after death was a matter for the individual.

The Ancients had no religion as we know it to keep anarchy at bay. But they created law and civic order to such effect that it remains the basis of our own Western civilisation today. And they enjoyed that happy state of affairs for more than a thousand years.

So, if the Greeks were capable of attaining a level of civilised life that in many ways has been unmatched even to this day, what is the purpose of religion?

Why, power of course. It is about control and the wealth that accrues to it. And as that control has, over time, fitfully conceded ground to secular power, so too has the very nature of religion changed. The history of Christianity (for it is with Western history I am concerned) has been a shameful one. A history of cruelty and injustice, of corruption, lies, superstition and ignorance relieved only in small part by outstanding people along the way, from Christ himself to Maximilian Kolbe.

But why (if indeed He was), why was He even necessary? Can anyone claim the 2,000 years since His death have been improved by the religion that bears His name? Of course they can’t, it’s an impossible question, an answer to which one can only guess at, but when one compares the age of Pericles to the Europe of the fourteenth or mid twentieth centuries it is as if a superior civilised race died and was replaced by barbarians of an entirely different order. If Pericles’ contemporaries were the real humankind, then what creatures replaced them?

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12:12 Thank you Rosie. So much for the title, what about the substance?

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12:26 But I thought I had dealt with that in my third paragraph, Amhud? And the point I am making is that we don’t NEED religion in order to live in a peaceful and free society. The Greeks showed us that.

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13:18 Thank you Stormboy, I am pleased we are in agreement. The emergence of Christianity presaged much that was bad in mankind’s history, and by claiming it to be the foundation for all or most that was good is to ignore unpleasant truths. Not least of which was the suppression of truth in the form of science.

All religions are the deadly opponents of truth.

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Veteran09 I do not find it necessary to subscribe to a religion in order to live the good life. Religion is far from being the monopolistic provider of good, and not the defender of us from evil. All too often in history we can see where the opposite has been the case.

15:29 Couldn’t agree more, Larry.

HMB, I didn’t think I’d ever chide you for being just a teeny bit disingenous. I could say exactly the same if the neighbourhood was populated exclusively by Hitler Youth or the KKK. It all depends on how you define the conditions for your argument. If EVERY person in the neighbourhood were a practising Christian/Muslim/Hindu/Jew etc. there’d be little problem. But the world we live in, forgive the tautology, is populated by average people.

Average Christians, Muslims, Jews or whatever, respect the law, or rather the likelihood of being caught far more than they do some distant reckoning by a god they have usually only a tenuous belief in, and anyway, for members of the world’s largest religion there’s always confession to save their bacon. And help them sleep nights.

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15:53 Everything you say, Nery, depends on there being a personal god, which I believe is extremely unlikely. In fact I’m not just betting the farm, I’m betting my immortal soul that there isn’t. Now I’m a pretty law abiding and caring person. Where did that come from?

It came from my father actually, not from any of the three Catholic and one secular schools I went to. That’s what stops me from stealing from people, not the eighth commandment. I was faithful to my wife despite some hair (?) raising temptations, not because it was a sin but because I felt it was wrong. – I . just . couldn’t . do . it.

When I do bad I feel bad; when I do good I feel good. Religion has nothing to do with it.

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20:22 Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot? Larry said nothing about them Amicus. He didn’t need to, there are innumerable other mostly anonymous monsters that committed crimes as cruel and brutal in the name of religion. What about the Crusades and (to a relatively tiny extent) the Inquisition? Witches and the possessed, the expulsion of the Moores, and Jews from almost every Christian country. Countless numbers died because of that. But Larry never mentioned Christianity specifically, so what about the numbers killed in the name of Allah just since 9/11? There have been 17,326 deadly attacks since it started with nearly 3,000 murders back then.

I think you had better think carefully the next time you try to score points. At least on my blogs because I can respond.

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22:08 ‘I challenge anyone to show me how Christianity, practiced as it should be… You can see why I won’t even attempt to answer that, can’t you Goaway?

But to something else you said: ‘it fails me why some people feel compelled to condemn a religion which tells us to love our fellow man…’

I don’t condemn religion for preaching love. That sermon can be just as well be delivered by an atheist, I don’t need religion to believe it. I condemn religion for being religion i.e. for being a fraud. If I may quote Schopenhauer: ‘Religion may be an excellent means of taming and training the perverse, obtuse and wicked biped race: but in the eyes of the friend of truth every fraud, however pious, is still a fraud.’

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270511 10:10 Hello Goaway. The reason I said what I said was because from the outset you set an impossible condition. That is, ‘practised as it should be’ provides you with an endless series of unanswerable objections to any criticism I could make about religion in general and Christianity in particular. Like when I say ‘Communism doesn’t work’ and the answer comes back pat ‘that’s because no one has tried REAL communism.’

