Does religion make us better people?

Discussion in 'Religion' started by Magical Realist, Aug 18, 2013.

  1. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    One more thing about rebirth/reincarnation: Typically, the endpoint for the round of births is not a given, not granted, not something that would eventually happen no matter what; instead, the idea is that one can bring the round of births to an end by one's own action. Simply killing the body is seen as an ineffective solution to the problem of continuous birth; if one kills this body, one will be born again, and then still face the task of finding a way out of the round.
    This is where the Eastern view so differs from the Western one.

    Enjoyment: in this lifetime, one has to act in such a manner that the next time around, one will not suffer, at least not too much and not unnecessarily, but will instead experience lots of pleasure.

    The book contains stories about the deaths of philosophers, and how they have handled the process of dying. Some had it quite ugly.

    Humans simply have a capacity for normative thinking.


    Which requires a number of other beliefs, along with specific practices.

    Of course, if you'd be born in a traditional Eastern family, applying Occham's razor would give different results.

    It seems to me that materialists are aiming too low, though, having a low esteem for the human potential and the potential of the universe.
    Surely this big big complex universe has more to offer than the dog-eat-dog fight for the upper hand with only intoxicants and distractions to soothe one's scorched mind.

    Sure, that's a truism.

    Don't you think there is something perverse about deliberately using intoxicants to find some pelasure and peace of mind?

    But it's not like they are miserable in the present.

    Of course the practical applications prevent one, this seems rather obvious. Unless, of course, one has already reached the point where one is so spiritually advanced that they don't mind dying of hunger anymore.

    Well, we must clarify what we mean by "religious," as opposed to going with some implicit notions.
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  3. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    Sure, not a given, I understand that - it's a washing cycle you go through until you are deemed clean enough, for want of a better analogy. But if you can't recall past lives, why the concern about them, why the concern about future lives, other than to give something to blame or to strive to do well for? I.e. it may make sense in terms of giving people a point of focus for doing "good" but it's still something that can't be evidenced... and so why adhere to those beliefs if one doesn't need such a focus? Bear in mind that I don't deny the belief works in that regard - most religions can claim that theirs "works" - but so does beliefs (or lack of) held by those who are non-religious.
    So it's a bribe. I get that.

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    Some religions have the pay-out in heaven after a single journey, others are multiple journeys with the rewards being given in the next journey.
    But since there is no memory of past lifes, how can one ever be sure that the rewards are just? Or that there is any reward at all? One thing it seems to do is move the excuse for one's current status to a past life: "He's born into poverty because he acted poorly in a past life." Whereas others of us would see it as just the actions of the parents bringing new life into the world etc.
    I'm not sure I agree. It may require a lack of other beliefs, and as for specific practices, I am not aware of any I do, or that are consistent among similar-minded people.
    Although that said, I guess I probably do think in ways that you may not be able to accept, and vice-versa. Which harks back to a previous discussion of whether people are even capable of accepting certain things that go against the core beliefs we might hold. E.g. I can not make myself believe certain things, no matter how much I might be tempted by the rewards of doing so.
    Would it? Should it? Perhaps if you apply it only once our core beliefs have been accepted... but at the level of core beliefs I would say one belief may be more acceptable to the razor than another. E.g. how would the idea of rebirth/reincarnation be more acceptable to the razor than the idea that this life is our only one?
    Materialists cross the spectrum in the regard of esteem, I'm sure. Some strive to improve the human potential, but do so according to what they understand of the way the universe works. Others may turn to despair. But wishful thinking won't change the reality, whatever that might be.
    No, as the only way to achieve certain pleasures is through the intoxicants. And if one considers the risk acceptable. Although one person's view of risk may seem as perverse to another. But if someone can achieve the same experiences without the intoxication, then that would possibly change the way I think about such things.
    Not being miserable does not mean that they have not given up temporary happiness that they might otherwise wish to enjoy. It means they are willing to give up those things for the greater focus. They (the ones I spoke with) consider such temporary pleasures to be a distraction, as you have alluded, and also a temptation that they are constantly tested against. And yes, some did go through periods of misery as a result.
    Indeed. Care to offer a working definition?
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  5. eugene381 Registered Member


    I don't believe that it makes us better or worse. Atrocities have been committed in the name of religion, but atrocities have also been committed in societies where atheism was the official ideology, such as the Soviet Union.

