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The Good And Bad About Religion

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Posted by Harvey on June 13, 2003 12:08:28 UTC

Hello Glenn,

I've read a good deal of your posts. They are rather long so forgive me if I didn't catch every detail. Your post brings up the good and bad of religion, from my perspective.

First the bad news. I'll start off with the Buddhism in particular that you presented, and will not assume that your views necessarily represent all of Buddhism.

What I find a little odd about your presentation of Buddhism is that I am being presented with an atheist philosophy, yet it is not being presented in an atheist way. A true atheist, in my opinion, would be wise to take less stock in an ancient philosophy compared to modern science. The reason being that an ancient atheist philosopher born around 623 BC had very little information to go on to draw their conclusions about the universe, and whether you want to accept their philosophy or not, it is based largely on life in Nepal as it was experienced over 2600 years ago.

That's not so bad I suppose, if it were religion per se, you can always claim revelation, but an atheist is one who believes their is no supernatual existence, so revelation becomes problematical.

This leads into a general criticism of religion. Whenever someone says "Such and such teaches...", the red flag immediately goes up. I am one who believes that "such and such" could be full of Language Removed, and I'm one to understand what the basis for this philosophy is, versus just accepting card blache what they say. This is especially true if they claim no revelation, but what is known through the five senses. If that's all we are basing our philosophy, then I'm a little more confident to constructing my own philosophy thank you very much. Now, I don't mind hearing what a particular philosophy states, but one of the main failings of a religious philosophy is that this philosophy is often presented as dogma. Where is the desenting opinions? Why not argue and depart from a Buddha's view, or a Jesus' view, or a Mohammed view? The standard reply that we often hear is that a) we are not wise enough to question the wisdom of this religious founder, b) we can question it but we are wrong regardless, c) blasphemy, or d) you can disagree all you want, but obviously everything I'm telling you is completely above your head - have fun! (yes, our pal Dick would make a great religious founder - too bad he's 2600 years too late to establish a major religion - I just had to get my jab in, sorry Mark...).

I don't mind those answers from religion. I respect religion, and think that God is somehow using each religion to bring out hidden gems of truth. However, if Buddhism is right, and there is no God, then I certainly don't need religion. Nor should I hold that any of it is correct. Even the distinctions of Buddhism are not real scientific distinctions since they are way too arbitrary to make them anything but subjective and human. A modern mind not exposed to a Buddhist philosophy would not come up to anything of the sort. This we even see in modern analytic philosophy which holds very little in agreement between philosophers, and hardly no trace of anything resembling Buddhism. So, it raises a legitimate question. Based on what logic should anyone become a Buddhist if there is no compelling logic that leads one to Buddhism? Simply using analogies and metaphors of Lotus flowers isn't compelling, and a modern philosopher would have little difficulty in dissing a philosophy based on it.

In general, this is the bad of religion. The dogma, the over generalizations in philosophical conclusions, the attempt to base itself on known science, etc, are all negative attributes of religion in my view. If you now tell me that there is no God and that the religion is just the result of human inquiry, then I especially see it as a bag of shells since if its just human inquiry then we can do better thank you very much.

The good point of religion, and this is where I see some failing in your presentation of Buddhism, is that it does establish itself as independent of modern science and philosophy. Religion does not fold when told that the universe started at a big bang, or that our universe is 13.7 billion years old (or so), or that the historical Buddha or historical Jesus couldn't be anything like they are presented in the religious sense. Religion generally acts independently of science and philosophy and keeps preaching the same old time religion. In fact, there's even an old folk song that says "give me that old time religion".

Why is that good? I see it as good because humans need meaning, more than what science or even philosophy can provide. I have visited and spent enough time in Buddhist countries to know that the vast population of Buddhist practitioners do have supernatural beliefs in an afterlife where their consciousness extends beyond their physical bodies, and that they do have a concept of God - just not the Judeo-Christian concept. Buddhism as is practiced in the streets is a theist religion, and they aren't about to lose their faith based on what modern science or modern philosophy might say. This I see as good.

I am perfectly willing to enjoy the preaching of someone's religion. I've shared people's religions many of the places I've gone. One of my best experiences was a cab driver in Bali who knew I expressed interest in his Hinduism insisted that I meet his family and his small village. I walked into their temple, and saw their profound faith in their religious outlook, and it was a quite satisfying experience for me.

In that sense - as a religion that expresses superiority over modern views because it has ties to something greater than what we have if we ignore it - I love religion. I cherish it as one of the greatest inventions of the human heart.

But, present something thought up from a Nepalian man who may have lived 2600 years ago in a poor village as an atheist philosophy, then my interest goes right out the window. I feel that we would all be better off studying Carl Sagan, or even better modern atheist philosophers such as Quentin Smith, B.C. Johnson, Michael Martin, George H. Smith, and many others. In order to justify religion even in the remotest sense, you must present religion not just as compatible with science, you must present it as right for reasons that science or philosophy cannot know because they do not rely on revelation. That revelation must stress some form of divine order that exists 'out there' and offer hope for more than what we see. Otherwise the religion is just a bag of shells. We'd be better off studying analytic philosophy and big bang cosmology.

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