See what I mean?

The fraud is the religion, not the message.

And I’m not sure Schopenhauer sets out to ‘prove’ anything; I don’t know if anyone can ‘prove’ a metaphysic. I just try to get to what I believe is the most reasonable.

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10:17Tony, there’s not much I disagree with what you or most other people say here in defence of Christianity as a moral code but it is the religion part of it that is fraudulent.

That there is eternal reward/punishment depending on how you accept/reject the tenets of the Church. That is the fraud. Once anyone has accepted those tenets by a necessary act of faith they are literally in the power of priests.

Which usually starts off with the best of intentions and ends in corruption and cruelty.

By the way, while not wishing to belittle the great work of the abolitionists, their motives were undoubtably impeccable, nevertheless, although they didn’t know it at the time, capitalism would have ended slavery by economic imperative. Slaves were becoming too expensive. Cheaper to give them a subsistence wage (which would have been less that the upkeep) and set them free. Then you don’t have to pay them for Sundays.

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11:46 Hello Jamie. I’ve been waiting for you.

Of course it is all too easy to view the past as an idyll. I don’t do that. I know there was war and slavery, political intrigue, jealousy and naughty sex. I never believed things were peaceful, I don’t think they ever will be. Still, their good lives on in so many ways.

It wasn’t perfect because people aren’t perfect but there was freedom then that disappeared with the coming prescriptive religion.

I am not a classical scholar, the Ancients don’t interest me like Moderns do, I was saying in my blog that somehow we lost that high civilisation and replaced it with religion, which meant the extinguishing of those freedoms. Religion has had a baleful effect and rightly saw intellectual and scientific progress as a threat. Christianity eventually proved susceptible to change. The Enlightenment was the result, and here we are (while Islam, because of its nature, is forever stuck back when we burned witches and scared Galileo to death).

I don’t think what you describe as a regression to paganism has had an effect on morals because, as you may have noticed, I don’t believe we need religion to live a moral life. Religion’s way is to control by fear. We need freedom to be moral.

We have one life before we return to the void. I certainly don’t need religion to screw that life up for me.

As I said earlier to Tony, I don’t have a beef with Christianity’s moral code; it is the unfulfillable promise that angers me. In the same way socialism does.

It’s all a fraud, and I don’t have time for that.

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12:25 ‘If you believe it then it is not fraud, if you don’t it is’ – aw, come ON!.

‘naked truth does not belong before the eyes of the profane vulgar: it must appear before them heavily veiled.’* Is this what you are saying? Then let me say I am not one of the profane vulgar and have no need for veils. vigeat veritas et pereat mundus!

* Demopheles to Philalethes ‘On Religion: A Dialogue’

Isn’t this fun?

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15:35 Three beers and that’s two too many?

What’s the point of drinking?

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280511 13:46 Yes, Goaway, you do indeed know me.

My blog was about religion in general, though it perhaps inevitably generated a thread about Christianity, since I did mention it at the outset.

But in saying religion was a [pious] fraud I was speaking of all religions. Modern day Christianity happens to be less destructive than Islam, having left that phase behind but though it may be favourably compared to Islam and others today, it still remains a fraud since it promises eternal life. Which I believe is absurd.

My belief, unlike yours, does not require faith to sustain it but logic. You may disagree by saying I need faith too then that’s your opinion of course, but in agreeing our life is like Bede’s swift flight of a sparrow from unknown to unknown makes far more sense to regard those unknowns as simple voids, complete nothingness where nothing is.

I don’t need to believe otherwise, and I don’t need religion to live a Good Life.

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14:05 ‘Would the philosophy and morality of Christianity have gained any traction without the religion?’ Obviously it didn’t, since it was found necessary to invent it, at that particular time. The Greeks before then did not require a religion to impose morals. Today perhaps we have evolved individually and societally to be able to dispense with it too. I know I have. It depends on the stage of development man has reached. For instance, I can’t see the Muslim world ever getting there.

Would the abolition of slavery for economic reasons have not been as easily reversed had economic conditions changed? But it has been. And in my lifetime, too.

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290511 13:14 – And so, when it all comes down, what are we left with? A mystery. A mystery we’ll never know because when all’s revealed we’re never there to see it. But I know now the truth I can never experience.

Read (better still, listen to) Jackson Brown’s last verse from ‘For a Dancer’. It is exactly what I mean:

‘Into a dancer you have grown
From a seed somebody else has thrown
Go on ahead and throw some seeds of your own
And somewhere between the time you arrive
And the time you go
May lie a reason you were alive
But you’ll never know.

http://youtu.be/4h8TIfOeheU

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