    There are both good and bad people with highly religious backgrounds, and there are both good and bad people with atheistic backgrounds.
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  7. OriginalBiggles OriginalBiggles, Prime Registered Senior Member


    So, Eugene, it seems you are equating the rejection of a specific notion with an actual ideology?

    Atheism is a rejection, a repudiation, of a belief, not an actual belief itself. It is not a belief that a specific god does not exist, for all religionists can be accused of this "belief". Christians are atheists in approach to the religions of Quetzalcoatl or Amaterasu or Thor or Shiva or Molech. In fact the Romans branded the early christians as atheists because they did not believe in the Roman gods.

    The following analogy will make it clearer: Playing golf is a sport. In your manner of thinking, not playing golf is also a sport. Collecting postage stamps is a hobby, but for you, not collecting them is also a hobby. Worshipping a god is a religion, but for you, not worshipping a god is also a religion.

    Unlike religion, atheism has no impenetrable thicket of doctrine and dogma, no canon or catechism. It has no banners or emblems, no rallying calls to defend the faith or to man the barricades, no songs or anthems. It has neither rite nor ritual, neither witness nor vigil. Its praises have never been screamed as the true believer laid about the infidel with sword and mace, it has never induced the lachrymose exultation in the true believer as his horse trod knee-deep in human corpses on the way to the Temple in Jerusalem. It has never felt compelled to slaughter fellow atheists for slight heresies, never sought to burn them alive at the stake in town squares, never condemned women to the most horrible of tortures as witches, never condoned and promoted slavery of other humans not atheists, never condoned rapine and pillage on a biblical scale.

    Yet you pursue the eccentric idea that atheism has all the characteristics, good and bad, of a religion.

    If you had only a passing familiarity with history you would be well aware that the Russian church, Russian royalty and Russian aristocracy were the privileged classes. Religion always gravitated towards and consciously sought royal influence and through that attracted the obscene wealth and privilege that enabled it to thrive and prosper. Communism had no choice but to be atheistic because the religious inclinations of society were already clutched tightly to the bosom of the privileged classes and communism was a mortal foe of privilege unearned and as a birthright. The church in its righteous might protected itself and its privilege by fighting tooth and nail against the emancipation of the serf system that dominated an inefficient agriculture system.

    When huge upheavals occur in human societies people die as a consequence. Josef Stalin was a ruthless power-seeker in a time when ideologies about the sharing in wealth produced by the Industrial Revolution were debated in parliaments and coffee shops and pubs and which erupted into violence on a vast scale once the lines were drawn and the protagonists had taken sides. It is obvious which side the Russian church took. When the church preached hostility to communism Stalin destroyed it without any compunction.

    The recrudescence of Germany made the upheaval in Russia all the more confusing and definitely dangerous to Russian national survival. While deeply regrettable, any man of lesser cunning, power and ruthlessness than Stalin probably would have succumbed to the external pressures. Yes, he murdered thousands whom he perceived as threats to his position. The combined conflicts of national revolution and two world wars saw millions of Russian dead and Stalin must bear some of the blame.

    But should you read to inform yourself on the period in question, you will search high and low unsuccessfully to find any historian that even considers atheism to have been even the slightest contributing factor to the events as they unfolded.

