I am saddened by the knee-jerk hatred of religion some people here demonstrate. I see nothing to hate in religion per se. Sure, religion has led to some hateful actions. It has also led to some noble actions. I see it as no different than any other human activity: blessed with some good things, cursed with some bad things. There's lots of room for comparing and contrasting the good with the bad, and I would never argue with anybody else's overall conclusion as the ratio of the good to the bad. If you want to declare that religion has been 99% evil and 1% good, I won't argue with you. Indeed, I myself cannot imagine how I would calculate such a number. However, I do insist and will argue the point that religion has had some benefits for humanity.
The benefit that I'd like to focus on here is the wisdom that we sometimes find in religion. I'll cite three religious ideas that I think deserve our respect and indeed are useful.
The first is a quote I use all the time, sometimes against religious believers: "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." In the first place, this statement, combined with the statement "My kingdom is not of this earth" is a clear admonition to keep religion out of the secular sphere. Can you think of any better justification for separation of church and state? The same thing applies to creationism and other religious intrusions into science. Render unto science, etc. Christ himself declared that religion must be confined to the spiritual. So keep your big fat religious nose out of science!
The second idea I find appealing is "Turn the other cheek." It's a powerful statement against anger, against revenge, and for pacifism.
The third idea is Eastern: the notion that evil harms oneself more than it harms others: when you sin, you irreparably injure your psyche. Virtue is more than its own reward: it's mental hygiene.
There are many more valuable ideas that can be gained from religious thought. I should think that a prudent atheist would shamelessly steal those ideas.
I hope that my reaction to religion has become reflex. If it is, I might be able to act fast enough to counter the latest obscenity that faith has to offer.
So you WANT your thinking on religion to be knee-jerk?
From my limited understanding of martial arts, Katas are practiced ad-nauseam so that an effective counter may be delivered in the least amount of time.
In a similar manner, I prefer to react succinctly to any religious argument. I will be the first to admit that it usually takes me days to go over the details of an argument and reach a new conclusion. Unfortunately, my experiences have given me little good to say about any religion. This is after taking the time to reexamine any new ideals presented.
There's something called 'muscle memory'. By practicing a physical action repeatedly, you, in effect, move the detailed instructions for how to execute the movement further down your brain, possibly into the cerebellum. So your brain doesn't have to go through so much processing to implement the movement. This makes for faster response times.
Alas, there is no parallel for logic.
I have found that I generally make better decisions by postponing the decision. This is most easily accomplished with a "no" for the moment. Later, the "no" may be followed up with a compromise or possibly a total reversal. I have found this process to be easier to deal with verses going back on something I have agreed to initially. The reality is that we can't plan for every contingency, and rarely have the luxury to logically think every decision through. There is always information that we are unaware of. Emotional responses and stereo types are just one way to streamline our decision making process. It does come with a price. But we work with what we got.
Michael, when I was in the US Navy, the ship I was aboard had daily general quarters ("All hands, man your battle stations!") drills. The crew became able to do it fast.
More to the point, I took a few years to conclude that religion is the biggest swindle ever perpetrated by a few on the many. It's now an automatic reply when I an xian "witnesses" to me.
I am with Napoleon, too. Religion poisons everything.
Granted that religion has some few sublime ideas. But as you yourself said, it has been more harmful than good. I would also argue that turning the other cheek, if practiced by the majority and disregarded by the minority, is asking for your country to be invaded and taken over by the cheek strikers. There is a time when turning the other cheek is not commendable.
Religion, in itself, may not always be bad, but it opens the door to it's followers of all manner of extremism and bloodshed. So, I would have to say it's a matter of practicality; religion on the whole is detrimental and inimical to human life and welfare.
I'm not even willing to decide whether its overall impact has been positive or negative; answering that question requires a knowledge of history vaster than my little knowledge. I can certainly point to the many different manifestations of religion with their vastly different effects. We all know the sins as well as the moral triumphs of Christianity, but how have these varied over the centuries. Certainly the Church of the 15th century was venal, but what about the Church of the 8th century? Weighing its role in preserving the classical heritage against the Inquisition against its educational achievements against its accumulation of wealth against... it just goes on forever.
And then there are other religions. It's easy to denigrate Islam today, but there was a time when Islamic civilization was more civilized than Christian civilization. Buddhism is surely a noble religion, yet even now Buddhist fanatics in Myanmar are killing Muslims. What about Shintoism? The religions of aboriginal peoples in Australia, New Guinea, and the Americas? There have been so many religions, so many centuries, so many sects, that finding the overall impact seems to me a harder problem than balancing the federal budget.
And let's not forget Luara's point that religion provides moral guidance to the less intelligent portions of our population.
I hope you're not referring to the Bible's moral guidance. If so, you had better make an indepth study of the Old Tesament, not to mention Jesus' and Paul's New Testament moral ideas.
Yes, I'm speaking of religion in the abstract. It can teach solid moral principles, but it seems that even religious people can't seem to get things straight. And when religion gets the moral calculus wrong, its persuasive power makes it all the more dangerous.