Apr 28, 2007

Religious Intolerance

Recently, I have been seeing a lot of people in the media such as Christopher Hitchens or Bill Maher give very impassioned and rational arguments why religion is bad. I don't buy it. Maybe fundamentalism is bad. Maybe people using religion as a means for hatred and vilifying the "other" is bad. But I think of all the good things that religion can give.

Religion gives people hope and comfort. Most of us, at some point in our lives, need help believing that life has a point and that we aren't alone. Face it. If humans are the height intelligence, we are in a pretty sorry universe. Religion gives an explanation and a belief system through which people can feel that we are no completely on our own. Rationalism may be able to satisfy the person who can accept that we are alone, but think about when most of us are confronted by human tragedy, by death, or by cruel twists of fate. We want someone to be angry at. We want to hate God. Or we want to ask for help. Or in some other way seek comfort that THIS is not all there is. Religion may not be the ONLY way to meet this need, but it is one of the ways.

Religion give us ritual. When someone Jewish dies, the prayers, the mourning traditions, the entire process is scripted to help the grieving. For marriage, birth, divorce, reaching adulthood, recovering from illness...rituals give us structure when we humans need it. Sure, you can make up rituals that are non-religious, but you cannot claim that the rituals of all religions lack value in meeting basic human needs.

Religion gives us community. All the religions I am familiar with bring people together. They may not bring everyone together, but they all create communities that inevitably celebrate life together, help each other in times of need, and give social support to each other.

Religion gives us ethics. Many argue that you don't need religion in order to be an ethical person, but I think there are two counter arguments. 1) I think that a secular humanist's belief that religion loses value because you can arrive at the same ethical position rationally rather than religion is false. Religious ethics do not preclude secular ethics, but secular ethics also do not preclude religious ethics. 2) Some people need the voice of God behind their ethics to give then strength to fight off immoral urges. (In the area of ethics, I am purposely avoiding the argument that the ethical structures of some religions have immoral tenets. Yes. Some religions have horrible ethical principles. I am merely addressing the argument that some hold up that religion is useless because you don't need it to be an ethical person.)

I am not a very religious person. I also respect atheists in their belief in the non-existence of God. But when atheists talk in such a way as to deny that religion as a whole has any value at all, I respectfully and wholeheartedly disagree.

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