    As to your last paragraph, I cannot but agree. Atheism is no more successful in eliminating badness in people than religion is.
  8. river

    Think about the Tower of Babel

    Where this so called god divided Humanity into languages so that they couldn't communicate with each other

    Any true god would and should encourage communication between Humanity

    Hence religion has actually divided us

    Therefore we are not as advanced as we should be at this point in Human society

    Therefore again , religion does not make us better people , but stunted
  9. Robittybob1 Banned Banned

    Do you honestly believe that story? And if it wasn't true what role has God played then?
  10. river

    Why wouldn't I
  11. Robittybob1 Banned Banned

    Would it have something to do with your upbringing?

    Is there any evidence for it when they study the origin of languages today? No. Its a bit like Noah's ark and the Garden of Eden, there is some sort of primitive truth there but not scientific truth.
    So why wouldn't you? The only reason is you are not looking for truth, but just stuck in a time warp of legends.
  12. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    For a detailed Buddhist account of this, see: The Truth of Rebirth, And Why it Matters for Buddhist Practice

    The topic is hotly debated among many Buddhists themselves, mind you, and it is far from non-controversial.

    I think that at some point, a person finds that such a multi-lifetime focus is necessary, in order to continue to engage in certain practices.
    Notably, one will not attempt to set and reach a goal like the complete cessation of suffering if one doesn't believe there are many lifetimes.

    Not at all. The rewards are to be gained and enjoyed in this lifetime too. The typical outlook of Buddhist kings was to make every effort not to squander the gains they already have in this life, and to use them wisely.

    For one, it's a matter of having good faith in the workings of the universe; it's a matter of having faith that there is justice.

    See this short essay: Does Rebirth Make Sense?

    Even many Buddhists and Hindus interpret the teachings on karma and reincarnation in such a way, although that's not how they are intended.

    It requires, for example, the belief that life as it is usually lived is as good as it gets, and that it is not possible to experience a complete cessation of suffering.

    Intoxication and deliberate distraction are such practices.

    ... And whether there is much point in talking about things.

    As it is to traditional Easterners.

    Like they say - if you aim for the shit pile ...

    There may be better pleasures than those achieved by intoxicants; but the use of intoxicants may make those pleasures unavailable.

    People typically give up what they deem lesser pleasures in favor of what they deem higher pleasures anyway.

    Actually, I think you're talking here not about temporary pleasures per se, but about particular activities that we tend to associate with pleasure.

    At this point, I'll just say that how one phrases the definition depends on the context in which the term is used, including the context that are the people who are involved in the communication.
    IOW, I don't think there exists an absolute, context-independent definition of "religion."
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2013
  13. PsychoticEpisode It is very dry in here today Valued Senior Member

    My own personal example of why religion does not make us better people. Besides my real work I have an avocation in which I am a basketball referee. Been one for along time. Get to go to many schools, including faith based. I remember one time stepping onto the court at a Christian school nearby for a boys game. My partner, the other referee, was a women in this case. Before we got started I was called over by the school principal for a private discussion where he informed me that it was against their religion for a woman to do what was essentially man's work, especially being the authority figure. I wanted to walk out but I talked to my partner and she said she would rather I stayed. She would call another referee in, a male. We completed the game and the principal made an effort to approach me after to say that we did the right thing. I looked him straight in the eye and asked why he didn't check to see if I was an atheist. He said "are you?" I turned and walked away vowing never to go back.
  14. Oblivion Registered Member

