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DuckHairback
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17 Nov 2022, 3:56 pm

Here's something I've been thinking about lately:

I should state first that I'm not religious, but I am fascinated by religion's role in our lives.

My premise here is based on the observation that people are decreasingly religious. That's backed up by evidence in the UK at least, where over 50% of people say they are atheist, a further 7% agnostic. Of those that remain, the biggest religion is Anglican Christians (CofE, CofS, CofW and CofI) at around 17%, then a fractured group of non-Anglican Christians, Catholics and a sprinkling of Islam for good measure.

I believe in the US things vary enormously based on geography which I guess is to be expected in such a large place.

Nonetheless, the trend in the Western world is the decay of organised religions.

One of the many functions of religion is to provide moral guidance - a bit of carrot and stick (afterlife rewards and punishment for behaviour).

I'm wondering what happens when you take away that moral guidance. Because it seems to me that we haven't really replaced it with anything.

I've heard it (cynically in my opinion) stated that religion's purpose is to control the masses. I don't believe that's true. I believe that religion is a natural result of the way our brains process the world and seek to impose order on chaos once societies reach a size where its impossible to know everyone. I believe that if you put a load of babies on an isolated island and came back in a few hundred years the society would have developed for themselves some kind of creation myth and the beginnings of a religious framework.

The reason for this is that I think we are capable of justifying our own behaviour to ourselves as 'moral'. Even serial killers can often justify their actions to themselves. We also trust those close to us to act in what we consider a 'moral' way. But we don't trust people we don't know well to act morally.

A religion then can provide a baseline, an assumption that when you meet someone you don't know, that they are working from the same moral playbook as you. That their intentions are 'good', even if their behavior seems off.

So not a way to control the masses, but a tacit agreement for the masses to subscribe to on how we should behave so we can function around each other without suspicion.

In our modern world we are becoming increasing polarised. What I'm seeing, more and more, is that people are questioning not only other's behaviour, but their core values.

It seems to me that we can no longer rely on others to have the same moral code as we do. That makes it very easy, when I hear someone air an opinion that I disagree with, to dismiss not just the opinion but also the person. I don't feel I share a moral compass with many of the politicians in our government here for example. It's not just that I don't like where they've arrived in terms of their policymaking, it's that I don't believe we started off from the same point in the first place.

I think this is probably an illusion. But maybe I'm wrong.

Maybe it is the case that some people need more moral guidance than others, need to have that idea of being watched, judged and sentenced by a higher being in order to behave well.

But I don't think so, because I don't think religion would be able to exist if most people weren't roughly on the same page with their own natural inclinations to morality. The ideas must 'sound' right to most people.

So do we lose something when we abandon an accepted, shared, explicit moral code and fail to replace it? Is that part of what is driving this movement of people to poles and away from the middle ground. And does that make it easier for us to 'other' people we don't agree with, rather than try to understand their perspective?

Any of this making sense? Any thoughts?


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Minder
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17 Nov 2022, 4:20 pm

DuckHairback wrote:

A religion then can provide a baseline, an assumption that when you meet someone you don't know, that they are working from the same moral playbook as you. That their intentions are 'good', even if their behavior seems off.

So not a way to control the masses, but a tacit agreement for the masses to subscribe to on how we should behave so we can function around each other without suspicion.


Here's the thing, though: this doesn't necessarily work if the person you don't know isn't of your religion (or in some cases, simply isn't of your denomination). Religion can absolutely create a much stronger community, but it can run into conflict if it's not at least willing to extend the olive branch to people outside that community. And larger communities are more likely to have multiple religions.

Obviously, it depends somewhat on the religion in question. But even religions that encourage followers to be more tolerant about this kind of thing won't necessarily practice what they preach.



DuckHairback
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17 Nov 2022, 4:29 pm

Minder wrote:
Here's the thing, though: this doesn't necessarily work if the person you don't know isn't of your religion (or in some cases, simply isn't of your denomination). Religion can absolutely create a much stronger community, but it can run into conflict if it's not at least willing to extend the olive branch to people outside that community. And larger communities are more likely to have multiple religions.

Obviously, it depends somewhat on the religion in question. But even religions that encourage followers to be more tolerant about this kind of thing won't necessarily practice what they preach.


Thankyou, yes. And forgive me if I come at this from a very UK perspective. It's all I really know.

I'm thinking of a time not too long ago when you rarely came across anyone from another religion, or if you did it the religions probably shared a root religion. So maybe globalisation has a role to play in this as well?

To clarify, I'm not saying that it's a bad thing that modern western countries have a mix of religions in them. But I'm interested if that also means that we don't have that assumption of shared moral code when we meet each other, and what that does to our perceptions of each other.


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IsabellaLinton
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17 Nov 2022, 4:38 pm

I believe society is spiritually malnourished.
Politics became the new religion, and the new philosophy.



Minder
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17 Nov 2022, 4:40 pm

DuckHairback wrote:
Minder wrote:
Here's the thing, though: this doesn't necessarily work if the person you don't know isn't of your religion (or in some cases, simply isn't of your denomination). Religion can absolutely create a much stronger community, but it can run into conflict if it's not at least willing to extend the olive branch to people outside that community. And larger communities are more likely to have multiple religions.

Obviously, it depends somewhat on the religion in question. But even religions that encourage followers to be more tolerant about this kind of thing won't necessarily practice what they preach.


Thankyou, yes. And forgive me if I come at this from a very UK perspective. It's all I really know.

I'm thinking of a time not too long ago when you rarely came across anyone from another religion, or if you did it the religions probably shared a root religion. So maybe globalisation has a role to play in this as well?