    Religion throughout history has been used to commit what we view as Atrocious acts. religion has been used to justify horrific things (just look at the crusades). But whether it makes us a better or worse person remains to be seen. Religion doesn't itself make you a better or worse person it is how you use it that does. it's the values religion imposes on us that changes us as a person for better or worse. As my good friend PsychoticEpisode demonstrated someone who is christian becuase of the values they believe they need to follow could treat women differently then they treat men. the reality is though that it all depends on your definition of better or worse. plus you also have to realise a lot of the negative aspects we atribute to religion also exists elsewhere (just look at vegans and vegatarians).
  15. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    Aye, it's a matter of faith. And if one has faith in X when there is no means of proving or disproving it, then why not in every other option that is equally as unprovable?
    No, it would require the belief that life itself is as good as it gets. What one chooses to do with it, how one wants to live it is up to the individual. Few, if any, would say that even their own life could not be improved. But it is a matter of risk/reward, as previously discussed.
    As for experiencing complete cessation of suffering... I don't necessarily believe that it is impossible to experience a complete cessation of suffering. Just because I may not strive for it does not mean that I believe it is impossible. I certainly don't think it is a necessary belief for an atheist to have.
    That differentiate religious from not? you are joking, right? Sure, if you define religion as being the avoidance of distraction or intoxication then you'd be correct through definition, but I wouldn't agree with that definition. Further, you'd be hard pressed to show that these necessarily lead people to being better people.
    Well, that is very much in your hands, isn't it.
    Doesnt really answer the question of how it is, does it?
    Then perhaps part of the issue is one's perception of it as such rather than the reality of the situation. I.e. shit pile or not, who is to say it is not the only reality there is?
    There may be. But, as discussed, it is a risk/reward issue.
    Only after an assessment of risks/rewards.
    I know what I mean, thanks. It is the pleasures to which I refer, not the specific activities, even if there were alternate methods of achieving the same experience.
  16. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    I have frequently pointed out the difference between reasoned faith and unreasoned faith.
    • My dog has been loyal, faithful and kind to me for eight years. It is reasonable for me to have faith that he will continue to be so.
    • A woman sees her son commit robbery and assault, steal from her, and hang out with other kids who behave the same way. It is unreasonable for her to have faith that he will turn into a better man without considerable outside influence from more respectable people, which she fails to provide for him.
    In many religious communities, people present honorable role models, provide guidance and perform other feats of generosity to help their neighbors and their children become honorable contributors to the community. To the extent that they are inspired by their religious fables to do so, then yes, religion is helping to make their fellow citizens better people.

    But notice that it's the people who are actually doing this, not the imaginary creatures in the holy book.

    And I hardly need to point out that just as many people (and perhaps more, judging from the front page of my newspaper) find inspiration in these holy books to guide their neighbors and their children into being intolerant murderers.

    Religious communities congeal into cesspools of evil and violence rather often. They do so much harm during this phase that it's difficult for me to believe the assertion that, on the balance, religion does more good than harm. My reading of history is exactly the opposite. I can't escape the conclusion that religion is one of the most evil things that humans have ever created.
  17. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Hi Eugene. All and all, I agree with you. I don't think that religion has a whole lot of influence in making humanity as a whole better or worse. Religion is an expression of the humanity in which it exists.

    But it probably does make a difference for many individuals. There are many individuals who are better people in my estimation, when they keep their religious principles in mind. And there are other instances where religiosity is associated with closed-minded fanaticism. Religious adherents often tend to concentrate on the former cases, while atheists tend to emphasize the latter ones.

    Yes. Religion typically embodies a culture's highest and most exalted principles. So historically, when people wanted to justify their actions, they would try to justify them in religious terms.

    Right. Secular and even nominally atheist societies don't suddenly become paradises. All that happens is that people will try to justify their actions in secular terms.

    I totally agree.
  18. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Atheism is a substantive belief, if that's what you mean. Typically, atheists have a whole collection of beliefs, kind of collected together in a loose bundle: 'God' doesn't exist. Belief in God is unjustified and unsupported by evidence. Religion and science are opposed. Religion has been a dark and baleful force in human history. Religion needs to be actively opposed, and so on.

    That isn't very plausible, even if we restrict ourselves to the narrow question whether or not 'God' exists.

    If I say, 'X exists', that's an expression of my belief that X exists. If I say 'X doesn't exist', then that's an expression of my belief that X doesn't exist. They are both equally beliefs.

    Your point might be more persuasive if it wasn't applied to atheism and to atheists, but applied instead to those who have no views about the existence of God at all. Newborn babies perhaps.