To clarify, I'm not saying that it's a bad thing that modern western countries have a mix of religions in them. But I'm interested if that also means that we don't have that assumption of shared moral code when we meet each other, and what that does to our perceptions of each other.


In big cities, at least, you'd likely run into people of multiple religions even a hundred years ago. There was also a much more pronounced difference between various Protestant sects and Catholicism in those days. Globalism absolutely has made it varied, but bigger cities have always been mixed to one degree or another.



DuckHairback
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17 Nov 2022, 5:08 pm

Minder wrote:
In big cities, at least, you'd likely run into people of multiple religions even a hundred years ago. There was also a much more pronounced difference between various Protestant sects and Catholicism in those days. Globalism absolutely has made it varied, but bigger cities have always been mixed to one degree or another.


Yeah, okay. But wouldn't those historical city relationships been based mostly on trade? And in trade you don't need morals because the trust comes from the contract, the exchange of goods for money.

Or maybe it's just familiarity and proximity? I mean, today in the UK our major cities, London, Manchester, Birmingham have the highest number of immigrants and the populations there have the least concern over immigration as a problem for the country. If you go out into the shires where people, even today, rarely see someone who isn't white/British, they're convinced that immigrants are ruining the country and should be shipped to Rwanda.

What I'm saying is that it's the people that you don't see, don't know, that you don't trust to have a moral compass but if you knew they'd been taught the same religion as you, you might be more open to their more superficial differences.


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DuckHairback
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17 Nov 2022, 5:10 pm

IsabellaLinton wrote:
I believe society is spiritually malnourished.
Politics became the new religion, and the new philosophy.


Interesting. Do you think politics has a moral component? I think it often claims to, but I don't know. It certainly seems very malleable if it does.

If not, could it? Should it?


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The_Walrus
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18 Nov 2022, 6:44 pm

DuckHairback wrote:
That's backed up by evidence in the UK at least, where over 50% of people say they are atheist, a further 7% agnostic. Of those that remain, the biggest religion is Anglican Christians (CofE, CofS, CofW and CofI) at around 17%, then a fractured group of non-Anglican Christians, Catholics and a sprinkling of Islam for good measure.

What's your source for this? The Census is out in a few weeks. I'd be pleasantly surprised to see numbers that strong. Seems to vaguely line up with British Social Attitudes, though not entirely.

DuckHairback wrote:
One of the many functions of religion is to provide moral guidance - a bit of carrot and stick (afterlife rewards and punishment for behaviour).

I'm wondering what happens when you take away that moral guidance. Because it seems to me that we haven't really replaced it with anything.

Well, at the same time that religion is declining, crime is also declining, and we seem, on the whole, to be becoming more tolerant. We're tolerant of people from different ethnic, religious, and sexual backgrounds in a way we weren't 100 years ago.

Quote:
In our modern world we are becoming increasing polarised. What I'm seeing, more and more, is that people are questioning not only other's behaviour, but their core values.

It seems to me that we can no longer rely on others to have the same moral code as we do. That makes it very easy, when I hear someone air an opinion that I disagree with, to dismiss not just the opinion but also the person. I don't feel I share a moral compass with many of the politicians in our government here for example. It's not just that I don't like where they've arrived in terms of their policymaking, it's that I don't believe we started off from the same point in the first place.

I think this is probably an illusion. But maybe I'm wrong.

It wasn't so long ago (1846!) that we'd say "you're a Catholic - how can you be in power?"

Before that it was "you're a Catholic - how can we allow you to live?"

These days we tend to be much more accepting of difference, even if we grumble about it. Jeremy Corbyn and Jacob Rees-Mogg might hate each other's guts, but they don't publicly call for the other's views about God to be made illegal.

Diversity of opinion is a strength, not a weakness. It is very unlikely that any given viewpoint is right about everything, so we need people to start out with different viewpoints. Of course that means people will have different moral codes. Sometimes it means I will think other people are deeply evil. But tolerance demands that we do not call for others to be executed for their views. We might try to strongly promote our views, that's legitimate, but we don't ask for the rules of democracy to be changed to favour us.

I don't think the loss in diversity that would come from imposing a state religion would be worth it.



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18 Nov 2022, 6:57 pm

I think the question depends on the answer to another question, namely, are religious people less harmful than others or not? I don't think there's any definitive answer to that from the research so far, except "maybe a bit, though it's hard to know." So I wouldn't worry about any awful results, especially as religion is only declining slowly, which ought to give people plenty of time to adjust to the new situation. It's also perhaps comforting to note that fundamentalist religious believers appear to be more dangerous than moderate religionists, though of course it's not known whether that correlation, if it even exists, can reliably be projected out towards atheists.

My gut feeling is that it's a good thing that people are shaking off belief in the supernatural, which is probably based on my personal experience of doing that without becoming a harmful person. But I'm not everybody and my gut feelings aren't always correct. As Tracy Chapman said, sometimes a lie is the best thing. And Kryten the robot said "there's no afterlife, that's just something they made up to stop you all going mad." Whatever the case, I don't see there's anything can be done about it.

Summary: we don't know the answer, but there doesn't seem to be any reason for great concern.



Chuckster
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18 Nov 2022, 7:13 pm

No. Religion is the cause of too many evils to mention.


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18 Nov 2022, 8:03 pm

Chuckster wrote:
No. Religion is the cause of too many evils to mention.


Not that I'm a fan of organized religion, but I do not believe that. The former USSR and countries like China would ban religion literally under threat of death in a society that forced atheism on its citizens. Look at all the many atrocious things both of these countries have done.


I believe as a collective humans are "evil" with or without religion. People like to blame religion just like they blame capitalism, white people, and violent video games for everything wrong with our world.

Everybody loves a good scapegoat.