    It's true. The more exclusive sort of monotheists are atheists with regards to all gods that aren't their own. That puts them in an uncomfortable position, since they not only have to defend the existence of their own particular god, they also have to justify their belief that no other gods exist alongside theirs. And they have to find some way of dismissing those other gods without introducing any arguments that work against their god too.

    This suggests that when theists start talking about their belief in "God", we still need to inquire into what they take the word 'God' to mean, and what they think that the word refers to. (Here in the West, most theists typically just assume that 'God' refers to the deity of their Bibles, I guess, without any attempt to justify that.)

    The same thing is true for atheists. When atheists say that they don't believe in "God", it's helpful to inquire into what they imagine the word to mean. (Typically, atheists in the West are rejecting the Christianity (sometimes Judaism) of their youth.) And when atheists start condemning the evils of "religion", sometimes it's helpful to remind them that not all religions possess a concept of a monotheistic-style 'God'. Some religions aren't theistic at all, and ascribe little religious significance to gods of any sort. The word 'religion' has a broader scope and extension than the phrase 'believer in God' (or even 'believer in gods').

    Eugene didn't say that.

    Prior to rise of communism, Mongolia possessed approximately 800 Buddhist monasteries. Most of them were small, with only a handful of monks, functioning like local churches. (In most forms of Buddhism, monks serve as clerics.) But a few of the Mongolian monasteries were large institutions, not unlike universities, devoted to Buddhist scholarship.

    During the 1930's, all of these monasteries except one were physically pulled down. The one exception was preserved as a showplace, supposedly demonstrating the communist regime's 'tolerance'. Thousands of monastery buildings, some quite old and architectually important, were destroyed. The artworks the monasteries contained were smashed or melted down. Between 17,000 and 18,000 Buddhist monks were shot and dumped into mass graves. Since the fall of communism in Mongolia, some of these mass graves have been exhumed, each revealing hundreds of skeletons, all of them with bullet holes at the base of the skull.
  19. arauca Banned Banned

    Could you explain, why the Bolshevicks had to take away the land from the peasants, and put the into slavery for collective farms , and could you add how many millions of Russian and Ukrainian perished from starvation in the 1930--- in the process of expropriating land .
    If Stalins godless regime was so good. Then why German penetrated into Russia in the beginning of the war , could it not be that the bastard Grusin was so bad for the Russia people that the sundered with out much fight , and Ukrainian received Germans as liberators.
  20. spidergoat Liddle' Dick Tater Valued Senior Member

    You have yet to show how belief in God would have made it any better. I don't believe land reform was ever addressed by Jesus.
  21. arauca Banned Banned


    Sorry , I just get temporary insanity , when someone points how the communist regime was misunderstood and it is a great humanitarian system
  22. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Reasoned faith: faith that is in accord with Fraggle.
    Unreasoned faith: faith that is not in accord with Fraggle.

    Then you're simply too slow, and need to run faster - and then you may be able to escape that conclusion!

  23. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    See William James' criteria for what is a genuine option in his oft-quoted essay The Will to Believe.

    You seem to be juxtaposing here to your idea of the dichotomy of experience vs. absence of experience.

    My formulation was "It requires, for example, the belief that life as it is usually lived is as good as it gets." By "life as it is usually lived" I mean the way people usually live life, all the strifes and struggles and pleasures of working, having a family, friends, a hobby, etc. etc.

    First, we were talking about materialists, not atheists.

    Secondly, a materialist, in order to enjoy just this one life, must believe that a complete cessation of suffering is not possible.

    If one doesn't strive for something, one effectively states that said thing is not possible or not a priority. This, in turn, affects one's belief and inclines it toward "a complete cessation of suffering is not possible".

    Who ever said that distraction and deliberate intoxication lead people to being better people?

    This implies an ontological outlook that is not universal to all cultures. In traditional Buddhist terms, for example, one's perception is the reality of the situation.


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